Literary Devices & Terms

Click on any of the 127 terms below to get a complete definition with lots of examples.

Acrostic

An acrostic is a piece of writing in which a particular set of letters—typically the first letter of each line,... (read more)

Allegory

An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and... (read more)

Alliteration

Alliteration is a figure of speech in which the same sound repeats in a group of words, such as the... (read more)

Allusion

In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... (read more)

Anachronism

An anachronism is a person or a thing placed in the wrong time period. For instance, if a novel set... (read more)

Anadiplosis

Anadiplosis is a figure of speech in which a word or group of words located at the end of one... (read more)

Analogy

An analogy is a comparison that aims to explain a thing or idea by likening it to something else. For... (read more)

Anapest

An anapest is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed syllable.... (read more)

Anaphora

Anaphora is a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences. For... (read more)

Antagonist

An antagonist is usually a character who opposes the protagonist (or main character) of a story, but the antagonist can... (read more)

Antanaclasis

Antanaclasis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated within a sentence, but the word... (read more)

Antimetabole

Antimetabole is a figure of speech in which a phrase is repeated, but with the order of words reversed. John... (read more)

Antithesis

Antithesis is a figure of speech that juxtaposes two contrasting or opposing ideas, usually within parallel grammatical structures. For instance,... (read more)

Aphorism

An aphorism is a saying that concisely expresses a moral principle or an observation about the world, presenting it as... (read more)

Aphorismus

Aphorismus is a type of figure of speech that calls into question the way a word is used. Aphorismus is... (read more)

Aporia

Aporia is a rhetorical device in which a speaker expresses uncertainty or doubt—often pretended uncertainty or doubt—about something, usually as... (read more)

Apostrophe

Apostrophe is a figure of speech in which a speaker directly addresses someone (or something) that is not present or... (read more)

Assonance

Assonance is a figure of speech in which the same vowel sound repeats within a group of words. An example... (read more)

Asyndeton

An asyndeton (sometimes called asyndetism) is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and", "or", and "but"... (read more)

Ballad

A ballad is a type of poem that tells a story and was traditionally set to music. English language ballads... (read more)

Ballade

A ballade is a form of lyric poetry that originated in medieval France. Ballades follow a strict rhyme scheme ("ababbcbc"),... (read more)

Bildungsroman

Bildungsroman is a genre of novel that shows a young protagonist's journey from childhood to adulthood (or immaturity to maturity),... (read more)

Blank Verse

Blank verse is the name given to poetry that lacks rhymes but does follow a specific meter—a meter that is... (read more)

Caesura

A caesura is a pause that occurs within a line of poetry, usually marked by some form of punctuation such... (read more)

Catharsis

Catharsis is the process of releasing strong or pent-up emotions through art. Aristotle coined the term catharsis—which comes from the... (read more)

Characterization

Characterization is the representation of the traits, motives, and psychology of a character in a narrative. Characterization may occur through... (read more)

Chiasmus

Chiasmus is a figure of speech in which the grammar of one phrase is inverted in the following phrase, such... (read more)

Cinquain

The word cinquain can refer to two different things. Historically, it referred to any stanza of five lines written in... (read more)

Cliché

A cliché is a phrase that, due to overuse, is seen as lacking in substance or originality. For example, telling... (read more)

Climax (Figure of Speech)

Climax is a figure of speech in which successive words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are arranged in ascending order of... (read more)

Climax (Plot)

The climax of a plot is the story's central turning point—the moment of peak tension or conflict—which all the preceding plot... (read more)

Colloquialism

Colloquialism is the use of informal words or phrases in writing or speech. Colloquialisms are usually defined in geographical terms,... (read more)

Common Meter

Common meter is a specific type of meter that is often used in lyric poetry. Common meter has two key... (read more)

Conceit

A conceit is a fanciful metaphor, especially a highly elaborate or extended metaphor in which an unlikely, far-fetched, or strained... (read more)

Connotation

Connotation is the array of emotions and ideas suggested by a word in addition to its dictionary definition. Most words... (read more)

Consonance

Consonance is a figure of speech in which the same consonant sound repeats within a group of words. An example... (read more)

Couplet

A couplet is a unit of two lines of poetry, especially lines that use the same or similar meter, form... (read more)

Dactyl

A dactyl is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables.... (read more)

Denotation

Denotation is the literal meaning, or "dictionary definition," of a word. Denotation is defined in contrast to connotation, which is... (read more)

Deus Ex Machina

A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby an unsolvable conflict or point of tension is suddenly resolved by... (read more)

Diacope

Diacope is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated with a small number of intervening... (read more)

Diction

Diction is a writer's unique style of expression, especially his or her choice and arrangement of words. A writer's vocabulary,... (read more)

Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a... (read more)

Dynamic Character

A dynamic character undergoes substantial internal changes as a result of one or more plot developments. The dynamic character's change... (read more)

Elegy

An elegy is a poem of serious reflection, especially one mourning the loss of someone who died. Elegies are defined... (read more)

End Rhyme

End rhyme refers to rhymes that occur in the final words of lines of poetry. For instance, these lines from... (read more)

End-Stopped Line

An end-stopped line is a line of poetry that ends with some form of punctuation, such as a comma or... (read more)

Enjambment

Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence or clause across a line break without any terminating punctuation mark, such as... (read more)

Envoi

An envoi is a brief concluding stanza at the end of a poem that can either summarize the preceding poem... (read more)

Epanalepsis

Epanalepsis is a figure of speech in which the beginning of a clause or sentence is repeated at the end... (read more)

Epigram

An epigram is a short and witty statement, usually written in verse, that conveys a single thought or observation. Epigrams... (read more)

Epistrophe

Epistrophe is a figure of speech in which one or more words repeat at the end of successive phrases, clauses,... (read more)

Epizeuxis

Epizeuxis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated in immediate succession, with no intervening... (read more)

Ethos

Ethos, along with logos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective... (read more)

Exposition

Exposition is the description or explanation of background information within a work of literature. Exposition can cover characters and their... (read more)

Extended Metaphor

An extended metaphor is a metaphor that unfolds across multiple lines or even paragraphs of a text, making use of... (read more)

Falling Action

The falling action of a story is the section of the plot following the climax, in which the tension stemming from... (read more)

Figurative Language

Figurative language is language that contains or uses figures of speech. When people use the term "figurative language," however, they... (read more)

Figure of Speech

A figure of speech is a literary device in which language is used in an unusual—or "figured"—way in order to... (read more)

Flat Character

A character is said to be "flat" if it is one-dimensional or lacking in complexity. Typically, flat characters can be easily... (read more)

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... (read more)

Formal Verse

Formal verse is the name given to rhymed poetry that uses a strict meter (a regular pattern of stressed and... (read more)

Free Verse

Free verse is the name given to poetry that doesn’t use any strict meter or rhyme scheme. Because it has... (read more)

Hamartia

Hamartia is a literary term that refers to a tragic flaw or error that leads to a character's downfall. In... (read more)

Hubris

Hubris refers to excessive pride or overconfidence, which drives a person to overstep limits in a way that leads to... (read more)

Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Hyperbolic statements... (read more)

Iamb

An iamb is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which one unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable.... (read more)

Idiom

An idiom is a phrase that conveys a figurative meaning that is difficult or impossible to understand based solely on... (read more)

Imagery

Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. For instance, the following lines... (read more)

Internal Rhyme

Internal rhyme is rhyme that occurs in the middle of lines of poetry, instead of at the ends of lines.... (read more)

Irony

Irony is a literary device or event in which how things seem to be is in fact very different from how... (read more)

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition occurs when an author places two things side by side as a way of highlighting their differences. Ideas, images,... (read more)

Kenning

A kenning is a figure of speech in which two words are combined in order to form a poetic expression... (read more)

Line Break

A line break is the termination of one line of poetry, and the beginning of a new line. (read more)

Litotes

Litotes is a figure of speech and a form of understatement in which a sentiment is expressed ironically by negating... (read more)

Logos

Logos, along with ethos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective... (read more)

Metaphor

A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other.... (read more)

Meter

Meter is a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that defines the rhythm of some poetry. These stress patterns... (read more)

Metonymy

Metonymy is a type of figurative language in which an object or concept is referred to not by its own... (read more)

Motif

A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of... (read more)

Narrative

A narrative is an account of connected events. Two writers describing the same set of events might craft very different narratives,... (read more)

Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech in which words evoke the actual sound of the thing they refer to or... (read more)

Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to... (read more)

Paradox

A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel... (read more)

Parallelism

Parallelism is a figure of speech in which two or more elements of a sentence (or series of sentences) have... (read more)

Parataxis

Parataxis is a figure of speech in which words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are set next to each other so... (read more)

Parody

A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually... (read more)

Pathetic Fallacy

Pathetic fallacy occurs when a writer attributes human emotions to things that aren't human, such as objects, weather, or animals.... (read more)

Pathos

Pathos, along with logos and ethos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective... (read more)

Personification

Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the... (read more)

Plot

Plot is the sequence of interconnected events within the story of a play, novel, film, epic, or other narrative literary... (read more)

Point of View

Point of view refers to the perspective that the narrator holds in relation to the events of the story. The... (read more)

Polyptoton

Polyptoton is a figure of speech that involves the repetition of words derived from the same root (such as "blood"... (read more)

Polysyndeton

Polysyndeton is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and," "or," and "but" that join other words... (read more)

Protagonist

The protagonist of a story is its main character, who has the sympathy and support of the audience. This character... (read more)

Pun

A pun is a figure of speech that plays with words that have multiple meanings, or that plays with words... (read more)

Quatrain

A quatrain is a four-line stanza of poetry. It can be a single four-line stanza, meaning that it is a... (read more)

Refrain

In a poem or song, a refrain is a line or group of lines that regularly repeat, usually at the... (read more)

Repetition

Repetition is a literary device in which a word or phrase is repeated two or more times. Repetition occurs in... (read more)

Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in which a question is asked for a reason other than to... (read more)

Rhyme

A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in two or more words. Rhyming is particularly common in many types... (read more)

Rhyme Scheme

A rhyme scheme is the pattern according to which end rhymes (rhymes located at the end of lines) are repeated... (read more)

Rising Action

The rising action of a story is the section of the plot leading up to the climax, in which the tension stemming... (read more)

Round Character

A character is said to be "round" if they are lifelike or complex. Round characters typically have fully fleshed-out and... (read more)

Satire

Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone. Public figures, such as politicians,... (read more)

Sestet

A sestet is a six-line stanza of poetry. It can be any six-line stanza—one that is, itself, a whole poem,... (read more)

Setting

Setting is where and when a story or scene takes place. The where can be a real place like the... (read more)

Sibilance

Sibilance is a figure of speech in which a hissing sound is created within a group of words through the repetition... (read more)

Simile

A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often... (read more)

Slant Rhyme

Traditionally, slant rhyme referred to a type of rhyme in which two words located at the end of a line... (read more)

Soliloquy

A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself,... (read more)

Sonnet

A sonnet is a type of fourteen-line poem. Traditionally, the fourteen lines of a sonnet consist of an octave (or... (read more)

Spondee

A spondee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which both syllables are stressed. The word "downtown" is a... (read more)

Stanza

A stanza is a group of lines form a smaller unit within a poem. A single stanza is usually set... (read more)

Static Character

A character is said to be "static" if they do not undergo any substantial internal changes as a result of... (read more)

Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness is a style or technique of writing that tries to capture the natural flow of a character's... (read more)

Syllogism

A syllogism is a three-part logical argument, based on deductive reasoning, in which two premises are combined to arrive at... (read more)

Symbolism

Symbolism is a literary device in which a writer uses one thing—usually a physical object or phenomenon—to represent something more... (read more)

Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which, most often, a part of something is used to refer to its... (read more)

Theme

A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. One key characteristic of literary... (read more)

Tone

The tone of a piece of writing is its general character or attitude, which might be cheerful or depressive, sarcastic or sincere, comical... (read more)

Tragic Hero

A tragic hero is a type of character in a tragedy, and is usually the protagonist. Tragic heroes typically have... (read more)

Trochee

A trochee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable.... (read more)

Understatement

Understatement is a figure of speech in which something is expressed less strongly than would be expected, or in which something... (read more)

Verbal Irony

Verbal irony occurs when the literal meaning of what someone says is different from—and often opposite to—what they actually mean.... (read more)

Villanelle

A villanelle is a poem of nineteen lines, and which follows a strict form that consists of five tercets (three-line... (read more)

Zeugma

A zeugma is a figure of speech in which one "governing" word or phrase modifies two distinct parts of a... (read more)