Literary Terms



Major Literary Terms


allegory - device of using character and/or story elements symbolically to represent an abstraction in

      addition to the literal meaning

alliteration - the repetition of sounds, especially initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words

      (eg "she sells sea shells")

allusion - a direct or indirect reference to something which is presumably commonly known, such as an

      event, book, myth, place, or work of art

ambiguity - the multiple meanings, either intentional or unintentional, of a word, phrase, sentence, or


analogy - a similarity or comparison between two different things or the relationship between them

antecedent - the word, phrase, or clause referred to by a pronoun

aphorism - a terse statement of known authorship which expresses a general turht or moral principle

apostrophe - a figure of speech that directly addresses an absent or imaginary person or a personified

      abstraction, such as liberty or love

atmosphere - the emotional mood created by the entirety of a literary work, established partly by the setting

      and partly by the author's choice of objects that are described

clause - a grammatical unit that contains both a subject and a verb

colloquial - the use of slang or informalities in speech or writing

conceit - a fanciful expression, usually in the form of an extended metaphor or surprising analogy between

      seemingly dissimilar objects

connotation - the nonliteral, associative meaning of a word; the implied, suggested meaning

denotation - the strict, literal, dictionary definition of a word, devoid of any emotion, attitude, or color

diction - refereing to style, diction refers to the writer's word choices, especially with regard to their

      correctness, clearness, or effectiveness

didactic - from the Greek, literally means "teaching"

euphemism - from the Greek for "good speech," a more agreeable or less offensive substitute for a

      generally unpleasant word or concept

extended metaphor - a metaphor developed at great length, ocurring frequently in or throughout a work

figurative language - writing or speech that is not intended to carry litera meaning and is usually meant to

      be imaginative and vivid

figure of speech - a device used to produce figurative language

generic convntions - refers to traditions for each genre

genre - the major category into which a literary work fits (eg prose, poetry, and drama)

homily - literally "sermon", or any serious talk, speech, or lecture providing moral or spiritual advice

hyperbole - a figure of speech using deliberate exaggeration or overstatement

imagery - the sensory details or figurative language used to describe, arouse emotion, or represent


infer (inference) - to draw a reasonable conclusion from the informaion presented

invective - an emotionally violent, verbal denunciation or attack using strong, abusive language

irony - the contrast between what is stated explicitly and what is really meant

      verbal irony - words literally state the opposite of speaker's true meaning

      situational irony - events turn out the opposite of what was expected

      dramatic irony - facts or events are unknown to a character but known to the reader or audience or

           other characters in work

loose sentence - a type of sentence in which the main idea comes first, followed by dependent grammatical


metaphor - a figure of speech using implied comparison of seemingly unlike things or the substitution of

      one for the other, suggesting some similarity

metonomy - from the Greek "changed label", the name of one object is substituted for that of another

      closely associated with it (eg "the White House" for the President)

mood - grammatically, the verbal units and a speaker's attitude (indicative, subjunctive, imperative);

      literarily, the prevailing atmosphere or emotional aura of a word

narrative - the telling of a story or an account of an event or sereis of events

onomatopoeia - natural sounds are imitated in the sounds of words (eg buzz, hiss)

oxymoron - from the Greek for "pointedly foolish," author groups apparently contradictory terms to suggest

      a paradox

paradox - a statement that appears to be self-contradictory or opposed to common sense but upon closer

      inspection contains some degree of truth or validity

parallelism - from the Greek for "beside one another," the grammatical or rhetorical framing of words,

      phrases, sentences, or paragraphs to give structural similarity

parody - a work that closely imitates the style or content of another with the speific aim of comic effect

      and/or ridicule

pedantic - an adjective that describes words, phrases, or general tone that is overly scholarly, academic, or


periodic sentences - a sentence that presents its central meaning in a main clause at the end

personification - a figure of speech in which the author presents or describes concepts, animasl, or

      inanimate objects by endowing them with human attributes or emotions

point of view - the perspective from which a story is told (first person, third person omniscient, or third

      person limited omniscient)

predicate adjective - one type of subject complement, an adjective, group of adjectives, or adjective cluase

      that follows a linking verb

predicate nominative - another type of subject complement, a noun, group of nouns, or noun clause that

      renames the subject

prose - genre including fiction, nonfiction, written in ordinary language

      repetition - the duplication, either exact or approximate, of any element of language

rhetoric - from the Greek for "orator," the principles governing the art of writing effectively, eloquently,

      and persuasively

rhetorical modes - the variety, conventions, and purposes of the major kinds of writing (exposition explains

      and analyzes information; argumentation proves validity of an idea; description re-creates, invents,

      or presents a person, place, event or action; narration tells a story or recount an event)

sarcasm - from the Greek for "to tear flesh," involves bitter, caustic language that is meant to hurt or

      ridicule someone or something

satire - a work that targets human vices and follies or social institutinos and conventions for reform or


semantics - the branch of linguistics which studies the meaning of words, their historical and psychological

      development (etymology), their connotations, and their relation to one another

style - an evaluation of the sum of the choices an author maks in blending diction, syntx, figurative

      language, and other literary devices;  or, classification of authors to a group and comparion of an

      author to similar authors

subject complement - the word or clause that follows a linking verb and complements, or completes, the

      subject of the sentence by either renaming it or describing it

subordinate clause - contains a subject and verb (like all clauses) but cannot stand alone; does not express

      complete thought

syllogism - from the Greek for "reckoning together," a deductive system of fromal logic that presents two

      premises (first "major," second "minor") that inevitably lead to a sound conclusion (eg All men are

      mortal, Socrates is a man, Socrates is mortal)

symbol (symbolism) - anything that represents or stands for something else (natural, conventional, literary)

syntax - the way an author chooses to join words into phrases, clauses, and sentences

theme - the central idea or message of a work, the insight it offers into life

thesis - in expository writing, the thesis statement is the sentence or group of sentences that directly express

      the author's opinion, purpose, meaning, or proposition

tone - similar to mood, describes the author's attitude toward his material, the audience, or both

transition - a word or phrase that links different ideas

understatement - the ironic minimalizing of fact, presents something as less significant than it is

wit - intellectually amusing language that surprises and delights


Poetic Feet


U - unaccented syllable, A - accented syllable


amphimacer - AUA

anapest - UUA

antibacchus - AAU

bacchius - UAA

chouambus - AUUA

dactyl - AUU

iambus - UA

pyrrhic - UU

spondee - UU

trochee - AU


breve - symbol for unstressed syllable

macron - a "-" symbol to divide syllables