(This resource will be updated weekly and will contain various literary terms that have been covered in class.)


    is a form of extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy. Thus an allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.


    The repetition of sound within a line of poetry (or prose), there are two types of alliteration: assonance & consonance.


    a brief reference to a person, event, place, or phrase. The writer assumes will recognize the reference. For instance, most of us would know the difference between a mechanic's being as reliable as George Washington or as reliable as Benedict Arnold. Allusions that are commonplace for readers in one era may require footnotes for readers in a later time.


    capacity of words and sentences to have double, multiple or uncertain meanings.


    a comparison of similar things, often for the purpose of using something familiar to explain
    something unfamiliar.


    One of the devices of repetition, in which the same expression (word or words) is repeated at the beginning of two or more lines, clauses, or sentences.


    usually the character in fiction or drama who stands in direct opposition to or in conflict with the central character.


    characterized by arranging opposing ideas in the form of grammatically similar or identical constructions thus emphasizing the contrast. Example: “The faults of women are visited as sins, the sins of men are not even visited as faults.”


    in drama, a convention by which actors speak briefl y to the audience, supposedly without being heard by the other actors on stage.


    repetition of the same or similar vowel sound within stressed syllables of neighboring words, e.g. “on the dole with nowhere to go“.


    feeling or mood created by a writer or speaker to evoke the reader‘s  or listener‘s emotions.




    in a fictional text, person developed through action, description, language and way of
     - flat character - one who is built around a single quality or idea
     - round character - one who is complex in temperament and motivation


    the way an author presents characters. In direct presentation, a character is described by the author, the narrator or the other characters. In indirect presentation, a character's traits are revealed by action and speech.

     - explicit character: character is described by the author, another character or the character himself
     - implicit character: character is described by his environment, reads is expected to draw his own conclusion
     - dramatic character: character is described through action, interaction and dialogue


    A type of rhetoric in which the second part is syntactically balanced against the first, example: “Beauty is truth and truth is beauty.” - Keats


    the "high point" of a story in which the major conflicts erupt in some kind of final showdown (fight, argument, violent or physical action, very tense emotional moment...); at the end of the climax, the "winner" will be clear (there is not always a winner!).

    The use of slang or informalities in speech or writing. Not generally acceptable for formal writing, colloquialisms give a work a conversational, familiar TONE. Colloquial expressions in writing include local or regional dialects.


    is the struggle found in fiction. Conflict may be internal or external and is best seen in (1) Man in conflict with another Man; (2) Man in conflict in Nature; (3) Man in conflict with self; (4) Man in conflict with nature.


    additional meaning of a word beyond its dictionary definition (s)


    actual meaning of a word as defined in a dictionary



    Dramatic Irony

    When the viewer or the reader is aware of a situation of which the character(s) are not aware - for example: In Romeo and Juliet the reader knows that Juliet is not really dead, but Romeo does not know this. Another example is when the audience knows that Lysander is "drugged" into loving Helena, but he does not know this. Dramatic irony can be a source of tragedy, of comedy, or of tension.

    An epitaph is a commemorative inscription on a tomb or mortuary monument written in praise of a deceased person.


    A figure of speech using indirection to avoid offensive bluntness, such as "deceased" for "dead" or "remains" for "corpse."


    structural element of a fictional text, usually at the beginning, including the introduction of the main character(s), the theme and the setting, as well as first indications of the atmosphere and tone.

    Extended Metaphor

    Paragraph or longer of description which builds upon an initial metaphor, often bringing several of the senses (sight, sound, touch, hearing, taste) into play. This is often used by an author seeking to make a point in a setting description or seeking to create a character for the narrator or narrative focus (e.g.: imaginative, naive, fanciful, terrified)

    External Conflict

    A fight, argument, disagreement or simply opposition in which 2 sides are present. Characters, themes, ideas, forces can all be in conflict. Conflicts are stated this way: Joe vs. Sue, man vs. nature, love vs. hate, freedom vs. bondage, free vs. caged, beautiful vs. ugly. Be sure that both sides of the vs. are the same part of speech and that they are, in fact, nearly opposite or in opposition in the book. An external conflict is shown through actions (fight, argument, physical struggle), character traits (a good and a bad character), dialogues, descriptions - just about anything. Identification of conflicts will lead you to theme. The resolution of the external conflict will advance the plot toward the climax and the end.

    Falling Action

    structural element of a fictional text, marked by a reduction of the suspense. It usually follows the turning-point and precedes the solution.

    interruption of the chronological order of a text in order to go back in time and show what happened earlier


    is the use of hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in literature.

    Hyperbole (Overstatement)

    is exaggeration or overstatement, example: “I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.”


    is an artifact that reproduces the likeness of some subject— usually a physical object or a person.


    is language that evokes one or all of the five senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching.


    the discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, what is said and what is done, what is expected or intended and what happens, what is meant or said and what others understand. There are four types of Irony: situational irony, dramatic irony, irony of language (verbal irony) and cosmic irony (irony of fate).

    Irony of Language (Verbal Irony)

    When a name or description refers to or suggests the opposite of truth - for example: In Dragonwings the leader of a fierce brotherhood/gang is called Water Fairy. The irony is not just that the name is inappropriate, but that it was earned in an inappropriate way. Irony of language is often used for humor, but it can also be cruel or sarcastic. The name of the character Lefty, in Dragonwings, is as ironic as his situation.


    A figurative use of language in which a comparison is expressed without the use of a comparative term like "as," "like," or "than," a simile would say, "night is like a black bat"; a metaphor would say, "the black bat night." When Romeo says, "It is the east, and Juliet is the sun," his metaphors compare her window to the east and Juliet to the sun.


    A figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated, as in the use of Washington for the United States government or of the sword for military power.


    One character alone who is talking to the reader/audience/to himself, often speaking about a decision, plan, or other internal conflict.


    A recurrent thematic element in an artistic or literary work or a dominant theme or central idea.


    The emotional-intellectual attitude of the author toward the subject; the overall feeling created by a piece of writing … mood can often be described in a few words, such as scary, lonely, empty, triumphant, anxious, but you must be able to refer to specific details in the description, setting, or passage to defend your word or words.


    There are 3 ways of telling a story:

    o 1st person - "I" tells the story and is a character in the story; this can be present tense or past tense.

    o 2nd person - "You" is used to tell the story; these tend to be like Choose Your Own Adventure stories or computer games and are usually in the present tense.

    o 3rd person - "He, she, it, they" - the story is told by someone, usually not identified by name, who knows it. Usually in the past tense.


    a phrase which contains opposite elements or words with opposite meanings, yet which expresses one idea when taken as a whole - for example: Bottom says in Midsummer Night's Dream, "I'll speak in a monstrous little voice."

    Parallel Structure

    Uses the same pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance, this can happen at the word, phrase, or clause level … the usual way to join parallel structures is with the use of coordinating conjunctions such as "and" or "or."


    a statement whose two parts seem contradictory yet make sense with more thought. Christ used paradox in his teaching: "They have ears but hear not." Or in ordinary conversation, we might use a paradox, "Deep down he's really very shallow." Paradox attracts the reader's or the listener's attention and gives emphasis.


    The description of an inanimate object as if it were a human being or an animal - for example: The kite tugged and pulled at the string, longing for the freedom of the skies gives the kite human actions and a motive for them. In using personification the author asks the reader to identify with the object or character viewing it more deeply than would be possible in a simple description.


    What happens, concretely, as though it were placed on a history time line


    is a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated, which expresses a truth based on common sense or the practical experience of mankind. They are often metaphorical. A proverb that describes a basic rule of conduct may also be known as a maxim. If a proverb is distinguished by particularly good style, it may be known as an aphorism.


    A pun is a figure of speech which consists of a deliberate confusion of similar words or phrases for rhetorical effect, whether humorous or serious. A pun can rely on the assumed equivalency of multiple similar words (homonymy), of different shades of meaning of one word (polysemy), or of a literal meaning with a metaphor. Bad puns are often considered to be cheesy.


    Time (date, time of day, season) and place - a piece of writing will generally have many settings and each setting will generally carry with it a mood or atmosphere.


    A directly expressed comparison; a figure of speech comparing two objects, usually with "like," "as," or "than," it is easier to recognize a simile than a metaphor because the comparison is explicit: my love is like a fever; my love is deeper than a well; my love is as dead as a doornail.

    Situational Irony

    Situational irony defies logical cause/effect relationships and justifiable expectations. For example, if a greedy millionaire were to buy a lottery ticket and win additional millions, the irony would be situational because such a circumstance cannot be explained logically. Such a circumstance seems “unfair.” This sense of being “unfair” or “unfortunate” is a trademark of situational irony. Because people cannot explain the unfairness, it causes them to question whether or not the world makes sense.


    in general terms, anything that stands for something else. Obvious examples are flags, which symbolize a nation; the cross is a symbol for Christianity; Uncle Sam a symbol for the United States. In literature, a symbol is expected to have significance. Keats starts his ode with a real nightingale, but quickly it becomes a symbol, standing for a life of pure, unmixed joy; then before the end of the poem it becomes only a bird again.


    is when one uses a part to represent the whole, example: “lend me your ears” (give me your attention).


    the way in which linguistic elements (as words) are put together to form constituents (as phrases or clauses) b : the part of grammar dealing with this or a connected or orderly system : harmonious arrangement of parts or elements


    a statement true by virtue of its logical form or use of redundant language that adds no information.


    the writer's attitude toward the material and/or readers. Tone may be playful, formal, intimate, angry, serious, ironic, outraged, baffled, tender, serene, depressed, etc.


    is an intellectual proposition. A thesis statement is the statement that begins a formal essay or argument, or that describes the central argument of an academic paper or proposition.


    is a form of speech in which a lesser expression is used than what would be expected. An example is "the Rocky Mountains are scenic." This is not to be confused with euphemism, where a polite phrase is used in place of a harsher or more offensive expression.

Last Modified on October 15, 2008