Epigram: Definition, Examples and Characteristic in English

Epigram is a literary device that has been used for over two millennia. It is a concise and witty statement that conveys a single thought or observation, often ending with a punchline or satirical twist. Epigrams are commonly found in poetry, but they can also appear in prose. The presence of wit or sarcasm tends to distinguish non-poetic epigrams from other short statements.

Epigrams are known for their brevity and cleverness. They are designed to quickly get across a clever sentiment, making them a popular tool for writers and speakers alike. The word “epigram” is derived from the Greek word epígramma, which means “inscription” or “to write on, to inscribe.” This reflects the idea that epigrams are often used as inscriptions on monuments or other objects.

Epigrams have been used throughout history by famous writers, philosophers, and public figures. Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oscar Wilde are just a few examples of individuals known for their highly epigrammatic writing styles. In modern times, epigrams can be found in various forms of media, such as social media posts, advertisements, and even political speeches. Overall, epigram is a literary device that continues to be relevant and impactful in today’s society.

Epic Epigrams The Art of Witty WordsPin

Epigram Definition

An epigram is a concise, witty, and often satirical poem or saying that expresses a single thought or event. It is a form of poetry that is known for its brevity and cleverness. Epigrams typically have a twist in the end that makes the reader think or laugh.

Epigrams can be traced back to ancient Greek and Roman literature, where they were used as inscriptions on monuments, statues, and tombs. They were also used in ancient Chinese and Japanese poetry. In modern times, epigrams are commonly used in literature, politics, and everyday conversation.

According to Merriam-Webster, an epigram can also be a terse, sage, or witty and often paradoxical saying. This definition highlights the cleverness and paradoxical nature of epigrams. Oscar Wilde is known for his clever and witty epigrams, such as “I can resist everything except temptation.”

Epigrams can be written in various forms, including couplets, quatrains, and haikus. They can be serious or humorous, but they always convey a clear and concise message. The brevity of epigrams makes them easy to remember and quote, which is why they are often used in speeches, debates, and conversations.

Overall, an epigram is a short, clever, and often satirical poem or saying that expresses a single thought or event. It is a form of poetry that has been used for centuries and continues to be used in modern times.

Epigram Examples

Epigrams are brief and witty statements that often contain a twist or contradiction. They can be used to convey both serious and humorous ideas. Here are some examples of famous epigrams that have stood the test of time:

  • “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” – Ogden Nash
  • “I can resist everything except temptation.” – Oscar Wilde
  • “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” – John Milton
  • “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” – Alexander Pope
  • “To be or not to be, that is the question.” – William Shakespeare

These examples showcase the cleverness and brevity that are hallmarks of epigrams. They are often used to make a point in a memorable and impactful way.

Epigrams can also be used to convey more serious ideas, such as political or social commentary. For example, George Orwell’s famous epigram “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” is a biting critique of the hypocrisy of those in power.

It’s worth noting that not all short and witty statements are epigrams. To be considered an epigram, a statement must contain a twist or contradiction that generates its cleverness.

Overall, epigrams are a powerful literary device that can be used to convey ideas in a memorable and impactful way. By using clever wordplay and a twist of meaning, they can make a lasting impression on readers and listeners alike.

History of Epigram

Epigram is a form of poetry that has been around for centuries. It is a concise and witty statement that is often used to make a point or convey a message. Epigrams have been used in various cultures throughout history, from ancient Greece to modern times.

Ancient Greek Epigrams

The ancient Greeks were known for their love of poetry and epigrams were no exception. Greek epigrams were typically inscriptions on monuments or gravestones. They were often short and to the point, with a focus on the brevity of life and the importance of living in the present. The Greek Anthology, which is a collection of Greek poems, contains many examples of ancient Greek epigrams.

Roman Epigrams

The Romans were heavily influenced by the Greeks and adopted many of their literary traditions, including the use of epigrams. Roman epigrams were often satirical and used to criticize society or individuals. The Roman poet Martial is known for his collection of epigrams, which were often humorous and aimed at exposing the follies of his contemporaries.

Modern Epigrams

Epigrams continued to be popular in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but it wasn’t until the 17th and 18th centuries that they saw a resurgence in popularity. During this time, epigrams were often used to express political or social commentary. The English poet Alexander Pope was known for his use of epigrams in his works, including his famous line “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

Today, epigrams continue to be used in literature and popular culture. They are often seen in greeting cards, advertisements, and social media posts. The brevity and wit of epigrams make them a popular form of expression in a world where attention spans are short and the need for concise communication is high.

Characteristics of Epigram

Epigram is a literary device that is characterized by its brevity, wit, and satirical nature. This section will delve into the characteristics of epigram and how they are used in literature.


One of the primary characteristics of epigram is its brevity. Epigrams are usually a few lines long, and they are designed to convey a single thought or observation. This brevity makes epigrams easy to remember and share, which is why they are often used on social media and in advertising.

Satire and Wit

Another characteristic of epigram is its satirical nature. Epigrams are often used to poke fun at human foibles and shortcomings, and they can be quite biting in their criticism. However, they are also known for their wit and clever wordplay, which can make them both humorous and thought-provoking.

Metaphorical Language

Epigrams often use metaphorical language to convey their message. By using figurative language, epigrams can pack a lot of meaning into a few short lines. This can make them more memorable and impactful than straightforward statements.

In summary, epigrams are characterized by their brevity, wit, and satirical nature. They often use metaphorical language to convey their message, and they are designed to be memorable and thought-provoking.

Famous Epigram Writers


Martial was an ancient Roman poet who popularized the form of epigrams. He provided the model on which modern epigrams are based. His epigrams were written in metered verse and often took public figures as their subject. One of his most famous epigrams is “You ask me why I spend my life writing? / Do I find entertainment? / I reply that it is a punishment / To miss a day without writing.”

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was an Irish playwright, novelist, and poet who was known for his wit and humor. He is considered one of the greatest epigrammatists of all time. His plays and novels are full of witty one-liners that have become famous quotes. Some of his most famous epigrams include “I can resist everything except temptation” and “I am not young enough to know everything.”

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was an American statesman, scientist, and writer who is known for his contributions to the American Revolution and his work as a diplomat. He was also a prolific writer of epigrams. His most famous epigram is “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” He also wrote a number of other epigrams on topics ranging from politics to morality.

Overall, these three writers are some of the most famous and influential epigram writers in history. Their witty and insightful one-liners have become famous quotes and continue to be celebrated today.

Usage of Epigram

Epigram is a literary device that has been used for centuries to convey a concise and often witty message. It has found its way into various forms of literature, speeches, and social commentary.


Epigrams have been used extensively in poetry, where they often appear as short, satirical poems that focus on a single subject. Poets like Alexander Pope, John Donne, William Shakespeare, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge popularized epigram as a literary device during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries. Epigrams are also commonly found in plays, novels, and other forms of literature.


Epigrams have become an integral part of political speeches and other public addresses. They are used to convey a powerful message in a concise and memorable way. Famous politicians like Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln were known for their use of epigrams in their speeches.

Social Commentary

Epigrams have also found their way into social commentary, where they are used to criticize and satirize various aspects of society. They are often used to convey a message in a humorous and witty way, making them a powerful tool for social commentary. Epigrams have been used to criticize everything from politics to religion to popular culture.

In conclusion, epigrams have become an integral part of literature, speeches, and social commentary. They are a powerful tool for conveying a message in a concise and memorable way. Whether used to criticize or satirize, epigrams have the ability to leave a lasting impression on the reader or listener.

Interpreting Epigrams

Epigrams are short, witty statements that convey a single thought or observation. They can be serious, inspiring, or humorous, but the most important thing is that they be memorable. Interpreting epigrams can be a challenge, as they often contain multiple layers of meaning.

One way to interpret an epigram is to look at it as a puzzle to be solved. The reader must decipher the meaning of the words and the intention of the writer. Sometimes, the meaning of an epigram is not immediately apparent, and the reader must dig deeper to uncover the hidden message.

Another approach to interpreting epigrams is to look at them in the context of the time and place in which they were written. Epigrams can be a reflection of the culture and society in which they were created, and can provide insight into the values and beliefs of the people of that time.

Epigrams can also be interpreted through the lens of literary devices. The use of metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech can add layers of meaning to an epigram, and can make it more memorable and impactful.

In conclusion, interpreting epigrams requires careful analysis and consideration of multiple factors. By approaching them as puzzles to be solved, considering their cultural context, and examining their use of literary devices, readers can gain a deeper understanding of these short but powerful statements.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of an epigram?

An epigram is a short and witty statement that conveys a single thought or observation. Here’s an example of an epigram by Oscar Wilde: “I can resist everything except temptation.” This statement is concise, memorable, and has a punchline that makes it humorous.

What is the difference between a poem and an epigram?

Poems are typically longer and more complex than epigrams. Poems can have multiple stanzas and can convey a range of emotions and ideas. Epigrams, on the other hand, are short and to the point, and usually have a humorous or satirical twist.

Is epigram a rhetorical device?

Yes, epigram is a rhetorical device. It is a form of concise and witty expression that can be used to convey a message or make a point. Epigrams are often used in literature and speeches to add humor and wit to a message.

What is the connotation of epigram?

The connotation of epigram is that it is a clever and concise statement that conveys a message or observation in a memorable way. Epigrams are often associated with humor and satire, but they can also be serious and thought-provoking.

What are some famous epigrams?

There are many famous epigrams in literature, including Oscar Wilde’s “I can resist everything except temptation,” and Mark Twain’s “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Other famous epigrams include Samuel Johnson’s “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,” and Dorothy Parker’s “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

How can epigrams be used in literature?

Epigrams can be used in literature to add humor, wit, and satire to a message. They can also be used to make a serious point in a concise and memorable way. Epigrams can be used in poetry, prose, and speeches, and are often used by writers to showcase their cleverness and wit.

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