What is an epigram

What is an epigram

An epigram is a brief, witty, and often satirical statement or poem that conveys a clever or insightful idea memorably. It typically consists of a concise and pithy statement that is intended to be both humorous and thought-provoking. Epigrams have been used throughout history as a form of social and political commentary, and they are often associated with the works of poets and writers who specialize in satire and wit. Examples of famous epigrams include Oscar Wilde’s “I can resist everything except temptation” and Dorothy Parker’s “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”

Origin of epigram

The origin of the epigram can be traced back to ancient Greece, where it was originally known as “epigramma,” meaning inscription or epitaph. Epigrams were often inscribed on tombs or monuments, and they were used to commemorate or honor the deceased. Over time, the form evolved to include a wider range of subject matter and became more popular as a literary form, particularly during the Hellenistic period. The Roman poet Martial, who lived in the 1st century AD, is often credited with popularizing the epigram, and his work served as a model for later poets, including the Greek poet Meleager and the Latin poet Catullus. In the Middle Ages, the epigram fell out of favor, but it was revived during the Renaissance and has remained a popular form of poetry and prose ever since.

Importance of epigram

Epigrams are essential for several reasons;

  • First, they are a concise and memorable way to convey a complex idea or message. By distilling an idea down to a few words, an epigram can make a strong impact on the reader or listener and can be easily remembered and shared. 
  • Second, epigrams can be used to criticize or satirize a particular person or idea, making them a powerful tool for social and political commentary. Third, epigrams are often used to express a universal truth or observation about the human experience, which can resonate with readers across time and cultures. 
  • Finally, epigrams are a form of artistic expression that can be appreciated for their cleverness, wit, and wordplay. 

Overall, the epigram is a necessary literary form that has been used for centuries to entertain, educate, and inspire.

How to apply an epigram

Applying an epigram involves using the form to convey a specific idea or message briefly and memorably. Here are some steps you can take to apply an epigram;

  1. Identify the idea or message you want to convey: To create an effective epigram, you need to have a clear understanding of what you want to say. Choose a topic or subject that is interesting or relevant to your audience, and think about what you want to communicate about it.
  2. Choose your words carefully: The key to an effective epigram is brevity and cleverness. Choose your words carefully to create a concise and memorable statement that will stick with your audience. Use wordplay, irony, or other literary devices to make your statement more impactful.
  3. Consider the tone and style: Epigrams can be serious, humorous, or satirical, depending on the message you want to convey. Consider the tone and style of your epigram to ensure that it is appropriate for your audience and the message you want to convey.
  4. Edit and revise: Once you have drafted your epigram, take the time to edit and revise it to ensure that it is as effective as possible. Cut out any unnecessary words, refine your word choices, and consider the overall impact of your statement.
  5. Share your epigram: Finally, share your epigram with your intended audience. Whether it’s through social media, a speech, or a written work, make sure that your epigram reaches the people who need to hear it. With luck, your epigram will be memorable and impactful, leaving a lasting impression on your audience.

Epigram vs. epigraph

While epigram and epigraph may sound similar, they are two different literary terms with distinct meanings.

An epigram is a short, witty, and often satirical statement or poem that conveys a clever or insightful idea memorably. It is a form of poetry that can be used to express several ideas from political commentary to personal reflection. On the other hand, an epigraph is a quotation or motto typically placed at the beginning of a book, chapter, or other written work. The purpose of an epigraph is to set the tone or theme of the work or to provide context for the reader. Epigraphs can be taken from different sources including other works of literature, historical documents, or even song lyrics. In summary, an epigram is a form of poetry, while an epigraph is a quotation or motto used in written works to provide context or set the tone.

How do you write an epigram sentence

An epigram is a short and witty saying or poem that often contains a twist of meaning or a surprising observation. Here are some tips on how to write an epigram;

  1. Keep it short: An epigram is usually just one or two lines long, so make every word count.
  2. Be witty: Use wordplay, puns, or clever metaphors to create a humorous or insightful effect.
  3. Use irony: An epigram often uses irony or a twist of meaning to make a point or convey a message.
  4. Consider the audience: Your epigram should appeal to your intended audience, whether it’s a group of academics or a general readership.
  5. Edit and revise: Like any piece of writing, an epigram can benefit from careful editing and revision to ensure that it’s clear, concise, and effective.

Key Takeaways: Epigraph

An epigraph is a short quotation or saying that appears at the beginning of a book or chapter, usually to set the tone or theme of the work. Here are some key takeaways about epigraphs;

  1. Purpose: The purpose of an epigraph is to introduce a key theme or idea, set the tone for the work, or offer a different perspective on the content to follow.

  2. Sources: An epigraph can come from several sources, such as literature, poetry, philosophy, or even pop culture.

  3. Formatting: Epigraphs are set apart from the main text with a different font, style, or indentation. They can also be italicized or placed in quotation marks.

  4. Significance: The choice of an epigraph can be significant, as it can reveal something about the author’s inspiration, influences, or worldview. It can also be used to create a connection between the work and the reader.

  5. Interpretation: The interpretation of an epigraph can vary depending on the reader’s perspective and understanding of the work. It can be a helpful guide or a thought-provoking mystery.

    What is the difference between epigraph and epigram

    Epigraph and epigram are two distinct literary terms with different meanings and functions.


      • An epigraph is a brief quotation or statement that appears at the beginning of a literary work, such as a book, chapter, or poem.
      • It is used to set the tone, provide context, or convey a theme relevant to the content of the work.
      • The epigraph may be taken from another source, such as a poem, song, scripture, or historical text, and is often chosen to enhance the reader’s understanding of the main text.
      • Epigraphs are typically written by someone other than the author of the main text.


      • An epigram, on the other hand, is a short, witty, and often satirical poem or statement.
      • It is characterized by brevity and cleverness, aiming to convey a thought or idea concisely and memorably.
      • Epigrams are often humorous or paradoxical and may be written in verse or prose.
      • Unlike an epigraph, an epigram is usually integrated into the main body of a work, rather than appearing at the beginning.

    In summary, an epigraph is a quotation or statement placed at the beginning of a literary work for context or thematic resonance, while an epigram is a short and witty statement, often with humor or satire, found within the main body of a work.

    Where did the epigram come from

    The term “epigram” has ancient origins and can be traced back to ancient Greece. The word “epigram” is derived from the Greek word “epigraphein,” which means “to write on” or “to inscribe.” Epigrams were initially inscriptions on monuments or dedications, often composed in a concise and witty manner.

    The literary form of the epigram evolved, and it became a popular genre in ancient Greek literature. Poets such as Callimachus and Meleager of Gadara were known for their contributions to the development of the epigram. These early epigrams were brief, often satirical or witty, and covered a variety of topics.

    The Roman poet Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis), who lived in the first century AD, made significant contributions to the development of the epigram during the Roman Empire. His collection of epigrams, known as the “Epigrams,” consists of short, sharp, and often humorous poems that comment on various aspects of Roman society.

    Throughout history, the epigram continued to be a popular and versatile form of expression, adopted by poets, satirists, and writers in various cultures. The characteristics of brevity, wit, and often a twist of thought have remained defining features of the epigram across different periods and literary traditions.

    What is an example of an epigram

    Here’s an example of an epigram by the Roman poet Martial;

    “I’m not so good with words, but I’ll make a deal with you:

    You let me be witty, and I’ll let you be beautiful.”

    In this short saying, the writer, Martial, is joking and saying that even though he might not be good with words, he suggests an amusing agreement where he brings humor, and the other person brings beauty.

    How do you identify an epigram

    Identifying an epigram involves recognizing certain characteristics and features commonly associated with this literary form. Here are some key elements to help you identify an epigram;

    1. Brevity: Epigrams are short, usually consisting of only a few lines. They convey a message or idea in a compact form.
    2. Wit or Humor: Epigrams often contain a witty element. They may use clever wordplay, satire, or a twist of thought to engage the reader.
    3. Satirical Tone: While not all epigrams are satirical, many of them use satire to comment on social, cultural, or personal issues. The tone can be sharp or ironic.
    4. Clever Twist or Contrast: Epigrams often include a surprising turn of phrase or a contrast that makes the reader think. This twist is a hallmark of the genre.
    5. Poetic Form: While epigrams can exist in prose, they are often written in poetic form, with attention to rhythm, meter, and rhyme.
    6. Insightful or Philosophical Content: Some epigrams convey profound thoughts, philosophical ideas, or insightful observations in a brief and impactful manner.
    7. Punchline or Resolution: Many epigrams have a punchline or a concluding statement that drives home the intended message or humor.
    8. Contextual Placement: While epigrams can stand alone, they are sometimes embedded within a larger work. When part of a collection or surrounded by other pieces, they contribute to the overall theme or message.

    By considering these characteristics, you can better identify whether a given text or statement exhibits the traits typical of an epigram. Keep in mind that not every short and witty saying is necessarily an epigram, but these features are common in the genre.

    What are the rules of an epigram

    While there are no strict rules governing the creation of epigrams, as with any literary form, there are common characteristics and guidelines that writers often follow to craft effective and engaging epigrams. Here are some general guidelines:

    1. Brevity: Keep it short. Epigrams are known for their brevity, often consisting of just a few lines. The essence of the message should be captured succinctly.
    2. Wit and Humor: Infuse wit, cleverness, or humor into the epigram. This might involve wordplay, puns, irony, or a surprising twist of thought. The humor can be lighthearted or satirical.
    3. Clarity: Despite their brevity, epigrams should convey a clear message or idea. Avoid overly obscure language or complex expressions that might confuse the reader.
    4. Contrast or Paradox: Many effective epigrams include a clever contrast or paradoxical statement that catches the reader’s attention. This can contribute to the element of surprise.
    5. Relevance: Ensure that the content of the epigram is relevant to the overall theme or subject. Whether humorous or serious, the statement should fit within a broader context.
    6. Poetic Elements: While not mandatory, many epigrams are written in poetic form. This may involve attention to rhyme, meter, or other poetic devices that enhance the aesthetic appeal.
    7. Insightful Observation: A good epigram often contains an insightful or thought-provoking observation about human nature, society, or life in general.
    8. Originality: Strive for originality in your expression. Avoid clichés and aim to provide a fresh perspective or a unique take on a familiar theme.
    9. Punchline or Resolution: Consider including a punchline or a concluding statement that brings the epigram to a satisfying resolution. This can enhance the impact of the message.

    It’s important to note that while these guidelines are common, creativity is key in the world of literature. Writers may choose to bend or break these guidelines to create epigrams that are uniquely their own. Experimentation and a keen sense of language and humor are crucial in crafting memorable and effective epigrams.

    What is the difference between an aphorism and an epigram

    Aphorisms and epigrams share similarities, but they are distinct literary forms with some differences in focus and style.


    1. Definition: An aphorism is a concise and insightful statement that expresses a general truth, principle, or observation about life.
    2. Purpose: Aphorisms are often used to convey wisdom, philosophical reflections, or moral principles. They aim to distill complex ideas into a short and memorable form.
    3. Tone: Aphorisms tend to have a serious and reflective tone. They focus on expressing profound truths or insights.
    4. Length: Aphorisms can vary in length, but they are generally a bit longer than epigrams. They may span a sentence or a short paragraph.


    1. Definition: An epigram is a short and witty statement, often humorous, that conveys a clever or paradoxical idea. It may include wordplay or a surprising twist.
    2. Purpose: Epigrams are designed to entertain, amuse, or provoke thought. They often use humor, satire, or irony to make a point.
    3. Tone: Epigrams have a lighter and more playful tone compared to aphorisms. While they may still convey insights, they do so in a way that is intended to be amusing or clever.
    4. Length: Epigrams are typically very brief, often consisting of just a couple of lines or a short verse. The brevity is a key characteristic of the form.

    In summary, while both aphorisms and epigrams aim to convey insights concisely, aphorisms tend to focus on profound truths and have a serious tone, while epigrams prioritize wit, humor, and brevity, often employing a more playful tone.

    How do you use epigraph in a sentence

    An epigraph is typically used at the beginning of a literary work, such as a book, chapter, or poem, to set the tone, provide context, or convey a theme. Here’s how you might use “epigraph” in a sentence;

    Example in a Book: “The author chose a poignant epigraph from a classic novel to introduce her work, setting the tone for the exploration of love and loss in her story.”

    Example in an Academic Paper: “The researcher began the academic paper with a thought-provoking epigraph from a renowned philosopher, underscoring the central theme of existentialism in the subsequent analysis.”

    Example in a Poem: “Before diving into the verses of her poem, the poet included a short epigraph that encapsulated the essence of nature’s beauty, foreshadowing the lyrical exploration that followed.”

    Example in a Historical Novel: “In his historical novel, the author used an epigraph drawn from a primary source document, offering readers a glimpse into the political tensions of the era before delving into the narrative.”

    In each of these examples, the epigraph serves as an introductory quotation or statement, providing context or insight into the content that follows in the main body of the work.

    What is the epigraph in The Great Gatsby

    The epigraph in “The Great Gatsby” is a quote by the 17th-century English poet Thomas Parke D’Invilliers. It appears on the opening pages of the novel and sets the tone for the story. The epigraph reads:

    “Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;

    If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,

    Till she cries ‘Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,

    I must have you!'”

    This epigraph is a piece of poetry that captures themes of love, desire, and the pursuit of wealth and success. It sets the stage for the narrative that follows, hinting at the complex relationships and aspirations of the characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel, “The Great Gatsby.”

    Which is an example of something that might appear as an epigraph in a story

    An epigraph in a story might be a quotation, excerpt, or statement that sets the tone, provides context, or introduces a theme relevant to the narrative. Here’s an example of something that might appear as an epigraph in a story;

    Suppose the story is about the challenges of friendship and loyalty. The author might choose an epigraph from a classic work or a famous philosopher that reflects the essence of friendship. For instance;

    “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'” - C.S. Lewis

    In this example, the epigraph serves as a preview, suggesting that the story will explore the shared experiences and understanding that form the basis of true friendship. The epigraph provides readers with a lens through which to interpret and engage with the themes of the narrative.

    What is the difference between epigraph and epitaph

    The terms “epigraph” and “epitaph” refer to different literary and written elements, and they serve distinct purposes:

    1. Epigraph:
      • Definition: An epigraph is a brief quotation or statement that appears at the beginning of a literary work, such as a book, chapter, or poem.
      • Purpose: It is used to set the tone, provide context, or convey a theme relevant to the content of the work. The epigraph may be taken from another source, such as a poem, song, scripture, or historical text.
      • Example: The opening quote in a novel or the introductory lines of a poem that establishes the mood or theme.
    1. Epitaph:
      • Definition: An epitaph is a brief inscription or written tribute, often found on a tombstone or a memorial plaque, commemorating a deceased person.
      • Purpose: It serves as a memorial or remembrance for the individual, offering a summary of their life, character, or a sentiment from loved ones.
      • Example: The words engraved on a headstone in a cemetery, such as “In loving memory of [Name], a devoted mother and friend.”

    In summary, while an epigraph is a literary device placed at the beginning of a work to set the tone or convey a theme, an epitaph is an inscription on a tombstone or memorial plaque commemorating a person who has passed away. The key distinction lies in their use and placement—one at the beginning of a literary work and the other on a memorial for the deceased.

    What is a synonym for the word epigraph

    A synonym for the word “epigraph” is “quotation” when used in the context of a brief statement or excerpt placed at the beginning of a literary work. Additionally, the term “motto” can also be used as a synonym, especially when the brief statement serves to express a guiding principle or theme for the work.

    What is the epigram on a gravestone

    The term commonly associated with inscriptions on gravestones is “epitaph,” not “epigram.” An epitaph is a brief text honoring a deceased person and is often inscribed on a tombstone or memorial plaque. An epitaph typically includes information about the individual, such as their name, dates of birth, and death, and may also contain a short message, tribute, or reflection.

    On the other hand, an epigram is a short, witty, and often satirical statement or poem that is not necessarily related to memorializing the deceased. Epigrams are more commonly found in literary works, expressing clever or humorous ideas.

    If you’re looking for an example of an epitaph, it might read something like:

    “Beloved Friend,

    May he rest in peace,

    1930 - 2010”

    An epitaph serves as a way to remember and honor the departed individual.

    What is an example of a poem with an epigraph

    One example of a poem with an epigraph is T.S. Eliot’s famous poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The epigraph is taken from Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” and serves to set the tone for Eliot’s poem. Here is the opening part of the poem, including the epigraph:

    The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

    S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse

    A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

    Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.

    Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo

    Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,

    Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

    The English translation of the epigraph is:

    “If I thought that my answer was

    to one who could ever return to the world,

    this flame would stand without moving anymore.

    But since never from this abyss

    has anyone ever returned alive,

    if what I hear is true, I can answer you without fear of infamy.”

    The epigraph, in this case, adds a layer of meaning and depth to Eliot’s poem, providing a context that resonates with the themes of existentialism and uncertainty explored in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”