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This handout gives a rundown of some important terms and concepts used when talking and writing about literature.
Included below is a list of literary terms that can help you interpret, critique, and respond to a variety of different written works. This list is by no means comprehensive, but instead offers a primer to the language frequently used by scholars and students researching literary works. This list and the terms included in it can help you begin to identify central concerns or elements in a work that might help facilitate your interpretation, argumentation, and analysis. We encourage you to read this list alongside the other guides to literary interpretation included on the OWL Website. Please use the links on the left-hand side of this page to access other helpful resources.
- Characterization : The ways individual characters are represented by the narrator or author of a text. This includes descriptions of the characters’ physical appearances, personalities, actions, interactions, and dialogue.
- Dialogue : Spoken exchanges between characters in a dramatic or literary work, usually between two or more speakers.
- Genre : A kind of literature. For instance, comedy, mystery, tragedy, satire, elegy, romance, and epic are all genres. Texts frequently draw elements from multiple genres to create dynamic narratives. Alastair Fowler uses the following elements to define genres: organizational features (chapters, acts, scenes, stanzas); length; mood (the Gothic novel tends to be moody and dark); style (a text can be high, low, or in-between depending on its audience); the reader’s role (readers of a mystery are expected to interpret evidence); and the author’s reason for writing (an epithalamion is a poem composed for marriage) (Mickics 132-3).
- Imagery : A term used to describe an author’s use of vivid descriptions “that evoke sense-impressions by literal or figurative reference to perceptible or ‘concrete’ objects, scenes, actions, or states” (Baldick 121). Imagery can refer to the literal landscape or characters described in a narrative or the theoretical concepts an author employs.
- Plot : The sequence of events that occur through a work to produce a coherent narrative or story.
- Point of View: The perspective (visual, interpretive, bias, etc.) a text takes when presenting its plot and narrative. For instance, an author might write a narrative from a specific character’s point of view, which means that that character is our narrative and readers experience events through his or her eyes.
- Style : Comprising an author’s diction, syntax, tone, characters, and other narrative techniques, “style” is used to describe the way an author uses language to convey his or her ideas and purpose in writing. An author’s style can also be associated to the genre or mode of writing the author adopts, such as in the case of a satire or elegy with would adopt a satirical or elegiac style of writing.
- Symbol(ism): An object or element incorporated into a narrative to represent another concept or concern. Broadly, representing one thing with another. Symbols typically recur throughout a narrative and offer critical, though often overlooked, information about events, characters, and the author’s primary concerns in telling the story.
- Theme : According to Baldick, a theme may be defined as “a salient abstract idea that emerges from a literary work’s treatment of its subject-matter; or a topic recurring in a number or literary works” (Baldick 258). Themes in literature tend to differ depending on author, time period, genre, style, purpose, etc.
- Tone : A way of communicating information (in writing, images, or sound) that conveys an attitude. Authors convey tone through a combination of word-choice, imagery, perspective, style, and subject matter. By adopting a specific tone, authors can help readers accurately interpret meaning in a text.
- First person : A story told from the perspective of one or several characters, each of whom typically uses the word “I.” This means that readers “see” or experience events in the story through the narrator’s eyes.
- Second person : A narrative perspective that typically addresses that audience using “you.” This mode can help authors address readers and invest them in the story.
- Third person : Describes a narrative told from the perspective of an outside figure who does not participate directly in the events of a story. This mode uses “he,” “she,” and “it” to describe events and characters.
Types of Prose Texts
- Bildungsroman : This is typically a type of novel that depicts an individual’s coming-of-age through self-discovery and personal knowledge. Such stories often explore the protagonists’ psychological and moral development. Examples include Dickens’ Great Expectations and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man .
- Epistolary : A novel composed primarily of letters sent and received by its principal characters. This type of novel was particularly popular during the eighteenth century.
- Essay : According to Baldick, “a short written composition in prose that discusses a subject or proposes an argument without claiming to be a complete or thorough exposition” (Baldick 87). A notable example of the essay form is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which uses satire to discuss eighteenth-century economic and social concerns in Ireland.
- Novella : An intermediate-length (between a novel and a short story) fictional narrative.
Terms for Interpreting Authorial Voice
- Apology : Often at the beginning or conclusion of a text, the term “apology” refers to an instance in which the author or narrator justifies his or her goals in producing the text.
- Irony : Typically refers to saying one thing and meaning the opposite, often to shock audiences and emphasize the importance of the truth.
- Satire : A style of writing that mocks, ridicules, or pokes fun at a person, belief, or group of people in order to challenge them. Often, texts employing satire use sarcasm, irony, or exaggeration to assert their perspective.
- Stream of consciousness : A mode of writing in which the author traces his or her thoughts verbatim into the text. Typically, this style offers a representation of the author’s exact thoughts throughout the writing process and can be used to convey a variety of different emotions or as a form of pre-writing.
Terms for Interpreting Characters
- Antagonist : A character in a text who the protagonist opposes. The antagonist is often (though not always) the villain of a story.
- Anti-hero : A protagonist of a story who embodies none of the qualities typically assigned to traditional heroes and heroines. Not to be confused with the antagonist of a story, the anti-hero is a protagonist whose failings are typically used to humanize him or her and convey a message about the reality of human existence.
- Archetype : “a resonant figure of mythic importance, whether a personality, place, or situation, found in diverse cultures and different historical periods” (Mickics 24). Archetypes differ from allegories because they tend to reference broader or commonplace (often termed “stock”) character types, plot points, and literary conventions. Paying attention to archetypes can help readers identify what an author may posit as “universal truths” about life, society, human interaction, etc. based on what other authors or participants in a culture may have said about them.
- Epithet : According to Taafe, “An adjective, noun, or phase expressing some characteristic quality of a thing or person or a descriptive name applied to a person, as Richard the Lion-Hearted” (Taafe 58). An epithet usually indicates some notable quality about the individual with whom it addresses, but it can also be used ironically to emphasize qualities that individual might actually lack.
- Personification : The artistic representation of a concept, quality, or idea in the form of a person. Personification can also refer to “a person who is considered a representative type of a particular quality or concept” (Taafe 120). Many classical deities are good examples of personifications. For instance, the Greek god Ares is a personification of war.
- Protagonist : The primary character in a text, often positioned as “good” or the character with whom readers are expected to identify. Protagonists usually oppose an antagonist.
Terms for Interpreting Word Choice, Dialogue, and Speech
- Alliteration : According to Baldick, “The repetition of the same sounds—usually initial consonants of words or of stressed syllabus—in any sequence of neighboring words” (Baldick 6). Alliteration is typically used to convey a specific tone or message.
- Apostrophe : This figure of speech refers to an address to “a dead or absent person, or an abstraction or inanimate object” and is “usually employed for emotional emphasis, can become ridiculous [or humorous] when misapplied” (Baldick 17).
- Diction : Word choice, or the specific language an author, narrator, or speaker uses to describe events and interact with other characters.
Terms for Interpreting Plot
- Climax : The height of conflict and intrigue in a narrative. This is when events in the narrative and characters’ destinies are most unclear; the climax often appears as a decision the protagonist must make or a challenge he or she must overcome in order for the narrative to obtain resolution.
- Denouement : The “falling action” of a narrative, when the climax and central conflicts are resolved and a resolution is found. In a play, this is typically the last act and in a novel it might include the final chapters.
- Deus Ex Machina : According to Taafe, “Literally, in Latin, the ‘god from the machine’; a deity in Greek and Roman drama who was brought in by stage machinery to intervene in the action; hence, any character, event, or device suddenly introduced to resolve the conflict” (43).
- Exposition : Usually located at the beginning of a text, this is a detailed discussion introducing characters, setting, background information, etc. readers might need to know in order to understand the text that follows. This section is particularly rich for analysis because it contains a lot of important information in a relatively small space.
- Frame Narrative : a story that an author encloses around the central narrative in order to provide background information and context. This is typically referred to as a “story within a story” or a “tale within a tale.” Frame stories are usually located in a distinct place and time from the narratives they surround. Examples of stories with frame narratives include Canterbury Tales, Frankenstein , and Wuthering Heights .
- In media res : Beginning in “the middle of things,” or when an author begins a text in the midst of action. This often functions as a way to both incorporate the reader directly into the narrative and secure his or her interest in the narrative that follows.
Terms for Interpreting Layers of Meaning
- Allegory : A literary mode that attempts to convert abstract concepts, values, beliefs, or historical events into characters or other tangible elements in a narrative. Examples include, Gulliver’s Travels, The Faerie Queene, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Paradise Lost .
- Allusion : When a text references, incorporates, or responds to an earlier piece (including literature, art, music, film, event, etc). T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) offers an extensive example of allusion in literature. According to Baldick, “The technique of allusion is an economical means of calling upon the history or the literary tradition that author and reader are assumed to share” (7).
- Hyperbole : exaggerated language, description, or speech that is not meant to be taken literally, but is used for emphasis. For instance, “I’ve been waiting here for ages” or “This bag weighs a ton.”
- Metaphor : a figure of speech that refers to one thing by another in order to identify similarities between the two (and therefore define each in relation to one another).
- Note that metonymy differs subtly from synecdoche, which substitutes a part of something for the whole. For example, the phrase "all hands on deck" can substitute for the more awkward "all people on deck."
- Parody : a narrative work or writing style that mocks or mimics another genre or work. Typically, parodies exaggerate and emphasize elements from the original work in order to ridicule, comment on, or criticize their message.
- Simile : a figure of speech that compares two people, objects, elements, or concepts using “like” or “as.”
For more information or to read about other literary terms, please see the following texts:
Baldick, Chris. Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms . Oxford University Press, 2001.
Mikics, David. A New Handbook of Literary Terms . Yale University Press, 2007.
Taafe, James G. A Student’s Guide to Literary Term s. The World Publishing Company, 1967.
English Literature Vocabulary Words List – A to Z
Today, we’re going to get to know more about the words that are related to English literature. Let’s move ahead to the table to find out about it.
English literature is the collected creative writing including all the paper, treatises, etc. Those are published, some of them in academic journals on English subjects.
English Literature Vocabulary of Literary Terms
Following is the list of terms used in Literature along with their meanings for Literary analysis:
Keep exploring EnglishBix to learn about words related to different areas of life.
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- 112 Prefix Words by Alpha
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Literary terms Vocabulary Word List (288)
- Literary Terms
Glossary of Literary Terms
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Also called “ action- adventure,” action is a genre of film, TV, literature, etc., in which the primary feature is the constant slam-bang of fights, chases, explosions, and clever one-liners. Action stories typically do not explore complex relationships between human beings or the subtleties of psychology and philosophy.
Ad hominem is Latin for “against the man,” and refers to the logical fallacy (error) of arguing that someone is incorrect because they are unattractive, immoral, weird, or any other bad thing you could say about them as a person.
An adage is a brief piece of wisdom in the form of short, philosophical, and memorable sayings. The adage expresses a well-known and simple truth in a few words.
Adventure (pronounced ad-ven-cher) was originally a Middle English word derived from the Old French aventure meaning “destiny,” “fate,” or “chance event.” Today, we define adventure as a remarkable or unexpected journey, experience, or event that a person participates in as a result of chance. This last detail, a result of chance , is a key element of adventure; the stories usually involve a character who is brought to the adventure by chance, and chance usually plays a large role in the episodes of the story. Also, adventures usually includes dangerous situations, narrow escapes, problems to be solved through intelligence and skill, exotic people and places, and brave deeds.
An allegory is a story within a story. It has a “surface story” and another story hidden underneath. For example, the surface story might be about two neighbors throwing rocks at each other’s homes, but the hidden story would be about war between countries.
In alliteration, words that begin with the same sound are placed close together. Although alliteration often involves repetition of letters, most importantly, it is a repetition of sounds.
Allusion is basically a reference to something else . It’s when a writer mentions some other work, or refers to an earlier part of the current work. In literature, it’s frequently used to reference cultural works (e.g. by alluding to a Bible story or Greek myth).
Ambiguity is an idea or situation that can be understood in more than one way. This extends from ambiguous sentences (which could mean one thing or another) up to ambiguous storylines and ambiguous arguments .
Amplification involves extending a sentence or phrase in order to further explain, emphasize, or exaggerate certain points of a definition, description, or argument.
An anagram is a type of word play in which the letters of a word or phrase are rearranged to create new words and phrases.
An analogy is a literary technique in which two unrelated objects are compared for their shared qualities. Unlike a simile or a metaphor, an analogy is not a figure of speech, though the three are often quite similar. Instead, analogies are strong rhetorical devices used to make rational arguments and support ideas by showing connections and comparisons between dissimilar things.
Anaphora is when a certain word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of clauses or sentences that follow each other. This repetition emphasizes the phrase while adding rhythm to the passage, making it more memorable and enjoyable to read.
An anecdote is a very short story that is significant to the topic at hand; usually adding personal knowledge or experience to the topic.
In a story, the antagonist is the opposite of the protagonist, or main character. Typically, this is a villain of some kind, but not always! It’s just the opponent of the main character, or someone who gets in their way.
Anthimeria (also known as antimeria) is the usage of a word in a new grammatical form, most often the usage of a noun as a verb.
Anthropomorphism is giving human traits or attributes to animals, inanimate objects, or other non-human things. It comes from the Greek words anthropo (human) and morph (form).
Antithesis literally means “opposite” – it is usually the opposite of a statement, concept, or idea. In literary analysis, an antithesis is a pair of statements or images in which the one reverses the other. The pair is written with similar grammatical structures to show more contrast.
Antonomasia is a literary term in which a descriptive phrase replaces a person’s name. Antonomasia can range from lighthearted nicknames to epic names.
An aphorism is a short, concise statement of a general truth, insight, or good advice. It’s roughly synonymous with “a saying.” Aphorisms often use metaphors or creative imagery to get their point across.
Aphorismus is a term in which the speaker questions whether a word is being used correctly to show disagreement. Aphorismus is often written as a rhetorical question such as “How can you call this music ?”to show the difference between the usual meaning of a word and how it is being used. So, the point is to call attention to the qualities of the word, suggesting that how it is being used is not a good example of the word.
An apologia is a defense of one’s conduct or opinions. It’s related to our concept of “apology,” but in many cases it’s the precise opposite of an apology! When you apologize, you’re saying “I did the wrong thing, and I regret it.” But in an apologia, you’re defending yourself , either by saying that what you did wasn’t wrong or denying that you were responsible for what happened.
An apologue is a short story or fable which provides a simple moral lesson. Apologues are often told through the use of animal characters with symbolical elements.
In literature, aporia is an expression of insincere doubt. It’s when the writer or speaker pretends, briefly, not to know a key piece of information or not to understand a key connection. After raising this doubt, the author will either respond to the doubt, or leave it open in a suggestive or “hinting” manner.
Aposiopesis is when a sentence is purposefully left incomplete or cut off. It’s caused by an inability or unwillingness to continue speaking. This allows the ending to be filled in by the listener’s imagination.
Appositives are noun phrases that follow or precede another noun, and give more information about it.
An archaism is an old word or expression that is no longer used with its original meaning or is only used in specific studies or areas.
An archetype (ARK-uh-type) is an idea, symbol, pattern, or character-type, in a story. It’s any story element that appears again and again in stories from cultures around the world and symbolizes something universal in the human experience.
An argument is a work of persuasion. You use it to convince others to agree with your claim or viewpoint when they have doubts or disagree.
Assonance is the repetition of the same or similar vowel sounds within words, phrases, or sentences.
Asyndeton is skipping one or more conjunctions (and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet) which are usually used in a series of phrases. Asyndeton is also known as asyndetism.
An autobiography is a self-written life story.
Auto = self
Graph = print or written
It is different from a biography , which is the life story of a person written by someone else. Some people may have their life story written by another person because they don’t believe they can write well, but they are still considered an author because they are providing the information.
Bathos is text that abruptly turns from serious and poetic, to regular and silly.
A buzzword is a word or phrase that has little meaning but becomes popular during a specific time.
Cacophony is the use of a combination of words with loud, harsh sounds—in reality as well as literature. In literary studies, this combination of words with rough or unharmonious sounds are used for a noisy or jarring poetic effect. Cacophony is considered the opposite of euphony which is the use of beautiful, melodious-sounding words.
Caesura refers to a break or pause in the middle of a line of verse. It can be marked as || in the middle of the line, although generally it is not marked at all – it’s simply part of the way the reader or singer pronounces the line.
Catharsis, meaning “cleansing” in Greek, refers to a literary theory first developed by the philosopher Aristotle, who believed that cleansing our emotions was the purpose of a good story, especially a tragedy. Catharsis applies to any form of art or media that makes us feel strong negative emotions, but that we are nonetheless drawn to – we may seek out art that creates these emotions because the experience purges the emotions from our system.
A character is a person, animal, being, creature, or thing in a story. Writers use characters to perform the actions and speak dialogue, moving the story along a plot line. A story can have only one character (protagonist) and still be a complete story.
Chiasmus comes from a Greek word meaning “crossed,” and it refers to a grammatical structure that inverts a previous phrase. That is, you say one thing, and then you say something very similar, but flipped around.
Circumlocution means “talking around” or “talking in circles.” It’s when you want to discuss something, but don’t want to make any direct reference to it, so you create a way to get around the subject. The key to circumlocution is that the statement has to be unnecessarily long and complicated.
A cliché is a saying, image, or idea which has been used so much that it sounds terribly uncreative. The word “cliche” was originally French for the sound of a printing plate, which prints the same thing over and over.
Climax is the highest point of tension or drama in a narrative’s plot. Often, climax is also when the main problem of the story is faced and solved by the main character or protagonist.
Coherence describes the way anything, such as an argument (or part of an argument) “hangs together.” If something has coherence, its parts are well-connected and all heading in the same direction. Without coherence, a discussion may not make sense or may be difficult for the audience to follow. It’s an extremely important quality of formal writing.
A connotation is a common feeling or association that a word has, in addition to its literal meaning (the denotation). Often, a series of words can have the same basic definitions, but completely different connotations—these are the emotions or meanings implied by a word, phrase, or thing.
Consonance is when the same consonant sound appears repeatedly in a line or sentence, creating a rhythmic effect.
A conundrum is a difficult problem, one that is impossible or almost impossible to solve. It’s an extremely broad term that covers any number of different types of situations, from moral dilemmas to riddles .
Comedy is a broad genre of film, television, and literature in which the goal is to make an audience laugh. It exists in every culture on earth (though the specifics of comedy can be very different from one culture to another), and has always been an extremely popular genre of storytelling.
Denotation is a word’ or thing’s “dictionary defintion”, i.e. its literal meaning.
The denouement is the very end of a story, the part where all the different plotlines are finally tied up and all remaining questions answered.
- Deus ex machina
Deus ex machina is Latin for “a god from the machine.” It’s when some new character, force, or event suddenly shows up to solve a seemingly hopeless situation. The effect is usually much too abrupt, and it’s often disappointing for audiences.
Diacope is when a writer repeats a word or phrase with one or more words in between. A common and persistent example of diacope is Hamlet’s “ To be , or not to be !”
Dialogue means “conversation.” In the broadest sense, this includes any case of two or more characters speaking to each other directly. But it also has a narrower definition, called the dialogue form . The dialogue form is the use of a sustained dialogue to express an argument or idea.
Diction refers to word choice and phrasing in any written or spoken text. Many authors can be said to have their own “diction,” because they tend to use certain words more than others or phrase things in a unique way.
Doppelganger is a twin or double of some character, usually in the form of an evil twin . They sometimes impersonate a main character or cause confusion among the love interests.
Drama has two very different meanings. In modern pop culture, it means a genre of film or television that deals with serious, often negative, emotions. It’s the opposite of comedy, which is just for laughs. Drama refers only to film and television, not novels or other purely written art forms.
A dystopia is a horrible place where everything has gone wrong. Whereas utopia means a perfect paradise, dystopia means exactly the opposite.
Enjambment is continuing a line after the line breaks. Whereas many poems end lines with the natural pause at the end of a phrase or with punctuation as end-stopped lines, enjambment ends a line in the middle of a phrase, allowing it to continue onto the next line as an enjambed line.
An enthymeme is a kind of syllogism , or logical deduction, in which one of the premises is unstated.
An epigram is a short but insightful statement, often in verse form, which communicates a thought in a witty, paradoxical, or funny way.
An epiphany is an “Aha!” moment. As a literary device, epiphany is the moment when a character is suddenly struck with a life-changing, enlightening revelation or realization which changes his or her perspective for the rest of the story.
Epistrophe is when a certain phrase or word is repeated at the end of sentences or clauses that follow each other. This repetition creates a rhythm while emphasizing the repeated phrase. Epistrophe is also known as epiphora and antistrophe.
An epitaph is a short statement about a deceased person, often carved on his/her tombstone. Epitaphs can be poetic, sometimes written by poets or authors themselves before dying.
An Epithet is a glorified nickname. Traditionally, it replaces the name of a person and often describes them in some way.
An eponym refers to a person or thing after which something else is named. A person or thing’s name can come to be associated with the name of another character, person, product, object, activity, or even a discovery.
Commonly known as “doublespeak,” equivocation is the use of vague language to hide one’s meaning or to avoid committing to a point of view.
An essay is a form of writing in paragraph form that uses informal language, although it can be written formally. Essays may be written in first-person point of view (I, ours, mine), but third-person (people, he, she) is preferable in most academic essays.
Etymology is the investigation of word histories. Every word in every language has a unique origin and history; words can be born in many ways, and often their histories are quite adventurous and informative. Etymology investigates and documents the lives (mainly the origins) of words.
A euphemism is a polite, mild phrase that we substitute for a harsher, blunter way of saying something uncomfortable.
An excursus is a moment where a text moves away from its main topic – it’s roughly similar to “digression.”
Exemplum is just Latin for “example.” And that’s all it is. It’s an example, story, or anecdote used to demonstrate a point.
The exposition of a story is the first paragraph or paragraphs in which the characters, setting (time and place), and basic information is introduced.
- Extended Metaphor
An extended metaphor is a metaphor that is developed in some detail by being used in more than one phrase, from a sentence or a paragraph, to encompassing an entire work.
A fairy tale is a story, often intended for children, that features fanciful and wondrous characters such as elves, goblins, wizards, and even, but not necessarily, fairies. The term “fairy” tale seems to refer more to the fantastic and magical setting or magical influences within a story, rather than the presence of the character of a fairy within that story.
In literature, a fable (pronounced fey-buh l) is a short fictional story that has a moral or teaches a lesson. Fables use humanized animals, objects, or parts of nature as main characters, and are therefore considered to be a sub-genre of fantasy.
Fantasy, from the Greek ϕαντασία meaning ‘making visible,’ is a genre of fiction that concentrates on imaginary elements (the fantastic). This can mean magic, the supernatural, alternate worlds, superheroes, monsters, fairies, magical creatures, mythological heroes—essentially, anything that an author can imagine outside of reality.
A farce is a comedy in which everything is absolutely absurd. This usually involves some kind of deception or miscommunication.
- Figures of Speech
A figure of speech is a word or phrase using figurative language—language that has other meaning than its normal definition. In other words, figures of speeches rely on implied or suggested meaning, rather than a dictionary definition.
Flashback is a device that moves an audience from the present moment in a chronological narrative to a scene in the past.
Folklore refers to the tales people tell – folk stories, fairy tales, “tall tales,” and even urban legends . Folklore is typically passed down by word of mouth, rather than being written in books. The key here is that folklore has no author – it just emerges from the culture and is carried forward by constant retelling.
Foreshadowing gives the audience hints or signs about the future. It suggests what is to come through imagery, language, and/or symbolism.
A genre is a category of literature identified by form, content, and style. Genres allow literary critics and students to classify compositions within the larger canon of literature.
A haiku is a specific type of Japanese poem which has 17 syllables divided into three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Haikus or haiku are typically written on the subject of nature.
Hamartia is the tragic flaw or error that reverses a protagonist’s fortune from good to bad.
Homophone is when two or more words have the same sound, but different meanings. They may be spelled the same or differently.
In literature, horror is a genre of fiction whose purpose is to create feelings of fear, dread, repulsion, and terror in the audience—in other words, it develops an atmosphere of horror.
Hyperbaton is a figure of speech in which the typical, natural order of words is changed as certain words are moved out of order.
Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which an author or speaker purposely and obviously exaggerates to an extreme. It is used for emphasis or as a way of making a description more creative and humorous.
An idiom is a phrase that conveys a figurative meaning different from the words used. In this sense, idiom is pretty much synonymous with “figure of speech,” though with a slightly narrower definition: an idiom is part of the language.
Imagery is language used to create images in the mind of the reader. Imagery includes figurative and metaphorical language to improve the reader’s experience through their senses.
An innuendo is when you say something which is polite and innocent on the surface, but indirectly hints at an insult or rude comment, a dirty joke, or even social or political criticism.
Intertextuality is a fact about literary texts – the fact that they are all intimately interconnected. Every text is affected by all the texts that came before it, since those texts influenced the author’s thinking and aesthetic choices.
Invective is the literary device in which one attacks or insults a person or thing through the use of abusive language and tone.
Irony is when there are two contradicting meanings of the same situation, event, image, sentence, phrase, or story. In many cases, this refers to the difference between expectations and reality.
Jargon is the specific type of language used by a particular group or profession.
Juxtaposition is the placement of two or more things side by side, often in order to bring out their differences.
Kairos in Ancient Greek meant “time” – but it wasn’t just any time. It was exactly the right time to say or do a particular thing. In modern rhetoric, it refers to making exactly the right statement at exactly the right moment.
A limerick is a five-line poem with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA, lines 1,2, and 5 rhyme together, while lines 3 and 4 rhymes togther) and a reasonably strict meter (anapestic triameter for lines 1, 2, and 5; anapestic diameter for lines 3 and 4). Limericks are almost always used for comedy, and it’s usually pretty rude comedy at that – they deal with bodily functions, etc., and could be considered “toilet humor.”
Lingo is language or vocabulary that is specific to a certain subject, group of people, or region; including slang and jargon. The term lingo is relatively vague—it can mean any type of nonstandard language, and varies between professions, age groups, sexes, nationalities, ethnicities, location, and so on.
- Literary Device
In literature, any technique used to help the author achieve his or her purpose is called a literary device .
Litotes is an understatement in which a positive statement is expressed by negating its opposite. The classic example of litotes is the phrase “not bad.” By negating the word “bad,” you’re saying that something is good, or at least OK.
Malapropisms are incorrect words used in place of correct words; these can be unintentional or intentional, but both cases have a comedic effect.
A maxim is a brief statement that contains a little piece of wisdom or a general rule of behavior.
Metanoia is a self-correction. It’s when a writer or speaker deliberately goes back and modifies a statement that they just made, usually either to strengthen it or soften it in some way.
A metaphor is a common figure of speech that makes a comparison by directly relating one thing to another unrelated thing (though these things may share some similarities).
Unlike similes, metaphors do not use words such as “like” or “as” to make comparisons.
Metonymy is a figure of speech that replaces words with related or associated words. A metonym is typically a part of a larger whole, for example, when we say “wheels,” we are figuratively referring to a “car” and not literally only the wheels.
A mnemonic, also known as a memory aid, is a tool that helps you remember an idea or phrase with a pattern of letters, numbers, or relatable associations. Mnemonic devices include special rhymes and poems, acronyms, images, songs, outlines, and other tools.
A monologue is a speech given by a single character in a story.
A motif is a symbolic image or idea that appears frequently in a story. Motifs can be symbols , sounds, actions, ideas, or words.
Mystery is a genre of literature whose stories focus on a mysterious crime, situation or circumstance that needs to be solved.
A narrative is a story. The term can be used as a noun or an adjective. As a noun, narrative refers to the story being told. As an adjective, it describes the form or style of the story being told.
A nemesis is an enemy, often a villain. A character’s nemesis isn’t just any ordinary enemy, though – the nemesis is the ultimate enemy, the arch-foe that overshadows all the others in power or importance.
Neologism is new word or phrase that is not yet used regularly by most speakers and writers.
In the strict definition, an ode is a classical poem that has a specific structure and is aimed at an object or person. In the loose definition, an ode is any work of art or literature that expresses high praise.
Onomatopoeia refers to words whose pronunciations imitate the sounds they describe. A dog’s bark sounds like “woof,” so “woof” is an example of onomatopoeia.
An oxymoron is a figure of speech that puts together opposite elements. The combination of these contradicting elements serves to reveal a paradox, confuse, or give the reader a laugh.
A palindrome is a type of word play in which a word or phrase spelled forward is the same word or phrase spelled backward.
A parable is a short story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.
A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself, or that must be both true and untrue at the same time.
Parallelism, also known as parallel structure, is when phrases in a sentence have similar or the same grammatical structure.
A paraphrase is a restatement or rewording of text in order to borrow, clarify, or expand on information without plagiarizing.
A parody is a work that’s created by imitating an existing original work in order to make fun of or comment on an aspect of the original.
Pastiche is a creative work that imitates another author or genre. It’s a way of paying homage , or honor, to great works of the past.
- Pathetic Fallacy
The pathetic fallacy is a figure of speech in which the natural world (or some part of it) is treated as though it had human emotions.
Peripeteia is a sudden change in a story which results in a negative reversal of circumstances. Peripeteia is also known as the turning point, the place in which the tragic protagonist’s fortune changes from good to bad.
Persona can refer to the characters in any dramatic or literary work. But it has another special meaning in literary studies, where it refers to the voice of a particular kind of character—the character who is also the narrator within a literary work written from the first-person point of view.
Personification is a kind of metaphor in which you describe an inanimate object, abstract thing, or non-human animal in human terms.
Plagiarism is the act of using someone else’s ideas, words, or thoughts as your own, without giving credit to the other person. When you give credit to the original author (by giving the person’s name, name of the article, and where it was posted or printed), you are citing the source.
A platitude repeats obvious, simple, and easily understood statements that have little meaning or emotional weight.
A pleonasm is when one uses too many words to express a message. A pleonasm can either be a mistake or a tool for emphasis.
In a narrative or creative writing, a plot is the sequence of events that make up a story, whether it”s told, written, filmed, or sung. The plot is the story, and more specifically, how the story develops, unfolds, and moves in time.
Poetry is a type of literature based on the interplay of words and rhythm. It often employs rhyme and meter (a set of rules governing the number and arrangement of syllables in each line). In poetry, words are strung together to form sounds, images, and ideas that might be too complex or abstract to describe directly.
Polyptoton is the repetition of a root word in a variety of ways , such as the words “enjoy” and “enjoyable.” Polyptoton is a unique form of wordplay that provides the sentence with repetition in sound and rhythm.
A prologue is a short introductory section that gives background information or sets the stage for the story to come.
Prose is just non-verse writing. Pretty much anything other than poetry counts as prose.
Protagonist is just another word for “main character.” The story circles around this character’s experiences, and the audience is invited to see the world from his or her perspective.
A proverb is a short saying or piece of folk wisdom that emerges from the general culture rather than being written by a single, individual author.
A pun is a joke based on the interplay of homophones — words with the same pronunciation but different meanings.
A quest is a journey that someone takes in order to achieve a goal or complete an important task. Accordingly, the term comes from the Medieval Latin questa, meaning “search” or “inquiry.”
A rebus is a code or reference where pictures, letters, or symbols represent certain words or phrases. Perhaps the simplest and most common rebus in use today is “IOU” for “I owe you.”
- Red Herring
A red herring is a misleading clue. It’s a trick used by storytellers to keep the reader guessing about what’s really going on.
Quite simply, repetition is the repeating of a word or phrase. It is a common rhetorical device used to add emphasis and stress in writing and speech.
The resolution, also known as the denouement, is the conclusion of the story’s plot structure where any unanswered questions are answered, or “loose ends are tied.”
Rhetoric is the ancient art of persuasion, in the broadest sense. It is the way you present and make your views convincing or attractive to your audience.
- Rhetorical Device
A rhetorical device is any way of using language that helps an author or speaker achieve a particular purpose. Usually, the purpose is persuasion , since rhetoric is typically defined as the art of persuasion.
- Rhetorical Question
A rhetorical question is a question that is not asked in order to receive an answer, but rather just to make a point.
In the strictest academic terms, a romance is a narrative genre in literature that involves a mysterious, adventurous, or spiritual a story line where the focus is on a quest that involves bravery and strong values, not a love interest. However, modern definitions of romance also include stories that have a relationship issue as the main focus.
Sarcasm is a form of verbal irony that mocks, ridicules, or expresses contempt. You’re saying the opposite of what you mean (verbal irony) and doing it in a particularly hostile tone.
The formal definition of satire is “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices.” It’s an extremely broad category.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that somehow causes itself to come true. The characters may try to prevent their fate, but in the end their actions simply cause that fate to come about.
Setting is the time and place (or when and where) of the story. It may also include the environment of the story, which can be made up of the physical location, climate, weather, or social and cultural surroundings.
A simile is a literary term where you use “like” or “as” to compare two different things, implying that they have some quality in common.
A soliloquy is a kind of monologue , or an extended speech by one character. In a soliloquy, though, the speech is not given to another character, and there is no one around to hear it.
A sonnet is a fourteen line poem with a fixed rhyme scheme. Often, sonnets use iambic pentameter: five sets of unstressed syllables followed by stressed syllables for a ten-syllable line.
In poetry, a stanza is a dividing and organizing technique which places a group of lines in a poem together, separated from other groups of lines by line spacing or indentation. There are many important pieces that together make up a writer’s style; like tone, word choice, grammar, language, descriptive technique, and so on.
Style is the way in which an author writes and/or tells a story. It’s what sets one author apart from another and creates the “voice” that audiences hear when they read.
The subtext is the unspoken or less obvious meaning or message in a literary composition, drama, speech, or conversation.
Surrealism is a literary and artistic movement in which the goal is to create something bizarre and disjointed, but still somehow understandable.
A symbol is any image or thing that stands for something else. It could be as simple as a letter, which is a symbol for a given sound (or set of sounds).
A synecdoche is figure of speech which allows a part of something to stand for a whole, or the whole to stand for a part.
A synonym is a word that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. When words or phrases have the same meaning, we say that they are synonymous of each other.
A synopsis is a brief summary that gives audiences an idea of what a composition is about. It provides an overview of the storyline or main points and other defining factors of the work, which may include style, genre, persons or characters of note, setting, and so on.
Tautology is defining or explaining something by saying exactly the same thing again in different words.
Theme is the central idea, topic, or point of a story, essay, or narrative.
A thriller is a genre of literature, film, and television whose primary feature is that it induces strong feelings of excitement, anxiety, tension, suspense, fear, and other similar emotions in its readers or viewers—in other words, media that thrills the audience.
A thesis is the main argument or point of view of an essay, nonfiction piece or narrative—not just the topic of the writing, but the main claim that the author is making about that topic.
Tone refers to the “feel” of a piece of writing. It’s any or all of the stylistic qualities of the writing, such as formality, dialect, and atmosphere.
The word trope can refer to any type of figure of speech, theme, image, character, or plot element that is used many times. Any kind of literary device or any specific example can be a trope.
Understatement is when a writer presents a situation or thing as if it is less important or serious than it is in reality.
Utopia is a paradise. A perfect society in which everything works and everyone is happy – or at least is supposed to be.
Verisimilitude simply means ‘the quality of resembling reality’ and a work of art, or any part of a work of art, has verisimilitude if it seems believably realistic. A verisimilitudinous story has details, subjects, and characters that seem similar or true to real life.
A villain is the bad guy, the one who comes up with diabolical plots to somehow cause harm or ruin. It is one of the archetype characters in many stories.
Wit is a biting or insightful kind of humor. It includes sharp comebacks, clever banter, and dry, one-line jokes. It is often cynical or insulting, which is what provides it with its characteristic sharpness.
Zeugma is when you use a word in a sentence once, while conveying two different meanings at the same time.
List of Terms
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Literature vocabulary is comprised of terms and concepts that are specific to the world of literature and literary works. This includes concepts that are used to make up the style, format or plot of different works.
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- 📝 VOCABULARY
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Books and Literature Terminology in English
Literature is the written works such as prose or verse which has notable distinction artistically. You can study and learn books and literature vocabulary with online exercises here.
Table of Contents
⬤ Word list of books and literature vocabulary
⬤ flip the card game about books and literature vocabulary, ⬤ worksheets for books and literature vocabulary to download.
- point of view
- short story
SIMILAR PAGES: ❯❯ Grammar vocabulary ❯❯ School and education vocabulary
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Definition of literature noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary
- English/American/French literature
- children's literature
- great works of literature
- For most people, the desire to study literature begins with a love of reading.
- write/publish literature/poetry/fiction/a book/a story/a poem/a novel/a review/an autobiography
- become a writer/novelist/playwright
- find/have a publisher/an agent
- have a new book out
- edit/revise/proofread a book/text/manuscript
- dedicate a book/poem to…
- construct/create/weave/weave something into a complex narrative
- advance/drive the plot
- introduce/present the protagonist/a character
- describe/depict/portray a character (as…)/(somebody as) a hero/villain
- create an exciting/a tense atmosphere
- build/heighten the suspense/tension
- evoke/capture the pathos of the situation
- convey emotion/an idea/an impression/a sense of…
- engage the reader
- seize/capture/grip the (reader’s) imagination
- arouse/elicit emotion/sympathy (in the reader)
- lack imagination/emotion/structure/rhythm
- use/employ language/imagery/humour/ (US English) humor/an image/a symbol/a metaphor/a device
- use/adopt/develop a style/technique
- be rich in/be full of symbolism
- evoke images of…/a sense of…/a feeling of…
- create/achieve an effect
- maintain/lighten the tone
- introduce/develop an idea/a theme
- inspire a novel/a poet/somebody’s work/somebody’s imagination
- read an author/somebody’s work/fiction/poetry/a text/a poem/a novel/a chapter/a passage
- review a book/a novel/somebody’s work
- give something/get/have/receive a good/bad review
- be hailed (as)/be recognized as a masterpiece
- quote a(n) phrase/line/stanza/passage/author
- provoke/spark discussion/criticism
- study/interpret/understand a text/passage
- translate somebody’s work/a text/a passage/a novel/a poem
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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, the 31 literary devices you must know.
Need to analyze The Scarlet Letter or To Kill a Mockingbird for English class, but fumbling for the right vocabulary and concepts for literary devices? You've come to the right place. To successfully interpret and analyze literary texts, you'll first need to have a solid foundation in literary terms and their definitions.
In this article, we'll help you get familiar with most commonly used literary devices in prose and poetry. We'll give you a clear definition of each of the terms we discuss along with examples of literary elements and the context in which they most often appear (comedic writing, drama, or other).
Before we get to the list of literary devices, however, we have a quick refresher on what literary devices are and how understanding them will help you analyze works of literature.
What Are Literary Devices and Why Should You Know Them?
Literary devices are techniques that writers use to create a special and pointed effect in their writing, to convey information, or to help readers understand their writing on a deeper level.
Often, literary devices are used in writing for emphasis or clarity. Authors will also use literary devices to get readers to connect more strongly with either a story as a whole or specific characters or themes.
So why is it important to know different literary devices and terms? Aside from helping you get good grades on your literary analysis homework, there are several benefits to knowing the techniques authors commonly use.
Being able to identify when different literary techniques are being used helps you understand the motivation behind the author's choices. For example, being able to identify symbols in a story can help you figure out why the author might have chosen to insert these focal points and what these might suggest in regard to her attitude toward certain characters, plot points, and events.
In addition, being able to identify literary devices can make a written work's overall meaning or purpose clearer to you. For instance, let's say you're planning to read (or re-read) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. By knowing that this particular book is a religious allegory with references to Christ (represented by the character Aslan) and Judas (represented by Edmund), it will be clearer to you why Lewis uses certain language to describe certain characters and why certain events happen the way they do.
Finally, literary techniques are important to know because they make texts more interesting and more fun to read. If you were to read a novel without knowing any literary devices, chances are you wouldn't be able to detect many of the layers of meaning interwoven into the story via different techniques.
Now that we've gone over why you should spend some time learning literary devices, let's take a look at some of the most important literary elements to know.
List of Literary Devices: 31 Literary Terms You Should Know
Below is a list of literary devices, most of which you'll often come across in both prose and poetry. We explain what each literary term is and give you an example of how it's used. This literary elements list is arranged in alphabetical order.
An allegory is a story that is used to represent a more general message about real-life (historical) issues and/or events. It is typically an entire book, novel, play, etc.
Example: George Orwell's dystopian book Animal Farm is an allegory for the events preceding the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist era in early 20th century Russia. In the story, animals on a farm practice animalism, which is essentially communism. Many characters correspond to actual historical figures: Old Major represents both the founder of communism Karl Marx and the Russian communist leader Vladimir Lenin; the farmer, Mr. Jones, is the Russian Czar; the boar Napoleon stands for Joseph Stalin; and the pig Snowball represents Leon Trotsky.
Alliteration is a series of words or phrases that all (or almost all) start with the same sound. These sounds are typically consonants to give more stress to that syllable. You'll often come across alliteration in poetry, titles of books and poems ( Jane Austen is a fan of this device, for example—just look at Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility ), and tongue twisters.
Example: "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." In this tongue twister, the "p" sound is repeated at the beginning of all major words.
Allusion is when an author makes an indirect reference to a figure, place, event, or idea originating from outside the text. Many allusions make reference to previous works of literature or art.
Example: "Stop acting so smart—it's not like you're Einstein or something." This is an allusion to the famous real-life theoretical physicist Albert Einstein.
An anachronism occurs when there is an (intentional) error in the chronology or timeline of a text. This could be a character who appears in a different time period than when he actually lived, or a technology that appears before it was invented. Anachronisms are often used for comedic effect.
Example: A Renaissance king who says, "That's dope, dude!" would be an anachronism, since this type of language is very modern and not actually from the Renaissance period.
Anaphora is when a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of multiple sentences throughout a piece of writing. It's used to emphasize the repeated phrase and evoke strong feelings in the audience.
Example: A famous example of anaphora is Winston Churchill's "We Shall Fight on the Beaches" speech. Throughout this speech, he repeats the phrase "we shall fight" while listing numerous places where the British army will continue battling during WWII. He did this to rally both troops and the British people and to give them confidence that they would still win the war.
An anthropomorphism occurs when something nonhuman, such as an animal, place, or inanimate object, behaves in a human-like way.
Example: Children's cartoons have many examples of anthropomorphism. For example, Mickey and Minnie Mouse can speak, wear clothes, sing, dance, drive cars, etc. Real mice can't do any of these things, but the two mouse characters behave much more like humans than mice.
Asyndeton is when the writer leaves out conjunctions (such as "and," "or," "but," and "for") in a group of words or phrases so that the meaning of the phrase or sentence is emphasized. It is often used for speeches since sentences containing asyndeton can have a powerful, memorable rhythm.
Example: Abraham Lincoln ends the Gettysburg Address with the phrase "...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth." By leaving out certain conjunctions, he ends the speech on a more powerful, melodic note.
Colloquialism is the use of informal language and slang. It's often used by authors to lend a sense of realism to their characters and dialogue. Forms of colloquialism include words, phrases, and contractions that aren't real words (such as "gonna" and "ain't").
Example: "Hey, what's up, man?" This piece of dialogue is an example of a colloquialism, since it uses common everyday words and phrases, namely "what's up" and "man."
An epigraph is when an author inserts a famous quotation, poem, song, or other short passage or text at the beginning of a larger text (e.g., a book, chapter, etc.). An epigraph is typically written by a different writer (with credit given) and used as a way to introduce overarching themes or messages in the work. Some pieces of literature, such as Herman Melville's 1851 novel Moby-Dick , incorporate multiple epigraphs throughout.
Example: At the beginning of Ernest Hemingway's book The Sun Also Rises is an epigraph that consists of a quotation from poet Gertrude Stein, which reads, "You are all a lost generation," and a passage from the Bible.
Epistrophe is similar to anaphora, but in this case, the repeated word or phrase appears at the end of successive statements. Like anaphora, it is used to evoke an emotional response from the audience.
Example: In Lyndon B. Johnson's speech, "The American Promise," he repeats the word "problem" in a use of epistrophe: "There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem."
A euphemism is when a more mild or indirect word or expression is used in place of another word or phrase that is considered harsh, blunt, vulgar, or unpleasant.
Example: "I'm so sorry, but he didn't make it." The phrase "didn't make it" is a more polite and less blunt way of saying that someone has died.
A flashback is an interruption in a narrative that depicts events that have already occurred, either before the present time or before the time at which the narration takes place. This device is often used to give the reader more background information and details about specific characters, events, plot points, and so on.
Example: Most of the novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is a flashback from the point of view of the housekeeper, Nelly Dean, as she engages in a conversation with a visitor named Lockwood. In this story, Nelly narrates Catherine Earnshaw's and Heathcliff's childhoods, the pair's budding romance, and their tragic demise.
Foreshadowing is when an author indirectly hints at—through things such as dialogue, description, or characters' actions—what's to come later on in the story. This device is often used to introduce tension to a narrative.
Example: Say you're reading a fictionalized account of Amelia Earhart. Before she embarks on her (what we know to be unfortunate) plane ride, a friend says to her, "Be safe. Wouldn't want you getting lost—or worse." This line would be an example of foreshadowing because it implies that something bad ("or worse") will happen to Earhart.
Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that's not meant to be taken literally by the reader. It is often used for comedic effect and/or emphasis.
Example: "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse." The speaker will not literally eat an entire horse (and most likely couldn't ), but this hyperbole emphasizes how starved the speaker feels.
Imagery is when an author describes a scene, thing, or idea so that it appeals to our senses (taste, smell, sight, touch, or hearing). This device is often used to help the reader clearly visualize parts of the story by creating a strong mental picture.
Example: Here's an example of imagery taken from William Wordsworth's famous poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud":
When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of golden Daffodils; Beside the Lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Irony is when a statement is used to express an opposite meaning than the one literally expressed by it. There are three types of irony in literature:
- Verbal irony: When someone says something but means the opposite (similar to sarcasm).
- Situational irony: When something happens that's the opposite of what was expected or intended to happen.
- Dramatic irony: When the audience is aware of the true intentions or outcomes, while the characters are not . As a result, certain actions and/or events take on different meanings for the audience than they do for the characters involved.
- Verbal irony: One example of this type of irony can be found in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." In this short story, a man named Montresor plans to get revenge on another man named Fortunato. As they toast, Montresor says, "And I, Fortunato—I drink to your long life." This statement is ironic because we the readers already know by this point that Montresor plans to kill Fortunato.
- Situational irony: A girl wakes up late for school and quickly rushes to get there. As soon as she arrives, though, she realizes that it's Saturday and there is no school.
- Dramatic irony: In William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , Romeo commits suicide in order to be with Juliet; however, the audience (unlike poor Romeo) knows that Juliet is not actually dead—just asleep.
Juxtaposition is the comparing and contrasting of two or more different (usually opposite) ideas, characters, objects, etc. This literary device is often used to help create a clearer picture of the characteristics of one object or idea by comparing it with those of another.
Example: One of the most famous literary examples of juxtaposition is the opening passage from Charles Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities :
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …"
Malapropism happens when an incorrect word is used in place of a word that has a similar sound. This misuse of the word typically results in a statement that is both nonsensical and humorous; as a result, this device is commonly used in comedic writing.
Example: "I just can't wait to dance the flamingo!" Here, a character has accidentally called the flamenco (a type of dance) the flamingo (an animal).
Metaphors are when ideas, actions, or objects are described in non-literal terms. In short, it's when an author compares one thing to another. The two things being described usually share something in common but are unalike in all other respects.
A simile is a type of metaphor in which an object, idea, character, action, etc., is compared to another thing using the words "as" or "like."
Both metaphors and similes are often used in writing for clarity or emphasis.
"What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun." In this line from Romeo and Juliet , Romeo compares Juliet to the sun. However, because Romeo doesn't use the words "as" or "like," it is not a simile—just a metaphor.
"She is as vicious as a lion." Since this statement uses the word "as" to make a comparison between "she" and "a lion," it is a simile.
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A metonym is when a related word or phrase is substituted for the actual thing to which it's referring. This device is usually used for poetic or rhetorical effect .
Example: "The pen is mightier than the sword." This statement, which was coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, contains two examples of metonymy: "the pen" refers to "the written word," and "the sword" refers to "military force/violence."
Mood is the general feeling the writer wants the audience to have. The writer can achieve this through description, setting, dialogue, and word choice .
Example: Here's a passage from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: "It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats -- the hobbit was fond of visitors." In this passage, Tolkien uses detailed description to set create a cozy, comforting mood. From the writing, you can see that the hobbit's home is well-cared for and designed to provide comfort.
Onomatopoeia is a word (or group of words) that represents a sound and actually resembles or imitates the sound it stands for. It is often used for dramatic, realistic, or poetic effect.
Examples: Buzz, boom, chirp, creak, sizzle, zoom, etc.
An oxymoron is a combination of two words that, together, express a contradictory meaning. This device is often used for emphasis, for humor, to create tension, or to illustrate a paradox (see next entry for more information on paradoxes).
Examples: Deafening silence, organized chaos, cruelly kind, insanely logical, etc.
A paradox is a statement that appears illogical or self-contradictory but, upon investigation, might actually be true or plausible.
Note that a paradox is different from an oxymoron: a paradox is an entire phrase or sentence, whereas an oxymoron is a combination of just two words.
Example: Here's a famous paradoxical sentence: "This statement is false." If the statement is true, then it isn't actually false (as it suggests). But if it's false, then the statement is true! Thus, this statement is a paradox because it is both true and false at the same time.
Personification is when a nonhuman figure or other abstract concept or element is described as having human-like qualities or characteristics. (Unlike anthropomorphism where non-human figures become human-like characters, with personification, the object/figure is simply described as being human-like.) Personification is used to help the reader create a clearer mental picture of the scene or object being described.
Example: "The wind moaned, beckoning me to come outside." In this example, the wind—a nonhuman element—is being described as if it is human (it "moans" and "beckons").
Repetition is when a word or phrase is written multiple times, usually for the purpose of emphasis. It is often used in poetry (for purposes of rhythm as well).
Example: When Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the score for the hit musical Hamilton, gave his speech at the 2016 Tony's, he recited a poem he'd written that included the following line:
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
Satire is genre of writing that criticizes something , such as a person, behavior, belief, government, or society. Satire often employs irony, humor, and hyperbole to make its point.
Example: The Onion is a satirical newspaper and digital media company. It uses satire to parody common news features such as opinion columns, editorial cartoons, and click bait headlines.
A type of monologue that's often used in dramas, a soliloquy is when a character speaks aloud to himself (and to the audience), thereby revealing his inner thoughts and feelings.
Example: In Romeo and Juliet , Juliet's speech on the balcony that begins with, "O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?" is a soliloquy, as she is speaking aloud to herself (remember that she doesn't realize Romeo's there listening!).
Symbolism refers to the use of an object, figure, event, situation, or other idea in a written work to represent something else— typically a broader message or deeper meaning that differs from its literal meaning.
The things used for symbolism are called "symbols," and they'll often appear multiple times throughout a text, sometimes changing in meaning as the plot progresses.
Example: In F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby , the green light that sits across from Gatsby's mansion symbolizes Gatsby's hopes and dreams .
A synecdoche is a literary device in which part of something is used to represent the whole, or vice versa. It's similar to a metonym (see above); however, a metonym doesn't have to represent the whole—just something associated with the word used.
Example: "Help me out, I need some hands!" In this case, "hands" is being used to refer to people (the whole human, essentially).
While mood is what the audience is supposed to feel, tone is the writer or narrator's attitude towards a subject . A good writer will always want the audience to feel the mood they're trying to evoke, but the audience may not always agree with the narrator's tone, especially if the narrator is an unsympathetic character or has viewpoints that differ from those of the reader.
Example: In an essay disdaining Americans and some of the sites they visit as tourists, Rudyard Kipling begins with the line, "Today I am in the Yellowstone Park, and I wish I were dead." If you enjoy Yellowstone and/or national parks, you may not agree with the author's tone in this piece.
How to Identify and Analyze Literary Devices: 4 Tips
In order to fully interpret pieces of literature, you have to understand a lot about literary devices in the texts you read. Here are our top tips for identifying and analyzing different literary techniques:
Tip 1: Read Closely and Carefully
First off, you'll need to make sure that you're reading very carefully. Resist the temptation to skim or skip any sections of the text. If you do this, you might miss some literary devices being used and, as a result, will be unable to accurately interpret the text.
If there are any passages in the work that make you feel especially emotional, curious, intrigued, or just plain interested, check that area again for any literary devices at play.
It's also a good idea to reread any parts you thought were confusing or that you didn't totally understand on a first read-through. Doing this ensures that you have a solid grasp of the passage (and text as a whole) and will be able to analyze it appropriately.
Tip 2: Memorize Common Literary Terms
You won't be able to identify literary elements in texts if you don't know what they are or how they're used, so spend some time memorizing the literary elements list above. Knowing these (and how they look in writing) will allow you to more easily pinpoint these techniques in various types of written works.
Tip 3: Know the Author's Intended Audience
Knowing what kind of audience an author intended her work to have can help you figure out what types of literary devices might be at play.
For example, if you were trying to analyze a children's book, you'd want to be on the lookout for child-appropriate devices, such as repetition and alliteration.
Tip 4: Take Notes and Bookmark Key Passages and Pages
This is one of the most important tips to know, especially if you're reading and analyzing works for English class. As you read, take notes on the work in a notebook or on a computer. Write down any passages, paragraphs, conversations, descriptions, etc., that jump out at you or that contain a literary device you were able to identify.
You can also take notes directly in the book, if possible (but don't do this if you're borrowing a book from the library!). I recommend circling keywords and important phrases, as well as starring interesting or particularly effective passages and paragraphs.
Lastly, use sticky notes or post-its to bookmark pages that are interesting to you or that have some kind of notable literary device. This will help you go back to them later should you need to revisit some of what you've found for a paper you plan to write.
Looking for more in-depth explorations and examples of literary devices? Join us as we delve into imagery , personification , rhetorical devices , tone words and mood , and different points of view in literature, as well as some more poetry-specific terms like assonance and iambic pentameter .
Reading The Great Gatsby for class or even just for fun? Then you'll definitely want to check out our expert guides on the biggest themes in this classic book, from love and relationships to money and materialism .
Got questions about Arthur Miller's The Crucible ? Read our in-depth articles to learn about the most important themes in this play and get a complete rundown of all the characters .
For more information on your favorite works of literature, take a look at our collection of high-quality book guides and our guide to the 9 literary elements that appear in every story !
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Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.
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Vocabulary plays a fundamental role in the reading process and is critical to reading comprehension. Children learn the meanings of most words indirectly, through everyday experiences with oral and written language. Other words are learned through carefully designed instruction.
A word is a small magic, a spell that can unlock the world.” Jane Yolen
Vocabulary learning is all about the words we need to know to both understand what we hear and read, and to communicate clearly and with precision. Educators often consider four types of vocabulary:
- Listening vocabulary refers to the words we need to know to understand what we hear.
- Speaking vocabulary consists of the words we use when we speak.
- Reading vocabulary refers to the words we need to know to understand what we read.
- Writing vocabulary consists of the words we use in writing.
Vocabulary plays an important part in learning to read. Beginning readers must use the words they hear orally to make sense of the words they see in print. Kids who hear more words spoken at home learn more words and enter school with better vocabularies. This larger vocabulary pays off exponentially as a child progresses through school.
Consider, for example, what happens when a beginning reader comes to the word dig in a book. As she begins to figure out the sounds represented by the letters d, i, g, the reader recognizes that the sounds make up a very familiar word that she has heard and said many times. It is harder for a beginning reader to figure out words that are not already part of their speaking (oral) vocabulary.
Vocabulary is key to reading comprehension . Readers cannot understand what they are reading without knowing what most of the words mean. As children learn to read more advanced texts, they must learn the meaning of new words that are not part of their oral vocabulary.
The scientific research on vocabulary instruction reveals that most vocabulary is learned indirectly and that some vocabulary must be taught directly. Thus, research supports using a combination of both indirect and direct approaches.
Indirect vocabulary learning
Children learn the meanings of most words indirectly, through everyday experiences with oral and written language.
Children learn word meanings indirectly in three ways:
- They engage daily in oral language
- They listen to adults read to them
- They read extensively on their own
Direct vocabulary learning
Although a great deal of vocabulary is learned indirectly, some vocabulary should be taught directly.
Direct instruction helps students learn difficult words, such as words that represent complex concepts that are not part of the students’ everyday experiences. Direct instruction of vocabulary relevant to a given text leads to better reading comprehension.
Direct instruction includes:
- Providing students with instruction in specific words that are important to students’ content learning or understanding of a particular text
- Teaching students more general word-learning strategies that they can apply to a variety of words, such as analyzing parts of words (e.g., root words )
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I use the words that need to be used. And sometimes I have to fight for them. I did a series of books about a pig butler called Piggins . In the first book, he finds that the diamond lavaliere is missing. And my editor said, “No kid will know what ‘lavaliere’ is.”
I said, “then they’ll learn it.”
And you know what happened? Every school that I went to that had been reading Piggins , the kids’ favorite word was “lavaliere.” So, I think that you use the words that need to be used. If they’re big and the kids don’t understand them, they’ll either get it in context, or they’ll ask someone, or they’ll look it up.
Kids who never hear good words, who are never get stretched by them, are not going to be word lovers. So, at least in our books, let’s give them great words.
Browse our vocabulary resource library
Learn more about how to help children build their “word banks” through our articles, tips for parents, video, FAQs, and research briefs. Visit our Vocabulary section
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A Glossary of Fiction Writing Terms
When writing a work of fiction, regardless of its length, it is important to include certain elements to make it more dynamic. Several of these fiction writing elements—fiction writing terms—are found in the following glossary. Although Scribendi has an extensive glossary of general writing terms, this one is specific to fiction writing terms and is therefore geared toward authors and writers. For an author, fiction writing terms are important because they provide the tools necessary to make the most out of a literary work. By being aware of certain terms specific to fiction writing, authors will be able to get a better idea of what they should include in their fiction writing, which will then allow them to make their stories more vibrant and appeal to a wider audience. The following is a glossary of terms specific to fiction writing.
A | C | D | E | F | H | I | L | M | N | O | P | R | S | T | U | W
a narrative technique in which characters represent things or abstract concepts to convey a message or to teach a lesson. Allegory is usually used to teach moral, ethical, or religious lessons, but it can also be used for satiric or political purposes. An allegory is a symbolic representation, or expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions, of truths or generalizations about human existence. In fiction, an allegory is often a symbolic narrative in which the surface details imply a secondary meaning and in which the characters represent moral qualities.
Example: In The Pilgrim's Progress , by John Bunyan, the journey of the main character is an allegory for the Christian life.
a series of words in a sentence all beginning with the same sound.
Examples: Cassie casually caressed the carefree cat; the Wicked Witch of the West went on her way to work; she sells seashells down by the seashore; Tim thought that Tammy was tired today.
the main character in a work of fiction who comes into conflict with the protagonist (hero or heroine). Note that the antagonist does not always have to be a character; it could be a thing or a situation (a monster, a storm, a flood, etc.).
Example: Bob Ewell, in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird , is a malevolent antagonist.
using words that have the same or very similar vowel sounds near one another (as in "summer fun" and "rise high in the bright sky"); vowels are repeated but consonants are not; popular in poetry and prose.
featured in a story and used as a medium to communicate/interact with the reader; he or she is given a specific attitude or attitudes, appearance, name, etc. to direct a storyline. Characters can be major or minor and static (unchanging) or dynamic (capable of change).
the method used by a writer to make a character in a story seem like a real person. Common ways for writers to illustrate characters is through their speech, dress, actions, and mannerisms.
the moment of greatest intensity in a work of fiction; the most exciting and important part of a story, usually occurring at or near the end. The climax is the turning point in the action.
Example: The climax of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet occurs when Romeo, seeing Juliet's body and thinking she is dead, kills himself; then, when Juliet wakes up and sees that Romeo is dead, she kills herself.
a situation or detail of a character that complicates the main thread of a plot. A complication builds up and develops the primary or central conflict in a literary work.
a struggle, disagreement, or difference between opposing forces in a literary work, usually resolved by the end of the work.
in a literary work, an idea or quality that a word makes you think about in addition to its dictionary definition; an implication that goes beyond the actual meaning of a word. Connotations can be positive (childlike [innocent, happy], dove [peaceful] or negative (chicken [cowardly]).
Example: Shakespeare's Sonnet 18: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" A summer's day connotes beauty.
a traditional or common style often used in literature, theater, or art to create a particular effect.
Example: romantic conventions (characteristics of romantic literature) include the following:
– Imagination and emotion
– A reliance on intuition
– An emphasis on nature and primitivism
– An idealization of life
– An emphasis on sadness, melancholy, psychology, and introspection
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the precise/actual meaning of a word outside of the feelings it evokes; the dictionary meaning of a word or phrase. In fiction writing, writers will play off a word's denotative meaning against its connotations or implied associational implications.
Example: A four-leaf clover, rabbit's foot, and wishbone are all considered things that can bring good luck, but they themselves are not luck. Likewise, unicorns, the color white, and white doves can all have the connotation of purity, but they are not part of the actual definition of the word purity. The dictionary meaning of purity is "free from contamination" or "free from immorality, especially of a sexual nature."
the outcome of a plot; the resolution or final outcome of the main dramatic complication in a literary work. The dénouement reveals the answers to secrets/misunderstandings in the plot and comes after the climax.
a written composition in which two or more characters are represented as conversing; the conversations between characters in a literary work, typically enclosed within quotation marks.
the choice of words, especially with regard to correctness, clearness, or effectiveness, in a literary work. Writers will use words to reveal character, imply certain attitudes, convey action, demonstrate themes, and indicate values.
dramatic irony, which often shows itself as some type of miscommunication, occurs when the reader becomes aware of something important of which the characters in the story are not aware.
this also refers to the first stage of a plot, in which necessary background information is provided.
a narration intended to enforce a useful truth. Fables frequently involve animals that speak and act like human beings.
Example: The fable of The Eagle and The Crow : A crow saw an eagle grab a lamb and take it to his nest. The crow tried the same thing but was too weak, and his feet got caught in the lamb's fur. The shepherd took the crow and put him in a cage. The moral of the story? Thoughtless imitation is dangerous.
the action in a story that occurs after the climax, thus moving it toward its resolution.
a story about people and events that are not real; literature that tells a story that has been imagined by the writer.
language that does not mean exactly what it states but instead requires the reader to make his or her own association from the comparison.
Examples: hyperbole, understatement, analogy, personification, euphemism, onomatopoeia, simile, metaphor, synecdoche, and metonymy.
when a relevant past event is brought up in the current time of the story. A common way for this to occur is through a narration or a dream. Flashbacks create complications within the chronology of the plot to help enrich the experience of time.
Image source: Hugh Thomson/Wikimedia Commons
an uncomplicated character in a story who is illustrated by very few traits. A flat character is opposite to a round character. Although such characters are important, they tend to remain static in their temperaments and personalities throughout the story.
Example: Mr. Collins in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a flat character.
a character in a story whose purpose is to bring out certain characteristics in either the main character or in other characters. Thus, the foil character will contrast with and parallel those characters.
Example: Draco Malfoy can be seen as a foil to Harry Potter, being placed in similar situations but making choices that highlight the differences between them.
to give a suggestion of something that will happen in the story.
Example : In Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms , the line "the leaves fell early that year" foreshadows an early death.
a pyramidal diagram of the structure of a dramatic work; symbolizes Gustav Freytag's theory of dramatic structure. This "dramatic arc," as it is known, comprises five parts: exposition (inciting incident), rising action, climax, falling action (resolution), and dénouement.
a figure of speech that describes something as better or worse than it actually is by way of extreme exaggeration.
Example: She is as thin as a toothpick; I was so hungry, I could have eaten a horse!
a mental picture or representation of a person, place, or thing in a literary work. The use of images is a powerful literary tool, as images have the ability to convey states of being, feelings, thoughts, and actions.
the images collected and used in a written work to add to the ambiance; language used by a writer that causes readers to imagine pictures in their minds, which gives them a mental image of the people, places, and things in a story.
Example: He could never escape from the iron grip of desire.
incongruity between situations developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that are understood by the audience (but not by the characters); also called dramatic irony.
Example: In William Shakespeare's Macbeth , Macbeth appears to be loyal to Duncan, even though he is planning Duncan's murder. Duncan does not know Macbeth's plans, but the audience knows what is going to happen.
a form of language in which the writer means exactly what his or her words denote.
a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in "drowning in debt").
He is the apple of my eye . In this example, there is, of course, no real apple in a person's eye. The "apple" here is referring to someone beloved and held dear.
With a wooden face, he watched the car approach . His face wasn't really made of wood, but the metaphor communicates that he had a still, stoic expression.
a figure of speech in which a word is replaced by something that is associated with it; it may provide a common meaning for that word.
Crown – in place of a royal person.
We must wait to hear from the crown until we make any further decisions.
Ears – for giving attention ("Lend me your ears!" from Mark Antony in Julius Caesar ).
a conscious state of mind or predominant emotion.
the reoccurring aspect (object, issue) in a story; can also be two binary elements in a piece of writing (e.g., bad versus good). A recurring salient thematic element, especially a dominant idea or central theme.
a collection of events featured in a story that are placed in a certain order and recounted to tell a story. The story may or may not be true, and the events are placed in a specific order.
the person or character who tells and explains a story; the person who says the words that are heard as part of a story; the person describing what is happening in a story; a person who provides the narration for something.
words that imitate, sound like, or evoke their own meaning; the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (such as buzz or hiss).
Example: Words related to the voice. Sounds that come from the back of the throat tend to start with a gr- sound, whereas sounds that come out of the mouth through the lips, tongue, and teeth begin with mu-.
Image source: OpenClips/Pixabay.com
a short story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson, especially one of the stories told by Jesus Christ and recorded in the Bible.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (Matthew 13:45–46, King James Version).
according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica , parody is "an imitation the style and manner of a particular writer or school of writers . . . so as to emphasize and thus satirize the weakness of the writer or the overused conventions of the school."
Example: Cold Comfort Farm parodies the style of other novels depicting rural life of the 1920s and 1930s.
attributing human characteristics to something that is not human (a thing, an animal, or an abstraction).
Example: Lightning danced across the sky; the flower begged to be watered.
a the direction of a story's main events and incidents and how they relate to one another.
Point of View (POV):
the angle from which a story is told or narrated. Point of view can be first person, objective, limited omniscient, or omniscient.
– First person: the narrator is either a character in the story or an observer.
– Objective: the narrator knows (or seems to know) no more than the reader.
– Limited omniscient: the narrator knows some things about the characters, but not everything.
– Omniscient: the narrator knows everything about the characters.
Example: Using the word "I," this sentence is written in the first-person perspective: "It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived" (Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird ).
the principal or main character in a literary work.
Example: Bilbo Baggins is the protagonist of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
the point at which a character acknowledges his or her situation for what it really is; the act of knowing who or what someone or something is because of previous knowledge or experience.
the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict or problem; the act of resolving something.
the point in the plot at which the action turns in an unexpected direction; usually involves the protagonist.
the set of conflicts in a story that lead up to the climax.
a character in a story who is complex, dynamic, and maybe even contradictory; a round character is the opposite of a flat character. A round character's personality, background, motives, and other features are fully delineated by the author.
Example: Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series is a round character, as readers are made aware of the intricacies and complexities of his background, motives, and choices.
a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc.; humor or a literary work that shows the weaknesses or flawed qualities of a person, government, society, etc.
the time, place, and conditions in which the action of a story takes place and which establish its context.
a comparison of two different things using the words like or as .
Example: His eyes were like blazing coals.
the main topic of a piece of writing; what a story is about. A subject can be found in a sentence, a paragraph, an essay, or a book.
a subordinate plot in fiction that coexists with the main plot.
something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance, especially a visible sign of something invisible; an object or act representing something in the unconscious mind that has been repressed.
Example: Birds are often used as symbols of freedom.
a figure of speech by which a part is substituted for the whole (such as "50 sail" for "50 ships"), the whole for a part (such as "society" for "high society"), the species for the genus (such as "cutthroat" for "assassin"), the genus for the species (such as a "creature" for "a man"), or the name of the material for the thing made (such as "boards" for "the stage").
Example: The pen is mightier than the sword.
the way in which linguistic elements (as words) are put together to form constituents (such as phrases or clauses) in a sentence or line of verse or dialogue. The organization of these words and phrases creates prose, verse, and dialogue.
a story about imaginary events; an exciting or dramatic story; a story about someone's actual experiences; an exciting story that may not be completely true.
Example: Fairy tales, such as Cinderella .
the idea of a literary work abstracted from its details of language, character, and action, and cast in the form of a generalization.
a particular pitch or change of pitch constituting an element in the intonation of a phrase or sentence; the style or manner of expression in speaking or writing.
Tragic Hero/Tragic Figure:
a protagonist whose story comes to an unhappy end due to his or her own behavior and character flaws.
Example: Shakespeare's Hamlet is a tragic hero.
saying that something is smaller or less important than it actually is.
Example: Be careful in the kitchen—the oven can get a bit warm.
the ways in which an author chooses to write words for his or her readers, including how he or she arranges sentences, paragraphs, dialogue, and verse. Style also refers to how the author develops ideas and actions with description, imagery, and other literary techniques.
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Key Literacy Component: Vocabulary
On this page:, what skills do good readers have, what challenges do adolescent readers face with vocabulary, how can instruction help adolescent students with vocabulary, what do we still need to know, more key literacy components.
Vocabulary knowledge is important to reading because the oral and written use of words promotes comprehension and communication. The three primary types of vocabulary are oral vocabulary , which refers to words that are recognized and used in speaking; aural vocabulary , which refers to the collection of words a student understands when listening to others speak; and print vocabulary , which refers to words used in reading and writing. Print vocabulary is more difficult to attain than oral vocabulary because it relies upon quick, accurate, and automatic recognition of the written word. Furthermore, the words, figures of speech, syntax (the grammatical arrangement of words in sentences), and text structures of printed material are more complex and obscure than that of conversational language . A few studies have suggested that vocabulary instruction leads to improved comprehension .
In addition to distinctions between oral, aural, and print vocabulary, vocabulary is categorized according to whether it is typically used in an informal or formal setting. Vocabulary used in a formal, educational setting is referred to as academic vocabulary . Researchers who investigate academic vocabulary knowledge typically categorize words into three areas:
- high-frequency, everyday words (e.g., building, bus driver, eraser, etc.);
- non-specialized academic words that occur across content areas (e.g., examine, cause, formation); and
- specialized content-area words that are unique to specific disciplines (e.g., ecosystem, foreshadowing, octagon) .
Two important skills that are associated with vocabulary development are word identification and word analysis . Word identification or decoding refers to the ability to correctly decipher a particular word out of a group of letters.
Word analysis is defined as the process involved in understanding the letters, sounds, and roots, prefixes, and suffixes that make up words, to enable a student to understand and use those words . Word knowledge also includes syntactic awareness or awareness of the grammatical use of a word, such as the part of speech represented by a word . We assume that students successfully analyze a word when they articulate its meaning and use it correctly in sentences that indicate understanding of both the word’s meaning and correct syntactic usage.
Once words are recognized, students use pragmatic awareness , or sensitivity to how words are used to communicate, to understand the purposes of their use . All of these processes together constitute students’ vocabulary knowledge. Word identification or recognition without comprehension of the meaning and use of a word reveals a deficiency in vocabulary knowledge.
Good readers know a wide range of oral and print vocabulary. Typically, vocabulary knowledge results from extensive and repeated exposures to words through reading and speaking. One study estimated that good readers read approximately one million words per year . Good readers have superior vocabulary knowledge and possess the following characteristics.
Good readers have strong oral/aural vocabulary
A reader’s oral vocabulary is the collection of words used in speaking . Skilled readers are able to use grade-level words fluently and clearly in their speech and understand those words when used by others in their speech. Oral/aural vocabulary ability transfers to reading once the written word has been deciphered. A skilled reader can recognize that word again with little effort . To do this, readers must develop their decoding skills to the point that decoding occurs effortlessly.
Good readers have strong print vocabulary
Skilled readers are able to read words in written text at or above their grade level and use these words in written communication . When good readers encounter unfamiliar words, many translate this text into speech, either by decoding or getting help from someone else. Once the word is verbalized, good readers automatically recognize the word or engage in a self-regulated process to discover its meaning. This may include but is not limited to analyzing the word’s morphology (roots and affixes) and syntax (part of speech), searching for context clues, or looking up the word in the dictionary .
Because word identification is one of the foundational processes of reading, middle and high school students with poor or impaired word identification skills face serious challenges in their academic work. Some struggling adolescent readers have difficulty decoding and recognizing multi-syllabic words. For example, words such as “accomplishment” leave many struggling readers unsure about pronunciation or meaning. This is often the case not just because their vocabulary is limited, but also because they are unaware of or not proficient in word-learning strategies based on understanding the meanings and functions of affixes (e.g., prefixes and suffixes) and other word parts . In content areas in which text is more technical and abstract, insufficient vocabulary knowledge can become especially problematic for struggling readers. A major goal of vocabulary instruction is to facilitate students’ ability to comprehend text .
In addition, the meanings of many words vary from context to context and from subject to subject, making academic vocabulary especially difficult to acquire. For example, the word meter has distinct definitions in different content areas. In literature, a meter is a poetic rhythm and in math, it is a unit of measurement. In science, a meter is a device for measuring flow. Students may experience difficulty if they do not understand that words have multiple meanings .
Research findings suggest that there is not a single best way to teach vocabulary ; rather, using a variety of techniques that include repeated exposures to unknown word meanings produces the best results. Traditionally, independent word-learning strategies, such as the use of dictionaries and context clues, have been common strategies for teaching new vocabulary. Dictionary usage involves multiple skills, such as using guidewords, decoding, and discerning correct definitions . Using context clues involves integrating different types of information from text to figure out unknown vocabulary. These strategies are helpful after multiple encounters with a word but should be used in combination with other instructional practices .
The following vocabulary development strategies have been found to be effective in improving adolescent literacy levels.
Pre-teach difficult vocabulary
Pre-teaching vocabulary facilitates the reading of new text by giving students the meanings of the words before they encounter them. This practice reduces the number of unfamiliar words encountered and facilitates greater vocabulary acquisition and comprehension . Leaving students on their own to grasp the content material as well as to decode possibly unfamiliar vocabulary is setting them up for failure. Teachers can introduce both the more unfamiliar specialized academic words that will be used in the lesson as well as non-specialized academic words used when talking about the content.
When considering which non-specialized academic words to emphasize, teachers should consider the structure or structures used in the text. Text structures organize ideas and information according to certain patterns. For example, cause and effect patterns show the relationship between results and the events, people, or ideas that cause the results to occur. Common text structures include cause/effect, problem/solution, comparison/contrast, chronological order or sequence, concept idea with examples, proposition with support, analysis and evaluation of perspectives, arguments, and interpretations. Once the text structure or structures have been determined, teachers can identify non-specialized academic vocabulary words that help students talk about the content within a cause/effect text structure . Examples of non-specialized academic words that are commonly used when talking about cause/effect texts include recognize , analyze , result , impact , and relationship .
Teachers can use the following guidelines when selecting vocabulary to pre-teach:
- Importance of the word for understanding the text;
- Students’ prior knowledge of the word and the concept to which it relates;
- The existence of multiple meanings of the word (e.g., meter in poetry, mathematics, and science);
- Opportunities for grouping words together to enhance understanding a concept .
Once vocabulary words have been selected, teachers should consider how to make repeated exposures to the word or concept productive and enjoyable. For example, when introducing a particular word, pronounce it slowly to draw attention to each syllable, provide the word’s meaning, examine word parts (e.g., prefix, root, suffix), write the word on the board, use it in a sentence, and ask a question using the word.
After introducing all words, have students work in pairs or small teams to create groups of related words and to label these groups. Students can then take turns explaining to the class their reasons for grouping words in a particular manner. Students can also work in pairs to check each other’s understanding of the new words . Such activities provide multiple exposures to new words and can be structured in ways that are engaging and enjoyable for students.
Use direct, explicit, and systematic instruction to teach difficult vocabulary
Scientific research supports the use of direct, explicit, and systematic instruction for teaching vocabulary . Vocabulary lessons should be fast-paced, brief, multi-sensory, and interactive (i.e., allow students to see and write new words as well as to hear and speak these words) .
Explicit instruction of vocabulary involves the following steps:
- Explain word meanings and model usage of difficult content-area vocabulary in sentences that are relevant to the subject matter concepts that students are currently learning.
- Guide students to practice using the vocabulary in different sentences and contexts and provide corrective feedback.
- Provide time for independent practice with the vocabulary — peer tutoring, reciprocal teaching, and collaborative learning.
- Repeat these instructional steps until students are able to use the new vocabulary independently in their reading and writing .
Use students’ prior knowledge and provide opportunities for multiple exposures to new words
To learn and retain new words and concepts, students need to connect these words and concepts to what they already know. They also need repeated exposure to the words and concepts plus opportunities to practice using them in different contexts. Teachers can facilitate struggling readers’ learning and retention of new vocabulary in the following ways:
- Prior to pre-teaching vocabulary, elicit students’ prior knowledge of the content in which the new vocabulary is used and then relate their prior knowledge to the new vocabulary. It is also helpful to make a word map on the board, chart paper, or overhead to show the connections between students’ prior knowledge and the new vocabulary .
- Provide multiple repetitions of the words in different contexts . For example, within the context of explaining new concepts, giving directions, or summarizing ideas, use the new words repeatedly. You may also want to pronounce these words more slowly and pause after saying them to allow students time to identify and focus on the words.
- Point out that in academic settings certain non-specialized academic words are used when talking about content. Point out and model usage of these words and phrases. For example, when reading about or discussing the causes of the civil war, point out and model usage of such words as cause, consequence, relationship, etc. Guide students to use these words in their speech and writing.
- Provide students several opportunities to apply new word meanings across different situations . For example, place students in small groups to discuss their understandings of the new words. Have them develop their own word maps to show relationships among the new words and connections to the important concepts. A word map is a diagram used to help show the relationships of various topics or concepts to a chosen word or phrase. Have them write sentences using the new words in different ways, then share these orally with the class.
Even more repetition and time with new vocabulary should be allowed for students with learning disabilities. English language learners also require more exposure and practice with English vocabulary .
Use computer technology to help teach new vocabulary
Vocabulary instruction using computer technology can be particularly helpful to struggling readers who need additional practice with vocabulary skills . Computer technology allows for engaging formats, such as interfaces modeled on computer games. Hyperlinks that allow students to click on words and icons can add depth to word learning. Students may find online dictionaries more useful and accessible than print dictionaries. Computers also provide access to content-area-related websites hosted by such institutions as museums and libraries. Finally, computer program animation may hold students’ attention longer than plain text .
Research has yet to demonstrate the most effective types of professional development needed for teachers to become proficient in vocabulary instruction. Fully equipping the teachers to address adequately the issue of vocabulary in classrooms is an important step toward improving the vocabulary of adolescents. Another gap in the knowledge base is improved understanding of how vocabulary instruction should be integrated with comprehension instruction. We know that repetition and prior knowledge help familiarize adolescents with new vocabulary, but we need to determine what instructional techniques can help educators ensure that adolescents grasp the contextual meanings of vocabulary .
- Key Literacy Component: Morphology
- Key Literacy Component: Decoding
- Key Literacy Component: Fluency
- Key Literacy Component: Text Comprehension
- Key Literacy Component: Writing
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Archer, A., M. Gleason, and V. Vachon, Decoding and fluency: Foundation skills for struggling older readers. Learning Disability Quarterly, 2003. 26: p. 89-101.
Bailey, A.L. and F.A. Butler, An evidentiary framework for operationalizing academic language for broad application to K-12 education: A design document. 2003, CRESST/University of California, Los Angeles: Los Angeles.
Bhattarya, A. and L. Ehri, Graphosyllabic analysis helps adolescent struggling readers read and spell words. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 2004. 37: p. 331-348.
Bryant, D., et al., Vocabulary instruction for students with learning disabilities: A review of the research. Learning Disability Quarterly, 2003. 26: p. 117-128.
Curtis, M.E., Adolescents who struggle with word identification: Research and practice, in Adolescent literacy research and practice, T.L. Jetton and J.A. Dole, Editors. 2004, The Guilford Press: New York. p. 119-134.
Kamil, M., Adolescents and literacy: Reading for the 21st century. 2003, Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.
Lehr, F., J. Osburn, and E.H. Hiebert, A focus on vocabulary. 2004, Regional Educational Laboratory at Pacific Resources for Education and Learning.
Mason, L., Introducing talk and writing for conceptual change: A classroom study. Learning and Instruction, 2001. 11: p. 305-329.
Medo, M. and R. Ryder, The effects of vocabulary instruction on readers’ ability to make causal connections. Reading Research and Instruction, 1993. 33(2): p. 119-134.
Moats, L.C., Efficacy of a structured, systematic language curriculum for adolescent poor readers. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 2004. 20(2): p. 145-159.
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Nokes, J.D. and J.A. Dole, Helping adolescent readers through explicit strategy instruction, in Adolescent literacy research and practice, T.L. Jetton and J.A. Dole, Editors. 2004, The Guilford Press: New York. p. 162-182.
Santa, C.M., Project CRISS: Reading, writing, and learning in the content subjects, in Bridging the literacy achievement gap, grades 4-12, D.S. Strickland and D.E. Alvermann, Editors. 2004, Teachers College Press: New York. p. 183-199.
Schleppegrell, M., Linguistic features of the language of schooling. Linguistics and Education, 2001. 12(4): p. 431-459.
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What Literature Can Teach Us
Communication and research skills—and how to be a better human being
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Literature is a term used to describe written and sometimes spoken material. Derived from the Latin word literature meaning "writing formed with letters," literature most commonly refers to works of the creative imagination, including poetry, drama , fiction , nonfiction , and in some instances, journalism , and song.
What Is Literature?
Simply put, literature represents the culture and tradition of a language or a people. The concept is difficult to precisely define, though many have tried; it's clear that the accepted definition of literature is constantly changing and evolving.
For many, the word literature suggests a higher art form; merely putting words on a page doesn't necessarily equate to creating literature. A canon is the accepted body of works for a given author. Some works of literature are considered canonical, that is, culturally representative of a particular genre (poetry, prose, or drama).
Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction
Some definitions also separate literary fiction from so-called "genre fiction," which includes types such as mystery, science fiction, western, romance, thriller, and horror. Think mass-market paperback.
Genre fiction typically does not have as much character development as literary fiction and is read for entertainment, escapism, and plot, whereas literary fiction explores themes common to the human condition and uses symbolism and other literary devices to convey the author's viewpoint on his or her chosen themes. Literary fiction involves getting into the minds of the characters (or at least the protagonist) and experiencing their relationships with others. The protagonist typically comes to a realization or changes in some way during the course of a literary novel.
(The difference in type does not mean that literary writers are better than genre fiction writers, just that they operate differently.)
Why Is Literature Important?
Works of literature, at their best, provide a kind of blueprint of human society. From the writings of ancient civilizations such as Egypt and China to Greek philosophy and poetry, from the epics of Homer to the plays of William Shakespeare, from Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte to Maya Angelou , works of literature give insight and context to all the world's societies. In this way, literature is more than just a historical or cultural artifact; it can serve as an introduction to a new world of experience.
But what we consider to be literature can vary from one generation to the next. For instance, Herman Melville's 1851 novel " Moby Dick " was considered a failure by contemporary reviewers. However, it has since been recognized as a masterpiece and is frequently cited as one of the best works of Western literature for its thematic complexity and use of symbolism. By reading "Moby Dick" in the present day, we can gain a fuller understanding of literary traditions in Melville's time.
Ultimately, we may discover meaning in literature by looking at what the author writes or says and how he or she says it. We may interpret and debate an author's message by examining the words he or she chooses in a given novel or work or observing which character or voice serves as the connection to the reader.
In academia, this decoding of the text is often carried out through the use of literary theory using a mythological, sociological, psychological, historical, or other approaches to better understand the context and depth of a work.
Whatever critical paradigm we use to discuss and analyze it, literature is important to us because it speaks to us, it is universal, and it affects us on a deeply personal level.
Students who study literature and read for pleasure have a higher vocabulary, better reading comprehension, and better communication skills, such as writing ability. Communication skills affect people in every area of their lives, from navigating interpersonal relationships to participating in meetings in the workplace to drafting intraoffice memos or reports.
When students analyze literature, they learn to identify cause and effect and are applying critical thinking skills. Without realizing it, they examine the characters psychologically or sociologically. They identify the characters' motivations for their actions and see through those actions to any ulterior motives.
When planning an essay on a work of literature, students use problem-solving skills to come up with a thesis and follow through on compiling their paper. It takes research skills to dig up evidence for their thesis from the text and scholarly criticism, and it takes organizational skills to present their argument in a coherent, cohesive manner.
Empathy and Other Emotions
Some studies say that people who read literature have more empathy for others, as literature puts the reader into another person's shoes. Having empathy for others leads people to socialize more effectively, solve conflicts peacefully, collaborate better in the workplace, behave morally, and possibly even become involved in making their community a better place.
Other studies note a correlation between readers and empathy but do not find causation . Either way, studies back the need for strong English programs in schools, especially as people spend more and more time looking at screens rather than books.
Along with empathy for others, readers can feel a greater connection to humanity and less isolated. Students who read literature can find solace as they realize that others have gone through the same things that they are experiencing or have experienced. This can be a catharsis and relief to them if they feel burdened or alone in their troubles.
Quotes About Literature
Here are some quotes about literature from literature giants themselves.
- Robert Louis Stevenson : "The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish."
- Jane Austen, "Northanger Abbey" : "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."
- William Shakespeare, "Henry VI" : “I’ll call for pen and ink and write my mind.”
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Academic Phrases for Writing Literature Review Section of a Research Paper
Overview | Abstract | Introduction | Literature Review | Materials & Methods | Results & Discussion | Conclusion & Future Work | Acknowledgements & Appendix
The literature review should clearly demonstrate that the author has a good knowledge of the research area. Literature review typically occupies one or two passages in the introduction section. A well-written literature review should provide a critical appraisal of previous studies related to the current research area rather than a simple summary of prior works. The author shouldn’t shy away from pointing out the shortcomings of previous works. However, criticising other’s work without any basis can weaken your paper. This is a perfect place to coin your research question and justify the need for such a study. It is also worth pointing out towards the end of the review that your study is unique and there is no direct literature addressing this issue. Add a few sentences about the significance of your research and how this will add value to the body of knowledge.
The literature review section of your research paper should include the following:
- Previous literature
- Limitations of previous research
- Research questions
- Research to be explored
1. Previous literature
The literature review shows that __ Previous research showed __ Seminal contributions have been made by __ A series of recent studies has indicated that __ Several theories have been proposed to __, some focusing on __, others on __ There has been numerous studies to investigate __ This has been used in several studies to assess __ Previous studies have shown __ Several studies suggest that __ This has also been explored in prior studies by __ Prior research suggests that __ Previous studies have emphasized __ The majority of prior research has applied __ Most early studies as well as current work focus on __ For instance, the following studies were conducted on __ Studies of __are well documented, it is also well acknowledged that __ A number of authors have recognized __ Some authors have also suggested that __ Some authors have driven the further development of __ This has been discussed by a great number of authors in literature. For example, research has provided evidence for __ The authors bring some information about the background of the problem, __ As has been previously reported in the literature, __ A large number of existing studies in the broader literature have examined __ The literature review shows that __ There exists a considerable body of literature on __ In short, the literature pertaining to __ strongly suggests that __ Over time, an extensive literature has developed on __ This section presents a review of recent literature on __ This paper begins with a short review of the literature regarding the __ Several methods are reported in the literature to address this issue. There is a wide choice of __ available in the literature. This section reviews the literature related to __ It was reported in literature that __ A recent study by __ concluded that __ In the light of reported __ it is conceivable that __ The method introduced by __ has the advantage that __ One method employed by __ is __ A more comprehensive description can be found in __ For example, recent research suggests that __ This was successfully established as described by __ The author employed a __ methodology which prescribes the use of __
2. Limitations of previous research
A number of questions regarding __ remain to be addressed. A closer look to the literature on __, however, reveals a number of gaps and shortcomings. This question has previously never been addressed because__ Most studies have relied on __ Previous studies by __ cannot be considered as conclusive because __ Previous studies have almost exclusively focused on __ This has been previously assessed only to a very limited extent because __ In the present studies __ were constrained to __ In previous studies were limited to __ Although results appear consistent with prior research, they appear inconsistent with __ These are previously unstudied because __ As far as we know, no previous research has investigated __ Moreover, although research has illuminated __ no study to date has examined __ Despite decades of research, this continues to be debated among __ This section points out some of the problems encountered in the extant research. Although there are many studies, the research in __ remains limited. However, the existing research has many problems in representing __ The literature on __ is less consistent Historically, there has been a great deal of confusion in the literature regarding __ This approach remains briefly addressed in the literature. These are rarely analyzed in the literature as __ There are key questions and notions that are still not discussed in the literature __ This is not clearly presented in the literature because __ This paper addresses the need for __, so far lacking in the scientific literature. To fill this literature gap, this paper identifies __ Only a few works in literature demonstrate __ Although studies have been conducted by many authors, this problem is still insufficiently explored. To our knowledge, no prior studies have examined __ However, the existing research has many problems in __ Therefore, important issue in the literature is __ However, we argue that previous literature suffers from certain weaknesses: __ Previous research can only be considered a first step towards a more profound understanding of __ The previous studies reveal that __ are usually the most problematic to __
3. Research questions
More specific research questions will be introduced and investigated in __ A further question is whether __ Finally, another promising line of research would be __ The study addresses several further questions on __ Some of the interesting questions in this context are __ In order to address the questions outlined above, we report here __ These questions are of central interest as much recent research in __ Furthermore, __ is arguably an important question to be addressed. The question now is how __ can be used to explain __ Study addresses the research question __ In order to properly address this question, we __ An important question associated with __ is __ A critical open question is whether __ A still unsolved question is whether __ This remains an open question as __ This question has previously never been addressed because __ This study offers a test of __ research question Study addresses the research question __ Even in general __ research strategies is needed to explain __ The researcher should be interested here in __ Many questions remain unanswered __ There are some potentially open questions about the validity of __ The question that then naturally arises is __ The question then becomes how best to define__ This was an important question to study as __
4. Research to be explored
A more systematic and theoretical analysis is required for __ As the authors note earlier, more work is necessary to__ Additional studies to understand more completely the key tenets of __ are required. The unexpected findings signal the need for additional studies to understand more about __ This paper addresses __, so far lacking in the scientific literature. A new approach is therefore needed for __ One of the tough challenges for all researchers in this domain is __
Academic Phrases for Writing Introduction Section of a Research Paper
In this blog, we discuss phrases related to introduction section such as opening statement, problem definition and research aims.
How to Write a Research Paper? A Beginners Guide with Useful Academic Phrases
This blog explains how to write a research paper and provides writing ideas in the form of academic phrases.
Academic Phrases for Writing Results & Discussion Sections of a Research Paper
In this blog, we discuss phrases related to results and discussion sections such as findings, limitations, arguments, and comparison to previous studies.
Useful Phrases and Sentences for Academic & Research Paper Writing
In this blog, we explain various sections of a research paper and give you an overview of what these sections should contain.
Academic Phrases for Writing Acknowledgements & Appendix Sections of a Research Paper
In this blog, we discuss phrases related to thanking colleagues, acknowledging funders and writing the appendix section.
Academic Phrases for Writing Abstract Section of a Research Paper
In this blog, we discuss phrases related to the abstract section. An abstract is a self-contained and short synopsis that describes a larger work.
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