85 terms

Literary Devices

Source: www.literarydevices.net
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Accumulation
a stylistic device that is defined as a list of words which embody similar abstract or physical qualities or meanings with the intention to emphasize the common qualities that words hold. It is also an act of accumulating the scattered points.

Example: What syllabus of intellectual pursuits was simultaneously possible? Snapshot photography, comparative study of religions, folklore relative to various amatory and superstitious practices, contemplation of celestial constellations...." (Ulysses by James Joyce)
Adynaton
a declaration of impossibility, usually in terms of an exaggerated comparison; sometimes, the expression of the impossibility of expression (ex: "I will sooner have a beard grow in the palm of my hand than he shall get one of his cheek.")
Allusion
A brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance.

Example: Remus Lupin -- Remus alludes to Roman mythology. Remus was one of the two brothers who founded Rome and was raised by a wolf.
Anacoluthon
An abrupt change within a sentence from one syntactic structure to another

Example: "I will have such revenges on you both,
That all the world shall-I will do such things,
What they are, yet I know not....." (from King Lear by William Shakespeare)
Analogy
A similarity or comparison between two different things or the relationship between them. An analogy can explain something unfamiliar by associating it with or pointing out its similarity to something more familiar. Analogies can also make writing more vivid, imaginative, or intellectually engaging.

Example: "Just as a sword is the weapon of a warrior, a pen is the weapon of a writer." (Anonymous)
Anecdote
A short and interesting story or an amusing event often proposed to support or demonstrate some point and make readers and listeners laugh.
Antecedent
An earlier clause, phrase or word to which a pronoun, another word or a noun refers back to. Broadly speaking, antecedent is a literary device in which a word or pronoun in a line or sentence refers to an earlier word,Often antecedents and their respective pronouns agree in numbers, which means if antecedents are singular, the pronouns that replace them will also be singular.

Example: David plays football in the courtyard. All the children have gathered there.
Anti Hero
A literary device used by writers for a prominent character in a play or book that has characteristics opposite to that of a conventional hero. The protagonist is generally admired for his bravery, strength, charm, ingenuity etc. while an anti-hero is typically clumsy, unsolicited, and unskilled and has both good and bad qualities.

Example: Hans Solo in Star Wars
Antistrophe
The repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive clauses.

Example: ""A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break the bonds of fellowship,
but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down,
but it is not this day. This day we fight..." (from Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkein)
Aphorismus
A figure of speech that brings into question the meaning of words in case the words are used inappropriately.

Example: "He scents thy footsteps in the snow
Wheresoever thou dost go,
Thro' the wintry hail and rain.
When wilt thou return again?" (from "Broken Love' by William Blake)
Apostrophe
A figure of speech sometimes represented by exclamation "O". A writer or a speaker, using an apostrophe, detaches himself from the reality and addresses an imaginary character in his speech.

Example: The rhyme "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" addresses a star as if it were a human.
Archetype
A typical character, an action or a situation that seems to represent such universal patterns of human nature. An archetype, also known as universal symbol, may be a character, a theme, a symbol or even a setting.

Example: The Mother Figure, the Villain/Enemy, the Hero
Assertion
When someone makes a statement investing his strong belief in it, as if it is true though it may not be

Example: Trump's high opinion of himself
Atmosphere
A type of feelings that readers get from a narrative based on details such as settings, background, objects and foreshadowing, etc. A mood can serve as a vehicle for establishing atmosphere. In literary works, atmosphere refers to emotions or feelings an author conveys to his readers through description of objects and settings.
Bildungsroman
A special kind of novel that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of its main character from his or her youth to adulthood.

Example: Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Cacophony
In literature, however, the term refers to the use of words with sharp, harsh, hissing and unmelodious sounds primarily those of consonants to achieve desired results.

Example: "I detest war because cause of war is always trivial." The part "because cause" is cacophony as because is followed by a word cause that has a similar sound but different meaning.
Caricature
A device used in descriptive writing and visual arts where particular aspects of a subject are exaggerated to create a silly or comic effect.

Example: Hank Morgan is a caricature of an American.
Characterization
A literary device that is used step by step in literature to highlight and explain the details about a character in a story. It is in the initial stage where the writer introduces the character with noticeable emergence and then following the introduction of the character, the writer often talks about his behavior; then as the story progresses, the thought-process of the character. The next stage involves the character expressing his opinions and ideas and getting into conversations with the rest of the characters. The final part shows how others in the story respond to the character's personality.
Direct Characterization
This kind of characterization takes a direct approach towards building the character. It uses another character, narrator or the protagonist himself to tell the readers or audience about the subject.
Indirect Characterization
This is a more subtle way of introducing the character to the audience. The audience has to deduce for themselves the characteristics of the character by observing his/her thought process, behavior, speech, way of talking, appearance, and way of communication with other characters and also by discerning the response of other characters.
Comparison
A rhetorical or literary device in which a writer compares or contrasts two people, places, things, or ideas. This can take many forms: simile/metaphor, allegory, analogy, etc.
Deus Ex Machina
Refers to the circumstance where an implausible concept or a divine character is introduced into a storyline for the purpose of resolving its conflict and procuring an interesting outcome. (Note: The use of deus ex machina is discouraged for the reason that the presence of it within a plot is viewed as a sign of an ill-structured plot.)

Example: The phoenix coming to Harry's aid at the end of book 2.
Diatribe
A violent or bitter criticism on something or someone. It is a rhetorical device used as a verbal attack against a person, group, institution, or a particular behavior.

Example: You see many diatribes during Election Season
Didacticism
A term that refers to a particular philosophy in art and literature that emphasizes the idea that different forms of art and literature ought to convey information and instructions along with pleasure and entertainment.

Example: the stories of Aesop. Many contemporary critic's of Shakespeare disliked his works because they lacked didacticism.
Doppelganger
Originally meant a ghost or shadow of a person but nowadays it simply refers to a person that is a look-alike of another person.

Example: The archetypal "Evil Twin"
Dramatic Irony
Storytellers use this irony as a useful plot device for creating situations where audience knows more about the situations, the causes of conflicts and their resolutions before leading characters or actors.

Example: At the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, the narrator tells the audience that this story will not end well...but the characters do not know this.

"Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage".
Epigram
A rhetorical device that is a memorable, brief, interesting and surprising satirical statement.

Example: 90% of things written by Oscar Wilde.
One of his most famous--"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
Epistrophe
Derived from a Greek word that means turning upon, which indicates the same word returns at the end of each sentence.

Example: "Where now? Who now? When now?" (from Unnamable by Samuel Beckett)
Epizeuxis
A rhetorical device in which the words or phrases are repeated in a quick succession after each other for emphasis. It is also called diacope.

Example:
"And my poor fool is hanged! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never!" (from King Lear by Shakespeare)
Euphemism
Refers to polite, indirect expressions which replace words and phrases considered harsh and impolite or which suggest something unpleasant.

Example: You-Know-Who, or the Dark Lord, instead of Lord Voldemort
Exposition
A literary device used to introduce background information about events, settings, characters etc. to the audience or readers. (Note: you cannot totally avoid exposition, but you should limit your use of it. It takes the reader away from the action of the story.)

Example: "Once upon a time, there were three bears. There was a Daddy Bear, who was very big, a Mama Bear, who was middle-sized, and a Baby Bear, who was very small. They all lived together in a little cottage in the middle of the woods. Their favorite breakfast was porridge. One morning, after they made their porridge, Daddy Bear said, 'Let's go for walk in the woods until it cools.' Mama Bear and Baby Bear liked the idea, so off they went. While they were away, a little girl named Goldilocks came walking through the forest and smelled the porridge..."
Farce
A literary genre and the type of a comedy that makes the use of highly exaggerated and funny situations aimed at entertaining the audience. Also a subcategory of dramatic comedy that is different from other forms of comedy, as it only aims at making the audience laugh. It uses elements like physical humor, deliberate absurdity, bawdy jokes and drunkenness just to make people laugh and we often see one-dimensional characters in ludicrous situations in farces.

Example: Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew
Flashback
Interruptions that writers do to insert past events in order to provide background or context to the current events of a narrative. By using flashbacks, writers allow their readers to gain insight into a character's motivation and provide a background to a current conflict. Dream sequences and memories are methods used to present flashbacks.
Foreshadowing
A literary device in which a writer gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story.

Example: Again, refer to Shakespeare's opening lines to Romeo and Juliet...a rather blatant foreshadowing.
Hook
Appears at the beginning of the story, and may contain several paragraphs of a novel, several pages of a short story, or just could be an opening sentence, or a single line.

Example: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck." (from Feed by M.T. Anderson)
Hyperbaton
A rhetorical device in which the writers play with the normal position of words, phrases and clauses in order to create differently arranged sentences, but which still suggest a similar meaning. Hyperbaton is also known as a broader version of hypallage.

Example: "Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall...." (from Measure for Measure by Shakespeare)
Hypotaxis
a subordination of one clause to another, or when the clauses are coordinated or subordinated to one another within sentences. Hypotaxis is defined as a grammatical arrangement of constructs that work in the same way, but they play unequal role in a sentence. It helps in defining the exact meaning of a clause.

Example: "One December morning near the end of the year when snow was falling moist and heavy for miles all around, so that the earth and the sky were indivisible, Mrs. Bridge emerged from her home and spread her umbrella." (from Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell)
The remaining clauses explain the first/main clause. These subordinated clauses help in recounting the individual thought expressed in the beginning.
Induction
A conclusion reached through reasoning. An inductive statement is derived using facts and instances which lead to the formation of a general opinion.

Example: "This marble from the bag is black. That marble from the bag is black. A third marble from the bag is black. Therefore all the marbles in the bag black." (Literary Devices' example)
Anastrophe
A literary technique in which the normal order of words is reversed in order to achieve a particular effect of emphasis. Also known as inversion.

Example:
"To me alone there came a thought of grief:
A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
And I again am strong:
The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;" (from "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" by William Wordsworth)
Jargon
A literary term that is defined as a use of specific phrases and words by writers in a particular situation, profession or trade. These specialized terms are used to convey hidden meanings accepted and understood in that field.

Example: Muggle
Kenning
A stylistic device and can be defined as a two-word phrase that describes an object through metaphors.

Example: "He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast...." (from The Oven Bird by Robert Frost)
Malapropism
A use of an incorrect word in place of a similar sounding word that results in a nonsensical and humorous expression.

Example: Bertie Ahern, the former Irish Taoiseach, is said to have given a warning to his country against "upsetting the apple tart (i.e., apple cart) of his country's economic success".
Metaphor
A resemblance of two contradictory or different objects is made based on a single or some common characteristics.

Example: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day" (from "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day, a sonnet by Shakespeare)
Monologue
A literary device, which is the speech or verbal presentation that a single character presents in order to express his/her collection of thoughts and ideas aloud. Often this character addresses directly to audience or another character.
Myth
A legendary or a traditional story that usually concerns an event, or a hero, with or without using factual or real explanations, particularly one concerning with demigods or deities, and describes some rites, practices and natural phenomenon.
Narrative
A report of related events presented to the listeners or readers in words arranged in a logical sequence. A story is taken as a synonym of narrative. A narrative or story is told by a narrator who may be a direct part of that experience and he or she often shares the experience as a first-person narrator. Sometimes he or she may only observe the events as a third-person narrator and gives his or her verdict.
Non Sequitur
Literary devices which include the statements, sayings and conclusions that do not follow the fundamental principles of logic and reason. They are frequently used in theater and comedies to create comedic effects.

Example:
Mrs. Smith: There, it's nine o' clock; we have drunk the soup, and eaten the fish and chips and the English salad... That's because we live in the suburbs of London and because our name is smith.

Mr. Smith: (continues to read and clicks his tongue)

Mrs. Smith: Potatoes are very good, fried in fat: the salad oil was not rancid... However, I prefer not to tell them that their oil is bad.

Mr. Smith: (continues to read and clicks his tongue)

Mrs. Smith: However, the oil from the grocer at the corner is till the best.

Mr. Smith: Mr. Smith: (continues to read and clicks his tongue)
(from Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco)
Overstatement
An act of stating something more than it actually is in order to make the point more serious or important or beautiful.
Palindrome
A number, a word, a sentence, a symbol or even signs that can be read forward as well as backward or in reserve order with the same effects and meanings.

Example: "Norma is as selfless as I am, Ron."
(credited to poet W.H. Auden)
Paralipsis
A rhetorical device in which an idea is deliberately suggested through a brief treatment of a subject, while most of the significant points are omitted.

Example: "Therefore, let no man talk to me of other expedients: of taxing our absentees . . . of using neither clothes, nor house hold furniture....of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming of learning to love our country . . . ." (from A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift)
Parody
An imitation of a particular writer, artist or a genre, exaggerating it deliberately to produce a comic effect.

Example: Jane Austen's novel, Northanger Abbey, parodies Gothic Literature--poking fun at the supernatural elements in the genre.
Paraprosdokian
A wordplay type of literary device. Its final part of a phrase or sentence is unexpected. Its unexpected or surprised shift in meaning appears at the end of a stanza, series, sentence or paragraph.

Example: "You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing—after they have tried everything else." (Winston Churchill)
Pastiche
A literary piece that imitates another famous literary work of another writer. Unlike parody, its purpose is not to mock but to honor the literary piece it imitates.

Example: For instance, many of the pastiche examples are in the form of detective novels that are written in fashion of the original stories of "Sherlock Holmes". It features either "Sherlock Holmes" or a main character like him.
Pedantic
Overly concerned with precision, formalism, accuracy, minute details in order to make an arrogant and ostentatious show of learning.

Example: Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory, or Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby
Persona
A voice or an assumed role of a character that represents the thoughts of a writer or a specific person the writer wants to present as his mouthpiece.

Example: Stephen Dedalus in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Polyptoton
A stylistic device that is a rhetorical repetition of the same root word, however, each time the word is repeated in a different way such as the words Iuppiter, lovi, lovis, lovem are derived from a root word "love".

Example: "The Greeks are strong, and skillful to their strength, fierce to their skill, and to their fierceness valiant...." (from Trolius and Cressida by Shakespeare)
Prologue
An opening of a story that establishes the setting and gives background details.

Generally speaking, the main function of a prologue tells some earlier story and connects it to the main story. Similarly, it is serves as a means to introduce characters of a story and throws light on their roles. In its modern sense, a prologue acts as a separate entity and is not considered part of the current story that a writer ventures to tell.
Rebuttal
A literary technique in which a speaker or writer uses argument and presents reasoning or evidence intended to undermine or weaken the claim of an opponent.
Rhetorical Questions
Asked just for effect or to lay emphasis on some point discussed when no real answer is expected. A rhetorical question may have an obvious answer but the questioner asks rhetorical questions to lay emphasis to the point.

Example: What are you looking at? (said in a confrontational tone)
Run On Sentence
A combination of two independent clauses, joined together without a conjunction or punctuation mark.Generally, it is considered grammatically incorrect, and called a stylistic error; there are many examples of run-on sentence used as a literary device in literature.

Example: "But then they were married (she felt awful about being pregnant before but Harry had been talking about marriage for a while and anyway laughed when she told him in early February about missing her period and said Great she was terribly frightened and he said Great and lifted her put his arms around under her bottom...she was still little clumsy dark-complected Janice Springer and her husband was a conceited lunk who wasn't good for anything in the world Daddy said and the feeling of being alone would melt a little with a little drink." (from Rabbit, Run by John Updike)
Sarcasm
A literary and rhetorical device that is meant to mock with often satirical or ironic remarks with a purpose to amuse and hurt someone or some section of society simultaneously.

Example: "I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." (Mark Twain)
Semantic
One of the important branches of linguistics that deals with interpretation and meaning of the words, sentence structure and symbols, while determining the reading comprehension of the readers how they understand others and their interpretations.
Setting
An environment or surrounding in which an event or story takes place. It may provide particular information about placement and timing, such as New York, America, in the year 1820.Social conditions, historical time, geographical locations, weather, immediate surroundings, and timing are all different aspects of setting.It has its three major components; social environment, place and time.
Situational Irony
A literary device that you can easily identify in literary works. Simply, it occurs when incongruity appears between expectations of something to happen, and what actually happens instead.
Solecism
A stylistic device, which is defined as a grammatical mistake or intentional use of incorrect grammar in written language and speech.

Example: "This was the most unkindest cut of all." (from Julius Caesar by Shakespeare)
Style
The way a writer writes and it is the technique which an individual author uses in his writing. It varies from author to author and depends upon one's syntax, word choice, and tone.
Syllogism
A rhetorical device that starts an argument with a reference to something general and from this it draws conclusion about something more specific.

Example: "All love is wonder; if we justly do
Account her wonderful, why not lovely too?" (from Elegy 2 by John Donne)
Synecdoche
A literary device in which a part of something represents the whole or it may use a whole to represent a part.

Example: The word "suits" refers to businessmen.
Syntax
A set of rules in a language. It dictates how words from different parts of speech are put together in order to convey a complete thought.
Tautology
A repetitive use of phrases or words which have similar meanings. In simple words, it is expressing the same thing, an idea or saying two or more times.

Example: "Your acting is completely devoid of emotion." Devoid is defined as "completely empty". Thus, completely devoid is an example of Tautology.
Tmesis
a rhetorical device involving the breaking down of a phrase or a word into two parts. In simpler words, tmesis is an insertion of a word between a word, a compound word or a phrase (phrasal verbs usually). It is a practice of dividing a phrase or word into its components by inserting another word in the middle of that phrase or word.

Example: Eliza Dolitttle: "Fan-bloody-tastic" or "abso-blooming-lutely" (Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw)
Tragic Flaw
A literary device that can be defined as a trait in a character leading to his downfall and the character is often the hero of the literary piece.
Understatement
A figure of speech employed by writers or speakers to intentionally make a situation seem less important than it really is.
Verbal Irony
Occurs when a speaker speaks something contradictory to what he intends to. It is an intentional product of the speaker and is contradictory to his/her emotions and actions.

Example: "She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me". (from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
Voice
The form or a format through which narrators tell their stories.
Zeugma
A figure of speech in which a word, usually a verb or an adjective, applies to more than one noun, blending together grammatically and logically different ideas.

Example: "[They] covered themselves with dust and glory." (from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain)
Ad Hominem
Ad hominem (Latin) means "against the man". As the name suggests, it is a literary term that involves commenting on or against an opponent to undermine him instead of his arguments.

Example: Mud-slinging political campaigns
Allegory
A literary work in which characters, objects, or actions represent abstractions.

Example: C.S. Lewis' series The Chronicles of Narnia consists of biblical allegories.
Ambiguity
A word, phrase, or statement which contains more than one meaning.

Example: "I ran all the way to the main gate, and then I waited a second till I got my breath. I have no wind, if you want to know the truth. I'm quite a heavy smoker, for one thing—that is, I used to be. They made me cut it out. Another thing, I grew six and a half inches last year. That's also how I practically got t.b. and came out here for all these goddam checkups and stuff. I'm pretty healthy though." (from Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger) "They" and "here" are ambiguous in terms of to whom/where they refer.
Anadiplosis
repetition of the last word of one clause at the beginning of the following clause

Example: "What I present here is what I remember of the letter, and what I remember of the letter I remember verbatim (including that awful French)." (from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov)
Antagonist
A character or force in conflict with the main character
Anthropomorphism
A literary device that can be defined as a technique in which a writer ascribes human traits, ambitions, emotions or entire behavior to animals, non-human beings, natural phenomena or objects.

Example: The Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Woodsman in L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Antimetabole
The repetition of words in an inverted order to sharpen a contrast.

Example: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." (John F. Kennedy)
Antithesis
A rhetorical device in which two opposite ideas are put together in a sentence to achieve a contrasting effect.

Example: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way." (from A tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens)
Aporia
Expression of doubt (often feigned) by which a speaker appears uncertain as to what he should think, say, or do.

Example: "To be, or not to be: that is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all....." (from Hamlet by Shakespeare)