This page is devoted to cataloging literary devices. A literary device is any narrative technique applied with some degree of conscious care and skill to elevate the expression of writing. These devices are applied frequently in the works of great literature, employed by master stylists, such as William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Jane Austen, and many more. Mastering these devices will help authors write more vividly; even merely understanding these devices also will heighten the reader’s awareness and appreciation of both form and substance, thereby enriching the pleasure of reading great literature. These devices are listed alphabetically below and include a short definition, explanation of the various effects of each device, and examples from literature, television and movies, and political discourse.
Abstract Diction – The use of words or phrases that express abstract ideas, that is, non-physical things that may not be perceived with the human senses. Examples of abstract diction include “truth,” “justice,” and “integrity.” Both abstract and concrete diction are often used together in similes and metaphors wherein an abstract idea is compared to a concrete one in order to help readers understand the abstract idea better. Contrast Concrete Diction.
Acervatio Dissoluta – This Latin term translates to “a loose heap.” Like Asyndeton, this literary device refers to the omission of conjunctions between clauses to produce a hurried effect. An example from the United States Declaration of Independence includes the following: “We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”
Acervatio Iuncta – This Latin term translates to “a conjoined heap” and contrasts with+ Acervatio Dissolutia. Like Polysyndeton, this literary device refers to the use of conjunctions between successive clauses, slowing the pace of the text. An example from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is found in the following lines: “Let the whitefolks have their money and power and segregation and sarcasm and big houses and schools and lawns like carpets, and books, and mostly–mostly–let them have their whiteness.”
Adage – See Aphorism.
Adjunctio – This Latin term means “an addition” and refers to grouping dissimilar nouns with the same verb. Mark Twain employed this technique in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: “[They] covered themselves with dust and glory.” See Zeugma.
Adnominatio – This Latin term refers to a literary device in which a different form of a word is repeated throughout a statement or paragraph. An example from William Shakespeare’s Richard II is found in the following lines: “With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder.” See Polyptoton.
Adynaton (uh-DIN-uh-ton) – A Figure of Speech related to Hyperbole that uses heightened exaggeration to express impossibility. One of the more well-known examples comes from Jesus when he says, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Used to emphasize some point, adynatons are a common satirical tool because of the humorous effect that they often create.
Agnominatio – See Pun.
Allegory – A story or tale with two or more levels of meaning: a literal level and one or more symbolic levels. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan is one of the most important Christian allegories in literature. The names of the characters and places in this work represent character traits of each one. For example, the protagonist, Christian, meets Evangelist, Obstinate, and Pliable on his journey. Christian is from the City of Destruction (the world) and is seeking the Celestial City (heaven).
Alliteration – Alliteration refers to the repetitious use of sounds. This repetition may occur at the beginning, middle, or end of the word and may involve consonants or vowels. Repetitious consonant sounds are called Consonance; repetitious vowel sounds are called Assonance. An example of alliterative f sounds appear in The Assignation, wherein Edgar Allan Poe writes, “…flaring and flickering tongues of emerald and violet fire.” A writer may use alliteration for the following reasons: 1) to create a particular mood (in The Fall of the House of Usher, Edgar Allan Poe uses d and l sounds in the opening sentence, “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day…” in order to slow down the pace and create a melancholy tone); 2) to call attention to the passage (alliteration calls attention to itself, signaling to the reader the importance of the passage); and 3) to create a pleasing sound.
Allusion – An allusion is an indirect or passing reference to some person, place, or detail from literature that the writer expects the reader to be familiar with. Allusions are an economical way for the writer to establish imagery. This purpose is fulfilled in Ambrose Bierce’s story John Mortonson’s Funeral:“John Mortonson was dead: his lines in ‘the tragedy Man‘ had all been spoken and he had left the stage.” This sentence alludes to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Conqueror Worm, which uses imagery of the theatre and closes with the lines, “That the play is the tragedy, ‘Man,’/And its hero, the conqueror Worm.” Allusions also make connections between the present text and the referenced text.
Altercatio – This literary device refers to a series of short questions and answers. Its use is common among legal and police dramas and acts to build tension. Greek playwrights such as Sophocles used this technique in writing dialogue for Antigone. See also Stichomythia.
Ambiguity – A word, phrase, description, or situation that suggests more than one appropriate meaning. Henry James in his novella The Turn of the Screw uses ambiguous description effectively in order provide alternative explanations facing the reader: either the ghosts that the governess sees are real and are a threat to the children in her care or the governess is mad and she poses the sole threat to the children. The use of ambiguity can create a richer, deeper reading experience and make multiple readings and textual analysis more enjoyable.
Amphiboly – A type of ambiguity, amphiboly refers to a statement that is ambiguous either by grammatical looseness or by double meaning. This ambiguity often provides the basis for a joke. For example, one person says, “Last night I shot a bear in my pajamas.” The response is, “Why was a bear wearing your pajamas?” See also Double Entendre.
Anachrony (uh-NAK-ruh-nee) – This literary device refers to a discrepancy between the order of events in the story and the order in which they are presented in the plot. Quentin Tarantino often uses anachronies in his movies. For example, Pulp Fiction may be described as a series of vignettes with a common narrative that are shown to the audience out of order. Although these vignettes are not presented chronologically, there is a good reason for the order in which they are presented. The film ends in the middle of the narrative with Jules deciding to leave his life of crime and Vincent reaffirming his choice to remain involved in organized crime. By ending with this scene, we are presented with the spiritual ending of the movie, if not the narrative one. We never hear from Jules again and he is presumably leading his religious life. Vincent, meanwhile, is shot dead. The Flashback (or Analepsis) and Flash-forward (Proplesis) encompass the two basic forms of anachronies.
Anacoluthon (an-uh-kuh-LOO-thon) – This literary device refers to a sentence construction that includes a break in the grammatical sequence that leaves the initial sentence unfinished, as in the following: “We’re watching a funny–the movie made us laugh.” Anacoluthons are most often used in dialogue and my be used to indicate nervousness, excitement, or confusion in a character.
Anadiplosis (an-uh-di-PLOH-sis) – This literary device refers to the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of one clause or sentence and at the beginning of the next. Edgar Allan Poe uses this technique in The Pit and the Pendulum when his imprisoned narrator, who has just escaped an imminent death from the pendulum but not yet escaped from the pit, says the following: “For the moment, at least, I was free. Free!–and in the grasp of the Inquisition.” Here, Poe uses anadiplosis to make the ironic observation that while his narrator is free from an immediate death, he remains imprisoned.
Anagram – This literary device refers to a form of word play in which the letters of a word or phrase are rearranged to form a new word or phrase. This device is often used for humorous effect, as in the example, “Snooze alarms,” which becomes, “No more Zs.”
Analepsis (uhn-a-LEP-sis) – This literary device refers to an interruption of the chronological sequence of events by interjection of events or scenes of earlier occurrence. For a detailed description, see Flashback.
Analogy – An analogy is a comparison between two unlike things. The purpose of this device is to use familiar imagery to help describe unfamiliar things. Types of analogy include Metaphor, Simile, Parable, and Allegory. Shakespeare used analogy in his works, including this passage from Romeo and Juliet: “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! / Her beauty hangs upon the cheek of night, / Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear.”
Anamnesis (an-am-NEE-sis) – This literary device refers to reminiscences of actual events instead of the expression of an idea or feeling. This device is often found in memoir, fiction, and poetry. It is used to express an often negative emotion. One famous example is found in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in which anamnesis is brought about by the taste of a madeleine.
Anaphora (uh-NAF-er-uh) – The repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. Winston Churchill’s We Shall Fight on the Beaches speech uses anaphora to inspire his listeners: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” The purpose of this device is to emphasize an important point or concept by creating pleasurable and memorable rhythm. Also called Epanaphora.
Anastrophe – This literary device refers to the inversion of the typical word order in a sentence or clause. One of the most effective uses of anastrophe includes the way Yoda speaks in the Star Wars series: “Strong in the force, you are.” See Hyperbaton.
Antanaclasis (an-ta-na-CLA-sis) – This type of Pun occurs by repeating a word or phrase that sound or look alike but have different meanings. George H.W. Bush, with the help of his speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, employed this technique when he said, “My opponent now says he’ll raise [taxes] as a last resort or third resort, but when a politician talks like that, you know that’s one resort he’ll be checking in to.”
Anthropomorphism – This literary device refers to the use of attributing human characteristics to a non-human being such as an animal or object. The difference between anthropomorphism and Personification is that anthropomorphism allows for animals to behave likes humans, whereas personification ascribes human traits to something that is not acting human in any way. Examples of anthropomorphism include Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh.
Antimeria – This literary device involves using one part of speech as another part of speech. In the example, “She was texting while walking,” the word “texting” is used as a verb. See Enallage.
Antimetabole (an-ti-me-TA-bo-lee)- A type of Chiasmus, this device occurs when a word or phrase is repeated in reverse order. Examples of this device include “All for one, and one for all” and “Eat to live, not live to eat.” The purpose of this device is to suggest a close connection, even a mirror image, between the two clauses.
Antiphrasis (an-TIPH-ra-sis) – An ironic or humorous use of words in senses opposite to the generally accepted meanings. For example, a particularly tall and large man called “Tiny.”
Antipophora – See Hypophora.
Antisagoge – Pronounced an-tis-a-GO-gee, a Figure of Speech in which an order or precept is given and a reward offered if it is obeyed and punishment threatened if it is ignored. This device is used to raise a hope for obedience and raise a fear for disobedience. In Deuteronomy 28:1-19: “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth…However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.”
Antistoichon – See Antithesis.
Antisyzygy – See Oxymoron.
Antithesis (an-TITH-uh-sis) – Antithesis is a literary device in which a seeming contradiction of ideas is placed in a balanced grammatical structure in order to emphasize the contrast. “Give me liberty or give me death” is an example of this technique.
Antonomasia (an-tuh-nuh-MEY-zhuh) – This Metonymy refers to the use of an Epithet or appellative in place of a proper name. It can also refer to the use of a proper name used to express a general idea. For example, “the Bard” for William Shakespeare or “a Cassanova” for a womanizer. The use of epithets or appellatives may be used as elegant variation to reduce the repetition of names.
Aphorism (AF-uh-riz-uhm) – An aphorism is a short statement that memorably expresses a general principle or astute observation. The memorable effect of these statements are born from the clarity and brevity in which they are expressed. Due to the persuasive influence behind a truth tersely stated, aphorisms are effective devices in political or moral discourse. An example of aphorism is found in Thomas Paine’s The American Crisis, Number 1: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” Approximate synonyms include adage, maxim, proverb, or saying. Also known as Adage, Apothegm, Maxim, or Proverb.
Apophasis (uh-POF-uh-sis) – This literary device refers to an allusion to something by denying it will be mentioned. This rhetorical device is used as a kind of irony. Apophasis is not used literally, but instead draws its meaning from the relationship between the two speakers. Alexander McCall Smith uses apophasis in Blue Shoes and Happiness in the following lines: “‘Ssh,’ said Grace Makutsi, putting a finger to her lips. ‘It’s not polite to talk about it. SO I won’t mention the Double Comfort Furniture Shop, which is one of the businesses my fiance owns, you know. I must not talk about that. But do you know the store, Mma? If you save up, you should come in some day and buy a chair.'” See Occupatio.
Aporia (uh-POHR-ee-uh) – This literary device refers to an expression of real or pretended doubt or uncertainty especially for rhetorical effect. After raising this doubt, the writer or speaker will respond to the doubt or merely hint at the answer. A Rhetorical Question is a type of aporia. One type of aporia, argumentative aporia, is used to respond to any doubts the reader may have. The second type, tonal aporia, is used to soften the delivery. William Shakespeare uses argumentative aporia in Julius Caesar in the following lines by Mark Antony: “Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept. Ambition should be made of sterner stuff. Yet Brutus says he was ambitious.”
Aposiopesis (ap-uh-sahy-uh-PEE-sis) – This literary device occurs when the speaker suddenly breaks off in the middle of a sentence, as if from the inability or unwillingness to proceed. The use of this device allows the reader to draw his own conclusions, and it provides a dramatic or comic effect. This device is a type of Anacoluthon. An example from James Joyce’s Ulysses that displays the speaker’s hesitation is found in the following lines: “All quiet on Howth now. The distant hills seem. Where we. The rhododendrons. I am a fool perhaps, He gets the plums, and I the plumstones. Where I come in.”
Apothegm (AP-uh-them) – See Aphorism.
Apostrophe (uh-POS-truh-fee) – Apostrophe is a literary device in which a writer or character directly addresses an inanimate object or abstraction or an absent or dead person. Percy Bysshe Shelley uses this technique in his Ode to the West Wind: “O Wind,/If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
Appositum – This Latin term means “adjective.” Like the Epithet, appositum is used to enhance imagery through the use of descriptive terms. The following example is from Beauty and Beauty by Rupert Brook: “The earth is crying-sweet,/And scattering-bright the air,/Eddying, dizzying, closing round,/With soft and drunken laughter…”
Assonance – A type of Alliteration, this literary device refers to the repetition of similar vowel sounds. It is especially used in poetry to add rhythm or alter mood. The following is an example using the letter e from Bells by Edgar Allan Poe: “Hear the mellow wedding bells,/Golden bells!/What a world of happiness their harmony foretells.”
Asyndeton (uh-SIN-di-ton) – This literary device refers to the omission of conjunctions, such as Julius Caesar’s quote, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
Attributive Nouns – These are nouns that can be used to modify other nouns. For example, the morning dew coated the grass.
Auditory Imagery – This literary device refers to descriptive Imagery that pertains to sounds, noises, music, or the sense of hearing. An example of auditory imagery is found in the description of the rider’s horse and the weather in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost: “He gives his harness bells a shake/To ask if there is some mistake./The only other sound’s the sweep/Of easy wind and downy flake.”
Autoclesis – This literary term refers to an idea that is introduced in negative terms in order to call attention to it and arouse curiosity. In the example, “I’m not going to talk about the vacation, so don’t even ask,” the speaker is inviting questions by using negative phrasing.
Auxesis (awg-ZEE-sis) – A type of Figure of Speech that lists a series of things in ascending order of importance. In The Twits, Roald Dahl uses auxesis to describe ugliness and beauty: “If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
Aversio – This term means “to turn away.” Like Apostrophe, this device is used to disconnect the speaker from the object he is addressing. In John Dunne’s Holy Sonnet 10, the speaker addresses Death as though it is a living being: “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee/Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;/For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow/Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”
Axiom – This literary term refers to a statement that is well-established and is accepted without question. The statement, “The only constant is change,” is an axiom. See Aphorism.
Cacophony (kuh-KOF-uh-nee) – This literary device refers to a harsh discordance of sound. The use of cacophony is found in Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll: “Beware the Jabberwock, my son!/The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!/Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun/The frumious Bandersnatch!” See also Dissonance.
Cadence – This literary device refers to a the falling and rising rhythmic pattern of prose. The following example from The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe demonstrates the use of smooth cadence in the first, third, and fourth lines and a harsher cadence in the second, fifth, and sixth lines: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,/Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,/While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,/As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door./”Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door-/Only this, and nothing more.'”
Catchword – This device refers to a word or phrase associated with a character. For example, in the Sherlock Holmes series, “Elementary, my dear Watson,” has become a catchphrase for the detective.
Chiasmus (kahy-AZ-muhs) – This device refers to two or more clauses that are related to each other through reversal of structures, causing inverted parallelism, in order to make a larger point. The purpose of this device includes implying a close relation to apparent opposites as well as creating a symmetrical structure to give the impression upon the reader that the entire argument has been accounted for. Thomas Paine uses this device when he writes, “England finds that she cannot conquer America, and America has no wish to conquer England.”
Circumamboges – See Periphrasis.
Circumlocution – This literary device refers to a roundabout or indirect way of referring to something. In the following example from Kubla Kahn, Samuel Taylor Coleridge uses circumlocution to describe the wildness of nature and the peacefulness found with the palace walls: “So twice five miles of fertile ground/With walls and towers were girdled round:/And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,/Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;/And here were forests ancient as the hills,/Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.” Examples of this include Elegant Variation and Periphrasis.
Coinage – This literary device refers to a word or phrase newly invented or newly introduced into a language. The word “vlog” (combination of video and blog) is a recent coinage. For a detailed description, see Neologism.
Commutatio – See Chiasmus.
Compar – See Isocolon.
Comparatio – See Antithesis.
Compensatio – This literary device refers to neutralizing the affect by joining two contrasting words together. An example from Ulysses by Lord Alfred Tennyson includes the following lines: “Though much is taken, much abides; and though/We are not now that strength which in old days/Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;/One equal temper of heroic hearts/Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” See Antisagoge.
Conceptio – See Syllepsis.
Concrete Diction – The use of words or phrases that express concrete ideas, that is, physical things that may be perceived by one of the human senses. A lion, for example, is a concrete idea since it may be perceived with human senses. Both abstract and concrete diction are often used together in similes and metaphors wherein an abstract idea is compared to a concrete one in order to help readers understand the abstract idea better. Contrast Abstract Diction.
Conduplicatio – The repetition of a word in various places throughout a paragraph. The following quote by Alexander Pope the word “passion” to demonstrate conduplicatio: “The strength of the passions will never be accepted as an excuse for complying with them; the passions were designed for subjection, and if a man suffers them to get the upper hand, he then betrays the liberty of his own soul.”
Conformatio – See Personification.
Consonance – A type of Alliteration, this literary device refers to the repetition of similar consonant sounds. Consonance is found in the following lines from “T was later when the summer went” by Emily Dickenson using the letters c, p, s, t, and w: ‘T was later when the summer went/Than when the cricket came,/And yet we knew that gentle clock/Meant nought but going home./‘T was sooner when the cricket went/Than when the winter came,/Yet that pathetic pendulum/Keeps esoteric time.”
Constrained Writing – This literary device refers to conditions placed upon the author that forbids her from certain things or imposes a pattern. One of the most ambitious examples is the novel Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright, in which the author does not use the letter e anywhere in the novel.
Cosmic Irony – This literary device refers to the belief that fate or the gods are indifferent and even antagonistic to human needs. Examples of cosmic irony are found throughout Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, especially in the fate of the main character as he marries his mother even after trying so hard to avoid this fate. See Irony.
Definitio – See Horismus.
Diacope – This literary device consists of the repetition of a word or phrase with only one or two intervening words. In Richard III, William Shakespeare produces an effective example of this device: “A horse! A horse! my kingdom for a horse!” Edgar Allan Poe also uses this device in The Tell-Tale Heart, when his narrator states, “I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture–a pale blue eye, with a film over it.” This device is also called Ploce (or Ploche).
Diaphora – This literary device refers to the repetition of a name, first to signify the person or persons it describes, then to signify its meaning. An example from The Passion of Saints Sergius and Bacchus is found in the following lines: “For your gods are not gods but man-made idols.”
Diazeugma – This literary device refers to the use of several verbs with a subject expressed only once. This use of this device speeds up the pace of a passage, emphasizes action, and creates a frenzied effect.
Digression – This literary device refers to material not strictly relevant to the main theme or plot but which may serve to provide a deeper understanding of a work’s context. For example, in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Imp of the Perverse, Poe spends the first half of the story discussing his theory on perverseness before he moves into the story.
Dissolutio – See Asyndeton.
Dissonance – This literary device refers to the intentional use of harsh-sounding words to interrupt the rhythm or flow of text. It is considered to be the opposite of assonance. An example of dissonance can be found in the following lines from Wind by Ted Hughes: “The wind flung a magpie away and a black-/Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly…” See Cacophony.
Double Entendre – This literary device refers to a Pun in which a word or phrase has a second meaning, often a sexual one. The double entendre can be read one of two ways: with an innocent meaning or a risqué one. An example of double entendre is found in the title of the story To Serve Man by Damon Knight. This phrase can mean either to work for the good of others or to prepare humans as food. This story was the basis for an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Double Plot – This literary device refers to the use of two related plots within a narrative. The second plot mirrors the first. An example of this is found in Hamlet when Shakespeare devises a play-within-a-play to imitate the things happening in Elsinore. See Subplot.
Dramatic Irony – Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something the characters do not. In There’s Something About Mary by Jonathan Richman, the audience knows that the police are going to interrogate Ted about a murder, but he thinks they are questioning him about a hitchhiker he picked up. This misunderstanding leads to a humorous situation in which Ted utters the lines, “I’ve done it several times before,” and “It’s no big deal.” See Irony.
Elegant Variation – This literary device refers to the use of synonyms to denote the same thing in order to avoid repetition. This unnecessary use of synonyms can unintentionally create a tonal shift such as humor or pretentiousness. Charles Dickens used elegant variation effectively in the opening lines of 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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
Enallage – The use of one grammatical part of speech as if it were another. For example, in “Give him what for” the last two words are an adverb and an adjective used together as a noun.
Epanados – This literary device refers to the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning and middle or at the middle and end of a sentence. For example, “Hear you this soul-invading voice, and count it but a voice?”
Epanalepsis (ep-uh-nuh-LEP-sis) – This literary device refers to the repetition of the initial word or phrase of a clause or sentence and the end of that same clause or sentence. An ideal example of this device includes the following: “The king is dead, long live the King.” The purpose of this device is to emphasize an important point or concept by creating pleasurable and memorable rhythm. This emphasis is strengthened through the use of the beginning and end positions of the sentence, which are points of concentration among readers.
Epanaphora (ep-uh-NAF-er-uh) – This literary device refers to the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. An example is found in Psalm 29 as the phrase “ascribe to the Lord” is repeated three times in the first four lines: “Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,/ascribe to the Lord glory and strength./Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;/worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” The For a detailed description, see Anaphora.
Epanorthosis – A figure of speech in which something said is corrected or commended on.
Epiphora (ih-PIF-er-uh) – This literary device refers to the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses or sentences. The following lines from The Tempest by William Shakespeare contain an example of epiphora: “Hourly joys be still upon you! Juno sings her blessings on you. . . . Scarcity and want shall shun you, Ceres’ blessing so is on you.” For a detailed description, see Epistrophe.
Epistrophe (ih-PIS-truh-fee) – This literary device refers to the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses or sentences. Lloyd Bernsten employed this technique during his vice-presidential debate against Dan Quayle, saying, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy; I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” The purpose of this device is to emphasize an important point or concept by creating pleasurable and memorable rhythm. Also known as Epiphora.
Epithet (EP-uh-thet) – A type of Elegant Variation, this literary device refers to a word or phrase in place of or in addition to a name to characterize a person, place, or thing. The purpose of this device is to pronounce an actual or attributed quality of a subject and to avoid undesired repetition of the subject’s name. Examples include “The Dark Knight” and “The Caped Crusader” for Batman, “Pistol Pete” for Pete Maravich, and “Richard the Lionheart” for Richard I of England.
Epizeuxis – Pronounced EP-i-zeux-sis, this literary device uses the repetition of a word or phrase with no words in between. The purpose of this device is to emphasize an important point or concept through vehement repetition. An effective example includes the following from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad: “The horror, the horror.” Here, the repetition creates a haunting echo effect that heightens the emotional response among readers. Also called Palilogia.
Equivoque (EK-wuh-vohk) – This literary device refers to a humorous expression that exploits the double meanings of words or phrases. An example from the scene of Mercutio’s death Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare plays with the word grave, which means both serious and death: “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.” See Pun.
Euphony (YOO-fuh-nee) – This literary device refers to the agreeableness of sound by use of long vowels, liquid consonants, (l and r), and semi-vowels (w and y) and by avoiding the use of adjacent stresses. The language used in Ode to Autumn by John Keats presents an effective use of euphony: “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,/Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun…”
Excursus (ek-SKUR-suhs) – This literary device refers to a digression in which some point is discussed at length. In Moby Dick, Herman Melville devotes entire chapters to excursus to discuss various topics, including whaling.
Extended Metaphor – This literary device refers to a Metaphor developed and sustained throughout all or part of a story. This example from As You Like It by William Shakespeare compares the earth to a theatre stage: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players;/They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.”
Flashback – A type of Anachrony, a flashback refers to an interruption of the chronological sequence of events by interjection of events or scenes of earlier occurrence. This device allows background information about characters and events to be filled in. The TV show How I Met Your Mother uses this technique effectively. Throughout the show, the father, Ted, tells his teenage children stories about his past that led to his meeting their mother. A flashback may also describe important memories of characters and show how the past influences the present. The TV show, Lost, uses flashback to describe the lives of the characters before they became stranded on the island. Also called Analepsis.
Flash-forward – A type of Anachrony, a flash-forward refers to an interruption of the chronological sequence of events by interjection of events or scenes of later occurrence. Flash-forwards are rare, but are sometimes used to distance the readers from the characters. The TV show, Lost, also uses flash-forward effectively to explain what happens to the characters after they leave the island. Also called Prolepsis.
Figure of Speech – This literary device refers to any expression in which words are used other than in their literal sense in order to suggest a picture or image or other special effect. Similes and Metaphors are examples of figures of speech. An example of a figure of speech using simile is found in the movie Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.”
Foil – A foil is a character who provides a contrast to another character.
Foreshadowing (fawr-SHAD-oh-ing) – Foreshadowing is a literary device in which the author suggests or hints at actions that will occur later on or suggest the story’s outcome. The use of this device builds suspense and creates tension about the outcome of events. This device also rewards careful readers and heightens their interest throughout the story. Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find is loaded with foreshadowing. For example, the family of six who will later be killed at the end of the story drive by cotton field with six graves enclosed in a fence. This graveyard hints at the family’s fate.
Functionally-Shifting Words – This is a change in the grammatical function of a word. Functionally-shifting words include attributive nouns and noun-to-verbs. For example, they downed the wine without even tasting it.
Genitives – There are two types of genitive formations (‘s genitive and of-genitive). When you have a double genitive problem (e.g., my brother’s wife’s dog), you can either rewrite the sentence or use a combination of the two genitives (e.g., the dog of my brother’s wife).
Gustatory Imagery – This literary device refers to the descriptive Imagery that pertains to flavors or the sense of taste. The following lines from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez include many examples of gustatory imagery as the author describes this character’s eating disorder: “On rainy afternoons, embroidering with a group of friends on the begonia porch, she would lose the thread of the conversation and a tear of nostalgia would salt her palate when she saw the strips of damp earth and the piles of mud that the earthworms had pushed up in the garden. Those secret tastes, defeated in the past by oranges and rhubarb, broke out into an irrepressible urge when she began to weep.”
Harmony – See Rhythm.
Hendiadys (hen-DAHY-uh-dis) – This literary device expresses a single idea by means of two nouns joined by the conjunction “and” rather than by a noun qualified by an adjective. Shylock from The Merchant of Venice, one of William Shakespeare most complex characters, employs this technique when he says, “To have the due and forfeit of my bond.”
Horismus – A figure of speech that defines and sketches the nature of an idea by way of describing differences between associated terms. This device is used to describe a thing more thoroughly and with poetic effect; because it is a descriptive device, the use of horismus tends to slow down the place of a narrative and adds weight to the preceding action. An effective example is taken from John Smith’s description of beauty: “Beauty is nothing but a transitory charm, an illusion of senses, a slave of pleasure: a flower which has but a moment of life; a dial, on which we neer look, but while the sun shines on it: it is a dunghill covered with snow; a glass painted with false colors.”
Hypallage (hi-PAL-uh-jee) – This literary device refers to the reversal of the normal relation between two words, as in “her beauty’s face” instead of “her face’s beauty”.
Hyperbaton (hahy-PUR-buh-ton) – This device rearranges or inverts the normal word order (subject-verb-object) to create a poetic effect. This device can also represent heightened emotions (since a speaker rarely thinks linearly when upset) or produce a bizarre effect that emphasizes the passage by interrupting the natural flow of the narrative. Edgar Allan Poe used hyperbatons through his disturbing story Ligeia. Also called Anastrophe.
Hyperbole (hahy-PUR-buh-lee) – This device is an exaggeration or overstatement, often used for emphasis or comical effect. Edgar Allan Poe used hyperbole in both his horror and satirical stories. In The Tell-Tale Heart, Poe’s paranoid narrator states, “I heard all things in heaven and in the earth.” Another example appears in Jonathan Swift’s political satire, Gulliver’s Travels: “I have had a sirloin so large, that I have been forced to make three bites of it.”
Hypophora (hahy-PO-phor-a) – This rhetorical question involves a speaker or writer raising a question and then answering it himself. This technique is often used in detective fiction, usually by the character tasked with solving the mystery. Edgar Allan Poe’s archetypal detective, C. Auguste Dupin, used this device in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, “Let us now transport ourselves, in fancy, to this chamber. What shall we first seek here? The means of egress employed by the murderers.” This device is also called Rhetorical Question, Antipopohora, or Rogatio.
Hypostatization – A form of personification in which an abstract term is spoken of as something human. For example, “Truth insists I tell the story”.
Hypotaxis (hahy-puh-TAK-sis) – This literary device refers to the use of conjunctive words between sentences, clauses, or phrases. The effect of this device slows down the pace of the passage. Contrast Parataxis.
Imagery – Imagery refers to descriptive or figurative language that appeals to our sense of hearing (Auditory Imagery), sense of taste (Gustatory Imagery), sense of movement (Kinesthetic Imagery), sense of smell (Olfactory Imagery), sense of emotion (Organic Imagery), sense of touch (Tactile Imagery), sense of hot and cold (Thermal Imagery), and sense of sight (Visual Imagery). This descriptive and figurative language creates an impression of a person, place, or thing through the use of the above-referenced senses. The author selects those details that create a desired impression.
Interior Monologue – See Stream of Consciousness.
Inversion – An inversion is a literary device in which the normal word order of a sentence (subject-verb-object) is transposed in order to achieve a particular effect, such as emphasis, or to vary sentence structure. Using inverted sentences occasionally is a great way to avoid too many sentences with equally weighted phrases and clauses, which in turn produce tiresome sentences. Thomas Paine employed this technique powerfully in The American Crisis, writing, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
Irony – Irony occurs when the appearance or expectation of an action, event, or expression is drastically different and undermined by the facts. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado is loaded with irony. In Poe’s story, the narrator plans to kill his friend by walling him up alive. His friend’s name, Fortunato, is itself ironic, since there is nothing fortunate about his fate. Moreover, this murder is carried out on the night of a carnival, and the drunk Fortunato is wearing a fool’s motley-style outfit with a conical cap and bells. Fortunato’s jovial appearance, therefore, is another example of irony. Various forms of irony exist: comic irony, cosmic irony (fate, destiny, or god controls and toys with human hops and expectations), dramatic irony (irony that is inherent in speeches or a situation of fiction and is understood by the reader but not grasped by the characters), situational irony (actions have an effect that is opposite from what was intended), and verbal irony (a person says or writes one thing and means another).
Isocolon (AHY-suh-koh-luhn) – This literary device uses phrases or clauses of equal or roughly equal syllabic length and corresponding structure. Charles Dickens begins A Tale of Two Cities with a following isocolon, “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…” Also, the following Julius Caesar quote is an effective isocolon, “I cam; I saw; I conquered.” The rhythm and balance that an isocolon brings to an idea makes this device particularly effective in persuasive writing, such as political discourse or aphorisms in literature.
Juxtaposition – The placing of things in close proximity to invite a comparison or imply a relationship.
Kenning – A type of circumlocution, kenning refers to a compound noun that employs figurative language in place of a more concrete single-word noun. Examples include “fire-water” for “whiskey” and “the beast with two backs” for “sex”.
Kinesthetic Imagery – This literary device refers to descriptive imagery that pertains to movements or the sense of motion.
Left-Branching Sentence – A left-branching sentence is one in which the grammatical completeness is delayed until the end of the sentence. This syntax is achieved by beginning the sentence with a phrase or dependent clause or by inserting a phrase or dependent clause in the middle of the sentence. Also called a Periodic Sentence or Suspended Sentence.
Leitmotif (LAHYT-moh-teef) – A repeated phrase, image, symbol, or situation that indicates or supports a theme.
Litotes (LAHY-tuh-teez) – This device is a figure of speech by which affirmation is made indirectly by denying the opposite, usually with the effect of understatement. In Animal Farm, George Orwell uses litotes: “Clover was a stout motherly mare approaching middle life, who had never quite got her figure back after her fourth foal.” In The Cask of Amontillado, Edgar Allan Poe also uses this technique: “It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my goodwill.”
Loose Sentence – See Right-Branching Sentence.
Malapropism (MAL-uh-prop-iz-uhm)- This literary device refers to an act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, especially by confusing words that are similar in sound. This technique is often used in comedy, especially in satirical works. The name is derived from the character Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan’s play The Rivals. Mrs. Malaprop’s confused lines include “He is the very pine-apple of politeness” (instead of “pinnacle”), “I’m sorry to say, Sir Anthony, that my affluence over my niece is very small” (instead of “influence”), and “I have since laid Sir Anthony’s preposition before her” (instead of “proposition”).
Maxim – See Aphorism.
Meiosis (mahy-OH-sis) – This literary device refers to an understatement that belittles or dismisses something or somebody.
Mesodiplosis (mes-oh-di-PLOH-sis) – This literary device repeats a word or phrase at the middle of every clause. An example is found in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”
Metalepsis (met-uh-LEP-sis) – This literary device refers to the use of metonymy to replace a word already used figuratively.
Metaphor – A type of figure of speech, a metaphor is an implied comparison between two unrelated things, without using “like” or “as” to signal the relationship. Like other figures of speech, metaphors are made up of two parts: a tenor and a vehicle. The tenor is the subject of comparison (often an abstraction) and the vehicle is the means of comparison (often a concrete image). For example, in As You Like It, William Shakespeare creates the metaphor that “All the world is a stage”. In this example, “the world” is the tenor (the subject of comparison) and “stage”, or play, is the vehicle (means of comparison).The purpose of this comparison is to draw an image more clearly than is otherwise available to the writer in a single word.
Metonymy (mi-TON-uh-mee) – This literary device replaces the name of a person, place, or thing with a term closely associated with it. Metonymy is similar to synecdoche except that it is a bit broader. Whereas in synecdoche, a part is substituted for a whole (“hand” for “manual laborers”), in metonymy, any mere association may replace the whole (“ride” for “car”). In the latter example, “ride” for “car” is a metonymy but not a synecdoche, since a ride is not part of the car but is one of its associated functions.
Mirror Passage – See Subplot.
Motif – This literary device refers to a reoccurring situation, incident, idea, image, or character that contributes toward the development of a theme.
Neologism (nee-OL-uh-jiz-uhm) – This literary device refers to a word or phrase newly invented or newly introduced into a language. The purpose of creating new words or phrases arises from a desire to find new ways to discuss old things as well as the need, sometimes, to use more precise language. This device is particularly useful in speculative fiction, such as science-fiction or fantasy genres, since the novelty of a word may help establish in a reader’s mind a strange or unfamiliar setting. Neologisms are made by borrowing words from other languages, combining existing words or word parts, shortening existing words to create new variations, shifting the meaning of existing words, or simply creating new words.
Nominatio – See Onomatopoeia.
Nonce Word – This literary device refers to a word or phrase newly invented or newly introduced into a language. For a detailed description, see Neologism.
Objective Correlative – This literary device refers to any object, scene, even, or situation that may be said to stand for or evoke an internal state of mind. Examples of this device may be found in many David Lynch films and the Cohen brothers’s Barton Fink.
Occupatio – Used often by politicians, this is an allusion to something by denying it will be mentioned. This device may be used to condescend to another, as in the following Donald Trump quote: “I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo, because that would not be politically correct.” However, this device may also be used in a sincere and polite way to share necessary information that the addressee may or may not know without implying that the addressee is ignorant.
Olfactory Imagery – This literary device refers to descriptive imagery that pertains to odors, scents, or the sense of smell. Oscar Wilde uses this device in the opening paragraph of The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The studio was filled with the rich odor of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”
Onomatopoeia (on-uh-mat-uh-PEE-uh) – This literary device refers to the formation of a words that imitate natural sounds, such as “boom”, “buzz”, or “hiss”.
Organic Imagery (or Subjective Imagery) – This literary device refers to descriptive imagery that pertains to personal experience of a character’s body, including emotion and the senses of hunger, thirst, fatigue, and pain.
Overstatement – See Hyperbole.
Oxymoron – This literary device refers to a figure of speech that combines words that have opposite or very different meanings, such as “bittersweet” or “living death”. The word “sophomore” is an oxymoron since it literally means “wise fool”.
Pace – This literary device refers to the speed at which a narrative is developed. Pace is controlled by several elements, including sentence structure (short versus long sentences), the use of action versus description (action speeds up pace while description slows down pace), and how quickly important information is revealed to the reader. Fiction that develops too quickly may become tedious and superficial while fiction that develops too slowly may bore your readers for lack of drama.
Palilogia (PAL-il-o-gia) – The repetition of a word or phrase with no words in between. For a detailed description, see Epizeuxis.
Palindrome (PAL-in-drohm) – This constrained writing device refers to the use of a word or sentence that remains the same if read backwards.
Parable – This literary device refers to a brief tale intended to be understood as an allegory illustrating some lesson or moral. Many of the stories by Franz Kafka included parables or were in their entirety parables.
Paradiastole – A type of litotes where the force and tone of a description is deliberately weakened. For example, “unattractive” for “ugly”.
Paradox – This literary device refers to a phrase that describes an idea composes of concepts that conflict.
Paralipsis (par-uh-LIP-sis) – This literary device refers to a suggestion, by deliberately concise treatment of a topic, that much of significance is being omitted, as in “not to mention other faults”.
Parallelism – This literary device refers to the arrangement of similarly constructed clauses or sentences, in the construction, sound, meaning, or meter and which suggest a correspondence between them. This device creates rhythm and emphasizes important ideas.
Parataxis (par-uh-TAK-sis) – This literary device refers to the placing together of independent sentences, clauses, or phrases without conjunctive words. The effect of this device is to speed up the pace of the passage. Contrast Hypotaxis.
Parenthesis – A sentence or statement inserted between sentences for explanation or amplification and usually indicated by lunulae, dashes, or commas.
Parison – See Anthithesis.
Parody – This literary device refers to the humorous imitation of a literary work and that exaggerates or distorts the characteristic features of the original.
Paromologia (par-uh-mo-LOH-gee-uh) – This literary device refers to conceding a point because one believes it to be true or because one can strengthen one’s own argument by the concession. Thomas Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence uses this device when he writes “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments, long established should not be changed for light and transient causes…” By conceding this point first, before he calls for independence, Jefferson implies that the call for independence occurs for reasons that are neither light nor transient.
Paronomasia (par-uh-noh-MEY-zhuh) – See Pun.
Pathetic Fallacy – A type of personification, this literary device refers to a poetic convention by which nature is used to reflect the emotions that characters are experiencing. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is loaded with examples of pathetic fallacy.
Periodic Sentence – See Left-Branching Sentence.
Periphrasis (puh-RIF-ruh-sis) – This literary device is a type of circumlocution that uses a longer phrase in place of an available shorter form of expression. An example includes the phrase “the people of America” for “Americans”.
Personification – This literary device refers to a figure of speech that attributes human qualities to animals, inanimate objects, or abstract ideas. Use of personification helps us understand the world in human terms. Edgar Allan Poe uses personification several times throughout The Fall of the House of Usher, such as when he describes the Usher residence as having “eye-like windows”.
Pleonasm (PLEE-uh-naz-uhm) – The use of redundant words to strengthen an expression. The purpose of this device is to emphasize an important point or concept and to achieve an aesthetic sound or appearance. Examples include “She sees me with her eyes. And with her ears, she hears the blessings that I bestow upon her.”
Ploce (PLOH-see) – This literary device refers to the repetition of a word or phrase with one or two intervening words. See Diacope.
Plurisignation – See Ambiguity.
Polyptoton – This is a stylistic scheme in which words with same root word are repeated in various forms such as in a different tense. An example of this is “judge and judged” and “going, going, gone”. It is an indirect way to express what you mean and is used to provide emphasis. Shakespeare used polyptoton when he wrote Sonnet 116: “Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove.”
Polysemy (POL-ee-see-me) – See Ambiguity.
Polysyndeton – Pronounced pol-ee-SIN-di-ton, this literary device refers to the use of conjunctions in close succession. The purpose of this device is to emphasize a series of things, cause a hypnotic effect, and give a biblical pronouncement that creates a sense of truthfulness behind the passage. The Bible is loaded with polysyndetons, as in this passage from Joshua 7:24: “And Joshua, and all of Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he hand.” Vladimir Nabokov also uses this device in his novel Lolita in order to describe Humbert Humbert’s exasperation with the droll sameness of Lolita’s friends: “I still hear the nasal voices of those invisibles serenading her, people with names like Sammy and Jo and Eddy and Tony and Peggy and Guy and Patty and Rex….” Contrast Asyndeton.
Portmanteau (pohrt-MAN-toh) – This literary device is a type of neologism in which two or more words are joined together to form a new word, as in “smog” for “smoke” and “fog”. For a detailed description, see Neologism.
Preterition (pret-uh-RISH-uhn) – An allusion to something by denying it will be mentioned. For a detailed description, see Occupatio.
Prolepsis (proh-LEP-sis) – Prolepsis carries two meanings. First, as a literary device, prolepsis refers to an interruption of the chronological sequence of events by interjection of events or scenes of future occurrence. Second, as a rhetorical device, prolepsis refers to the act of raising your opponent’s objection preemptively in order to dispose of it on your terms. That you demonstrate that you have considered the argument against your point and are prepared to dispatch it reinforces your own argument. For a detailed description, see Flashforward.
Prosopopoeia (proh-soh-puh-PEE-uh) – This literary device refers to the personification of inanimate objects. See Personification.
Proverb – See Aphorism.
Prozeugma – This literary device refers to an expression in which a verb in used in an initial clause but left out (yet understood) in subsequent clauses. This device speeds up the pace of a passage.
Pun (or Paronomasia) – A play on words that resemble each other in sound or appearance but differ in meaning. For example, “I used to be a banker, but I lost interest”.
Red Herring – A false direction or misleading clue.
Reduplicatio – See Anadiplosis.
Regressio – See Epanados.
Repartee – A quick, witty reply, often humorous.
Repetition – One of the most common literary devices, repetition is the restatement of an idea or reuse of sounds, words, phrases, sentences, images, and syntax. Repetition produces rhythm and creates emphasis.
Resumptio – See Epanalepsis.
Reversio – See Anastrophe.
Rhetorical Question – See Hypophora.
Rhythm – In general, rhythm refers to the movement or sense of movement of words communicated by the arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables and by the duration of these syllables. Rhythm is an important element of verse. However, prose may also show rhythm.
Right-Branching Sentence – A right-branching sentence is one that begins with a main subject (an independent clause) followed by one or more modifiers (dependent clauses) that provide additional information about the subject. The following example appears in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart: “I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart.” Also called Loose Sentence or Unsuspended Sentence.
Rogatio – See Hypophora.
Satire – This literary device refers to writing that ridicules or criticizes individuals, ideas, institutions, social conventions, or other works of art or literature.
Simile (SIM-uh-lee) – A type of figure of speech, a simile uses the words “like” or “as” to compare two difference things. Like other figures of speech, similes are made up of two parts: a tenor and a vehicle. The tenor is the subject of comparison (often an abstraction) and the vehicle is the means of comparison (often a concrete image). The purpose of this device is to use familiar imagery to help describe unfamiliar things. Edgar Allan Poe uses similes throughout The Tell-Tale Heart, such as “…a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and full upon the vulture eye” and “It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.”
Situational Irony – See Irony.
Socratic Irony – See Irony.
Stichomythia (stik-uh-MITH-ee-uh) – This literary device refers to a dialogue of alternate single lines. Usually a word or phrase in one remark is taken up by the next speaker and used in a new sense, often as an antithesis or counterpoint. This verbal parrying enunciates conflict between characters and as a result builds tension but also may be used to set up humorous situations.
Stream of Consciousness – This literary device refers to a continuous flow of a character’s thoughts or perceptions presented as occurring in random form, without regard for logical sequences or syntactic structure. Also called Interior Monologue.
Subjunctio – See Epizeuxis.
Submutatio – See Hypallage.
Subplot – A subplot is a second, less important plot within a story that adds to, contrast with, reflect, or vary the main plot.
Syllepsis (si-LEP-sis) – This literary device refers to the use of a word (usually a verb or preposition) or expression that performs two or more syntactical functions, as in “He works his work, I mine” or “On his fishing trip, he caught three trout and a cold.” Also called Zeugma.
Symbol – This literary device refers to anything that stands for or represents something else. Symbols differ from metaphors and similes in both scope and purpose. Metaphors and similes are often restricted in space and introduced simply for the purpose of comparison. Symbols, meanwhile, often reoccur throughout a story and are meant to shed light on the story’s theme.
Synathroesmus – The use of multiple words with different meanings in order to produce a vehement effect. For example, “He is a cruel, selfish, worthless, terrible human being!”
Synecdoche (si-NEK-duh-kee) – This literary device refers to a figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole or the whole for the part. The purpose of this device is to create literary symbolism and give otherwise common ideas and objects a deeper meaning, to draw the reader’s attention to a passage, and to help the writer achieve brevity. For example, “boots” for “soldiers” or “hands” for “manual laborers.”
Synesthesia (sin-uhs-THEE-zhuh) – This literary device refers to the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body. For example, “loud color” or “smooth sound.”
Systrophe – The listing of many qualities or descriptions, without providing an explicit definition.
Tactile Imagery – This literary device refers to descriptive imagery that pertains to physical textures or the sense of touch.
Tapinosis – A type of hyperbole, tapinosis refers to any figurative device, expression, or epithet that belittles by exaggeration.
Tenor – See Metaphor and Simile.
Tension – Tension is created through conflict between character and an antagonist, whether that is another character, inner struggle, or aspect of nature.
Theme – A theme is a central message or insight into the human condition revealed by a literary work. In fiction, a theme usually is not directly stated but subtly suggested through plot, characters, motifs, and other literary elements.
Thermal Imagery – This literary device refers to descriptive imagery that pertains to the sense of hot and cold.
Thesis – The idea or statement to be demonstrated in an argument. A thesis should be stated upfront, preferably in the first paragraph.
Tmesis (tuh-MEE-sis) – This literary device refers to the insertion of one or more words between the parts of a compound word, as “a-whole-nother”. This device is used primarily in exclamations or oaths in order to provide emphasis.
Transmutatio – See Metonymy.
Tricolon – A figure of speech in which the same grammatical structure is repeated three times to link topics by parallelism.
Unsuspended Sentence – See Right-Branching Sentence.
Vignette (vin-YET) – This literary device refers to any short, self-contained scene that focuses on a moment or gives an impression about an idea, character, setting, mood, aspect, or object.
Visual Imagery – This literary device refers to descriptive imagery that pertains to graphics, visual scenes, pictures, or the sense of sight.
Understatement – Understatement is a literary device whereby the author understates or represents in weak manner the full force of a truth. Understatement may be used for the following reasons: 1) to communicate a point without directly stating it; 2) to draw attention to a passage; or 3) produce a comedic effect. This technique often produces a humorous, satirical tone and may come in the form of sarcasm or irony. In The Importance of Being Earnest, one character says to an orphan,”To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
Variant – The use of an alternative but recognizable form of something, such as a word, motif, text, or idea. For example, “colour” is a variant for “color”.
Vehicle – See Metaphor and Simile.
Verbal Irony – See Irony.
Vernacular – This literary device refers to the use of a native language or native dialect.
Zeugma (ZOOG-muh) – This literary device refers to the use of a word (usually a verb or preposition) or expression that performs two or more syntactical functions. See Syllepsis.