What literary term is applicable to "I can see pain in your eyes."

  • 3
    Looks like a sentence to me. Mar 30, 2015 at 1:50
  • 1
    usage of "see" is figurative or metaphorical.
    – user98990
    Mar 30, 2015 at 1:57
  • 2
    @Mike Because it is incredibly vague and unclear. There are dozens of potential terms which would apply to the sentence. The question needs to be edited to make clear exactly what they're asking about. Mar 30, 2015 at 2:08
  • 4
    @LittleEva - There's a good chance that "pain in your eyes" is metaphorical, too – unless the speaker happens to be an ophthalmologist. This could be referring to a look of sorrow on someone's face.
    – J.R.
    Mar 30, 2015 at 2:40
  • 3
    Speaking strictly for myself, I don't hold a brand-new user to the same standards of an established user, and so I don't downvote their OPs or answers, unless they're intentionally offensive. I try to educate rather then punish. That's how I was handled, for the most part, and I really appreciate that. I probably wouldn't still be here, otherwise. I try to "pay it forward."
    – user98990
    Mar 30, 2015 at 4:41

3 Answers 3


I agree with Little Eva's answer, but I'll add one more thing:

The expression could be taken as an example (though perhaps not a perfect one) of a literary device called Synecdoche.

Synecdoche is when you use part of something to refer to the whole.

"I can see pain in your eyes."

When I say I can see pain in your eyes, I mean I see the signs of emotional pain not in your literal eyeballs, but in your whole aspect (the muscles around your eyes, your forehead, your mouth, even your posture).

          What literary term is applicable to "I can see pain in your eyes."

As far as literary devices, all that I can "see" in the given sentence is the figurative or metaphorical usage of "see" to represent the "perception," not of pain, per se, but of the symptoms or signs of either physical pain or emotional distress evident in another's eyes.

  • Agreed. Even then though, "perceive", or "understand the communicated concept" is a perfectly normal definition for "see". (eg: "I see what you are saying"). So you can say that this is using one of the more metaphorical definitions of "see", but calling it a full-blown literary device is a bit much.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 30, 2015 at 17:51
  • @T.E.D. - Indeed, the figure of speech has become the default description, yet the usage remains, at root, metaphorical. Agreed, referring to common speech as a "literary device"? rather stretches the meaning of such "devices" to the breaking point, but there you have it.
    – user98990
    Mar 30, 2015 at 18:06

I would like to add something to William Bloom's comprehensive explanation.

It may also refer to 'cause for effect' or 'effect for cause'. Here pain is the cause and the effect is tears. The writer may have referred to the tears but used the cause i.e. 'pain'.

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