The world's premier FREE website for learners and teachers of English


pronounced: ox-ee-MOR-on | plural: oxymora, oxymorons

So fair and foul a day I have not seen! William Shakespeare

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that deliberately uses two contradictory ideas. This contradiction creates a paradoxical image in the reader or listener's mind that generates a new concept or meaning for the whole. Some typical oxymorons are:

Pseudo Oxymorons

In the standard meaning of oxymoron the contradiction is deliberate. However, in popular usage oxymoron is sometimes used to mean "contradiction in terms", where the contradiction is unintentional. Such expressions, unlike real oxymorons, are commonly used without any sense of paradox in everyday language, for example:

A common attempt at humour is to describe a certain phrase as an oxymoron, implying that the two parts of the phrase are mutually exclusive and that consequently the phrase as a whole must be nonsensical:

The popular term "virtual reality" might be considered an oxymoron or pseudo-oxymoron by some but in fact it is a tautology (ie saying the same thing twice) since reality is virtual (given that humans experience "reality" through their five senses and have no independent means of verification).