What is synecdoche?

Synecdoche is when a part of something is used to represent the whole thing, or a whole thing is used to represent only a part.

How to make synecdoche?

There are different ways to create synecdoche:

1. Use only a part of something, but mean the whole thing.
2. Use the whole thing, but mean only a part.
3. Use a small group of things, but mean a larger group. (specific to mean general)
4. Use a larger group of things, but mean a smaller group. (general to mean specific)
5. Use the material from which something is made to mean the object itself.
6. Use a container, but mean its contents.

1. Use only a part of something, but mean the whole thing.

“I’m hanging up my spatula.”
(= I’m retiring from cooking)
(‘spatula’ is an item used in the kitchen; here it is used for ‘cooking’)

He’s a good pair of hands to have around.
(= He’s a good worker; He is very useful)
(‘pair of hands’ is used to represent a worker)

I bought myself a new set of wheels.
(= I bought a new car)
(‘wheels’ is used to refer to a whole car)

“My house could do with a bit more green.”
(= My house could do with more plants)
(‘green refers to plants)

2. Use the whole thing, but mean only a part.

Brazil won the World Cup again.
(‘Brazil’ refers to the team from Brazil, not the entire country)

“While I have been here I have found the Swiss to be warm and kind.”
(‘the Swiss’ refers to the people I have met in Switzerland, not everyone in the country)

3. Use a small group of things, but mean a larger group. (specific to mean general)

“Can I have a glass of Coke?”
(in this case, ‘Coke’ is used for all types of cola. This often happens with famous brands: Band-Aid; Hoover; Bic)

“Put your John Hancock here.”
(John Hancock was one name – the largest – on the US Declaration of Independence. It can now be used for the word ‘signature’)

4. Use a larger group of things, but mean a smaller group. (general to mean specific)

“Last year I went to America.”
(in this case, ‘America’ refers to the United States of America, not all the countries in America)

“Fancy a beverage?”
(‘beverage’ could be any type of drink, but is often used for beer or alcohol)

5. Use the material from which something is made to mean the object itself.

“I bought some new threads.”
(‘threads’ is used for clothes)

He has some new glasses.
(spectacles is the actual word, but ‘glasses’ is now commonly used)

“I’ve no paper in my wallet. Can I pay by plastic?”
(‘paper’ is used for money (bank notes); ‘plastic’ refers to a credit card)

6. Use a container, but mean its contents.

“Last night we drank five bottles and a keg.”
(‘bottles’ and ‘keg’ are used, but it means the contents of the bottles and kegs (obviously))

He smokes two packs a day.
(‘packs’ relates to the cigarettes in the packs)

“Did you put any lights on the Christmas tree?”
“Yes, we put two boxes on it.”
(‘boxes’ refers to the lights that came in the boxes)

You can find more examples of synecdoche here and here