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13 Essential Literary Terms

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❶Common Meter Common meter is a specific type of meter that is often used in lyric poetry.

Literary Devices and Terms




Verbal irony occurs when the literal meaning of what someone says is different from—and often opposite to—what they actually mean. When there's a hurricane raging outside and someone remarks "what lovely weather we're having," this A villanelle is a poem of nineteen lines, and which follows a strict form that consists of five tercets three-line stanzas followed by one quatrain four-line stanza.

Villanelles use a specific rhyme scheme of ABA A zeugma is a figure of speech in which one "governing" word or phrase modifies two distinct parts of a sentence. Often, the governing word will mean something different when applied to each part, as Sign In Sign Up. Teach your students to analyze literature like LitCharts does.

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LitCharts From the creators of SparkNotes, something better. Get all terms in one PDF! Click on any of the 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, word, or paragraph—spells out a word or phrase with special significance to the text.

Allegory An allegory is a work that conveys a hidden meaning—usually moral, spiritual, or political—through the use of symbolic characters and events. Allusion In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Anachronism An anachronism is a person or a thing placed in the wrong time period. Anadiplosis Anadiplosis is a figure of speech in which a word or group of words located at the end of one clause or sentence is repeated at or near the beginning of the following clause or Analogy An analogy is a comparison that aims to explain a thing or idea by likening it to something else.

Anapest An anapest is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed syllable. Anaphora Anaphora is a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences. Antagonist An antagonist is usually a character who opposes the protagonist or main character of a story, but the antagonist can also be a group of characters, institution, or force against which the protagonist must contend Antanaclasis Antanaclasis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated within a sentence, but the word or phrase means something different each time it appears.

Antimetabole Antimetabole is a figure of speech in which a phrase is repeated, but with the order of words reversed. Antithesis Antithesis is a figure of speech that juxtaposes two contrasting or opposing ideas, usually within parallel grammatical structures. Aphorism An aphorism is a saying that concisely expresses a moral principle or an observation about the world, presenting it as a general or universal truth. Aphorismus Aphorismus is a type of figure of speech that calls into question the way a word is used.

Aporia Aporia is a rhetorical device in which a speaker expresses uncertainty or doubt—often pretended uncertainty or doubt—about something, usually as a way of proving a point. Apostrophe Apostrophe is a figure of speech in which a speaker directly addresses someone or something that is not present or cannot respond in reality. Assonance Assonance is a figure of speech in which the same vowel sound repeats within a group of words.

Asyndeton An asyndeton sometimes called asyndetism is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and", "or", and "but" that join other words or clauses in a sentence into relationships of equal importance—are omitted Ballad A ballad is a type of poem that tells a story and was traditionally set to music. Ballade A ballade is a form of lyric poetry that originated in medieval France. Bildungsroman Bildungsroman is a genre of novel that shows a young protagonist's journey from childhood to adulthood or immaturity to maturity , with a focus on the trials and misfortunes that affect the character's growth.

Blank Verse Blank verse is the name given to poetry that lacks rhymes but does follow a specific meter—a meter that is almost always iambic pentameter. Caesura A caesura is a pause that occurs within a line of poetry, usually marked by some form of punctuation such as a period, comma, ellipsis, or dash. Catharsis Catharsis is the process of releasing strong or pent-up emotions through art. Characterization Characterization is the representation of the traits, motives, and psychology of a character in a narrative.

Chiasmus Chiasmus is a figure of speech in which the grammar of one phrase is inverted in the following phrase, such that two key concepts from the original phrase reappear in the second phrase in inverted Cinquain The word cinquain can refer to two different things. Climax Figure of Speech Climax is a figure of speech in which successive words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are arranged in ascending order of importance, as in "Look!

Colloquialism Colloquialism is the use of informal words or phrases in writing or speech. Common Meter Common meter is a specific type of meter that is often used in lyric poetry. Conceit A conceit is a fanciful metaphor, especially a highly elaborate or extended metaphor in which an unlikely, far-fetched, or strained comparison is made between two things. Connotation Connotation is the array of emotions and ideas suggested by a word in addition to its dictionary definition.

Consonance Consonance is a figure of speech in which the same consonant sound repeats within a group of words. Couplet A couplet is a unit of two lines of poetry, especially lines that use the same or similar meter, form a rhyme, or are separated from other lines by a double line break. Dactyl A dactyl is a three-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by two unstressed syllables.

Denotation Denotation is the literal meaning, or "dictionary definition," of a word. Deus Ex Machina A deus ex machina is a plot device whereby an unsolvable conflict or point of tension is suddenly resolved by the unexpected appearance of an implausible character, object, action, ability, or event. Diacope Diacope is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated with a small number of intervening words.

Dialogue Dialogue is the exchange of spoken words between two or more characters in a book, play, or other written work. Diction Diction is a writer's unique style of expression, especially his or her choice and arrangement of words. Dramatic Irony Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a character's understanding of a given situation, and that of the audience. Dynamic Character A dynamic character undergoes substantial internal changes as a result of one or more plot developments.

Elegy An elegy is a poem of serious reflection, especially one mourning the loss of someone who died. End Rhyme End rhyme refers to rhymes that occur in the final words of lines of poetry. End-Stopped Line An end-stopped line is a line of poetry that ends with some form of punctuation, such as a comma or period.

Enjambment Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence or clause across a line break without any terminating punctuation mark, such as a comma or period. Envoi An envoi is a brief concluding stanza at the end of a poem that can either summarize the preceding poem or serve as its dedication. Epanalepsis Epanalepsis is a figure of speech in which the beginning of a clause or sentence is repeated at the end of that same clause or sentence, with words intervening.

Epigram An epigram is a short and witty statement, usually written in verse, that conveys a single thought or observation. Epistrophe Epistrophe is a figure of speech in which one or more words repeat at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences. Epizeuxis Epizeuxis is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is repeated in immediate succession, with no intervening words.

Ethos Ethos, along with logos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric the art of effective speaking or writing. Exposition Exposition is the description or explanation of background information within a work of literature. Extended Metaphor An extended metaphor is a metaphor that unfolds across multiple lines or even paragraphs of a text, making use of multiple interrelated metaphors within an overarching one.

Figurative Language Figurative language is language that contains or uses figures of speech. 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 produce a stylistic effect.

Foreshadowing Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Formal Verse Formal verse is the name given to rhymed poetry that uses a strict meter a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. Hamartia Hamartia is a literary term that refers to a tragic flaw or error that leads to a character's downfall.

Hubris Hubris refers to excessive pride or overconfidence, which drives a person to overstep limits in a way that leads to their downfall.

Hyperbole Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a writer or speaker exaggerates for the sake of emphasis. Iamb An iamb is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which one unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable.

Idiom An idiom is a phrase that conveys a figurative meaning that is difficult or impossible to understand based solely on a literal interpretation of the words in the phrase. Imagery Imagery, in any sort of writing, refers to descriptive language that engages the human senses. Internal Rhyme Internal rhyme is rhyme that occurs in the middle of lines of poetry, instead of at the ends of lines.

Juxtaposition Juxtaposition occurs when an author places two things side by side as a way of highlighting their differences.

Kenning A kenning is a figure of speech in which two words are combined in order to form a poetic expression that refers to a person or a thing. Line Break A line break is the termination of one line of poetry, and the beginning of a new line. Litotes Litotes is a figure of speech and a form of understatement in which a sentiment is expressed ironically by negating its contrary.

Logos Logos, along with ethos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric the art of effective speaking or writing. Metaphor A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other.

Meter Meter is a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that defines the rhythm of some poetry. Metonymy Metonymy is a type of figurative language in which an object or concept is referred to not by its own name, but instead by the name of something closely associated with it.

Motif A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Onomatopoeia Onomatopoeia is a figure of speech in which words evoke the actual sound of the thing they refer to or describe.

Oxymoron An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to make a point—particularly to reveal a deeper or hidden truth. Paradox A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel of truth or reason. Parallelism Parallelism is a figure of speech in which two or more elements of a sentence or series of sentences have the same grammatical structure.

Parataxis Parataxis is a figure of speech in which words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are set next to each other so that each element is equally important. Parody A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually for comic effect.

Pathetic Fallacy Pathetic fallacy occurs when a writer attributes human emotions to things that aren't human, such as objects, weather, or animals. Pathos Pathos, along with logos and ethos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric the art of effective speaking or writing.

Personification Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent to their plans. Plot Plot is the sequence of interconnected events within the story of a play, novel, film, epic, or other narrative literary work.

Point of View Point of view refers to the perspective that the narrator holds in relation to the events of the story. Polyptoton Polyptoton is a figure of speech that involves the repetition of words derived from the same root such as "blood" and "bleed".

Polysyndeton Polysyndeton is a figure of speech in which coordinating conjunctions—words such as "and," "or," and "but" that join other words or clauses in a sentence into relationships of equal importance—are used several times in close Protagonist The protagonist of a story is its main character, who has the sympathy and support of the audience. Pun A pun is a figure of speech that plays with words that have multiple meanings, or that plays with words that sound similar but mean different things.

Quatrain A quatrain is a four-line stanza of poetry. Refrain In a poem or song, a refrain is a line or group of lines that regularly repeat, usually at the end of a stanza in a poem or at the end of a verse in Repetition Repetition is a literary device in which a word or phrase is repeated two or more times. Rhetorical Question A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in which a question is asked for a reason other than to get an answer—most commonly, it's asked to make a persuasive point.

Rhyme A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in two or more words. Rhyme Scheme A rhyme scheme is the pattern according to which end rhymes rhymes located at the end of lines are repeated in works poetry. Round Character A character is said to be "round" if they are lifelike or complex. Satire Satire is the use of humor, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule to criticize something or someone.

Sestet A sestet is a six-line stanza of poetry. Setting Setting is where and when a story or scene takes place. Simile A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. Slant Rhyme Traditionally, slant rhyme referred to a type of rhyme in which two words located at the end of a line of poetry themselves end in similar—but not identical—consonant sounds.

Soliloquy A soliloquy is a literary device, most often found in dramas, in which a character speaks to him or herself, relating his or her innermost thoughts and feelings as if thinking aloud. Sonnet A sonnet is a type of fourteen-line poem. Spondee A spondee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which both syllables are stressed. Stanza A stanza is a group of lines form a smaller unit within a poem.

Static Character A character is said to be "static" if they do not undergo any substantial internal changes as a result of the story's major plot developments. Syllogism A syllogism is a three-part logical argument, based on deductive reasoning, in which two premises are combined to arrive at a conclusion. Symbolism Symbolism is a literary device in which a writer uses one thing—usually a physical object or phenomenon—to represent something more abstract.

Synecdoche Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which, most often, a part of something is used to refer to its whole. Theme A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. Tragic Hero A tragic hero is a type of character in a tragedy, and is usually the protagonist. Trochee A trochee is a two-syllable metrical pattern in poetry in which a stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable.

Verbal Irony Verbal irony occurs when the literal meaning of what someone says is different from—and often opposite to—what they actually mean. Villanelle A villanelle is a poem of nineteen lines, and which follows a strict form that consists of five tercets three-line stanzas followed by one quatrain four-line stanza.

Zeugma A zeugma is a figure of speech in which one "governing" word or phrase modifies two distinct parts of a sentence. Narr Francke Attempto, Garner's Modern English Usage 4 ed.

Stanford University Press, Volume 1, Eastern culture. The Hokuseido Press, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Pictures of the Heart: The Hyakunin Isshu in Word and Image. University of Hawaii Press, Dictionary of the Literature of the Iberian Peninsula: Greenwood Publishing Group, Een bloemlezing uit de klassieke Japanese literatuur. An Anthology, Beginnings To Columbia University Press, Volume of Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society.

American Philosophical Society, Retrieved from " https: Wikipedia glossaries Literary criticism Literary theory Literary terminology Literature lists. Pages with citations lacking titles Pages with citations having bare URLs.

Views Read Edit View history. In other projects Wikimedia Commons. This page was last edited on 4 September , at By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. An acrostic in which the first letter of every word, strophe or verse follows the order of the alphabet. Noun used to describe the stress put on a certain syllable while speaking a word. For example, there has been disagreement over the pronunciation of "Abora" in line 41 of "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

According to Herbert Tucker of the website For Better For Verse, the accent is on the first and last syllable of the word, making its pronunciation: Accentual verse is common in children's poetry. Nursery rhymes and the less well-known skipping-rope rhymes are the most common form of accentual verse in the English Language. An acrostic is a poem or other form of writing in which the first letter, syllable, or word of each line, paragraph, or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message.

An Acrostic by Edgar Allan Poe. A word or phrase which modifies a noun or pronoun, grammatically added to describe, identify, or quantify the related noun or pronoun. A describing word used to modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Typically ending in -ly, adverbs answer the questions when, how, and how many times. A type of writing in which the settings, characters, and events stand for other specific people, events, or ideas.

A figure of speech that makes a reference to, or representation of, people, places, events, literary work, myths, or works of art, either directly or by implication. An interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point the story has reached. A version of the foot in poetry in which the first two syllables of a line are unstressed, followed by a stressed syllable. Intercept the syllables in and ter are unstressed followed by cept which is stressed.

A short account of a particular incident or event, especially of an interesting or amusing nature. The adversary of the hero or protagonist of a drama or other literary work: Authorial Intrusion is an interesting literary device wherein the author penning the story, poem or prose steps away from the text and speaks out to the reader.

As the very name itself suggests, this kind of literary device finds its roots in biblical origins. This term refers to the practice of basing a plot happening or event and anticipating the results it will have on a faction of the Bible. It involves a random selection process wherein the biblical passage is chosen as a founding stone for basing the outcome of the writing. In an overall context, not limited to just literature, bibliomancy refers to foretelling the future by turning to random portions of the Bible for guidance.

This is a very popular form of storytelling whereby the author bases the plot on the overall growth of the central character throughout the timeline of the story. A cacophony in literature refers to the use of words and phrases that imply strong, harsh sounds within the phrase. These words have jarring and dissonant sounds that create a disturbing, objectionable atmosphere.

His fingers rapped and pounded the door, and his foot thumped against the yellowing wood. This literary device involves creating a fracture of sorts within a sentence where the two separate parts are distinguishable from one another yet intrinsically linked to one another. The purpose of using a caesura is to create a dramatic pause, which has a strong impact. The pause helps to add an emotional, often theatrical touch to the sentence and conveys a depth of sentiment in a short phrase.

Mozart- oh how your music makes me soar!


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Literary terms refer to the technique, style, and formatting used by writers and speakers to masterfully emphasize, embellish, or strengthen their compositions.

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Browse through our list of literary devices and literary terms with definitions, examples, and usage tips. Explore each device in depth through literature. TEACHING AND LEARNING TO STANDARDS Reading and Literature – A Glossary of Literary Terms 1 A GLOSSARY OF LITERARY TERMS LITERARY DEVICES Alliteration: The repetition of initial consonant sounds used especially in poetry to emphasize.

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The following is a list of literary terms; that is, those words used in discussion, classification, criticism, and analysis of poetry, novels, and picture books. This list should include a description and a citation for each entry; you can help by expanding it. Descriptions without a citation may be deleted. Term . Literary Terms; Poetry Lesson. Genre is an important word in the English class. We teach different genres of literature such as poetry, short stories, myths, plays, non-fiction, novels, mysteries, and so on.