Look at these words: alone; together. These words seem to mean the opposite. If you are alone, there is nobody else with you. If you are together, it must be with at least one other person. But putting these two words side by side creates a different meaning: The teenagers were alone together. This means it was just the two of them. When you put two words that seem to mean the opposite together in one sentence, it is called an oxymoron.

An oxymoron is a figure of speech, and it comes from the Greek words oxus, meaning sharp, and moron, meaning blunt or dull.

More examples of oxymorons:

  • She screamed silently in her head when she heard the results. (To scream is to make a loud noise; to be silent is to be completely quiet.)
  • His mother was wearing tight slacks. (Something that is tight is stretched, not loose, hard to move. Something that is slack is loose and moves easily, and a pair of slacks is a pair of loose pants.)

Sometimes an oxymoron relies on the fact that words can have different meanings. For example, pretty generally means good to look at, but it can also mean quite a lot – eg I am pretty tired. So you can create an oxymoron using the second meaning of pretty, and say – that is a pretty ugly outfit.

Writers use oxymorons to challenge our minds, and to create an effect.