Exploring Antimetabole as Literary Device

Antimetabole is a literary device originating from a Greek word meaning "turning about." It involves the repetition of a phrase or sentence in reverse order. This device is used for various purposes, such as emphasizing a point, creating a memorable phrase, or making a statement more impactful. Here are a couple of examples:

"You like it; it likes you."

"Fair is foul and foul is fair."

Antimetabole is sometimes used interchangeably with chiasmus, but they have distinct characteristics. While chiasmus involves the reversal of a sentence's structure to convey opposite meanings, antimetabole also reverses the grammatical structure and word order to emphasize the contrast in meaning.

Famous Antimetabole Examples

Antimetabole has been used by various notable figures throughout history. Here are some famous examples:

"Eat to live, not live to eat." - Socrates

"I go where I please, and I please where I go." - Attributed to Duke Nukem

"In America, you can always find a party. In Soviet Russia, Party always finds you!" - Yakov Smirnoff

"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." - John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961.

"He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions." - The Sphinx, Mystery Men (1999)

"We do what we like and we like what we do." - Andrew W.K., "Party Hard"

"We didn't land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us." - Malcolm X, "Malcolm X"

"If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." - Billy Preston

"You stood up for America, now America must stand up for you." - Barack Obama, December 14, 2011.

Difference Between Chiasmus and Antimetabole

Chiasmus and antimetabole are closely related, but they represent distinct literary devices:


  • Chiasmus involves the reversal of a sentence's structure to convey opposite meanings.
  • It focuses on the contrast in meaning between the two clauses of the sentence.
  • Example: "Charm is a woman's strength, strength is a man's charm."


  • Antimetabole reverses both the grammatical structure and word order of a sentence for emphasis.
  • It aims to highlight the contrast in meaning while maintaining symmetry between the clauses.
  • Example: "It's not the men in my life; it's the life in my men."

While all antimetaboles are considered a form of chiasmus, not all instances of chiasmus qualify as antimetaboles.

Functions and Effectiveness of Antimetabole

Antimetabole serves several important functions in literature and rhetoric:

  • It adds complexity and depth to language, making statements more memorable and impactful.
  • Antimetabole appeals to reason and logic, making it an effective tool for emphasizing a point.
  • It is easy to remember due to its repetitive structure, making it an excellent device for crafting memorable phrases.
  • Antimetabole conveys contrasting ideas effectively by reversing the sentence's structure, drawing the reader's or listener's attention to the contrast.
  • When used thoughtfully, antimetabole can deliver a powerful message and contribute to the overall impact of a literary work or speech.

For antimetabole to be effective, it should not only be grammatically correct but also logically sound. It resonates with audiences because it presents contrasting ideas in a structured and memorable way, allowing readers or listeners to easily grasp the intended message.

For example: "It is not about the years in your life, but about the life in your years." This sentence is an antimetabole because it is both appealing and logically correct, conveying a message that resonates with readers.

In essence, antimetabole is a powerful rhetorical device that adds depth and impact to language and communication.

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