Oscar Wilde famously replied ‘nothing but my genius’ when asked if he had anything to declare; his epigrams are truly memorable. His words are oft borrowed to be displayed as epigraphs in the commencing pages of romantic or comic literature.

Like many words ending in gram and graph, the meaning of epigraph and epigram can be very difficult to remember. Fear not! We are here to rescue. Unsurprisingly, both words can be traced back to the same word root, ‘epigraphein’. Epigraphein is Greek in origin and means ‘to inscribe’. Unfortunately, this etymology is of little help as the word epigram has nothing to do with inscribing, whereas epigraphs are all about ‘inscriptions’.

Epigrams and epigraphs are literary devices. Epigrams are concise, clever, and often swift remarks or poems expressed verbally, especially at an unexpected moment. Think of the jolting comebacks of many famous comedians that amused you, as a sort of epigram. Epigraphs are inscriptions or writings, often borrowed from another literature and engraved, painted, or printed on a building or before the introduction of a book. You’ve likely seen them everywhere; grab your nearest book and read the first page where the author has quoted a poem or piece from another author or literature. The engravings under statues or the honor code inscribed on a building of a military academy are also examples of epigraphs. Keep reading this article until the end to learn the definition and the use of these words in sentences in detail.

Epigram vs epigraph – definitions, uses and example sentences

Definition of epigram

Epigram is pronounced as ‘eh-puh-gram’. It is classified and used as a noun. It is a literary device and has a known record of being in use for more than two thousand years. It refers to a brief, witty, and pithy saying or poem. It can be defined as a quick and witty statement, rhyme, or poem that is often unanticipated for the circumstances and amuses the listener. It is usually orally expressed but can be in writing as well. The synonyms of epigram are jest, bon mot, and quip. As a noun, epigram is countable and the plural of epigram is epigrams.

Example sentences of epigram

  • The sly witness confused the interrogating lawyer with innuendos and epigrams as responses to his questions.

In the sentence above, the subject ‘witness’ is using clever or witty remarks or epigrams to frustrate the lawyer.

  • The character of Dr. House M.D from the TV drama series of the same name is loved by fans for his timely and often sarcastic epigrams.

The character of Dr. Gregory House is famous for making clever and bold remarks. Here, a reference is made to the character to identify some examples of epigrams.

  • Steve Roger’s ‘How can I? You’re taking all the stupid with you!’ dialogue will always be a fan favorite epigram to Captain America’s aficionados.

Lastly, an epigram is used within the sentence, about a famous fictional character- Captain America to describe that epigrams are commonly used around you.

Definition of epigraph

Epigraph is pronounced as ‘eh-puh-graaf’. It is also a noun and chiefly refers to a quotation displayed at the beginning of literature, booklet, magazines, or cinema. It can be defined as a short literary device, comprising either prose or poem, displayed before the preface or individual chapters of a book or film while sharing remote context with the theme of the displaying book. The etching on statues, tombs, and buildings comprising of words or symbols are also called epigraphs. However, the word ‘epigraph’ is largely used to refer to the former meaning. Synonyms of the word epigraph include inscription or etching (as a verbal noun). Similar to epigram, epigraph is also a countable noun and the plural form of epigraph is epigraphs.

Example sentences of epigraph

  • The Godfather uses French novelist Honore de Balzac’s famous quote ‘Behind every great fortune, there is a crime’ as an epigraph.

This sentence describes that a quote from Balzac, the French novelist is used as a pre-introductory saying in the famous movie adaption, The Godfather.

  • It can be observed that the epigraphs to many literary works of Russian novelist Dostoyevsky are quoted word-to-word from the Bible.

This sentence refers to the fact that the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky cites Bible passages as epigraphs in his book.

  • Stephen King’s employment of epigraphs is unique; not only does he use one to start every section of his books but also because he uses song lyrics in a dark and ominous way.

In this sentence, King’s epigraphic tendency to use song-lyrics before every section of his books (as epigraph) is described to indicate that epigraphs may not share a context with the literature it is cited in.


Epigrams and Epigraphs are frequently employed literary devices. Epigrams are short, sly sentences or poems that can amuse the reader or listener owing to their ingenuity and quick responsiveness. They are usually used in speeches and conversations but are also written; for example, in gift cards and letters. Epigraph, on the contrary, is also a literary device used only in writing before the actual content of a book, film, or similar pieces of literature or cinema. They may also be seen engraved on buildings or structures. Based on the genre, an epigraph can serve various purposes but it usually serves to grip the reader’s or viewer’s curiosity and/or create suspense. In summary, epigrams are usually, but not exclusively, used while speaking and thus need to be quick and witty. Epigraphs, on the other hand, are only used in writing and may lack a clear context altogether. Memorize that graphs are drawn on paper; it will help you remember that epigraphs are written. Link the ‘gram’ in epigram with ‘gramophone’ to remember that it is chiefly used verbally. This way, you’ll remember that verbal responses are often quick-witted and are called epigrams. We hope you’ve been able to learn from this article.