[ trohp ]
/ troʊp /
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  1. any literary or rhetorical device, as metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony, that consists in the use of words in other than their literal sense.
  2. an instance of this.Compare figure of speech.
a phrase, sentence, or verse formerly interpolated in a liturgical text to amplify or embellish.
  1. a recurring theme or motif, as in literature or art:the trope of motherhood;the heroic trope.
  2. a convention or device that establishes a predictable or stereotypical representation of a character, setting, or scenario in a creative work:From her introduction in the movie, the character is nothing but a Damsel in Distress trope.The author relies on our knowledge of the Haunted House trope to set the scene.
(in the philosophy of Santayana) the principle of organization according to which matter moves to form an object during the various stages of its existence.
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Origin of trope

First recorded in 1525–35; from Latin tropus “figure in rhetoric, manner of singing” from Greek trópos “turn, manner, style, figure of speech,” akin to trépein “to turn, direct, show”

Other definitions for trope (2 of 2)


a combining form meaning “one turned toward” that specified by the initial element (heliotrope); also occurring in concrete nouns that correspond to abstract nouns ending in -tropy or -tropism: allotrope.

Origin of -trope

<Greek -tropos;see trope, tropo-
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a trope?

A trope is a recurring element or a frequently used plot device in a work of literature or art.

A trope can be a person, place, thing, or situation. While you might not have known the definition of trope, you likely have plenty of experience with them if you enjoy literature or art.

The chosen one is a very common trope used in fantasy and science fiction stories, for example. The chosen one is a character (usually the protagonist) who is the only person in the universe who can save the day or foil the villain’s evil scheme, such as Harry Potter in J. K. Rowling’s series.

Another popular trope is a MacGuffin, an object that a plot focuses on. The hero and villain might fight over it or the hero might have to find it in the hero’s quest (another trope!). The MacGuffin serves no other purpose, so details about it don’t matter. In the Indiana Jones movies, Indiana is always chasing a lost treasure that the villains also want. Because the treasure isn’t important other than because the hero and villain both want it, it’s a MacGuffin.

Why is trope important?

The first records of the term trope come from around 1525. It ultimately comes from the Greek trópos, meaning “turn, manner, style, figure of speech.” In rhetoric, a trope is another term for a figure of speech. The use of trope to mean a “recurring theme” is a more modern usage.

One reason tropes are repeatedly used is that people are familiar with them, making it easier for a creator to tell a story. A writer doesn’t need to spend pages telling us why the villain wants to take over the world. We already know from reading other stories that this is what typically happens, so we can move on to the rest of the story. As well, we won’t question why supervillains repeatedly escape from prison without all of the police being fired for incompetence—because the escape is necessary for the story.

You can spot tropes that are unique to a specific genre. For example, in horror movies, no one seems to question when a main character foolishly wanders off alone for no reason. They need to be set apart for the plot to move forward. That’s a trope.

Did you know … ?

Sometimes, a trope can be overused. When it is, it becomes a cliché, a trope that bores or frustrates the audience because they’ve seen it so much. In soap operas, the trope of an evil twin sibling that causes problems for the good twin has become so common that audiences consider it to be a boring cliché.

What are real-life examples of trope?

People have gotten good at recognizing tropes and will often discuss which are their most and least favorite.



What other words are related to trope?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

A trope is a character type or plot device that appears repeatedly in works of literature or art.

How to use trope in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for trope (1 of 2)

/ (trəʊp) /

rhetoric a word or expression used in a figurative sense
an interpolation of words or music into the plainsong settings of the Roman Catholic liturgy

Word Origin for trope

C16: from Latin tropus figurative use of a word, from Greek tropos style, turn; related to trepein to turn

British Dictionary definitions for trope (2 of 2)


n combining form
indicating a turning towards, development in the direction of, or affinity toheliotrope

Word Origin for -trope

from Greek tropos a turn
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012