Literary devices
things authors do to their whole work—a way in which they construct it in general

Figurative language
a specific subcategory of literary device. Using it is something they do with the actual words themselves.

Allegory
[Literary device] An elaborate set of symbols in which everything in the poem or book is symbolic of some other level of interpretation. They are usually long and are not often used on this exam, but it’s beneficial to be able to identify them.Example: C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is an example of a literary allegory. On the surface, it’s a children’s adventure novel, but on a deeper level, is also an allegory of Christian theological principles.

Alliteration
[Figurative language] A musical device in which words are linked together by having the same initial or beginning consonant.

Allusion
[Figurative language] a reference to another text, story, or symbol. It is usually something from mythology, ancient history, current events, or religion. Example: “Jeff and his brother get along about as well as Cain did with Abel.”

Anachronism
[Literary device] things that are out of place in time. In movies or theatrical productions, these mistakes are usually inadvertent set mistakes that are then hilarious to anyone who catches it. In literature, they can be used for humorous effect or as satire. Shakespeare wrote many throughout his works, including giving Julius Caesar a wrist-watch. He really should have seen Brutus coming.

Anaphora
[Figurative language] Repetition of a word or words in a systematic way for effect.

Example: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., repeated the phrase “I have a dream” eight different times in his famous speech.

Apostrophe
[Figurative language] involves addressing something or someone dead or inanimate as if he/she/it were really able to answer.

Example: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” or “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are.”

Assonance
[Figurative language] A musical device in which words are linked together by having similar vowel sounds.

Example: “Sea-blOOms swayed in the OOzy wOOds beneath the sea.”

Cacophony
[Figurative language] The use of harsh, discordant sounds or words for effect.

Example: “The Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll is a great example.

Catharsis
[Literary device] the release of emotional tension during the resolution of a work of tragedy. There is always an element of grief—if it’s a happy ending and all the main characters are still alive, this term should not come up in your analysis.

Example: Juliet finally deciding to end it all or Old Yeller going to the great, rabies-free dog park in the sky are both examples of catharsis.

Consonance
[Figurative language] a musical device in which words are linked together by having similar ending consonants or sounds. This technique is often used in near/slant rhyme.

Example: The words “bed, stoned, defined” share consonance with the ending “d” sound.

Dialogue
[Literary device] occurs when characters speak to one another. It is a great revealer of character.

Diction
[Literary device] word choice. it can also refer to things like appropriateness to the intended audience.

denotation
a word’s dictionary definition

connotations
the word’s suggested, more emotional, and implicit meaning.

Dissonance
[Figurative language] musical device, but one which utilizes harsh, conflicting sounds in a way that feels discordant or jumbled. It is similar to cacophony but less severe.
Example: “The phone crashed and clanged and kerplunked to the floor.”

Euphemism
[Figurative language] A milder term for something explicit and/or inappropriate.

Example: “I need to see a man about a horse” means that you are going to the restroom, not becoming this guy.

Euphony
[Figurative language] the opposite of cacophony. It employs the use of soothing, pleasant words for effect. “Melodious” is an old-school term for it, implying that euphonic works were melodic and rhythmic like a song. It frequently utilizes alliteration.

Example: “The winter slipped softly by, with drops of snow on silver branches.”

Foreshadowing
[Literary device] Technique in which the author suggests or hints at future events.

Example: In Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, the not-so-gentle giant Lenny accidentally kills a puppy, foreshadowing his impending accidental killing of a woman.

Hyperbole
[Figurative language] An exaggeration for the sake of an effect.

Example: “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”

Imagery
[Literary device] the way in which words are used to create an image. It is all verbal, and usually related to one of the five senses.

Visual Imagery
Wording that creates a picture in the mind’s eye; is the most common.

Auditory imagery
Words that create the sensation of hearing. Frequently uses onomatopoeia.

Example: “The pitter patter of little feet”

Olfactory imagery
Words that appeal to the reader’s sense of smell.

Example: “The fresh-baked bread filled the house with warm, yeasty smells”

Tactile imagery
Words that appeal to the reader’s sense of touch.
Example: “The splintered ladder was rough with peeling paint and chipping wood”

Gustatory imagery
Words that appeal to the reader’s sense of taste.

Example: “The pie was lush and buttery with the crisp bite of apples and the delicate squish of plump, juicy raisins”

Irony
[Literary device] Appearing to mean one thing when you actually mean something else.

Verbal Irony
Saying the opposite of what you mean, simplified as sarcasm.

Example: Nothing more perfect here than a Mean Girl.

Dramatic Irony
When the audience knows something the other characters do not.
Example: Shakespeare is almost always your guy on this one.

Situational Irony
When the situation ends up surprisingly or inappropriately.

Example: Steve Buscemi sums it up nicely.

Juxtaposition
[Literary device] When two normally unlike things, ideas, or characters are jammed up against one another in a way that is unusual or noticeable.

Example: John Donne oddly juxtaposes a blood-sucking flea with a love poem to a desired lover—fleas and love poems don’t seem to go together naturally. At least, not in our book.

Metaphor
[Figurative language] An implicit comparison of two different objects not using like or as.

Example: “Our Great Dane puppy, Marmaduke, is a steamroller, knocking over and destroying everything in his path.”

Metonymy
[Figurative language] A device in which something is referred to not by its name, but by something closely associated with it.

Example: Saying “The White House,” but meaning the entire U.S. government

Onomatopoeia
[Figurative language] Using words that, when spoken, make the sound that they are describing.

Example: Bang! Zoom! Sizzle. Ka-pow!

Oxymoron
[Figurative language] A compressed paradox containing two contradictory ideas.

Example: “Jumbo shrimp,” “accidentally on purpose,” or “scheduled pop-quiz.” The au current term “frenemy” embodies people’s new ability to sometimes accept two conflicting ideas at the same time. It probably also involves gossiping and secret plots for destruction or brunch.

Paradox
[Figurative language] A self-contradictory statement that is somehow still true.

Example: “You will never truly possess someone until you free them entirely.”

Parallelism
[Literary device] This is the literary version of symmetry. It entails using balanced construction to give your sentences rhythm.

Example: “If you are young and not liberal, then you have no heart; but if you are old and not conservative, then you have no brain.” – Churchill or Disraeli, depending on who you ask.

Personification
[Literary device] A type of metaphor in which a non-human, inanimate object or thing is described as if it were alive and animate (and possibly human).

Repetition
[Literary device] While mostly used in poetry, it can be used in any genre for a variety of effects. It can be haunting, irritating, outraged, obnoxiously joyous—it all depends on the context. It is frequently found in poetry but shows up across all genres. It is generally a way to reinforce or emphasize something. Anaphora, previously mentioned, is a type of repetition.

Example: “For the woods are lovely, dark and deep. / But I have promises to keep / and miles to go before I sleep, / and miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

Here, Frost repeats the last line for emphasis, but he also repeats the “eep” sound in the last word of each line: “deep,” “keep,” “sleep,” and “sleep.” This creates a plodding, rhythmic feel that mimics the image of walking in a snowy wood.

Simile
[Figurative language] An explicit comparison of two different objects using like or as.

Example: “These cookies are like an explosion of sugary happiness on my taste buds.”

Symbolism
[Figurative language] When an image, object, or idea is used to represent something else. This can blend very closely with metaphor.

Example: American flags are often spoken of as symbolizing patriotism. In traditional wedding vows, the ring symbolizes the marriage: “With this ring, I thee wed.”

Synecdoche
[Figurative language] Very closely related to metonymy, but more specifically refers to something (the whole) by a small piece of itself (the part). Can also be reversed.

Example 1: “I got new wheels for my birthday”. You did, but you also got the car that goes on top of the wheels…hopefully.

Example 2: “France will win the World Cup this year” implies that the members of Frances’s soccer team—not the entire country of France—will win.

Syntax
[Literary device] While diction means “word choice,” this refers to the order in which you use the words you have chosen. It’s a difficult device to identify and talk about, but—particularly in poems—word order can be important.

inverted syntax
placing a certain word last to give it more emphasis or power.
Example: In Yeats’s poem about the Lake Isle of Innisfree, he talks about “the roadway and the pavements gray”—putting extra emphasis, including rhyme, on the word “gray” to make what is not natural (an urban environment) seem more gloomy and depressing.

Understatement
[Figurative language] The opposite of a hyperbole. This is deliberately saying less than what is appropriate to the circumstance, usually for sarcastic or ironic purposes.

Example: “Smashing my finger in the car door was slightly uncomfortable.”

other words for literary devices
Literary Terms

Elements of Literature

Rhetorical Devices

Literary Devices

Literary Techniques

Literary Tools

Rhetorical Tools

Stylistic Techniques

Elements of Style