Literary Devices (So Many of Them!): The Complete & Unbeatable Guide

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There are a lot of terms in literature, and at times, it may seem overwhelming to learn them all.

One way to simplify learning literary terms is to learn about literary devices.

This subject area includes tons of literary terms, and learning the ins and outs will bring your writing (and reading comprehension) to a whole new level.

What is a Literary Device?

A literary device is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a tool used by writers to transform words into literature.

Some literary devices are common terms that you likely use often: theme, plot, style, etc. Others you may have never heard of: ad hominem, neologism, spondee, etc.

No matter how common or far-fetched these terms get, every literary device has its place. The more you know, the better you can write. With the help of the following information, you can be well on your way to knowing every literary vice in existence:

Literary Devices v.s. Literary Elements v.s. Literary Techniques

Before diving into a real list of literary devices, there’s two terms you’ll need to know: Literary elements and literary techniques. These are the two different categories of literary devices.

Literary elements are the “big things.” They are something that the reader is able to figure out, and they allow the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the text. They include devices such as character, tone, and genre.

Literary techniques are devices that are used specifically by the writer to make their words come to life. They include devices such as metaphors, symbolism, and rhymes.

The Most Well-Known Literary Elements:

These literary elements are terms you may already be familiar with, and they’re a great way to dip your toes into literary device learning:


Voice: Voice is simply the way in which a writer portrays their words. Voice may be professional in a research paper, and heartfelt and funny in a letter to a loved one, for example.

Voice can also be written in either active or passive form. Active Voice is written as follows “He picked up the wrapper and threw it in the trash. Passive Voice would state “The piece of trash was picked up by the man and thrown into the trash. Active Voice is clear, and it is preferred in most writing circumstances.


Point of View: Point of View is a term that shares whose voice the words on the page are coming from. Here are some examples of point of view:

  • First Person: The writer is telling the story to an audience. For example, “I am riding my bike to Jan’s house.”
  • Second Person: The writer is telling the story to “you,” using the term “you” throughout the piece. For example, “I am riding my bike to your house.”
  • Third Person: The writer is telling the story from an outside perspective, using names as well as the terms “he” and “she.” For example, “She is riding her bike to Jan’s house.”


Theme: The theme, in regards to writing, is the big idea behind a piece. A novel, for example, could tell a story of a young couple in the 1940’s and have a historical theme.


Structure: Structure is how writing is organized. Structure can organize written work in many ways, including chronologically, by cause and effect, by offering a problem then a solution, as well as many other ways (as long as they are logical and able to be understood by the writer and the reader).

Here are some common structures:

  • Novel: A novel is a longer piece of fiction that has a distinctive form. Its structure includes an exposition (important information that needs to be told before the story can begin), a rising action (a series of events that bring about feelings of interest and suspense), a climax (the big event or turning point in the story), a falling action (the action that follows the climax), and a resolution (the way the story ends).


  • Novella: This is a piece of writing that is shorter than a novel, but longer than a short story. “Of Mice and Men,” by John Steinback, is a well-known example of a novella.


  • Short Story: Short Story still follows a polt, but it’s shorter than a novella. Fairy tales are often written in the form of short stories.


  • Vignette: This is even shorter than a short story. It’s basically just a quick description of one happenstance. “House on Mango Street,” by Sandra Cisnreos is a popular vignette.


Style: Style is simply the way in which a writer expresses themself. There are four styles of writing, which are also literary elements:

  • Expository: This is an informational writing style. Your research paper would take on this style, as would a news report.
  • Narrative: This style tells a story, whether fiction or nonfiction. Examples include novels, autobiographies, and much, much more.
  • Descriptive: This writing style engages the senses to draw the reader into a space that the writer creates. Many poems fall into this category.
  • Persuasive: This writing style tried to persuade the reader to share the writer’s opinion. An article filled with heartfelt stories on the benefits that would come from raising the legal drinking age, for example, would be persuasive.


Audience: The audience is who you are writing to. For example, if you’re writing a young adult novel, your audience is adolescents. You’ll want to write with them in mind.

The Most Well-Known Literary Techniques:

This is another list of terms you may know, but this time they are literary techniques. These are simple, but they’ll once again transform your writing:

Simile: A simile compares one thing to another. For example, “you’re sweet like honey.”


Metaphor: A metaphor refers to one thing as something else. “You’re my knight in shining armor,” used to describe a normally dressed, non-knight boyfriend, is a commonly used example.

A metaphor can be extended, to drive in the point of the comparison. For example, “He’s the apple of my eye. He fell down from the branch in front of my eyes as I walked past the apple tree. I picked him up, and his crisp, clean look convinced me to keep him near. I only became more and more impressed to learn his beauty was more than peel-deep.” This cheesy metaphor is brought into a clearer image with descriptive language that continues throughout the following sentences.

Metaphors can also be implied, which means this object of comparison is understood, but not mentioned. For example, “She’s a good catch.” It’s clear the comparison is being made between the girl and a fish, yet fish are never actually mentioned.


Personification: Personification gives human-like tendencies to non-human or non-living objects. For example, “My running shoes stared at me from across the room, telling me it was time to wake up and get my morning jog in.”


Imagery: Imagery is a descriptive language that draws the reader in, so they’re able to feel, see, hear, and even smell what the writer is describing. An example would be “She picked a leaf from the tomato plant, hearing a soft crunch when the leaf broke off its stem and feeling the hair-like texture that covered it well.”


Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of the beginning sounds of words throughout a sentence. “Sally sold seashells by the seashore” is a commonly used example of this literary technique.


Sentence-Related Literary Devices:

Did you know that types of sentences are considered literary devices? It’s because these types of sentences are formed in a way that serves a specific purpose:

Imperative Sentence:

Balanced Sentence: A balanced sentence has two parts, each of which are close to equal in regards to length. For example, “I want to go to the park, but it’s cold and raining right now.”


Cumulative Sentence: This type of sentence begins with the main clause, and ends with multiple more clauses or phrases that add to or change the main clause. For example, “We went to the store often, so often, in fact, that we started to dread the trip, and it became our least favorite place to go.”


Hypothetical Question: This sentence type asks a question that is based on opinions or assumptions instead of fact. An example would be, “You’re in a boat that’s starting to fill with water; do you jump out and swim to shore or do you attempt to mend the boat?”


Simple Paragraph: The simple paragraph isn’t quite a sentence, but it’s a simple writing form nonetheless. Simple paragraphs are written with a topic sentence at the beginning, support sentences in the middle, and a concluding sentence at the end. They’re used in almost all types of writing, making them an essential technique for all writers to learn.

The description above can be viewed as a simple paragraph example. Convenient, right?

Literary Devices by Genre:

First off, it’s important to note that “genre” itself is a literary device! It’s considered a literary element, to be exact. A genre is a category of writing, and can include drama, romance, humor, poetry, and more. Each genre is also considered a literary device, and each genre has many devices that are used within it.

This may seem a little bit like opening up a matryoshka doll, but it’s simpler than it sounds. Check out these literary devices organized by genre to gain a deeper understanding:

Fiction: Fiction is all about make-believe. It’s any written work that is not based on true events.


  • Science Fiction: This is a type of fiction writing that’s based on future technological or scientific advances; think robots, aliens, time travel, etc.
  • Drama: Drama is a fiction narrative that is written with a more serious tone. Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a great example of a drama piece.


  • Melodrama: To understand this genre, think drama, but exaggerated. Soap Operas can be considered melodramas.


  • Tragedy: This is a form of drama that brings suffering to center stage. Romeo and Juliet is the perfect example for the tragedy genre.


  • Fantasy: This is a form of fiction that’s based around myths, legends, or supernatural activity; think The Lord of the Rings and the world created within its pages.


  • Romance: Romance highlights love stories and ends with optimism. Nicholas Sparks novels are all about Romance.


  • Comedy: Comedy is funny, amusing, and almost always has a happy ending. Comedy is a common genre for adolescent reads, though there are comedy pieces written for all ages.


  • Tragicomedy: This is just what it sounds like – a mix between comedy and tragedy. It may be that the tragic events are so overdone that they are funny, or the story may end in an uplifting and goofy way. Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” is a tragicomedy.


  • Tall Tale: A Tall Tale is written as if it’s true, but the events are so far-fetched that any reader would know they’re actually fake. The tales of Paul Bunyon and Johnny Appleseed are great ways to view into this genre.


  • Fable: Fables are short stories that teach a lesson. They are often written with animals as characters. One well-known fable is “The Tortoise and the Hare.”


  • Fairy Tale: Fairy Tales are creative stories filled with fascinating characters. They are usually written for children. Cinderella is Fairy Tale that almost everyone knows.


  • Utopia: A Utopia is a story in which the characters live in a “perfect world.” Plato’s “Republic” is a well-known Utopia.



  • Dystopia: A Dystopia is just the opposite; the characters live in an awful world. “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins are Dystopian novels.


  • Satire: Satire is a genre that is meant to shame a person or organization. Satire is especially common in today’s web in the area of tearing down opposing politicians.


  • Thriller: Thrillers are books that are meant to keep readers on their toes. Stephen King’s books are popular thrillers.


  • Suspense: A Suspense story is similar to a thriller, but it keeps the reader in a state of anxiousness, eager for additional information. Murder mystery books fit into the Suspense genre.


  • Parody: A Parody piece is similar to Satire, but it simply imitates another story instead of tearing it down. An example would be “Bored of the Rings,” by Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney. It’s not meant to bring “The Lord of the Rings” down, rather it’s a read that is built for humor and entertainment.


As fiction has plenty of subtypes, it also has a long list of literary devices that are often used within its genre. These literary devices play large roles in creating make-believe writing:

  • Protagonist: The protagonist is the main character in a story. Harry Potter is the protagonist in the Harry Potter series.


  • Antagonist: The antagonist is actively working against the protagonist. For example, Voldemort (or should we say “he who shall not be named?” is the antagonist in the Harry Potter books.


  • Hero: The hero is another name that the main character in a story may be called, especially if they accomplish something great. Hamlet is the hero in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”


  • Anti-hero: This is a main character that just doesn;t have those hero-like characteristics. Lucifer in “Paradise Lost” is a strong example of an anti-hero in literature.


  • Anti-climax: In an anti-climax, tension builds up to an event, but nothing major actually happens. For example, a woman forgets to shut the door to her home in a horror movie, causing the audience to feel suspense as they believe the evil character may sneak inside. Later on, though, the main character simply remembers to close and lock the door.


  • Dialogue: This is where two or more characters talk between each other. Most novels are written with a large amount of dialogue.


  • Monologue: Monologue is where only one character speaks for a fairly lengthy amount of time. King Henry V’s “St Crispin’s Day” Speech in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” is a well known example of a monologue.


  • Character: A character is a person who appears in a work of fiction. Every fiction book you read is filled with characters (as well as many nonfiction books).


  • Flat Character: Flat characters stay the same from the beginning of the story to the end. Usually, flat characters aren’t the main characters. They are smaller roles, such as the strict teacher or the loving mother, who do not grow or change throughout the book.


  • Static Character: This is just another term that describes flat characters! See the above term for more information.


  • Dynamic Character: A Dynamic Character grows and changes throughout the book. They learn from the challenges that they face throughout the pages of the book. Most main characters are dynamic.


  • Round Character: This is once again the same as a dynamic character. It’s simply another term that holds the same meaning.


  • Direct Character: This just means that an author explicitly explains who a character is. Their personality does not need to be found through the happenings in the book. For example, an author may state that the main character is young but wiser than their years may suggest. This characteristic would then be reinstated throughout the story.


  • External Conflict: This type of conflict takes place between a character and an external force. For example, a man is in a plane crash and works to survive in the wilderness until help arrives.
  • Internal Conflict: Internal conflict takes place within a character. This may be related to a decision a character has to make, or an important, internal opinion that changes throughout the book.


  • Flashback: A flashback is a scene in a book that shares a glimpse into the past. For example, when a hero is fighting off a monster and they are growing weak, about to give up, they may have a flashback and remember a person they love telling them they are strong enough to accomplish anything. The strength they receive from reliving this flashback would help them to win the fight that is occuring in current time.


  • Flash-Forward: A flash-forward gives the audience a glimpse of the future before it actually happens. The Scrooge visits in Chalres Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” are a perfect example of flash-forward scenes.


  • Foreshadowing: This gives the reader a hint of what is to come. An example would be when Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother tells Little Red to “watch out for the wolf in the woods.”


  • Frame Story: This is a story within a story. “Frankenstein,” by Mary Shelley has multiple frame stories.


  • Narrator: This is a third-party voice that tells the story. “The Book Thief” is told from the perspective of a narrator.


  • Plot: This is simply the name for the events that make up a story. Every work of fiction has a plot!


  • Subplot: This is a smaller story that happens alongside the main story. A romantic relationship that occurs in an action-based book would be a subplot.


  • Prologue: This is a chapter that provides an opening for a story, giving necessary background information. “The Book Thief,” by Markus Zusak has a prologue that introduces the narrator, for example.


  • Epilogue: An epilogue is a chapter found at the end of a book that provides a conclusion, even though the actual story has already been finished. The Harry Potter series ends with an epilogue set nineteen years in the future, for example..

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  • Setting: This is simply where the story takes place. It could be a city, a school, or within a character’s home.


  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: This is something that is believed by a character to the point that they make it come true. Macbeth’s death was due to a self-fulfilling prophecy.


  • Tragic Hero: A tragic hero does something that causes their own failure. Maybe their inability to ask others for help got them into a situation they couldn’t overcome on their own.


  • Tragic Flaw: This is a trait that causes the main character to fail. For example, the character’s pride could get in the way of them winning a race.


  • Cliffhanger: Some people hate them, and some people love them. A Cliffhanger is a story that ends without telling the audience what exactly happened. Every Harry Potter book ends with a cliffhanger.



Non-Fiction: Nonfiction is the opposite, so it’s based on true events. The types of nonfiction writing are listed below:


  • Autobiography: An Autobiography is the written story of someone’s life, written by themselves. “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank, is a strong example of an autobiography.


  • Biography: A Biography is the written story of someone’s life, written by someone other than them. Most biographies share the life story of famous people, such as authors, presidents, musicians, actors, etc.


  • Memoir: A Memoir is a type of autobiography written about specific memories or events in a person’s life. One popular memoir is “The Glass Castle,” by Jeanette Walls.”


Play: A play is a written work meant to be performed in front of an audience. It tells a story through character dialogue. One common play is “Les Miserables.” Plays, once again, have some literary devices of their own:


  • Dramatic Irony: In a play, dramatic irony is where the audience understands what is happening, but the characters do not. For example, the audience may see that a teacher is leaving lunch on the desk of a child who normally goes without, while the character of the child does not know where the food is coming from until later on in the story.


  • Dramatic Monologue: A dramatic monologue is a speech made by a character often in a play though they can also occur in books, where the character tells a part of the story. Shakespeare’s works are filled with examples of these.


  • Comic Relief: Comic relief is a funny moment or character that gives the audience a break from a serious matter. The nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” provides comic relief through her multiple jokes.


Poem: A poem is a form of written work filled with imagery that provokes emotion. Robert Frost is a well known poet. Poems have many literary devices, which you can learn more about below:

  • Anapest: This describes two short, unstressed syllables followed by a long, stressed syllable. An example is “Welcome home.”
  • Blank Verse: A Blank Verse is a line of a poem that does not use a rhyme. They are often written in Iambic Pentameter (a line of ten syllables, stressed syllables following unstressed syllables). Blank Verses appear often in works of Shakespeare.


  • Ballad: This is a poem that tells a story through the use of short stanzas. It can also be set to music, similar to a song. Thomas Hardy’s “During WInd and Rain” is a popular ballad.
  • Caesura: This refers to a pause in the middle of a line of poetry.

“The bird flew; his wings were black as night.”


  • Canto: This is the name of a section of a long poem.


  • Catalogue: This is a type of poem that is filled with many images.


  • Cinquain: A Cinquain is a style of poem written with fines.


  • Common Meter: This poem writing style uses lines that alternate between six and eight syllables, and follows the iambic (stressed syllable followed by unstressed syllable) pattern.


  • Couplet: A Couplet is two lines of a poem that work together, often with a rhyme.
  • Dactyl: This is one stressed syllable, and then two unstressed syllables. “Elephant” could be a dactyl, for example.


  • End Rhyme: This is just what it sounds like, rhymes that appear at the end of lines.


  • End Stopped Line: This is a line in a poem that ends with punctuation, to show the end of a segment or thought.
  • Envoi:


  • Epic: This is a long, narrative poem that focuses on a specific heroic or brave person, often from historical times.


  • Exact Rhyme: An exact rhyme uses two words with the same stressed vowel sound and the same ending sound. For example, ”cat” and “hat” are an exact rhyme.


  • Eye Rhyme: This is a rhyme in regards to the way your eyes see the word. For example, “cow” and “tow.” The words look the same, but they do not rhyme when they are said aloud.


  • Feminine Rhyme: This is a set of words that rhyme in both the stressed syllable and the unstressed syllable that follows. For example, “paper” and “taper” are feminine rhymes.
  • Foot: This is one stressed syllable, followed by one or more unstressed syllable(s). A dactyl is one type of foot.


  • Formal Verse: This is a piece of poetry that follows a specific meter. It could follow any of the meters in Poetry, for example. It could follow Iambic Pentameter.


  • Free Verse: A free verse follows no meter or structure. It is written however the author wants it to be.


  • Haiku: A Haiku is a poem that has three lines. The first line has five syllables, the second line has seven, and the third line has five once again. Here’s an example of a Haiku:

“I woke up at dawn

To the sound of many birds

They were flying near.”


  • Half Rhyme: This is a rhyme that does not completely match. The stressed end syllable matches the other word (or comes close to matching).
    • An example of a half rhyme is “pun” and “fume.”


  • Hyperbaton: This term refers to the inversion of words. Yoda speaks with inversion, for example.


  • Hyperbole: A hyperbole is exaggerated, and not necessarily true.

“I’ll walk one thousand miles just to be with you.”


  • Hypophora: This is when a question is asked, and then answered right away.

“What day is it? The most beautiful day.”


  • Hypotaxis: Hypotaxis is when a clause is subordinate to another clause.

“The moon was bright, lighting up the sky.”


  • Imab: This refers to a short, stressed syllable followed by a long, unstressed syllable. “Attack” is an example of an iamb.


  • Internal Rhyme: Two words that rhyme because of their middle segments are internal rhymes. “Together forever” is an example of this type of rhyme.


  • Innuendo: This is a slightly sneaky, often inappropriate, hint.


  • Limerick: A limerick is a funny poem with five lines. One popular limerick is “Hickory Dickory Dock.”


  • Line Break: This is when a line of a poem ends with punctuation.

“The sun was warming the ground

“Making the early morning dew dry up.”


  • Lyric Poem: This is a style of poem that expresses emotion. Edmund Waller’s “Go, Lovely Rose” is an example of a lyric poem.


  • Meter: Meter is the pattern of syllables that makes up a poem. Iambic Pentameter is a common example.


  • Narrative Poem: This is a type of poem that tells a story. Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” is a well known example.


  • Onomatopoeia: An onomatopoeia is a word that describes a sound. “Click,” “Plop,” “Sizzle” are all examples of this term.


  • Octave: An octave is a set of eight lines in a poem. It can make up a poem alone, or it can be a piece of a longer work.


  • Ode: An ode is a lyric poem written to a person or a thing and filled with emotion. John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” is a popular example.


  • Poetic Justice: This describes the good characters winning and the bad characters losing. Most children’s stories, for example, have poetic justice.


  • Quatrain: This is a stanza with four lines.


  • Refrain: This is a line, often found at the end of stanzas, that is repeated throughout the poem.


  • Rhyme: A rhyme is made up of two words that have similar sounds. For example, “ball” and “tall” are rhymes.


  • Rhyme Scheme: This is the pattern in which rhymes are placed throughout a poem.


  • Riddle: A riddle is a short, beautifully written question, that is asked as a type of game.

“What has to be broken before being used?”

“An egg.”


  • Sestet: A sestet is the last six lines in a type of poem called a sonnet.


  • Slant Rhyme: Slant rhymes are similar, but they do not sound exactly the same. An example could be “orange” and “porridge.”


  • Sonnet: A sonnet is a poem made up of fourteen lines. It can use any type of rhyme scheme. Shakespeare wrote many sonnets.


  • Stanza: A Stanza is a set of lines in a poem that is grouped together.


  • Tercet: This is three lines of a poem that often rhyme.

“I chased the cat

I swung the bat

I wore a hat.”


  • Trimeter:


  • Trochaic: This is a poetry meter that is made up of Trochees, or stressed syllables followed by unstressed syllables.


  • Verse


Prose: Prose is a form of writing that has no formal structure. Everyday language is technically even spoken in prose.


Proverb: Proverbs are simple statements that share truth, whether it be based on life experience or spiritual beliefs. A common proverb is “Once bitten, twice shy.”


Folklore: Folklore is a genre that encompasses fictional stories, songs, and more, specifically related to a culture and its history. Fairy tales, tall tales, myths, and legends can all be considered folklore.


Myth: A myth is a story, typically an origin tale, that often involves gods or other supernatural beings. Greek Mythology and the stories within it are strong examples.


Legend: A legend is a story that is told as if it were true. It typically takes place in the distant past, and it has a lesson or value behind it.The story of the Loch Ness Monster is an example of a legend.


Essay: An essay is a short piece of prose writing that focuses on a specific topic. School assignments are great examples of essays. Here are some literary devices that are found within essays:


  • Main Idea: The main idea is the purpose behind a piece. For example, the main idea of this piece is literary devices.


  • Transition: A transition smooths the movement from one topic to the next. For example, If you’re talking about the history of dogs and you need to move into speaking about dogs in current times, your transition could state “The history of dogs is rich and fascinating, but the present world of dogs has even more to offer.”


  • Thesis: The thesis is the statement sentence that shares what the rest of the essay will discuss or prove. For example, a paper about the dangers of drinking and driving could state “Drinking and driving is dangerous because it puts both yourself and others at risk.” The rest of the essay would then go on to prove those two statements.


  • Argument: An argument is the presentation of opposing or opinion-based views. FOr example, you may state “The death penalty should not exist.” The rest of your essay would back up why you hold the beliefs that are presented in your argument.


Critique: A Critique is a form of writing that reviews something, such as a movie, restaurant, or piece of art. When you look at the reviews for a new movie in theatres, you’re likely reading a critique.

More Literary Devices to Explore:

Knowing the most common literary devices is one thing, but knowing ones that aren’t often used can set your writing apart. Here’s a list of every other literary device for you to explore (and add to your future writing projects):


  • Allegory: An allegory is a story that has a deeper meaning buried within it, often regarding real-world events. Animal Farm by George Orwen is an allegory.


  • Allusion: An Allusion is a brief way to bring something up without actually saying it. For example, stating someone is acting like “Eeyore” would be an allusion toward them feeling down and depressed.


  • Ambiguity: Writing that is ambiguous has more than one possible meaning, and it leaves the reader with a lack of clarity. It’s often something you want to avoid, but it can also be used intentionally as a type of humor.
    • An example could be “I saw a dog in a blue dress.” Was the dog wearing the blue dress, or were you?


  • Amplification: Amplification is simply adding onto a point or sentence. For example, “Biking is great exercise” can be amplified by stating “Biking is an excellent workout for your entire body, from the cardio work that benefits your heart and lungs to the lower body movements that strengthen your muscles.


  • Analogy: An analogy is a descriptive tool that compares one thing to another. “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get” from “Forrest Gump” is a well-known analogy.


  • Ad Hominem: Ad Hominem is a remark made against a person instead of an argument. It’s often found to be noncredible. An example would be stating that a person didn’t graduate high school and therefore their facts on global warming must be incorrect.


  • Anachronism: An anachronism is a part of literature that is out of place or out of time when compared to the rest of the work. Anachronisms can be used to help the audience relate or to provide humor. An example would be placing cell phones in a story that occured in the nineteenth century.


  • Anadiplosis: This is when a sentence endswith a specific word, and the next sentence begins with that same word. It’s often used to provide emphasis or style to a piece. For example, “Life is short. Short chunks of time are all we have to fill with memory and adventure.”


  • Anagram: An anagram is a word that has the same exact letters as another word, but in a different order. An example would be “silent” and “listen.”


  • Accumulation: Accumulation is when multiple similar terms or characteristics are listed to describe something. It works to provide emphasis. An example would be, “My kitten’s fur is as soft as the sky, as fuzzy as a peach, and as smooth as linen.”


  • Acrostic: This is when the first letter in every line or sentence forms a word or phrase when read from top to bottom (or bottom to top). It is used for added creativity and style. An example would be as follows:
    • Dirty paw prints fill the floor on muddy days.
      Over all the furniture you’ll find little strands of fun.
      Greater than these issues, though, is the love my sweet pet gives back to me.”


  • Adage: An Adage is a short saying that is regarded as truth throughout society. An example is “Many hands make light work.”


  • Anacoluthon: This is a term for an interrupted sentence. These can be used as literary tools, but you may notice them more often in everyday life: “I need to stop by the store to get- Wait, did you send me the recipe we need for dinner tonight?”


  • Anagnorisis: This is a term that describes the moment in a story when a character discovers truth, whether it be who they are or what is happening. It leads to the resolution of the conflict. Almost every story written today contains this moment; you just may need to search for it!


  • Adynaton: This is when something is so exaggerated that it seems impossible.
    • “I’m so hungry I could eat a whole elephant.”


  • Anaphora: This means repeating the first part of a sentence on purpose for stylistic purposes or emphasis.
    • “It was cold. It was dark. It was time to go home.”


  • Anecdote: This is a short story that shares a point, and also often makes the audience laugh. It could be any story within a story, or relating to a topic being discussed.


  • Anthimeria: This is simply trading one term for another. For example, in the phrase “Let’s hop to it,” “hop to it” means to go or get started on a task.


  • Antanaclasis: This is when a term is repeated, but with a different meaning each time. It is often used in humor. “Othello” by Shakespeare has an antanaclasis that states “Put out the light, then put out the light.” The first term means blowing out a candle and the second means ending someone’s life.


  • Antecedent: This is a word in a sentence that can later be replaced by a pronoun. For example, “Mary flew a kite. She thought it was a lot of fun.” In this case, “Mary” is the antecedent as the name is later replaced by the word “she.”


  • Anthology: This is a collection of works that make up a single piece. For example, a book made up of poems could be referred to as an anthology.


  • Anthropomorphism: This means giving human-like characteristics to nonhuman things. “The Little Engine that Could” is a great example.


  • Antimetabole: This is when something is repeated, but backwards. For example, “Cats love dogs. Dogs love cats.”


  • Antithesis: This is basically a fancy term for two contrasting phrases that work together. An example would be when man landed on the moon and the saying “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” came to be.


  • Antiphrasis: This is when words are used with opposite meanings to provide irony.
    • “Sardines on a birthday cake– delicious.”


  • Antistrophe: Antistrophe is when the end words in a sentence are repeated for emphasis.
    • “It’s time to go to school. Every child needs to go to school.”


  • Aphorism: This is a short statement that is filled with wisdom.
    • “The simplest questions are the hardest to answer.”


  • Aporia: This is an expression of doubt. For example, “How am I supposed to do this without you?”


  • Apostrophe: This is when writing turns from addressing one audience to address something else. For example, a character could turn to their green pasture and state “You look beautiful today.”


  • Aposiopesis: This is when someone stops speaking mid sentence, whether it be out of passion, fear, or an unwillingness to keep talking. For example, “I’m going to take what’s mine and–” The sentence ends abruptly, and the ending is left for the audience to guess.


  • Appositive: An appositive gives a new name to something that has already been stated.
    • “My doggy, Mr. Fluffy, is playing in the backyard.


  • Archaism: This is the use of an old-fashioned word. An example would be writing with the word “Thou” in today’s time.


  • Archetype: This is something, whether it be a character, action, or setting, that represents a universal pattern. There are many different archetypes, a well known one is the “Scapegoat.”


  • Aside: This is when a character speaks, but their words are only heard by the audience. The other characters are not aware of them. These are often present in plays.


  • Assertion: This is a statement that represents a strong belief, whether it is true or not. For example, “I will not let her go to the office” could be said by a student who believes their friend is not guilty of what the teacher accuses.


  • Assonance: This is when similar, but non-rhyming vowel sounds are used. “A pot of rocks” is an example of assonance.


  • Asyndeton: This is a sentence with missing words, written in a style that emphasizes the meaning. Julius Caesar’s “I came, I played, I conquered” is an example of this.


  • Atmosphere: This is the feelings the writer wants the reader to experience. For example, authors of thriller books want their readers to feel suspense.


  • Attitude: This is the tone a writer uses toward certain subjects. For example, a positive attitude could be expressed toward rescuing shelter dogs in a story about a rescued pet.


  • Auditory image: This expresses through words something that is typically heard. For example, “The metal bowl and wooden spoon clanged together, making piercing, yet somewhat beautiful music.”


  • Bandwagon: This is a tool used in persuasive writing that suggests because the greater audience believes something, the reader should believe it as well. It’s the written version of the “Everyone else is doing it” argument.


  • Bathos: This term refers to deep, expressive, and emotion-filled writing. It’s commonly found in poetry.


  • Bias: Bias is an undue favor (or unfavor) to a topic or group of people. It’s typically something you want to avoid when writing.


  • Bildungsroman: This is another term for a coming-of-age novel, and follows the story of the main character from adolescence into adulthood. Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a popular example.


  • Black humor: This is when a subject that is normally “off limits” is talked about with a bit of humor.


  • Cacophony: This is when multiple loud, harsh-sounding words are used. Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” contains a lot of cacophony.


  • Cadence: This is the rhythm or beat a piece of writing follows. It’s mostly found in poetry, though it can be used as a stylistic tool in any type of writing.


  • Catastrophe: This is another word for a huge disaster. “Romeo and Juliet” is a catastrophe-based story.


  • Catharsis: This is the use of large, often negative, emotions in literature to help readers deal with the same feelings in their everyday life. The tragedy genre is often considered to be catharsis.


  • Chiasmus: This term describes two phrases that are similar, but reversed.

“We ate all of our dinner. It’s entirety, we consumed.”


  • Circumlocution: This simply means unneeded words. For example, “Mean people who want to hurt others are not welcome.” In this sentence, the words “who want to hurt others” are unnecessary.


  • Claim: This is the point the writer is trying to make. In an essay meant to persuade readers to vote, the point would be the importance of participating in elections.


  • Cliche: This is a phrase that is overused, and therefore has turned a bit cheesy.

“Actions speak louder than words.”


  • Climax- Figure of Speech: This is a set of sentences that are arranged in order of importance.
    • “Let’s go! Let’s catch up! We can win this race!”


  • Coherence: This term means logical and consistent. This is an important tool to use when trying to prove a point.


  • Colloquialism: These are phrases that are used in a specific area. “Y’all” is a colloquialism used in the Southern part of the United States.


  • Comparatives: This is an area that looks into the differences between literature in various countries. For example, it may compare American and British literature.


  • Conceit: A conceit is a comparison that is made between two very different things. For example, “Friendship is like slipping on a banana peel.”


  • Concession: A concession is a sentence that admits not everyone agrees with your thesis and provides a few reasons why, but then goes on to show why they should change their minds and side with you. For example, “I know not everyone likes summer because it’s hot and humid, but the daily sunshine and the life that sprouts all around us are things no one should take for granted.”


  • Connotation: This term related to the feeling a word has behind it, whether it be positive or negative. For example, a toddler digging through the kitchen cupboards could be called “mischievous” with a negative connotation, or “curious” with a positive connotation.


  • Consonance: This is when consonant sounds are repeated. For example, “The birds in the blue sky bounced all around.”


  • Context: Context is the background or details surrounding a word that affect its meaning. For example, a word may have one meaning in a research paper and a different meaning in a romance novel. The reader uncovers what the writer means by using context.


  • Contrast: This is the use of opposites in writing. It may be opposite characters, for example, that emphasize each other’s characteristics by use of contrast.


  • Denotation: Words have many meanings. Denotation refers to the literal meaning. For example, blue is a color (not another term for sadness).


  • Denouement: This is basically how a story ends. For example, it’s the conclusion of events that take place in a novel.


  • Deus ex machina: This is when an unfixable problem in a story is solved by a very unexpected twist. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a good example, when Charlie’s financial situation is fixed by him inheriting Wonka’s factory.


  • Diacope: This is a phrase that is repeated with words in between. For example, “To be or not to be.”


  • Diction: This is the way words are chosen, in hopes of them fitting into a specific style. Many famous, historical novels provide excellent diction examples.


  • Diatribe: This is a harsh form of writing that is meant to bring something down. Joseph COnrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is an example of diatribe.


  • Dichotomy: This is when something is broken into two different parts. For example, good and evil.


  • Didacticism: This is a form of writing that teaches something. “How to” articles are a great example.


  • Digression: This is when a writer begins talking about something that is off-topic for an amount of time. It’s a common occurrence in storytelling.


  • Dilemma: A dilemma occurs when a character needs to make a choice between two good (or bad) things. An example may be choosing to help their friend pass a class, or avoiding the act of cheating on an assignment.


  • Discourse: This is a formal type of writing that often conveys important information. They are common in educational work.


  • Dissonance: This is the use of harsh-sounding words in poetry. It’s similar to cacophony.


  • Distortion: Distortion is when something is twisted and turned to represent something other than what it actually is. An example would be when someone exaggerates the truth to the point that it is false.


  • Doppelgänger: This is a fictional character that looks extremely similar to the protagonist.


  • Double entendre: This is a term or phrase that can be interpreted in two different ways. They are often used in comedy.


  • Dysphemism: This is when negative terms are used instead of positive terms. For example, a dysphemism would be calling a rollercoaster a “death trap.”


  • Elegy: This is a type of poem that honors a person who has died. They are commonly written for famous people or historical people who have made an impact on the writer.


  • Elision: An elision is when some sounds are removed from words or phrases. “Tis” used in place of “it is” is an elision.


  • Ellipsis: An ellipsis is the three dots that are used when a word or phrase is removed from a sentence. For example, “I love you because… and I will continue to love you forever.” The three dots are replacing the reasons behind the love to shorten the sentence and show the main point.


  • Enjambment: This is when a thought or phrase in poetry runs from one line to the next.

“The green grass grows

And covers the entire field.”


  • Enthymeme: This is an argument that is written logically, but with an implied conclusion. For example, “I had a bad sandwich at her house last week, so all of her meals must be bad.”


  • Enumeration: An enumeration is a complete list within a work of literature. It could be a set of steps in a “How To” article, for example.


  • Epanalepsis: This is when a word or phrase is used at the beginning and the end of a sentence.

“Cats are magnificent creatures and no creature is as great as cats.”


  • Epiphany: This is a sudden idea or insight a character has. It’s the “lightbulb” moment in literature.


  • Epiphora: This is when a word is repeated in nearby segments of text. For example, “I have a banana, you have a banana, and Tom has a banana.”


  • Epistle: This is a long, formal letter. Epistles are common in the Bible.


  • Epigram: An epigram is an idea that is stated in a quick, clever fashion.

“True friends stab you in the front.” -Oscar Wilde


  • Epigraph: An epigraph is a short bit of writing (written by someone else) placed at the top of a piece. Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” begins with an epigraph.


  • Epistrophe: This is the repetition of words at the end of sentences. For example, “The sky’s awake. I am awake.”


  • Epitaph: This is a short poem written about a friend after they die. They are sometimes engraved on tombstones.


  • Epithet: This is a tool used to describe an object or a character. In Alexander the Great’s name, for example, “the Great” is an epithet.


  • Eponym: An eponym is something that is named after a person (or referred to in a certain way because of that person). For example, John Hancock is another name for signature.


  • Epizeuxis: This is simply another word for diacope, which is explained above.


  • Eristic: When an author writes about a heated topic without actually trying to solve the issue at hand, it’s referred to as Eristis. It’s considered a form of debate.


  • Ethos: This is a way to make the audience trust the writer by showing credibility and ethical behavior. For example, a persuasive essay on why it’s important to not text and drive has more meaning when it’s written by a former police officer who had to report to all of the texting and driving accidents.


  • Euphemism: This is a nicer way to say something that’s hard to talk about. “He who shall not be named” is a euphemism for Voldemort in “Harry Potter.”


  • Euphony: Euphony is writing that is made up of pleasant sounds. It is common in poetry.


  • Evidence: Evidence is required in argumentative essays to prove the point the writer is trying to make. If the writer states that zoos should not exist, their evidence needs to show the downsides of zoos in regards to animals.


  • Exaggeration: This is when something is described as more than it really was. For example, “I saw the biggest dog in the world today.”


  • Exemplum: This proves the point of a story. For example, the exemplum in fables is the lesson the story brings to light.


  • Expletive: An expletive is an unnecessary word (or words) that take up space in a sentence. For example, “it is” in the sentence “It is time to go to the movies.” The words aren’t needed to understand what is being said.


  • Explication: This is a short write up that explains the meaning of a work. For example, an explication of a poem wouldn’t mention how the piece was written, it would only explain the meaning it holds.


  • Fallacy: This is an incorrect or illogical statement that makes an argument invalid. The ad hominem is an example of a fallacy.


  • Farce: This is a type of comedy that is written solely for entertainment and humor. The movie “Home Alone” is a good example.


  • Figurative Language: This is language that is used in a non-literal sense. Metaphors and similes are types of figurative language.


  • Figure of Speech: A figure of speech has a second meaning, beside its literal meaning. “Falling in love” is a well known example of a figure of speech.


  • Foil: This is when a good character is presented as an evil character. Mercutio is a foil in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”


  • Hamartia: This is simply another term for Tragic Flaw.


  • Hubris: This is another word for pride in a literary character. It is a common tragic flaw.


  • Idiom: This is a saying that does not stand for its literal meaning. For example, “Stop bugging me” has nothing to do with bugs.


  • In Medias Res: This is when a story starts in the middle, because the audience already knows what happened beforehand. An example is Homer’s “The Iliad.”


  • Inciting incident: This is when the action begins in a story. In fiction, it’s followed by the rising action.


  • Induction: Induction is when a reader finds a fact and draws a conclusion from it. That conclusion may be right or wrong. Induction happens all the time throughout the process of reading. A writer may use this knowledge to add surprises into the text.


  • Inference: This is when opinions are formed based on a set of observations. A writer can supply facts to guide the reader toward a certain inference.


  • Intertextuality: Intertextuality is when one text is shaped by another. William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies” is shaped by Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island,” for example.


  • Inversion: This is when words are revered. Yoda speaks in an inverted fashion.


  • Irony: Irony is an extremely unexpected occurrence or something has the opposite meaning than what would be expected. An example would be a fire station burning down.


  • Isocolon: This term describes a sentence that has multiple segments of the same length.
    • “I want to go to the park, because it is a beautiful day and because the sun is shining bright.”


  • Jargon: Jargon is a set of words with meanings that are only understood by a specific group of people. Lawyers have a large amount of legal jargon.


  • Juxtaposition: This is when two characters or phrases are placed together for comparison. For example, “When it rains, it pours.”


  • Kenning: This is a metaphor that combines two words. An example would be a bookworm.


  • Kinesthesia: This is imagery, typically found in poetry, that describes a bodily movement such as a heartbeat or running legs.


  • Lampoon: A lampoon is basically a way to make fun of something. Satire and sarcasm are types of lampoons.


  • Litotes: This means to understate something in a funny way. For example, if a person got into a car accident on their way to work, they could say “Well this is not the best morning I’ve ever had.”

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  • Logos: This is just another term for logic, and it’s especially important in argumentative writing. Including statistics in a report is a type of logos.


  • Malapropism: This is when a word that sounds right, but is completely wrong, is used to confuse the reader (or to make them laugh).

“She went to expensive measures to keep her son safe.”


  • Maxim: These are clever sayings that share truths of life. An example is “Opposites attract.”


  • Meiosis: This term refers to downplaying something. An example could be calling a psychiatrist a “shrink,” and therefore diminishing the important work they do.


  • Metalepsis: Metalepsis is when something is described by using a similar, yet unrelated term. An example would be calling something good by stating “It wasn’t bad.”


  • Metaphysical: This is a complex and bold form of poetry that is said to be outside the realm of human understanding. It was commonly written during the seventeenth century.


  • Metonymy: This is when something is referred to with a closely related term. For example, “heart” often refers to “love.”


  • Mood: The mood refers to the emotions that are evoked by a piece of writing. It can be affected by setting, character, plot, and more. One mood written works can have is uplifting.


  • Moral: This is the lesson that is meant to be learned by a story. For example, the moral of “The Tortoise and the Hare” is “slow and steady wins the race.”


  • Motif: This is an image or idea that occurs throughout a written work that adds to the theme. For example, the spring season could represent new life.


  • Motivation: This is the reason behind a character’s actions. It can be intrinsic (within the character) or extrinsic (an outside force). An example would be a student who wants to pass high school to get a better job than her parents had throughout her childhood.
  • Nemesis: The nemesis is an evil character who works against the protagonist. An example would be Ursula in “The Little Mermaid.”


  • Neologism: This is a term that basically means “a made up word.” “Selfie” is a neologism for a picture of yourself.


  • Non Sequitur: This is a sentence or statement that does not make logical sense. It’s often used for comedic purposes.

“I saw a cat today, so I’ll likely win the lottery tomorrow.”


  • Nostalgia: This is a description of the past, and can bring back either feelings of pleasure or feelings of pain. The famous beginning of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” is an example of nostalgia.


  • Omniscient: In literature, an omniscient view can see the thoughts of every character. Many novels are written from this point of view.


  • Ordinal Number: These are number terms such as first, second, third, and so on. They can be used to organize thoughts or books in a series.


  • Overstatement: An overstatement is describing something as more than it was. For example, someone who found a dollar on the ground could say “I had the best day of my life today!”


  • Oxymoron: This is when two words or phrases with opposite meaning are used together. “Good pain” could be considered an oxymoron.


  • Pacing: This is how a writer controls the speed of a story. It can be told quickly, or it can be more drawn out.


  • Palindrome: This is a word that backward or forward, spells the same. An example is “racecar.”


  • Paradox: A paradox is a sentence that cannot be true, but it also cannot be false.

“This sentence is a lie.”


  • Paralipsis: This refers to the act of purposely leaving information out. It is commonly used in political speeches.


  • Parallel structure: This is a sentence that is made up equally in regards to grammar.

“We went outside, rode our bikes, drew with chalk, and ate a snack.”


  • Paraphrase: This is taking someone else’s writing and putting it in your own words.

“Tigers are elegant creatures with their orange and black stripes.”

“The black and orange stripes that tigers have make them beautiful.”


  • Paraprosdokian: This term describes a surprise ending to a sentence. For example, “I had two pets named Fred, one was a dog and the other was my husband.”


  • Parataxis: A parataxis is a compilation of clauses without conjunctions.
    • “The horse galloped and jumped and bucked and played.”


  • Parenthesis: This is an explanatory word or phrase that’s inserted into a text (and placed inside of parenthesis). Did you spot the example right in the definition?


  • Paronomasia: This is a funny play on words. They are found often throughout the work of Shakespeare.


  • Parrhesia:This is another term for free speech, often expressing the opinion of the author. George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” contains plenty of this.


  • Pastiche: This is a type of writing that imitates the work of someone else. An example would be trying to write in a Shakespearian style.


  • Pathos: This gets the emotions of the reader involved. Bringing up how farm animals are treated by large corporations, for example, would be an effective use of pathos in an argument for supporting local farmers.


  • Periphrasis: Periphrasis is just an indirect way of speaking. For example, stating “The bowl of water that belongs to the dog” instead of “The dog’s water bowl.”


  • Persona: The persona is who is thought to be speaking in a written work. For example, the writer could take on an educational voice to create a fitting persona for a research paper.


  • Perspective: This describes who is telling the story. Some examples include first person, second person, and third person.


  • Pleonasm: Thi is when something is described with more than the amount of necessary descriptive terms. For example, “I saw it this morning at the beginning of the day.”


  • Polyptoton: This is when words with the same root are repeated. For example, “My lover is looking lovely today.”


  • Polysyndeton: This style of writing uses multiple conjunctions. “We went to the bank and the store and the restaurant and the mall.”


  • Portmanteau: This is when two words are combined to create a new word. A popular portmanteau is “hangry.”


  • Procatalepsis: A procatalepsis is when a writer addresses the other side of the argument before moving on to prove their point.
    • “Many people believe it is okay to text and drive, but it is one of the most dangerous things you can do.”


  • Propaganda: Propaganda publicly shares a specific opinion. “Animal Farm” is propaganda.


  • Prosody: Prosody is the attitude that gives a phrase the correct meaning. For example, if someone says “I had a wonderful day,” prosody would determine whether that statement was true or sarcastic.


  • Prosthesis: This is when a syllable is added to the beginning of a word. For example, “She went a-walkin’.”


  • Pun: A pun is a funny type of word play. An example could be “Horses are stable animals.”


  • Realism: This is a writing style that represents real life. As long as a book has nothing make-believe in it, it’s likely realism.


  • Rebuttal: This is when a writer breaks down the opposing argument. For example, in a piece that states truancy is too harshly enforced, the writer could look at countries with less truancy punishments and show they have better attendance rates.


  • Red Herring: This is when a writer avoids an argument or negative subject by bringing up something completely unrelated. It is once again common in political pieces.


  • Reductio Ad Absurdum: This is another term for argumentative essays, where the writer breaks down the opposing view to the point no one could possibly believe it.



  • Repetition: Repetition is repeating a word or phrase for emphasis. For example, The strong wind blew over the table, and the strong wind knocked down a tree.”


  • Rhetorical Devices: Rhetoric is using literature for a variety of purposes, including bringing about emotions or proving a point. Most literary techniques can be considered rhetorical devices.
  • Sarcasm: This is when something is said one way, but has the opposite meaning. Stating “It’s a beautiful day” during a giant storm is an example of sarcasm.


  • Semantic: Semantic is the thought that words can be used in many ways other than to represent their literal meaning. Semantics show that “heart” can be a human organ, and it can be something that represents love.


  • Sensory Language: This connects the reader to a story through the use of the five senses. It may include terms that explain sounds or feelings, for example.


  • Sesquipedalian: This term refers to the use of extremely long words. It can include the use of any ridiculous words or phrases.


  • Sestine: This is a type of poem with six, six-line stanzas followed by one three-line stanza. An example is Elizabeht Bishop’s “A Miracle for Breakfast.”


  • Sibilance: Sibilance is the repeated use of “hissing” sounds. “Sally sold seashells by the seashore” could be a sibilance.


  • Situational Irony: This is when something extremely unexpected (and often funny) happens. An example would be a teacher forgetting to do their homework.


  • Slang: These are made-up words that have been accepted and are understood by society. “BAE” is a slang word that means “before anyone else,” or babe, that is often used today.”


  • Snark: Snark is made up of quick, unkind comments. Saying “Nice catch” when someone drops a football would be an example of snark.


  • Soliloquy: This is when a character speaks to themselves. Soliloquies are often found in plays.


  • Sound Devices: These create a specific sound in writing, and specifically in poetry. Rhymes are the most common sound device.


  • Spondee: A spondee is two stressed syllables. An example could be “Schoolyard.”


  • Straw Man: This is when an argument goes after the most extreme point of view instead of what the other person actually thinks. An example would be arguing with someone on lowering the legal drinking age, and state they want more alcoholics in the world.


  • Stream of Consciousness: This is a writing style that follows the thoughts in the author’s mind. Virginia Woolf’s works are great examples of this style.


  • Subjective: Subjective means opinion-based. A subjective topic example is “What is the best color in the rainbow?”


  • Superlative: Superlatives are words that add “-est” onto an adverb or adjective. “Happiest” is an example of a superlative.


  • Surrealism: Surrealism is work that is almost dreamlike. It is full of descriptive imagery. Salvador Dahli’s work is a great example.


  • Symbolism: Symbolism is when one object holds the meaning of something larger. A necklace given to a character by her lover could be a symbol of his commitment and love.


  • Syncope: This is a term that represents a shortened word. For example, the syncope for “You all” is “Y’all.”


  • Synecdoche: This is a saying in which a piece of something represents the whole thing. A good example is “All hands on deck.” WHen this phrase is used, they are not just asking for hands, they are asking for the help of the people.


  • Synesis: This is a type of phrase where the technical rules of grammar are let go to allow something that still makes sense. Mark Twain’s novels use synesis.


  • Synesthesia: This is when something is being described with characteristics of something else. A simile is a great example of synesthesia.


  • Syntax: This term refers to how words are arranged in a sentence.


  • Tautology: Tautology is when a meaning is repeated through a seemingly unnecessary word. For example, “Cold snow.” We already know that snow is cold, so using the adjective to describe it isn’t really necessary.


  • Tmesis: This cuts a word or phrase into two different parts. “Fan-freaking-tastic” is a slang version of a tmesis.


  • Tricolon: This means three words or phrases that are parallel.

“Eat, Pray, Love.”


  • Trope: This is a broad term that describes something in a way that is not literal. A metaphor is a type of trope.


  • Truism: This is a statement that is based on a fact, so it does not need to be proven. For example, “Water is wet.”


  • Understatement: This is when something is downplayed. Saying “I had a decent race” when you won the state championship would be an example of an understatement.


  • Undertone: This is an implied attitude that lies at the surface of a piece. For example, an argumentative essay on the why the death penalty should not exist may have a depressing undertone.


  • Verbal Irony: Verbal irony is when a character says one thing but means the opposite. They could say “I wish I was at home” while on the best vacation of their life.


  • Villanelle: This is a specific type of poem with nineteen lines (five tercets, one quatrain, and one couplet). “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop is a great example.


  • Verisimilitude: This is the process a writer uses to make their piece seem believable. For example, people in a certain country speak the native language, making it seem true that the characters are actually there.


  • Vernacular: These are sets of words used by specific groups of people. Medical terms are vernacular for doctors and nurses.


  • Volta: This is a switch in a written work. It could be a change in emotion or a switch to the other side of an argument. For example, a character may go from being happy that it’s snowing to being sad that school is cancelled for the day.


  • Wit: Wit is a quick, well-thought-out, and funny way to respond to something. It is often used in comedy writing, or as comic relief.


  • Zeugma: A Zeugma is a verb or an adjective that explains two different things. For example, “He threw away the assignment and his chance at passing the class.”


  • Zoomorphism: This is when animal-like characteristics are given to people (or to anything that is not an animal).

“She ran with the speed of a cheetah.”

Conclusion: Literary Devices, Techniques, and Elements

The list of literary devices is long, and it’ll never be required of you to memorize them all.

The more you know, however, the more complexity and style you can add to your writing.

Take this list and work your way toward becoming the best writer you can possibly be.

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