Despite what it might sound like, no—an oxymoron isn’t something you can call your little brother when he’s bugging you. Rather, an oxymoron is a cool literary device you can use in your creative writing.
We’ll go over exactly what an oxymoron is and then show you four oxymoron examples from pop culture and literature. We’ll also provide you with an extensive list of oxymorons so you can get a better feel for what oxymorons look and sound like.
What Is an Oxymoron?
An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two seemingly contradictory or opposite ideas to create a certain rhetorical or poetic effect and reveal a deeper truth. Generally, the ideas will come as two separate words placed side by side. The most common type of oxymoron is an adjective followed by a noun.
One oxymoron example is "deafening silence," which describes a silence that is so overpowering it almost feels deafening, or extremely loud—just as an actual sound would.
Oxymorons are often used in everyday conversation and in a breadth of writing, such as literature, poetry, and songwriting.
You might’ve heard of another literary device called the paradox, which is similar but not identical to the oxymoron. While an oxymoron is the combination of two contradictory/opposite words in a single sentence, a paradox is an entire phrase/sentence that appears contradictory but, upon further investigation, could be true or plausible.
One of the most famous examples of a paradox is the sentence, "This statement is false." If this statement is indeed false as it says, then this would actually make it true. But if the statement is true, then it can’t be false, despite the fact it claims to be!
Now, don't let your brain start to hurt just yet—up next, we take a look at oxymoron examples in sentences from literature and pop culture.
4 Oxymoron Examples + Analysis
Now that we’ve gone over what an oxymoron is, let’s take a closer look at four famous oxymoron examples in sentences to better understand how this literary device actually works.
Note: All bold emphasis in the following quotations is my own.
Oxymoron Example 1
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.
— William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
This famous quotation from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet contains an equally famous oxymoron.
In this scene, Juliet utters the phrase "sweet sorrow" to describe the feeling she has when having to say goodbye to Romeo. Although the adjective "sweet" evokes a giddy, romantic emotion, the word "sorrow" calls to mind the much less happy, far more depressing aspect of having to bid farewell to someone you'd rather not leave.
Thus, as the oxymoron suggests, this scene is happy since Juliet and Romeo are in love, yet it's also sad because they must say goodbye and cannot stay together through the night.
Oxymoron Example 2
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
— William Butler Yeats, "Easter 1916"
This excerpt from Irish poet William Butler Yeats’ famous poem "Easter 1916" has the prominent oxymoron "terrible beauty," which is repeated again at the end of the poem.
The main topic of this poem is the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, an event during which numerous Irish nationalists rebelled against the British government in Ireland. The violent display ultimately led to thousands of deaths and injuries.
Despite the "terrible" things that happened and the many lives lost, Yeats uses the term "beauty" to bring attention to the positive ideals of independence that gained ground as a result of this event: this desire for self-government is what spurred the Irish War of Independence just a few years later.
In this sense, the uprising was simultaneously terrible (in that it led to death) and beautiful (in its romantic aspirations for independence).
This next oxymoron example is about Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot's tragic love affair.
Oxymoron Example 3
She might have made this and that other world
Another world for the sick man; but now
The shackles of an old love straitened him,
His honour rooted in dishonour stood,
And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Lancelot and Elaine" in Idylls of the King
This stanza, from Lord Tennyson’s retelling of the tale of King Arthur, uses several oxymorons for poetic effect and as a way to emphasize the conundrum that Lancelot, Arthur’s most loyal knight and friend, finds himself in.
The oxymorons here point to Lancelot's contradictory existence in regard to his relationships with both Guinevere and King Arthur: Lancelot is a "faithful" and "honorable" lover to Guinevere yet also an "unfaithful" and "dishonorable" knight to King Arthur, Guinevere’s husband, whom he is essentially betraying by carrying out a love affair with the queen.
Oxymoron Example 4
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
— John Legend, "All of Me"
These lines come from the hit 2013 song "All of Me" recorded by John Legend. The lyrics of this powerful piano ballad make use of several oxymorons.
With the first oxymoron, "perfect imperfections," the speaker is making it clear that his lover’s flaws are ultimately what make her the perfect partner for him. The other two oxymorons emphasize the fact that no matter what happens—for example, no matter how sad or defeated the speaker might feel—there will always be a silver lining in that he's with the love of his life.
List of 50+ Oxymorons You Can Use
Below, we provide you with an extensive list of oxymorons. These 50+ oxymoron examples are listed alphabetically and arranged by category (i.e., the type of oxymoron word combination).
Feel free to look through this vast list of oxymoron examples if you’re in need of an oxymoron for something you're writing or if you simply want to learn some of the most common ones.
Single-Word & Compound-Word Oxymorons
- Frenemy (friend + enemy)
Adjective + Noun
- Bigger/larger half
- Controlled chaos
- Crash landing
- Cruel kindness
- Deafening silence
- Definite possibility
- Deliberate mistake
- Even odds
- Exact estimate
- Fine mess
- Foolish wisdom
- Friendly fire
- Friendly foe
- Hateful love
- Heavy lightness
- Honest thief
- Living dead
- Loud whisper
- Loving hate
- Old news
- Open secret
- Organized chaos
- Original copy
- Peaceful war
- Perfect imperfections
- Random order
- Same difference
- Silent scream
- Sweet misery
- Sweet sorrow
- Terrible beauty
- True lies
- True myth
- Unbiased opinion
- Virtuous lie
- Wakeful sleep
- Walking dead
- Working holiday/vacation
Adverb + Adjective/Adverb
- Alone together
- Awfully good
- Definitely undecided
- Falsely true
- Painfully beautiful
- Perfectly imperfect
- Seriously funny
- Strangely familiar
- Strangely normal
- Terribly good
- Truly false
- Act naturally
- Agree to disagree
- Kill with kindness
- Make haste slowly
Want to learn more about figures of speech, besides oxymorons and paradoxes? Then check out our in-depth guide to the 31 literary devices you must know.
Oxymorons are an excellent, thought-provoking tool to use in writing, but they're certainly not the only device you should work with. Learn all about effective imagery and what personification is with our expert guides.
Preparing to take the AP Literature test? Then you'll need to know what to expect on exam day, including what kinds of questions you'll be asked and how much time you'll have.
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.