Take 10% OFF—Expires in h m s Use code save10u during checkout.

Claim Offer

International support numbers

+1 (800) 405-2972Toll-free +1 (702) 979-7365Local/SMS
+1 (800) 597-3941Toll-free
+1 (800) 764-195Toll-free
+0 (808) 134-9867Toll-free


The epigram is a very old literary device, originating with the ancient Greeks and then being adopted by the Romans. It is simply a way of conveying an idea in a pithy and punchy fashion that gets the reader's attention and then remains within his memory as well (much like a cliche). The epigram is usually understood as trying to make some kind of moral or philosophical point, although this is not necessarily always the case.

What is an epigram?

An epigram is a short and clever poem or saying. An epigram is often terse, wise, or witty, and may also be paradoxical. Epigrams can be used to remember certain overarching truths related to human existence, to teach moralistic concepts to children in a simple manner, or to condense and convey complicated concepts easily. These sayings are passed down through generations, and are often specific to individual cultural, ethnic, or social groups in a society. Over time, communication in society has evolved so greatly. In the poetic version, the epigrammatical poem might deal satirically with a thought or even and end with a thoughtful or pointed idea or concept. Some synonyms of epigram are adage, aphorism, apothegm, saying, maxim, or proverb. Epigram is derived from the Greek epígramma meaning inscription. Its first known use was in late Middle English times during the 1400s and 1500s.


Epigrams are usually presented in verse form, and are short, pithy sayings with quick, satirical twists at the end. Similar in concept to folk stories told by The Brothers Grimm, these simple statements wrap up an entire concept in just a few words. Their subjects are usually single thoughts or events, and their brevity is related to the difficulty ancient Greeks experience when inscribing or engraving them on stone monuments. The modern epigram is based on the 1st century epigrams of Martial, the famous Roman poet. The following are examples of epigrams.

“What is an epigram? A dwarfish whole, its body brevity, and wit its soul.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” – Ogden Nash

“I can resist everything except temptation.” – Oscar Wilde

“Altho’ Im not wi’ Scripture cram’d, I’m sure the Bible says that heedless sinners shall be damn’d unless they mend their ways.” – Robert Burns

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“Live simply, so that others may simply live.” – Mother Teresa

“To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” – William Blake

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.” – Dorothy Parker

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” – Dorothy Parker

Epigrams in Shakespearean works

Epigrams experienced a resurgence in popularity during the 1500s with Shakepeare, as well as during the 1800s. Shakespeare used epigrams consistently to convey brief moralistic and satirical commentary about the times. The following four verses from Sonnet 76 form an epigram:

"So all my best is dressing old words new, 

Spending again what is already spent:

For as the sun is daily new and old,

So is my love still telling what is told."

The Golden Rule, repeated throughout various religions and cultures, is an epigram: 

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Humorous epigrams are witty and meant to be satire or social commentary.

“Home cooking: where many a man thinks his wife is.” – Jimmy Durante.

“If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” – Catherine the Great

“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” – Mohandas Gandhi

“Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart, and his friends can only read the title.” – Virginia Woolf

Epigrams are usually found in verse and, poetry, and prose, but can also be found in film and  political speeches. Most epigrams contain humor coupled with wisdom, and help writers to convey deep statements and concepts to their readerships.

Epigrams are also an excellent way to help children understand humor, irony, and satire in literature and poetry. Their simplicity conveys humor easily and adults are often surprised that children can conceive the humor in an epigrammatic couplet, quatrain, or single line. One last classic example from Samuel Taylor Coleridge is:

"Sir, I admit your general rule,

That every poet is a fool,

But you yourself may serve to show it,

That every fool is not a poet."

About The Author

This post was written by Ultius.

Ultius - Writing & Editing Help




Ultius is the trusted provider of content solutions for consumers around the world. Connect with great American writers and get 24/7 support.

Download Ultius for Android on the Google Play Store DMCA.com Protection Status

© 2022 Ultius, Inc.