Planting tomatoes when one is planting seeds, appears to be a metonymy or synecdoche. Because the word “seeds” is replaced with the word “tomatoes”, a component of the plant could be a form of synecdoche.

But I believe it to be a metonymy. The tomato is the fruit of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, a member of the nightshade family, the plant itself is poisonous but its fruit is edible.

In my limited knowledge, I found a parallel example in the phrase "making babies", for sexual intercourse where the "result of the action is stated in place of the action" which would be metonymy so comparing "making babies" to "planting tomatoes" appears to be parallel.

So I am caught between metonymy and synecdoche. Does what I am saying make any sense?

Thank you for your time and assistance.

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    Sigh!! I suppose you can call it a "synecdoche" if you must. "Planting tomatoes" is either "planting tomato seeds" or (more often for the weekend gardener) "planting tomato plants". But you're really splitting hairs. (And this has nothing to do with whether the plant is a member of the nightshade family.) – Hot Licks Jun 6 '15 at 2:50
  • The it would be more accurately defined as Metonymy? – R. Frank Jun 6 '15 at 2:56
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    The word "seed" or "plant" has been elided since it's redundant. This is a common thing in English and is hardly worth noting. It's definitely not metonymy. – Hot Licks Jun 6 '15 at 3:00
  • In real life, there isn't really a meaningful difference between metonymy and synecdoche, but that's immaterial: planting tomatoes is neither. – Marthaª Jun 6 '15 at 3:06
  • I don't see that " planting tomatos" is a literary device. – rogermue Jun 6 '15 at 4:27

The difference between the two literary devices kind of depends on who you ask, but in any case, it's immaterial to your question: metonymy and synecdoche are types of symbolism. In planting tomatoes, the word "tomatoes" symbolizes... tomatoes. There's no symbolism here, thus neither metonymy nor synecdoche, regardless of how you define them.

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  • My apologies for what is perceived as trivial and insignificant. I have been trying to explain to 2 people of different cultures and languages the meaning or reason in English for speaking of planting the fruit when the seeds are what is being planted. I imagined that I could explain it as cultural or linguistic method of expression, a figure of speech. But their perception that there is no reasoning or logic in speaking English apparently is valid. – R. Frank Jun 6 '15 at 8:17
  • @R.Frank - In English one does not generally assign a name to the seed of a plant that is different from the plant itself. The seed that produces a tomato is a "tomato seed". The seed that produces a maple tree is a "maple seed" (and we've been buried in them this spring). Given that, it's redundant to say "seed" when you're planting -- you're just planting tomatoes or maple trees (not that the maple trees need our help -- they seem to manage quite well on their own). – Hot Licks Jun 6 '15 at 11:38
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    Strictly, 'tomatoes' here does symbolise tomato seeds. The essential meaning of 'plant' (v trans) is 'put (some plant / part of a plant etc) into the ground etc so as to hopefully facilitate growth'. One is here planting seeds, not tomatoes, so a non-literal reading is intended. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 26 '17 at 11:27

There is no symbolism here, just three different meanings for the same noun.
Tomatoes can refer to either:

  1. a plant which may or may not be bearing fruit
  2. a seed or seedling
  3. the fruit of the plant

If you write "I am going to eat some tomatoes.", the Reader will assume you are referring to #3.
If you write "I am going to plant tomatoes", the Reader will assume you are referring to #2.
If you write "Tomatoes are growing in the field",the Reader will assume you are referring to #1.

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