My Very Own Dictionary of Literary Terms!

Literary Terms and Elements_____________________________

1. prose

language that is not in verse

2. diction

word choice

3. denotation

the dictionary definition of a word

4. connotation

the emotional associations or overtones of a word

5. syntax

sentence structure [loose, parallel, cumulative, periodic, inverted, interrupted]

6. coherence

cohesiveness, connectedness

7. a dialect

a regional variety of a language, with a distinctive accent, grammar, and lexicon

8. lexicon


9. colloquial

extremely casual or informal in expression

10. ambiguous

expressing more than 1 meaning

11. bland

lacking in color, liveliness, or individuality

12. euphony

pleasing sounds [adj "euphonious"="agreeable to the ear"]

13 cacophony

disagreeable sounds, discord

14. imagery

language that awakens the 5 senses [sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell]

15. tone

emotional attitudes of speaker/narrator/author toward the subject of a poem/story

16. figurative language

(figures of speech) language that can't be taken literally

17. a metaphor

f.o.s. (figure of speech): an implied comparison between unlike things

18. a simile

f.o.s.: an explicit or stated comparison between unlike things

19. personification

f.o.s. in which something not human is given human qualities

20. a paradox

f.o.s: statement that is self-contradictory yet true [e.g., that the disobedience of Adam and Eve was a "fortunate fall"]

21. an oxymoron

f.o.s: a briefly stated paradox, e.g., ~jumbo shrimp," "the Fortunate Fall"

22. hyperbole

f.o.s.: deliberate exaggeration or overstatement

23. understatement

f.o.s.: deliberately restrained or subdued language (opposite of hyperbole)

24-26. irony

(l) VERBAL IRONY (f.o.s.): the speaker says the opposite of what she means;
(2) IRONY OF SITUATION (plot device): a character's choices bring about a result contrary to the one intended;
(3) DRAMATIC IRONY (characterizing device): A character's interpretation or awareness is flawed, and audience knows it (e.g., when a narrator or speaker is naive: Macbeth saying "damned [be] all those who trust" the witches)

27. sarcasm

bitter, cutting ridicule (sometimes ironic)

28. a symbol

a concrete object that has abstract meaning [a wedding ring is a symbol of love, commitment, and union]

29. an allegory

a story in which characters, events, and objects become symbols in a universal, mythic, or religious narrative (e.g., "the Fisher King" undertakes a "quest" to "the "Chapel Perilous" to recover the "Holy Grail").

30. an allusion

a passing reference to another piece of writing

31. an apostrophe

an exclamatory address to an imaginary or absent person.

32. a monologue

a speech or writing with one speaker [cf. "dialogue"]

33. a soliloquy

a monologue spoken alone on stage

34. a moral

a simple uplifting or warning lesson expressed in a literary work

35. a theme

a complex truth or mystery about life expressed in a literary work

36. the protagonist

the leading character

37. the antagonist

the character opposing the protagonist

38. point of view

perspective of the person telling the story (first-person narration, omniscient narrator, limited omniscience, etc.)

39. a tragedy

a literary work in which persons of greatness are destroyed, in part because of their greatness

40. a comedy

a literary work treating serious subjects in a light manner and ending happily

41. a satire

a work that ridicule vices and follies for the purpose of trying to reform people

42. a parody

a humorous imitation of a serious work

43. sentimental

excessively emotional, weepy, sappy

44. to scan

to find the meter of a poem

45. meter

a set rhythm, a repeated pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem

46. free verse

poetry without meter or rhyme

47. iambic pentameter

"5-foot meter," each foot "iambic," i.e., having 1 unstressed and 1 stressed syllable (the most common meter in English poetry: da Da / da DA / da DA / da DA / da DA)

48. blank verse

unrhymed iambic pentameter [Shakespeare's usual meter]

49. English sonnet

14-line iambic pentameter poem, 3 quatrains+couplet usu. rhyming abab/cdcd/efef/gg.

50-2. Italian sonnet

14-line iambic pentameter poem, 2 quatrains (an 8-line octave) + a 6-line sestet rhyming "abbaabba/cdecde"; "abbaabba/cdcdcd," etc.

53. alliteration

the repetition of the initial sounds of words

54. assonance

the repetition of vowel sounds

55. onomatopoeia

use of a word that sounds like the denoted noise (e.g., boom, clang, tweet)

56. fable

a simple narrative illustrating a truth about human nature or life in general

57. denouement

the final resolution or "untying" of a plot

58. hubris

excessive pride

59. catharsis

the purging of emotions in an audience

60. novel

a fictional prose narrative

61. plot

the structure of action as presented in fiction or drama

62. foil

63. anachronism

64. antithesis


a character whose traits serve to contrast and set off traits of another character

something out of its normal time.

involves a direct contrast of structurally parallel word groupings, generally for the purpose of contrast. (e.g., sink or swim)


65. archetype : The term is applied to an image, a descriptive detail, a plot pattern, or a character type that occurs frequently I literature, myth, religion, or folklore and is, therefore, believed to evoke profound emotion because it touches the unconscious memory and thus calls into play illogical but strong responses.

66. controlling image: An image or metaphor which runs throughout the work.

67. dialect: The form of a language spoken by people in a particular region or group. Pronunciation, vocabulary, and sentence structure are affected by dialect.

68. diction: Work choice. To discuss a writer's diction is to consider the vocabulary used, the appropriateness of the words, and the vividness of the language.

69. epiphany: A sudden understanding or realization which prior to this was not thought of or understood.

70. euphemism: A device where being indirect replaces directness to avoid unpleasantness.

extended metaphor: An extended metaphor differs from a regular metaphor in that several comparisons are being made.

71. flashback: A section of a literary work that interrupts the sequence of events to relate an event from an earlier time.

72. foreshadowing: The use in a literary work of clues that suggest events that have yet to occur.

73. hyperbole: A deliberate exaggeration or overstatement.

image: A word or phrase that appeals to one or more of the five senses-sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell.

74. imagery: The descriptive or figurative language used in literature to create word pictures for the reader.

75. inversion: A change in the normal word order.

76. juxtaposition: A poetic and rhetorical device in which normally unassociated ideas, words, or phrases are placed next to one another.

77. metonymy: A figure of speech in which the name of one object is substituted for that of another closely associated with it.

78. monologue: A speech by one character in a play, story, or poem.

79. motif: A simple device that serves as a basis for an expanded narrative. The motif is a recurring feature in the word.

80. paradox: A statement that seems contradictory or absurd but that expresses the truth.

81. parallelism: The repetition of a grammatical structure.

82. personification: A type of figurative language in which a nonhuman subject is given human characteristics.

83. repetition: The use, more than once, of any element of language-a sound, a word, a phrase, a clause, or a sentence.

84. rhetorical shift: A change from one tone, attitude, etc. Look for key words like but, however, even though, although, yet, etc.

85. understatement: Saying less than is actually meant, generally in an ironic way.

86. catharsis: A moral and spiritual cleansing; an empathic identification with others (e.g., watching a protagonist overcome great odds to survive can create catharsis; confession purges the soul)

87. characterization: The act of creating and developing a character.

88. mood: The feeling created in the reader by a literary work or passage.

89. suspense: a feeling of curiosity or uncertainty about the outcome of events in a literary work.

90. theme: A central message or insight into life revealed through the literary work. It is not a condensed summary, but rather a generalization about human beings or about life that the literary work communicates.

91. tone: The writer's attitude toward his or her audience and subject. Tone can often be described by a single adjective. Often referred to as attitude.

92. bildungsroman: a coming of age story usually for males.