Writing is a staple of your education and fundamental to nearly every profession, no matter what industry. How do you make your writing effective? One important component of great writing is the use of literary devices.
Why Should I Understand Literary Devices?
Literary devices improve your writing. You can use them in your courses and college essays and on the SAT writing section, not to mention in your college coursework and future profession.
Understanding literary devices also helps you comprehend the work of others. For example, on the SAT reading test, you’ll need to understand and analyze the work of others. Being able to spot the literary devices the author is using will help you get a sense of the overall meanings behind the passages you encounter.
This is also useful knowledge to have for any social science or humanities class, where you’ll be expected to analyze and understand long works.
30 Literary Devices You Should Know
What is It: A work that symbolizes or represents an idea or event.
Example: The novel Animal Farm by George Orwell is an allegory for the Russian Revolution, with characters representing key figures in the movement.
What is It: The repetition of the same or similar consonant sounds in succession.
Example: She sells seashells by the seashore.
What is it: An indirect reference to a person, place, thing, event, or idea .
Example: The song “American Pie” by Don McLean is full of allusions to events that occurred in the 1950s and 60s. For instance, “February made me shiver” is an allusion to the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly on February 3, 1959.
What is it: A parallel between disparate ideas, people, things, or events that is more elaborate than a metaphor or simile.
Example: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” —William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2
In this instance, Romeo is drawing an analogy between Juliet and a rose.
What is it: The interpretation of a nonhuman animal, event, or object as embodying human qualities or characteristics.
Example: Inanimate objects such as Mrs. Potts and Lumiere are anthropomorphized in Beauty and the Beast.
What is it: An intentional or unintentional error in chronology or a timeline.
Brutus: “Peace! Count the clock.”
Cassius: “The clock has stricken three.”
—William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 1
Mechanical clocks did not exist in 44 A.D., when the play takes place, so this the inclusion of the clock here is an anachronism.
What is it: An informal piece of dialogue or turn of phrase used in everyday conversation.
Example: Contractions such as “ain’t” are colloquialisms that are used in everyday conversation or dialogue to make the speaker and speech sound more authentic.
What is it: The word choice and speaking style of a writer or character.
Example: Diction is involved in almost every piece of writing because it is a vehicle for conveying the tone of the work. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck speaks in a distinctive way characterized by his lack of education and outsider status. This is his diction.
What is it: A poem expressing grief over a death.
Example: O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman is an elegy for Abraham Lincoln.
What is it: A moment of sudden realization by a character.
Example: In the movie Clueless, Cher has an epiphany that she is in love with her stepbrother, Josh.
What is it: A less provocative or milder term used in place of a more explicit or unpleasant one.
Example: “I have to let you go” is a euphemistic expression for firing someone.
What is it: Hinting at future or subsequent events to come to build tension in a narrative.
Example: In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the witches portend evil, chanting, “Something wicked this way comes.”
What is it: A statement that is obviously and intentionally exaggerated.
Example: “I have a million things to do” is a hyperbolic statement, since no individual actually has one million items on her to-do list.
What is it: A figure of speech that is indecipherable based on the words alone.
Example: “Don’t cut any corners” is an idiom; on its surface, it doesn’t make sense but is a known phrase that means don’t take shortcuts.
What is it: A compilation of sensory details that enable the reader to visualize the event.
Example: “Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.” —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
In this passage, Melville uses vivid imagery such as the “yawning gulf” and “sullen white surf” to capture the scene.
What is it: An instance of language conveying the opposite of its literal meaning:
- Verbal irony: speech that conveys the opposite of its literal meaning
- Situational irony: An event that occurs that is the opposite of what is expected
- Dramatic irony: Usually applied to theater or literature, an instance in which the audience knows something the characters involved do not
Verbal Irony: “That’s nice” as a response to an insulting statement is an instance of verbal irony.
Situational irony: In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus’s parents abandon him to prevent the prophecy of him killing his father and marrying his mother from coming true. The abandonment itself leads him to fulfill the prophecy.
Dramatic irony: In Psycho, the audience knows a killer approaching, but Marion does not.
What is it: Ideas, people, images, ideas, or object placed next to one another to highlight their differences.
“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.”
—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Here, Dickens juxtaposes multiple circumstances, uses opposites for emphasis.
What is it: An incorrect word intentionally or unintentionally used in place of a similar-sounding one, sometimes used for humorous effect.
“Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons.”
—William Shakespeare, Much Ado Without Nothing, Act 3, scene 5
The malapropisms, in this case, are the misuse of “comprehended” in place of “apprehended” and “auspicious” instead of “suspicious.”
What is it: A comparison of two ideas, events, objects, or people that does not use “like” or “as.”
An extended metaphor is a lengthy metaphor that continues the comparison for several sentences, paragraphs, or even pages.
“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief.”
—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2
Here, the sun is a metaphor for Juliet.
What is it: The general feeling the speaker evokes in the reader through the atmosphere, descriptions, and other features.
“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before”
—Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven
Poe evokes an air of mystery in the opening lines of his poem, setting a dark mood.
What is it: A word the is closely associated or identical to the sound it describes.
What is it: A pairing of seemingly contradictory terms used to convey emphasis or tension.
“A fine mess”: this is an oxymoronic characterization because “fine” is typically associated with beauty and order, while “mess” is the opposite.
What is it: An apparent contradiction that, upon further unraveling, may contain truth, used for effect on the reader.
Hamlet: “I must be cruel to be kind.”
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4
In this instance, Hamlet must, in fact, act in a seemingly cruel way in order to ultimately be kind.
What is it: Lending descriptions generally applied to human beings to nonhumans. This term differs from anthropomorphism in that the nonhuman entities are not thought to behave in human-like ways but are merely described in these terms.
Example: The shadows danced on the wall.
Shadows do not actually dance, but the lending of the human action personifies them.
What is it: Multiple instances of a word or phrase, often in succession, used for emphasis.
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
—Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
The repetition emphasizes the length of the speaker’s journey.
What is it: A phrase or entire work that uses irony to critique behaviors, events, people, or vices.
Example: Animal Farm is a work of satire, critiquing Stalinism and the politics Soviet Union.
What is it: A comparison between objects, events, or people that uses “like” or “as.”
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
that floats on high o’er vales and hills.”
—William Wordsworth, Daffodils
“Lonely as a cloud” is a simile, comparing the states of isolation.
What is it: Something used to represent a larger concept or idea.
In Macbeth, the “spot” Lady Macbeth cannot get off her dress is a symbol of her guilt-stained conscience.
What is it: An instance of a part representing a whole or vice versa.
Example: When someone refers to looking out at a “sea of faces,” the faces represent whole people.
What is it: The speaker or narrator’s attitude toward the subject of the piece, distinct from mood in that it is not used to evoke a particular feeling in the reader.
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
—Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
The speaker is evoking a tone of unhappiness and possible regret with the words “with a sigh.”
To learn more about using rhetorical devices, read How to Use Rhetorical Devices in Your College Essay.
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Literary Elements: Plot, Exposition, Rising Action/Complication, Climax, Falling action , Resolution/ Denouement, Con ict, Theme, Protagonist, Antagonist, Imagery, Symbolism, Figurative Language, Irony (Situational irony and Dramatic irony), Ambiguity, Style, Point of View, Characterization (Complex Characters and ...What are the literary elements for 9th grade? ›
Literary Elements: Plot, Exposition, Rising Action/Complication, Climax, Falling action , Resolution/ Denouement, Con ict, Theme, Protagonist, Antagonist, Imagery, Symbolism, Figurative Language, Irony (Situational irony and Dramatic irony), Ambiguity, Style, Point of View, Characterization (Complex Characters and ...What are some of the most common literary devices? ›
The most common literary devices used in literature, art, and everyday language are similes, metaphors, personification, hyperbole, and symbolism.What is the 10 literary devices and elements? ›
A literary element refers to components of a literary work (character, setting, plot, theme, frame, exposition, ending/denouement, motif, titling, narrative point-‐of-‐view). These are technical terms for the “what” of a work.What is a literary device 5th grade? ›
A literary device is any specific aspect of literature, or a particular work, which we can recognize, identify, interpret and/or analyze. Both literary elements and literary techniques can rightly be called literary devices.What are the examples of imagery? ›
|Visual imagery||The old book had water spots across its spine. Some of the pages yellowed.|
|Auditory imagery||The warden's keys clanked as he walked past the cells.|
|Olfactory imagery||The air smelled salty, reminding me that the beach is nearby.|
The Literary Analysis Task requires students to read two literary texts that are purposely paired. Students read the texts, answer questions for each text and for the texts as a pair, and then write an analytic essay.What are all 7 literary elements? ›
- Character. This is so important, because unless your reader feels something for the characters, they won't care what happens to them, and they won't read on. ...
- Plot. ...
- Setting. ...
- Point of View. ...
- Style. ...
- Theme. ...
- Literary Devices.
The 8 elements of a story are: character, setting, plot, conflict, theme, point-of-view, tone and style.How many literary devices are they? ›
22 Different Types of Literary Devices and How to Use Them. Writers use a wide variety of literary devices across different genres. Each literary device serves a specific purpose. Understanding how to correctly wield these devices can significantly improve your own writing.
The various literary devices used in English Literature are
Alliteration, Analogy, Allegory, Anaphora, Metaphor, Simile, Aphorism, Oxymoron, Onomatopoeia, Eulogy, Elegy, and others.
They are the essential ingredients that make up a story, poem or play. Without literary elements, there would be no literature. Literary elements include plot, conflict, character, setting, point of view, and theme. They are essential because they provide a framework for the writer to tell their story.What is the easiest literary device to use? ›
Alliteration. This is one of the easiest go-to devices to use. Alliteration involves the quick repetition of the first letters, and therefore the first sounds, of words.What are 3 examples of a simile? ›
- As slow as a sloth.
- As busy as a bee.
- As innocent as a lamb.
- As proud as a peacock.
- As fast as a cheetah.
- As blind as a bat.
- As bold as brass.
- As cold as ice.
Literary Devices refers to the typical structures used by writers in their works to convey his or her messages in a simple manner to the readers. Literary Devices are Metaphor, Simile, Hyperbole, Personification, Analogy, Euphemism, Allegory etc...What are literary elements 4th grade? ›
Students in fourth grade should be able to understand the basic elements of a story such as rising action, climax, falling action, and the resolution. Students should be able to examine these elements and draw conclusions about the construction of the story.What are the 10 examples of imagery? ›
- Visual: appeals to our sense of sight. The crimson apple glistened in her hand.
- Auditory: appeals to our sense of sound. The roaring thunder frightened the little boy.
- Olfactory: appeals to our sense of smell. ...
- Gustatory: appeals to our sense of taste. ...
- Tactile: appeals to our sense of touch.
Foreshadowing is a literary device that alludes to a later point in the story. For example, if a character mentions offhandedly that bad things always happen to them in autumn, then the observant reader will be alert when the leaves in the story begin to fall.How do you write a 10th grade literature essay? ›
Your essay will need an introduction, three to four paragraphs and a conclusion. Use a paragraph for each of your main ideas. Remember that a body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence, followed by the evidence for and explanation of your point. At the end of each paragraph, remember to link back to the topic.What is a literary analysis 8th grade? ›
The Literary Analysis Task requires students to read two literary texts that are purposely paired. Students read the texts, answer questions for each text and for the texts as a pair, and then write an analytic essay.
- Start with a Brief Introduction that Includes a Clear Thesis Statement.
- Use Clear Examples to Support Your Argument.
- Discussion is Crucial to Connect Your Evidence to Your Argument.
- Write a Brief Conclusion.
- Don't Forget About Your Grammar.
Have you ever felt pretty overwhelmed by all the different types of literature out there? There is a lot, but luckily they all fit under just three major genres. The rest are all sub-genres, and even the subgenres have subgenres. The three major genres are Prose, Drama, and Poetry.What are the 3 main literary elements? ›
Literary elements include plot, theme, character and tone.What are the five 21st century literary genres? ›
Poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama, and prose are the five main genres of literature. Writers can then further categorize their literature into subgenres.What is an element of a story Grade 11? ›
The main parts of a story consist of five elements: characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution.What are the 7 elements of a story Grade 7? ›
- 1 — A Theme. Plot (#5) is what happens in a story, a theme is why it happens—which you need to know while you're writing the plot. ...
- 2 — Characters. I'm talking believable characters who feel knowable. ...
- 3 — Setting. ...
- 4 — Point of View. ...
- 5 — Plot. ...
- 6 — Conflict. ...
- 7 — Resolution.
Some of these elements include theme, plot, characters, and setting. They are often used in analyzing a specific work. Theme refers to the overarching message or idea that is explored through a work of literature. A story may have many minor or major themes.What literary device is three words? ›
The TRICOLON is a rhetorical device involving three words or groups of words with the same grammatical structure, such as three nouns or three prepositional phrases or three sentences.What is a literary device that starts with P? ›
PERSONIFICATION: A trope in which abstractions, animals, ideas, and inanimate objects are given human character, traits, abilities, or reactions. Personification is particularly common in poetry, but it appears in nearly all types of artful writing.What literary device is a one word sentence? ›
An imperative sentence can be as short as one word, such as: "Go." Technically, a sentence must contain at least a subject and a verb, but in this case, the subject (you) is assumed and understood.
Sensory imagery is a literary device writers employ to engage a reader's mind on multiple levels. Sensory imagery explores the five human senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.What are the two major types of literary devices *? ›
Literary elements and literary techniques are both types of literary devices. Literary elements are “big-picture” literary devices that extend throughout the entire work, such as setting, theme, mood, and allegory.What literary devices are used in the last lesson Class 12? ›
Lawrence makes use of several poetic techniques in 'Afternoon in School: The Last Lesson'. These include alliteration, enjambment, anaphora, and caesura. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter.Is a simile a literary device? ›
Simile is common poetic device. The subject of the poem is described by comparing it to another object or subject, using 'as' or 'like'. For example, the subject may be 'creeping as quietly as a mouse' or be 'sly, like a fox. 'Is imagery a literary device? ›
Imagery is a literary device that evokes the five senses to create a mental image.How do you identify literary devices? ›
- Several words placed either side by side or close together which begin with the same letter or sound. ...
- A comparison of two unrelated things to describe something using something else that does not have a literal similarity.
Parataxis (from Greek: παράταξις, "act of placing side by side"; from παρα, para "beside" + τάξις, táxis "arrangement") is a literary technique, in writing or speaking, that favors short, simple sentences, without conjunctions or with the use of coordinating, but not with subordinating conjunctions.Is Irony a literary device? ›
As a literary device, irony implies a distance between what is said and what is meant. Based on the context, the reader is able to see the implied meaning in spite of the contradiction.What are the 7 literary techniques? ›
These elements are character, plot, setting, theme, point of view, conflict, and tone. All seven elements work together to create a coherent story. When you're writing a story, these are the fundamental building blocks you should use. You can approach the seven elements in any order.What are the 6 types of literary? ›
- Drama. Stories composed in verse or prose, usually for theatrical performance, where conflicts and emotion are expressed through dialogue and action.
- Fable. ...
- Fairy Tale. ...
- Fantasy. ...
- Fiction. ...
- Fiction in Verse. ...
- Folklore. ...
- Historical Fiction.
- Life is a highway.
- Her eyes were diamonds.
- He is a shining star.
- The snow is a white blanket.
- She is an early bird.
If you're a black sheep, you get cold feet, or you think love is a highway, then you're probably thinking metaphorically.What are the 10 examples of simile? ›
- As slow as a sloth.
- As busy as a bee.
- As innocent as a lamb.
- As proud as a peacock.
- As fast as a cheetah.
- As blind as a bat.
- As bold as brass.
- As cold as ice.
A paradox is a literary device that appears to contradict itself but contains some truth, theme, or humor.What is oxymoron literary device? ›
As this origin suggests, oxymoron is itself an oxymoron; it is a rhetorical term that describes words or phrases that, when placed together, create paradoxes or contradictions. These contradictions seem foolish but, when we think about them a bit, often turn out to be sharp observations about our world.What is hyperbole literary device? ›
hyperbole, a figure of speech that is an intentional exaggeration for emphasis or comic effect. Hyperbole is common in love poetry, in which it is used to convey the lover's intense admiration for his beloved.