Lists of Literary Terms, Examples and The use of Literary Devices

Literary terms refer to the style of presenting language to the readers. different writers use different terms to strengthen the composition.

 Lists of Literary Terms With Examples

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.

Allegory

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




Alliteration

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.  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

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.

Anachronism

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

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”.

Colloquialism

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?”




Hyperbole

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.”

Imagery

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

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: Example: 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

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: 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

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).

Metaphor/Simile

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. Examples: “What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”– metaphor. “She is as vicious as a lion”- simile.

Metonym

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 contains two examples of metonymy: “the pen” refers to “the written word,” and “the sword” refers to “military force/violence.”

Mood

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: 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

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.

Oxymoron

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. Examples: Deafening silence, organized chaos, cruelly kind, insanely logical, etc.

Paradox

A paradox is a statement that appears illogical or self-contradictory but, upon investigation, might actually be true or plausible. A paradox is an entire phrase or sentence, whereas an oxymoron is a combination of just two words. Example: A child is the father of the man.

Personification

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

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:  And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.




Satire

It is genre of writing that criticizes something, such as a person, behavior, belief, government, or society. It 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.

Symbolism

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. Example: In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsbythe green light that sits across from Gatsby’s mansion symbolizes Gatsby’s hopes and dreams.

Tone

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:  “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.