Chiasmus: Definition, Examples, Usage in Writing
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 5 min read


  1. What is Chiasmus?
  2. Exploring Examples of Chiasmus
  3. How to Use Chiasmus in Writing
  4. Impact of Chiasmus on Content
  5. Chiasmus in Literature

Imagine you're in a conversation and you drop the phrase "Chiasmus". Eyebrows raise, heads tilt—clearly, you've just added an unexpected twist to the chat. So, what's this intriguing word all about? It's time to uncover the mystery and add a new tool to your writing toolkit, which is none other than the art of Chiasmus.

What is Chiasmus?

Let's begin our journey by understanding the core concept. The definition of Chiasmus is a rhetorical or literary figure where words, grammatical constructions, or concepts repeat in reverse order, in the same or a modified form. The beauty of it lies in the mirrored symmetry it brings to sentences, making them more memorable and impactful.

The Origin of Chiasmus

The term Chiasmus comes from the Greek word 'chiasmos', which means 'crossing'. In the simplest terms, imagine a cross (X), where one line mirrors the other — that's exactly what happens in a sentence using Chiasmus. The elements of the first half of a sentence are mirrored or flipped in the second half.

Breaking Down the Definition of Chiasmus

  • Symmetry: The defining characteristic of Chiasmus is its symmetry. Think of it as a mirror reflection in words.
  • Repetition: Another key element of Chiasmus is repetition. The same words or concepts are repeated, but in a reverse order.
  • Impact: The use of Chiasmus can make your sentences more impactful. It's like adding a twist in a story—you didn't see it coming, but it makes the ending far more memorable.

So, in a nutshell, the definition of Chiasmus is all about balance and surprise. It's a way of playing with words to create a mirror effect, making your sentences not just engaging, but also memorable. Now that you know what it is, you're ready to explore some examples and see how you can use Chiasmus in your own writing.

Exploring Examples of Chiasmus

Let's dig deeper and look at some examples of Chiasmus. By examining these, you'll get a clearer understanding of this concept and how it can be used effectively in your writing.

Classic Examples of Chiasmus

Perhaps the most well-known Chiasmus comes from former U.S. President John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Notice the flip in the sentence halves? That's Chiasmus in action.

Here's another popular example from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more." This sentence not only gives us a mirror effect but also deepens the emotional resonance.

Modern-Day Chiasmus Examples

Chiasmus isn't just a thing of the past — it's very much alive in modern language too. Take this line from the movie "The Sixth Sense": "I see dead people before they know they're dead." Or consider this quote by musician Jimi Hendrix: "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."

Remember, the purpose of Chiasmus isn't just to sound fancy, but to make your writing more memorable and impactful. Now that you've got the definition of Chiasmus down and seen it in action, are you ready to start using it in your writing?

How to Use Chiasmus in Writing

Now that we've explored examples, let's move on to how you can incorporate Chiasmus into your writing.

Identify the Key Message

First things first: pinpoint the key message you want to emphasize. This is essential because the power of Chiasmus lies in its ability to underscore the significance of a thought or idea. For instance, in Kennedy's famous speech, the central message was about selfless service to the nation.

Construct Your Chiasmus

Once you have your core message, it's time to construct your Chiasmus. Start with a statement, then reverse the elements in the second half of the sentence. Remember, the magic of Chiasmus is in the reversal — this is what makes it stick in the minds of your readers.

Practice Makes Perfect

Like any new skill, mastering the use of Chiasmus in writing takes practice. Keep trying and before you know it, you'll be creating catchy, memorable sentences that make your writing pop. So, are you ready to give it a shot? Remember, it's not about perfecting the art of Chiasmus, but practicing the craft of Chiasmus that leads to perfection.

Impact of Chiasmus on Content

Now that we've learned how to construct a Chiasmus, let's delve into the impact it can have on your content. The inclusion of Chiasmus in your writing can have a profound effect. It can make your content more engaging, persuasive, and memorable.

Engagement Boost

Chiasmus can help your content stand out from the crowd. It adds a level of sophistication and intrigue that engages readers. After all, who doesn't love a clever turn of phrase? It's like adding a little spice to your writing: it might not be the main ingredient, but it sure does make the dish more interesting.

Enhanced Persuasiveness

Chiasmus can add power to your persuasive writing. By repeating key points in a switched order, you reinforce your argument and make it more convincing. It's like telling your reader, "If you didn't get it the first time, here it is again, but in a new light."


Finally, Chiasmus can make your content more memorable. The unique structure of a Chiasmus makes it stick in the reader's mind. It's like a catchy jingle that you just can't shake off. So, if you want your content to be memorable, Chiasmus might just be the secret ingredient you're looking for.

Chiasmus in Literature

Chiasmus has been a beloved tool of authors, poets, and playwrights for centuries. Its unique structure and impactful delivery make it a popular literary device. Let's explore some famous examples to understand the power of Chiasmus in literature.

Shakespeare's Mastery

William Shakespeare, the master of wit and wordplay, often used Chiasmus in his works. For instance, in "Twelfth Night," he penned, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." This statement is a perfect example of Chiasmus, where the order of greatness and birth are reversed, creating a memorable statement.

Charles Dickens' Classic

Charles Dickens, in his iconic novel, "A Tale of Two Cities," begins with a beautiful example of Chiasmus: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Here, the reversal of 'best' and 'worst' creates a powerful start to his masterpiece.

Jane Austen's Subtlety

Jane Austen, known for her subtle wit, used Chiasmus to add depth to her characters. In "Pride and Prejudice," she wrote, "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." The mirrored structure of this sentence is Chiasmus in action, making the statement more profound.

These examples show that Chiasmus, while a simple concept, can add a powerful punch to your writing. As we've seen, it can make your content engaging, persuasive, and memorable—qualities that every writer strives for.

If you enjoyed learning about chiasmus and its usage in writing, you might be interested in exploring the connections between different art forms. Check out Jarrett Lampley's workshop, 'Creative Crossovers: Music & Visuals.' This workshop will help you understand the relationship between music and visuals in creative work, which can also enrich your writing with new techniques and ideas.