How can we help?

You can also find more resources in our Help Center.

Literary Terms

STUDY
PLAY
Bildungsroman
a single individual's development and growth; a quest or story; novel about the moral development of the main character; a coming of age novel
Irony (dramatic)
audience perceives something that the character doesn't know
Irony (verbal)
like sarcasm
Irony (situation)
a discrepancy between the expected result and the actual results (Bill Gates winning the lottery)
Satire
to ridicule flaws in human nature; serious/comical
Rhyme
enhances musical essence; i.e. end rhyme, internal rhyme
Rhyme Scheme
stressed and unstressed syllables
Rhythm
varying speed, loudness, pitch, elevation, intensity, and expressiveness of speech
Meter
varying pattern of stressed syllables alternating with syllables of less stress;
Free verse
natural rhythms of phrases and normal pauses; contrast of stressed and unstressed syllables
Lyric
a short poem in which a single speaker expresses personal thoughts and feelings; (sonnet, ode); does not tell a story
Ballad
narrative poem; tells a story; sung/recited; 4 line stanzas with regular rhyme
Malapropism
absurd or humorous misuse of a word; especially by confusion with one of similar sound
Foil
a character who contrasts and parallels the main character in a play or story; (Tybalt and Benvolio)
Genre
A type or category of literature or film marked by certain shared features
Monologue
intended to be heard by other characters and audience in play
Soliloquy
character speaks as if they are alone and to themselves; inner thoughts; not aware that audience hears
Flat characters
characters that don't develop in the story
Round characters
complex characters that develop; depth
End-stopped line
in poetry, a line ending in a full pause; often indicated by appropriate punctuation
Enjambment
a line having no pause or end punctuation but having uninterrupted grammatical meaning continuing into the next line
Comic relief
a releasing of emotional or other tension resulting from a comic interposed in the midst of serious or tragic elements in a drama
Double-entendre
"double-meaning" word or phrase having a double meaning; especially when second is sexual or humorous
Hyperbole
extravagant exaggeration; used for emphasis or vivid description
Tongue-in-cheek
meant or expressed ironically or facetiously; humorously ironic
Allusion
reference in literature to a person, place, event, or another passage of literature, without explicit identification
Narrative poem
a poem that tells a story and has a plot
Dramatic monologue
poetic speaker addresses either the reader or an internal listener
Foot
basic unit of meter consisting of a set number of strong stresses and light stresses; two syllables long
Iamb
lightly stressed syllable followed by a heavily stressed syllable
Trochee
two-syllable unit or foot of poetry consisting of a heavy stress followed by a light stress.
Apostrophe
the act of addressing some abstraction or personification that is not physically present
Haiku
Japanese poetry; consists of three lines; first line contains five syllables, the second line contains seven, and the last line five
Paradox
contradictory situation in a manner that oddly makes sense on a deeper level; reveal a deeper truth through their contradictions
Pentameter
poetry consists of five feet in each line
Tetrameter
line consisting of four metrical feet
Metaphor
comparison or analogy stated in such a way as to imply that one object is another one
Epigraph
a short verse or motto appearing at the beginning of a longer poem or the title page of a novel
Masculine rhyme
one syllable words
Epic hero
larger than life figure; dangerous; adventurous; idealistic
Epic poem
narrative poem on a serious subject; focused on the exploits of a hero or demi-god who represents the cultural values of a race, nation, or religious group
Archetype
original model or pattern that recurres, especially a character, an action, or situation that seems to represent common patterns of human life; include a symbol, a theme, a setting, or a character
Tone
attitude or mood; underlying attitudes that control and color the story or poem as a whole
Mood
a feeling, emotional state, or disposition of mind
Oxymoron
words that reveal a deeper truth through their contradictions
Motif
conspicuous recurring element, such as a type of incident, a device, a reference, or verbal formula, which appears frequently in works of literature
Blank verse
Unrhymed lines of ten syllables each with the even-numbered syllables bearing the accents
Pun
A play on two words similar in sound but different in meaning
En medias res
describes a narrative that begins not at the beginning of a story, but somewhere in the middle, usually at some crucial point in the action
Simile
comparison using like or as
1st person
when the narrator is telling the story from his/her point of view, the word "I" is present outside of quotes
Omniscient
narrator who knows everything that needs to be known about the agents and events in the story, and is free to move at will in time and place, and who has privileged access to a character's thoughts, feelings, and motives
3rd person
the narrator seems to be someone standing outside the story who refers to all the characters by name or as he, she and they
Feminine rhyme
a rhyme either of two syllables of which the second is unstressed; occurs when the rhyme ends on an unstressed syllable (i.e. "calling" and "falling")
Imagery
"mental pictures" that readers experience with a passage of literature; sensory perceptions referred to in a poem
Figurative Language
standard use of words in order to achieve some special meaning or effect
Personification
abstractions, animals, ideas, and inanimate objects are given human character, traits, abilities, or reactions
Alliteration
repeating a consonant sound in close proximity to others, or beginning several words with the same vowel sound
Invocation
A prayer or address made to the one of the nine muses of Greco-Roman mythology, in which the poet asks for the inspiration, skill, knowledge, or appropriate mood to create a poem worthy of his subject-matter
Epic simile
a simile developed at great length, often up to fifty or a hundred lines
Epithet
A short, poetic nickname--often in the form of an adjective or adjectival phrase--attached to the normal name
Symbolism
A device in literature where an object represents an idea
Ode
A poem in praise of something divine or expressing some noble idea
Consonance
The repetition of consonant sounds with differing vowel sounds in words near each other in a line or lines of poetry
Connotation
A word's emotional content
Conflict: man vs man
conflict that pits one person against another
Conflict: man vs nature
when a character has problems with outside forces, weather, animals, land, etc.
Conflict: man vs self
internal conflit. Not all conflicts involve other people. Sometimes people are their own worst enemy
Conflict: man vs society
a character has a problem with some element of society: the school, the law, the "accepter" way of doing things
Epistrophe
the repetition of a group of words at the end of successive clauses
Asyndeton
When the conjunctions (such as "and" or "but") that would normally connect a string of words, phrases, or clauses are omitted from a sentence
Onomatopoeia
using words that imitate the sound they denote
Assonance
the repetition of similar vowels in the stressed syllables of successive words
Denotation
the most direct or specific meaning of a word or expression
Anaphora
Repetition of a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of two or more sentences in a row
Antithesis
a statement in which two opposing ideas are balanced
Polysyndeton
the use, for rhetorical effect, of more conjunctions than is necessary or natural
Direct characterization
the author directly states a character's traits
Indirect characterization
the character is revealed through their personality, appearance, words, actions, and effect on others
Allegory
The device of using character and/or story elements symbolically to represent an abstraction in addition to the literal meaning