Glossary of literary terms

Glossary of Literary Terms

This glossary of literary terms is designed to assist teachers and students to better understand the terminology associated with teaching and learning English and Literacy as a whole.

What are literary terms?

Literary terms exist to improve the process of writing. They are the commonly understood protocols, terms and building blocks of all forms of writing that we can use to assess and develop the craft of writing.

LEARN MORE ABOUT LITERATURE AND MASTERING THE CRAFT OF WRITING?

Be sure to explore our in-depth articles on Literary devices and the elements of literature to better appreciate the craft of writing and the essential elements that lead to high-quality writing skills.

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ACCENTED 

ACCENTED DEFINITION: A WORD, SYLLABLE, OR MUSICAL NOTE OR CHORD) STRESSED OR EMPHASIZED.

ACCENTED EXAMPLE: IN THE WORD “KAPOW” MOST PEOPLE WILL EMPHASIZE THE “POW” STRESSING THAT SYLLABLE. “KA-POW”

You can learn more about stressed syllables and accented words in our complete guide to onomatopoeia here.


AD HOMINEM 

Ad hominem is a logical fallacy wherein you attack the person instead of their argument. 

AD HOMINEM EXAMPLES: You cheated on your English test last semester, and you expect me to believe that you didn’t cheat this time? 

I disagree that we should adopt my opponent’s proposal to ban school uniforms. Everyone knows he is not to be trusted. Last year he cheated on his English test last semester.


ADAGE

An adage expresses a brief piece of wisdom. It is a well-known and simple truth stated with a few words. There are various adages cited worldwide for different purposes. 

ADAGE EXAMPLES:

Better safe than sorry. 

A: “Should I bring my umbrella?” 

B: “Better safe than sorry.” 


ADJECTIVAL PHRASE

An adjectival phrase consists of a group of words (two or more) to provide more information about the noun. Adjectival phrases can come before or after the noun. Adjectival phrases provide more vivid descriptions and valuable context. 

ADJECTIVAL PHRASE EXAMPLES: The toddlers’ mischievous green eyes sparkled in the sunlight. 


ADVENTURE

Adventure is a genre of TV, literature, or film defined as a remarkable or unexpected journey. The adventure happens due to chance, which is a key element of this genre.

Adventure stories usually have problems to be solved and heroes committing brave deeds. These stories often follow the arc of the hero’s journey. 

ADVENTURE EXAMPLE: Peter Parker is a character who embarks on an unexpected journey due to a chance encounter with a radioactive spider. 


ALLEGORY

Allegory definition: A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.

EXAMPLE OF ALLEGORY: George Orwell’s Animal Farm uses allegory through the animals on the farm when they separate into groups that represent the different political factions and ideologies that exist in the real world.

You can learn more about Allegory in our complete guide to literary devices for teachers and students here


ALLITERATION

Alliteration is the repetition of sounds, usually the beginning consonant sounds of two or more closely connected words. Tongue twisters are a great example of the use of alliteration.

Alliteration Example: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers // Lois Laughed Loudly // Michael Mouse Munched Merrily // Santa’s sleigh slid slowly sideways.

You can learn more about Alliteration in our complete guide to hyperbole for teachers and students here


AMBIGUITY

Ambiguity is when an idea or situation is open to interpretation and can be understood in more than one way. It relies on context for the reader or listener to determine the true meaning.

AMBIGUITY EXAMPLES:

Steven picked up his cat wearing a cowboy hat. 

Ambiguity: Was the cat wearing the cowboy hat or was Steven? 


ANACHRONISM

An anachronism is when something happens or is attributed to a different period than when it actually existed. It’s a chronological inconsistency in a piece of artwork, story, or film. Frequently, it occurs as a mistake by the creator of the work), however, it can be done intentionally to draw attention to a subject.

ANACHRONISM EXAMPLE: The use of the electric chair in the movie The Green Mile is an example of an anachronism as prisoners are executed using an electric chair, which didn’t come into use until five years later, in 1940.


ANAGRAM

An anagram is a type of wordplay in which the letters of a word or phrase are rearranged, with each letter only being used once to create new and interesting words and phrases. Anagrams are most interesting when the words are relevant to each other. 

ANAGRAM EXAMPLES: 

Debit card = Bad credit 

Astronomer = moon starer 


ANALOGY

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An analogy compares two seemingly unrelated objects for their shared qualities. Analogies are used to make rational arguments and support ideas by showing comparisons and connections between two things. They are often memorable and help to explain a point. 

ANALOGY EXAMPLE: 

Giving birth is much like going to war. No matter how much you prepare, you are never prepared when the event occurs.


ANALYSIS

Detailed examination of the elements or structure of something.

ANALYSIS EXAMPLE: An analytical essay is an opportunity for students to deep dive on a specific topic such as the author’s purpose, message and moral within their text.

Be sure to check out our top 5 tips for essay writing to get some great advice related to writing an analytical essay.


ANAPHORA

Anaphora is when a specific word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of sentences, phrases, or paragraphs. This repetition emphasizes the phrase while adding rhythm to the passage. It also makes it more memorable and impactful. 

ANAPHORA EXAMPLES: 

We will not back down. We will not give in. We will not give up. 

Also, see Martin Luther King’s 1963 I Have A Dream speech.


ANECDOTE

An anecdote is a concise and personal story. It is typically amusing, informative, or biographical and can be used to disclose the truth in a humorous way. 

ANECDOTE EXAMPLE: In 8th grade, I had to pass by a group of classmates on my way to the restroom. I was so afraid of making eye contact with anyone that I was staring at my feet the whole time. Just as I was about to reach the restroom, I slipped on the wet floor and landed flat on my back, causing a huge scene. Trying to be as inconspicuous as possible led to me being the centre of attention. 


ANTAGONIST

The antagonist is the villain in the story, typically, putting obstacles in the main character’s path. The antagonist gets in the way and causes problems for the protagonist.

ANTAGONIST EXAMPLE: Lord Farquaad is the antagonist in Shrek as he tries to have him killed. 


ANTITHESIS

Antithesis literally means “opposition.” In literature, an antithesis is a pair of statements with strongly contrasting ideas placed in juxtaposition. The pair is written with similar structures to highlight the contrast.

ANTITHESIS EXAMPLES:

Falling in love is the easy part; staying in love is hard. 

No pain, no gain. 


ANTHIMERIA

Anthimeria is the use of a word in a new grammatical form. Typically, we see it when a noun is used as a verb. This is easily done in English as almost any noun lends itself to being used as a verb. Anthimeria provides a perfect example of how language changes over time. 

ANTHIMERIA EXAMPLES: She keeps spamming me with photos from her birthday party. 


APOLOGUE

An apologue is a short story usually intended to convey a moral. They are similar to fables. Apologues often contain animal characters and symbolism and are a prevalent form of children’s stories. 

APOLOGUE EXAMPLES: Animal Farm is an apologue that teaches readers about the dangers of communism.


ARCHAISM

An archaism is an old-fashioned word or expression that is no longer frequently used in modern writing, although many modern readers are still familiar with them. We can also use archaism to simulate older styles of writing. 

ARCHAISM EXAMPLES: With one swing of his mighty sword, he slew the dragon. 


ARCHETYPE

An archetype is a story element that appears in different cultures and across time periods around the world and symbolizes something universal that all human beings can relate to. The most popular characters have a universal archetype, such as the hero, the villain, the mentor, etc. 

ARCHETYPE EXAMPLES:  The Harry Potter stories have many examples of archetypes, including Dumbledore, who serves as ‘the mentor’ guiding Harry and his decisions.


ASSONANCE

The resemblance of sound between syllables of nearby words, arising particularly from the rhyming of two or more stressed vowels, but not consonants (e.g. sonnet, porridge), but also from the use of identical consonants with different vowels (e.g. killed, cold, culled) ‘the use of assonance throughout the poem creates the sound of despair’

EXAMPLE OF ASSONANCE: Sally sells seashells beside the seashore (repetition of the short e and long e sounds) // A stitch in time saves nine // Don’t let the cat out of the bag.

Assonance is frequently used within poetry. Be sure to check our elements of Poetry guide to learn more about assonance within poetry.


BALLAD

A ballad is a type of poem that tells a story and is usually set to music. They are composed of four-line stanzas that follow a specific pattern. The common ABAB or ABCB rhyme schemes create a ‘bouncy’ rhythm. Ballads were originally sung as part of oral tradition in rural societies, and modern ballads are deliberate imitations of these traditional ones. 

Ballad example: Danny Boy by Frederic Weatherly

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountainside.
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling,
It’s you, it’s you must go and I must bide.

Edgar Allen Poe’s mournful tone and use of repetition in his poem Annabel Lee make it a great example of a ballad.

read our complete guide to poetry here to learn about ballads and many more styles of poetry


BATHOS

Bathos is an abrupt change in speech or writing. It is created when a serious subject matter descends into the trivial or silly. These sudden transitions are used to progress into a more humorous subject. Intentional bathos occurs most commonly in satirical writing. 

BATHOS EXAMPLE: 

While on his deathbed, he took his wife’s hand and gazed deeply into her eyes. He beckoned her closer. She moved slowly towards him. These would be his dying words, she thought to herself. His last declaration of love. He opened his mouth slowly and, in a dry, croaking voice, he whispered, “You know, dear, I never did like your chicken casserole.”


BIAS

Bias is a clear prejudice for or against a person or group. It is frequently evidenced as a one-sided illogical hatred or dismissiveness. In literature, it can be seen in the use of sexist, misogynistic, racist, and homophobic language, for example. 

BIAS EXAMPLE: In Shakespeare’s Hamlet,’ the prince demonstrates a gender bias when he says, “Frailty, thy name is woman!” 


BIOGRAPHY

A biography is a story about someone’s life written, composed, or produced by another person. It is usually considered nonfiction and can offer insights into history and society at the time of the subject’s life.

Biography Examples:

  • A beautiful mind by Sylvia Nasar tells the life of John Forbes Nash.
  • First Man by James Hansen accounts the life of Neil Armstrong.
  • Into the Wild is a popular biography written by Jon Krakauer about the adventures and tragic end of Christopher McCandless.

We have a complete guide to writing a biography for teachers and students here.


BUZZWORD

A buzzword is a word or phrase that becomes fashionable for a certain time. Buzzwords often originate from jargon and technical terms and are used informally. 

BUZZWORD EXAMPLE: 

Some buzzwords which originated in science fiction have made their way into mainstream jargon, such as ‘android’ and ‘artificial intelligence’. 


CATHARSIS

Catharsis is an emotional release to achieve a state of spiritual renewal or liberation from stress and anxiety. It can be a radical change that leads to the emotional rejuvenation of a person or the emotional cleansing of a character. It’s what happens when you watch a film or read a novel in which the main character dies tragically, and you suddenly release your pent-up emotions by crying. 

CATHARSIS EXAMPLE:
A very memorable cathartic scene takes place in Pixar’s film Up, where you watch the montage of Carl’s happy life with Ellie before her passing away.


CHARACTER

A person in a novel, play, or film. – It can also refer to the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. 

Example Characters: Batman, Wonder woman, Dora the Explorer and Super Mario.

Read our complete guide to characters and story plot to teach your students how to write engaging characters


CHIASMUS

A chiasmus is a rhetorical device in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order to create an artistic and memorable effect. 

Chiasmus Examples: “Do you like me because I am beautiful? Or am I beautiful because you like me?”

Oscar Hammerstein II


CHRONOLOGY / CHRONOLOGICAL

Chronological is the arrangement of events in the order in which they occurred. When you write a recount, you usually write things in chronological order, from the first thing that happened to the last. Time connectives are often used to help organize chronological writing, e.g., first, next, then, finally, etc.

Chronological Examples: Chronological is the arrangement of events in the order in which they occurred. When you write a recount, you usually write things in chronological order, from the first thing that happened to the last. Time connectives are often used to help organize chronological writing, e.g., first, next, then, finally, etc.

Read our complete guides to writing recounts and writing procedures here for further examples of chronology in writing


CLICHÉ

A cliche is an expression or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of originality. It is often associated with lazy writing.

Cliché Examples: Read between the lines // Better safe than sorry // The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

If your friend was going through her first heartbreak, telling her that there are “plenty more fish in the sea,” may not be very reassuring.

Cliche’s are commonly used in persuasive texts. Be sure to read our complete guide to writing persuasive texts here.


CLIMAX

A climax is when the main problem in the story reaches its dramatic high point.

CLIMAX EXAMPLE: In the climax of Disney’s Mulan, Mulan defeats the Hun army and saves the Emperor. 


COLLOQUIALISM

Colloquialism is the use of everyday speech and informal language in writing. This may also include cultural slang terms to make the writing sound more authentic.

COLLOQUIALISM EXAMPLE: In Canadian film and writing, referencing ‘Timmies’ would be to use a colloquialism to add authenticity to dialogue.

Timmies = Tim Horton’s coffee chain 


COMPARISON

A consideration or estimate of the similarities or dissimilarities between two things or people.

Comparison Example: ‘they drew a comparison between Gandhi’s teaching and that of other teachers’.

Simile poems often compare one thing from / or to another be sure to check our complete guide to simile poetry here.


CONNOTATION

A connotation is the implied meaning of a word or group of words. A connotation typically relies on cultural or emotional associations. 

CONNOTATION EXAMPLE:

‘Our new coworker is rather nosy.’ 

In this instance, nosy has a negative connotation. Words and phrases such as ‘curious’ or ‘interested in others’ would have much more positive connotations. 

CONUNDRUM

A conundrum is a difficult situation, one that is unresolvable or difficult to resolve. It is akin to a dilemma. For example, in a story a character might have a series of options but each one has potentially devastating drawbacks. Introducing a conundrum can be used to heighten the suspense of a story and make the reader feel the inner turmoil of the character.

CONUNDRUM EXAMPLE:

A classmate has cheated on the final exam and you saw him do it. Your teacher offers the class a 10% increase in their exam results if they report any cheating to him. If the cheater is not revealed to the teacher, everyone will lose 10%. The conundrum would be telling your teacher and getting a better grade and losing the trust and respect of your classmates as a result, or getting a lower score on your exam and potentially ruining your overall grade average. 


CONTRAST

The state of being strikingly different from something else in juxtaposition or close association.

Contrast example: ‘The day began cold and blustery, in contrast to almost two weeks of uninterrupted sunshine’  

We have a complete guide to compare and contrast essays here, and be sure to check our guide to teaching compare and contrast here.


DENOTATION

Denotation is to use a word according to its literal definition without any emotion or implied hidden meaning. Denotation in writing helps to convey a very clear point. It is used in many famous speeches creating a memorable impact. Denotation contrasts strongly with connotation which involves a word’s associations rather than simply its literal meaning.

DENOTATION EXAMPLE:

The sky is blue. (Denotation)

I feel so blue. (Connotation)


DENOUEMENT

The denouement is the conclusion of a story and comes after the climax. It is the part where the conflict is resolved and all the various plot strands are finally tied up. In fairy tales, it is the final events that lead to ‘and they all lived happily ever after.’ 

DENOUEMENT EXAMPLE: In Disney’s Frozen, the denouement occurs after Elsa realizes that love is the key to controlling her powers, and Anna has her kiss with Kristoff.


DESCRIPTION

A spoken or written account that explains the features of a person, place, or thing. A good description helps the reader to form images in their mind of the thing being described.

DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE: He was a tiny, fair-haired boy with a boisterous laugh and penchant for wearing pirate hats. 

We have a complete guide to writing a descriptive text here. Be sure to check it out.


DEUS EX MACHINA

Deus ex machina is a device where an unlikely character, force, or event suddenly shows up or occurs to solve a seemingly hopeless conflict. Its function is to bring about a happy or comedic ending in what seems to be impossible circumstances. The effect is sometimes viewed as too abrupt and it can be seen as a sign of a poorly prepared plot. 

DEUS EX MACHINA EXAMPLE: In the final fight scene of The Karate Kid the main character is injured and nearly defeated; his sensei is able to temporarily fix his knee so that he can win his fight.


DIALOGUE

A dialogue is a conversation between two or more characters. It is used to help move the plot along, allow characters to engage in conflict, and convey the thoughts and actions of different characters. 

DIALOGUE EXAMPLE: “And where do you think you’re going?!” Jason’s mom asked. 

“Wherever I want. You’re not the boss of me,” he replied as he stormed out the front door. 


DOPPELGANGER

A doppelganger is a twin, mirror-image or shadow of a character. Sometimes it can be a character’s past or future self or an evil twin reeking havoc on their life. The doppelganger often brings about a conflict in the story, which may be an inner or external one.

DOPPELGANGER EXAMPLE: In the film Black Swan, Natalie Portman’s character is faced with a dark doppelganger who highlights the things she fears the most within herself.


DRAMA

Drama Definition:  A play for theatre, radio, or television. // A genre of narrative // An exciting, emotional, or unexpected event or circumstance.

EXAMPLE OF DRAMA: A classic example of a drama is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. A modern drama example is the film There will be blood.

We have a complete guide to writing narratives that can be found here which covers many aspects of drama.


DYSTOPIA

Dystopia is the opposite of utopia. It’s an imaginary place where everything is as horrible and undesirable as possible. Dystopias often feature government oppression, environmental ruin, and/or intrusive religious control. 

DYSTOPIA EXAMPLE: Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games features a lot of dystopian elements. She explores abuses of power, inequality, oppression, and the loss of free will.


EPIC

Epic Definition:  A long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the past history of a nation.

Epic Examples: Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are the two most famous examples of a poetry epic.

Be sure to read our complete guide to poetry which covers 19 styles of poetry in detail


EPIPHANY

An epiphany is a visionary moment when a character has a sudden realization about themselves or a situation that frequently sparks a change for good.

EPIPHANY EXAMPLE: In Disney’s Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear realizes that he isn’t actually a space ranger but a mass-produced toy.


EPITHET

An epithet is typically an adjective or adjectival phrase that replaces or is used alongside the name of a person, place, or thing. Typically, it emphasizes a characteristic of the thing it is assigned to.

EPITHET EXAMPLE: Pitt the Younger, Pliny the Elder, Alexander the Great, etc.


EUPHEMISM

A euphemism is a polite, idiomatic phrase that we substitute for a harsher, more unpleasant term. A euphemism can be used in a humorous manner or to downplay a situation. 

EUPHMISM EXAMPLES: I’m sorry to hear that your uncle passed away. (Died)

She’s currently between jobs at the moment. (Unemployed)


EXPOSITION

Exposition is a part of a narrative that provides important background information about the characters, setting, or events. 

EXPOSITION EXAMPLE: Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, a beautiful princess was born. Unfortunately, her mother died during childbirth, and her father was so distraught that he sent the child away to be raised by his spinster aunt in a magical forest. 


EXTENDED METAPHOR

An extended metaphor is a metaphor that compares two things over the course of a few sentences, paragraphs, or even an entire text. 

EXTENDED METAPHOR EXAMPLES: He was as wild and as free as the sea. He moved freely between places and people. 

He never slept, and his emotions flowed with the tides. You could never turn your back on him, or he would crash over you like a tidal wave.


FABLE

A fable is a short fictional story with a moral that teaches a lesson. Fables typically use personified animals, objects, or aspects of nature as main characters. 

FABLE EXAMPLE: One of Aesop’s most famous fables is the story of The Hare and the Tortoise


FACT

Fact Definition:  A thing that is known or proved to be true. It is indisputable, and not to be confused with an opinion.

Fact Examples: The Height to the tip of the Eiffel Tower is 324 meters or 1063 feet. // In 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. // The earth is NOT flat.

Teaching students about fact and fiction in the age of misinformation is vital. Read our complete guide here.


FAIRY TALE:

A children’s story about magical and imaginary beings and lands; a fairy story.

EXAMPLE OF A FAIRY TALE: Cinderella is an all-time favourite children’s fairy tale.


FANTASY

Fantasy Definition:  A genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, especially in a setting other than the real world.

Fantasy Examples: Alice in Wonderland and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe are two popular examples of fantasy literature.


FARCE

A farce is a genre of comedy in which everything is highly ridiculous. It seeks to entertain the audience with improbable situations and extravagant exaggerations.

EXAMPLE OF A FARCE: The movie Home Alone is a great example of a farce. It uses physical comedy, miscommunication, and absurd situations to make you laugh. 


FICTION

In literature, fiction is defined as stories that are made up, though they may be based on a true situation. Fictional works primarily take the form of novels, short stories, plays, movies, and TV shows. 

EXAMPLE OF FICTION: The Harry Potter series is an example of a popular work of fiction. 


FIGURE OF SPEECH:

A word or phrase used in a non-literal sense for rhetorical or vivid effect.

FIGURE OF SPEECH EXAMPLE: It is raining cats and dogs.


FLASHBACK

A flashback is a device that moves an audience from the present moment in a narrative to a previous event. It is used to add context or provide crucial background information to a story.

FLASHBACK EXAMPLE: In Ratatouille, a flashback is used to show food’s ability to transport you through time. One taste of the chef’s dish sends the cynical food critic back to his childhood. 


FOLKLORE

Folklore refers to the stories and proverbs told in a particular culture or region. It encompasses the traditions, values, and beliefs of a specific group of people. These stories were originally passed down from one generation to the next orally; however many are now written down. 

FOLKLORE EXAMPLE: Rudyard Kipling wrote several works based on Indian folklore. The Jungle Book was hugely successful and told the story of a young boy raised by wolves and the wisdom he learned from the animals. 


FOLK TALE:

A story originating in popular culture, typically passed on by word of mouth.

EXAMPLES OF FOLK TALES:

Goldilocks and the three bears.

Brer Rabbit

Jack and the Beanstalk.


FORESHADOWING

Foreshadowing is the presentation of signs and events in a fictional work that gives the audience hints about things yet to come. Foreshadowing uses symbols, imagery and language to create atmosphere. 

EXAMPLE OF FORESHADOWING: At the beginning of the movie The Matrix, when Neo is a lonely office worker, his manager says that Neo thinks the rules don’t apply to him. This foreshadowing hints at Neo being ‘the chosen one.’


GENRE

A genre is a category of literature defined by technique, tone, content, and length, such as drama, poetry, or novel. It can also be used to refer to sub-classifications of fiction, such as comedy, tragedy, thriller, etc. 

EXAMPLE OF GENRE: Stephen King is associated with the horror fiction genre. His works shock and frighten the reader and usually feature a terrifying creature. 


GENERALIZATION

A generalization is a broad and often vague statement applied to a group of people, events, experiences, or objects. 

EXAMPLE OF A GENERALIZATION: All girls love the colour pink. 


HAMARTIA

Hamartia is the tragic flaw, vice, character trait, or error that reverses a protagonist’s fortune and leads to their downfall. Hamartia can range from impatience, arrogance, and dishonesty to pride and hypocrisy. 

HAMARTIA EXAMPLE: Iron Man‘s hamartia is his need to control everything and his ego often forgetting that his actions have consequences. 


HOMAGE

Homage is a work created to honour someone or something. It’s a way of publicly showing your respect or creating a tribute to significant things. 

HOMAGE EXAMPLE: The film Hot Fuzz pays homage to several famous action films by having their characters watch those movies in the movie. 


HOMOPHONE

A homophone is when two or more words have the same pronunciation, but different meanings or spellings. 

EXAMPLE OF A HOMOPHONE: I never knew that you bought a new car! 


HUBRIS

Hubris is a character trait that features extreme pride or inflated self-worth, leading a protagonist to ignore an often divine warning. The arrogance of hubris often consumes a character resulting in their ultimate downfall. 

EXAMPLE OF HUBRIS: A modern example of hubris would be a student who is so confident that they’ll ace an exam that they decide not to study and as a result, they fail the exam. 


HYPERBATON

Hyperbaton is a figure of speech in which the writer plays with the typical natural order of words in order to create interestingly arranged sentences. Hyperbaton interrupts the natural flow of sentences and is used to create emphasis. 

HYPERBATON EXAMPLE: Always late, never on time, he was. 


HYPERBOLE

Hyperbole is an intentional exaggeration of speech used for evoking strong emotion or humour. 

HYPERBOLE EXAMPLE: The teacher droned on for hours about the importance of being prepared for the exams. 


IDIOM

An idiom is a phrase that conveys a figurative meaning different from its literal meaning. Context and culture are often critical when understanding idioms. 

IDIOM EXAMPLE: Your brother is a real night owl. I see him heading to the library almost every evening. 


IMAGERY

Imagery is when vivid descriptions are used to create images in the mind of the reader. Imagery includes figurative and metaphorical language to appeal to the reader’s senses and emotions. 

IMAGERY OF EXAMPLE: Her blonde curls sparkled in the sunlight as she skipped joyfully along the beach. 


INFERENCE

Inference is when you use clues given by the author to figure things out about the characters, plot, or setting. You are drawing a conclusion based on the evidence presented to you by the author. 

EXAMPLE OF INFERENCE: If a character in the story is described as wearing a backpack, complaining about homework, and packs a lunch every morning you can reasonably infer that they are a student. 


INNUENDO

An innuendo is an indirect observation about a person or thing that hints at an insult or criticism. It can seem innocent on the surface, but it is typically used in a suggestive or derogatory way. 

EXAMPLE OF INNUENDO: I wish I had your confidence. I could never show up to a party in something that revealing. 


IRONY

Irony is when there is a contrast between expectations and reality. If a character is saying something that doesn’t match the mood or situation, then they are likely being ironic.

EXAMPLE OF IRONY: Monster’s Inc. relies heavily on irony as the film tells the story from the monsters’ point of view and how they themselves are terrified of children. 


JARGON

Jargon is the specific type of language used by a particular profession and is often composed of abbreviations. Jargon is a technical language that is understood by people within that field.

EXAMPLE OF JARGON: The case was adjourned until the spring. (Legal jargon)


JUXTAPOSITION

Juxtaposition is the placement of two or more things side-by-side, to highlight their differences and draw attention to certain qualities. Writers juxtapose divergent elements to emphasize, shock, or create tension. 

EXAMPLE OF JUXTAPOSITION: In The Hunger Games, the author uses juxtaposition to show the stark contrast between the wealthy Capitol and the impoverished districts. 


KENNING

A kenning is a two-word phrase that describes an object, person, or idea through metaphors, creating a more poetic and thought-provoking description. 

EXAMPLE OF A KENNING: They have twin ankle-biters at home. (Young children)


KINESTHESIA

Kinesthesia is a type of imagery that is a poetic device used to create a feeling of natural, or physical bodily movement. 

EXAMPLE OF KINESTHESIA: She tossed her hair back, and her long, flowing curls danced in a cascade down her shoulders.


LAMPOON

Lampoon is a form of satire that is specifically directed at a person, institution, or activity. It occurs when a writer or an artist makes fun of, mocks, or criticizes someone or something, by imitating that thing in a funny way. 

EXAMPLE OF A LAMPOON: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation uses lampooning to poke fun at America’s obsession with the perfect Christmas and the practice of elevating mass consumerism over a family connection. 


LEGEND

A legend is a story about a particular person or place that may or may not have a basis in fact. Legends frequently contain imaginative, exaggerated, or even supernatural material. 

EXAMPLE OF A LEGEND: Faust is a character in a famous German legend who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for knowledge and pleasure. 


LIMERICK

A limerick is a five-line poem with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA) that is almost always used for comedy. They tend to be crude in nature and employ clever wordplay. 

EXAMPLE OF A LIMERICK:

The following is one of Edward Lear’s Limericks:

There was an Old Man of Quebec,

A beetle ran over his neck;

But he cried, ‘With a needle,

I’ll slay you, O beetle!’

That angry Old Man of Quebec. 


LITOTES

Litotes is a device used to express an affirmative by negating its opposite. Litotes is the signature literary device of the double negative, most often used in speech or rhetoric. 

LITOTES EXAMPLE: I can’t say that I won’t have seconds of that dessert. 

She is hardly unattractive. 


MALAPROPISM

Malapropisms are incorrect words used in place of similar-sounding words causing a comedic effect. Malapropisms are often employed in dialogue where a character messes up their speech, resulting in something ludicrous. 

EXAMPLE OF MALAPROISM: I went to the doctor to get a subscription for my allergies. (prescription)


MELODRAMA

Melodrama is an exaggerated form of drama. Melodramas deal with sensational and romantic topics and typically include heroes, villains, and excessively sentimental dialogue. 

EXAMPLE OF MELODRAMA: The once-popular show Beverly Hills 90210 would be classed as a melodrama as it employed stock characters who were often engaged in extremely dramatic situations. 


METAPHOR

A metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a direct comparison by relating one thing to another unrelated thing without using the words “like” or “as”. Metaphors sometimes rely on a cultural understanding and aren’t meant to be taken literally. 

METAPHOR EXAMPLE: She is the black sheep in her family. 


METONYMY

Metonymy is a figure of speech that replaces words with related or associated words, which are typically a part of the larger whole. 

EXAMPLE OF METONYMY: When we refer to the crown, we are using metonymy to reference the entire power of a monarchy. 


MONOLOGUE

A monologue is an extended speech given by a single person. 

Example:

Merida’s monologue in the film Brave talks about destiny. 


MORAL

A moral is a message conveyed by, or a lesson learned from, an event or a story. The moral doesn’t need to be stated by the author; it can be up to the audience or reader to decipher it. 

EXAMPLE OF A MORAL: The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a fable with a powerful moral about the importance of honesty. 


MOTIVE

A reason for doing something.

EXAMPLE OF A MOTIVE: The motive for Batman to fight crime was in part to gain vengeance for the killing of his parents.


NARRATIVE

A narrative is a spoken or written story. The term can also be used as an adjective to describe the style of the story being told.

Narrative Poetry:  Poetry that tells a story.

NARRATIVE EXAMPLE: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a narrative wherein the story is told completely from the main character’s point of view.


NARRATOR:

A person who narrates something, especially a character who recounts the events of a novel or narrative poem.


NEMESIS

A nemesis is a character’s ultimate enemy. They are usually the villain in a story or film. 

NEMESIS EXAMPLE: In the Batman franchise, The Joker is Batman’s nemesis. 


NEOLOGISM

A neologism is a newly minted word or expression coined by a writer. Some neologisms are taken from commonly used words and reworked in order to express a new idea. 

NEOLOGISM EXAMPLE: One of the most relevant neologisms in the past few years has been ‘cancel culture,’ which is the process of publicly shaming or boycotting certain people or groups when you disagree with them. 


NONFICTION

Prose writing that is informative or factual rather than fictional.

EXAMPLES OF NONFICTION: An Encyclopedia and an atlas are examples of nonfiction texts.


NOVEL

A fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.

EXAMPLES OF A NOVEL: Both Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings are examples of highly popular novels.


ODE

An ode is a short poem that has a specific structure that praises a person or object. It is lyrical in nature; however, it’s usually solemn in its tone. 

EXAMPLE OF AN ODE: John Keats has a poem called Ode on a Grecian Urn which is one of the most celebrated odes in English literature. 


ONOMATOPOEIA

The formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g. cuckoosizzle ).


OVERSTATEMENT

Overstatement is an act of stating something more profoundly than it actually is for the sake of humor or emphasis. 

OVERSTATEMENT EXAMPLE: I would die if I ever met Tom Hardy. 


OXYMORON

An oxymoron is a figure of speech wherein two contradicting elements are combined for humorous effect or to reveal a paradox. 

OXYMORON EXAMPLE: My brother and I had a friendly fight over who would have to wash the dishes. 


PARABLE

A parable is a short story that uses symbolism and metaphors to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. 

EXAMPLE OF A PARABLE: The Bible tale of the Good Samaritan is a well-known parable. 


PERIPETEIA

Peripeteia is a sudden change in fortunes from good to bad. 

PERIPETEIA EXAMPLE: In the film Million Dollar Baby, the protagonist’s life is drastically changed as a result of a fateful boxing injury.


PERSONIFICATION

Personification is a kind of metaphor in which you assign an inanimate object or animal qualities or emotions usually only associated with humans.  

EXAMPLE OF PERSONIFICATION: The rising sun played hide and seek behind the trees. 


PLOT

In a narrative, a plot is the sequence of events that determines how the story develops, unfolds, and moves in time.

EXAMPLE OF A PLOT: A common plotline involves a protagonist beating a monster in order to save everyone. 


POETRY

Literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm; poems collectively or as a genre of literature.


POINT OF VIEW

(in fictional writing) the narrator’s position in relation to a story being told.


PREDICTIONS

A thing predicted; a forecast.


PROLOGUE

A prologue is a short introduction that gives background information and advances the plot. 

PROLOGUE EXAMPLES: One of the most famous prologues was a sonnet written by William Shakespeare for Romeo and Juliet to introduce the story’s main themes. 


PROSE

Prose is any non-verse writing wherein the author communicates with the reader in sentences. 

EXAMPLE OF PROSE: Novels, short stories, biographies, newspaper reports, etc.


PROTAGONIST

The protagonist is the main character in a story and provides the primary focus for the reader’s attention. 

PROTAGONIST EXAMPLE: Katniss Everdeen is the protagonist in The Hunger Games series. 


PUN

A pun is a play on words that relies on words with more than one meaning or two words that sound the same. 

EXAMPLE OF A PUN: Don’t worry my computer won’t byte


QUEST

A quest is a mission that someone takes in order to achieve a goal or solve a mystery. It serves as a device in a narrative plot wherein the main character overcomes a series of obstacles and typically returns with some new knowledge. 

QUEST EXAMPLE: Guardians of the Galaxy is an entertaining film about a quest to save the whole galaxy. 


REBUS

A rebus combines illustrations with individual words to create a message.

EXAMPLE OF A REBUS:

I ❤️U 


RHETORIC

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion and the language that is used to convince the reader. Rhetoric uses various tools to entertain, persuade, and move the audience. 

RHETORIC EXAMPLE: Hyperbole is an example of rhetoric. 


RHYME

A short poem in which the sound of the word or syllable at the end of each line corresponds with that at the end of another.


RHYTHM

Rhythm is a literary device that demonstrates different patterns based on stressed and unstressed syllables. It provides the pace and beat of the poem. 

RHYTHM EXAMPLE: Iambic pentameter is an example of rhythm in poetry that closely follows everyday speech. 


SATIRE

Satire is the use of humor or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s decisions or actions. 

EXAMPLE OF SATIRE: Dreamworks’s Shrek is an example of satire as it gently pokes fun at human behaviours throughout the film. 


SCIENCE FICTION

Fiction based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes, frequently portraying space or time travel and life on other planets.

EXAMPLES OF SCIENCE FICTION: Both Star Wars and Star Trek fall strongly into the category of science fiction.


SEQUENCE

A particular order in which related things follow each other.


SETTING

The place or type of surroundings where something is positioned or where an event takes place.


SIMILE

A simile is a literary device that uses “like” or “as” to compare two different things, implying that they have something in common. 

EXAMPLE OF A SIMILE: He was as wild as the ocean. 


SOLUTION

A means of solving a problem or dealing with a difficult situation.


SONNET

A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem with a fixed rhyme scheme, which often uses iambic pentameter. Sonnets are Italian in origin but are frequently associated with Shakespeare. 

SONNET EXAMPLE: Francesco Petrarca’s sonnet Soleasi Nel Mio Cor examines the poet’s love of a beautiful woman.


STANZA

A group of lines forming the basic recurring metrical unit in a poem; a verse.


SURREALISM

Surrealism is a literary and artistic movement that tries to integrate imagination and reality into something bizarre and disjointed. It’s the combination of conscious and unconscious thought. 

EXAMPLE OF SURREALISM: Video games such as Resident Evil have begun using Kafkaesque surrealism in their nightmarish scenes. 


SYMBOLISM

Symbolism uses objects, places, words, or ideas to represent abstract concepts. 

A symbol can evoke emotions and add deeper meaning to a film or narrative. Symbols are ever-present in our lives, such as the four-leaf clover representing good luck. 

EXAMPLE OF SYMBOLISM: One of the most notable symbols in modern film is The One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. It represents greed, temptation, and evil. 


THEME

An idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.


TONE

Tone refers to the stylistic qualities of the writing, such as formality, dialect, and mood. It is the author’s attitude towards a topic. 

EXAMPLE OF TONE: The tone of Diary of a Wimpy Kid is generally light and optimistic, but it also depends on how the protagonist is feeling.


TRAGEDY

In literature, a tragedy is a genre of drama that presents an admirable and courageous protagonist who confronts powerful forces and is brought to ruin by a critical flaw or act of fate. Literary tragedies recount a tragic hero’s downfall from a high position of esteem to a low one of despair and destruction. Tragedies are the oldest form of storytelling in Western culture, and the earliest known Greek plays are all tragedies. 

EXAMPLE OF A TRAGEDY: A modern example of tragedy is Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite which focuses on the class divide and a family’s inevitable downfall. 


UNDERSTATEMENT

Understatement is a figure of speech where a writer presents a situation or thing as if it is smaller or less important than it really is. An understatement is used for a comedic effect or out of modesty, in order not to appear boastful. 

EXAMPLE OF AN UNDERSTATEMENT: Aron looked down at his little baby sister who was cradled in their mother’s arms. Her big eyes gazed up at him. He had never seen anything so beautiful in all his life.

“What do you think, Aron? Isn’t she gorgeous?” asked his Mum.

“She’s ok, I suppose,” Aron answered.


UTOPIA

Utopia is the perfect society, a paradise in which everyone is happy and everything runs smoothly. Utopian fiction takes place in an idealized world that aligns with the author’s personal philosophy. Utopian fiction and its opposite, dystopian fiction, are commonly found in science fiction literature. 

UTOPIA EXAMPLE: Ecotopia is a novel by Ernest Callenbach that describes a utopian and ecologically sound society. It was largely based on the author’s ideas for the green movement of the future. 


VERISIMILITUDE

Verisimilitude is a work of fiction that portrays situations, dialogue, and characters in a way that seems authentic and truthful, despite the fact that those elements are made up. It is a semblance of truth, an offering of alternative history or reality. 

VERISIMILITUDE EXAMPLE: In his book titled If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer, O. J. Simpson outlines what is claimed to be an alternate reality where the author is guilty of the murder of his wife. The book is an example of verisimilitude. 


VIGNETTE

A vignette is a short, impressionistic scene or description that focuses on one particular moment. A vignette is a sketch that might be part of some larger work, or a complete description in itself.  

VIGNETTE EXAMPLE:  Ernest Hemingway’s work A Well-Lighted Café is a great example of a descriptive vignette that creates an atmosphere that leaves a strong impression on the reader.. 

It was very late and everyone had left the cafe except an old man who sat in the shadow the leaves of the tree made against the electric light. In the daytime the street was dusty, but at night the dew settled the dust and the old man liked to sit late because he was deaf and now at night it was quiet and he felt the difference. The two waiters inside the cafe knew that the old man was a little drunk, and while he was a good client they knew that if he became too drunk he would leave without paying, so they kept watch on him.


VILLAIN

A villain is the bad guy of the piece, the one who comes up with diabolical plans to destroy the hero. Frequently, they are an archetypal characters. The villain isn’t necessarily born evil, they are often molded over time as a result of difficult circumstances and choices. 

VILLAIN EXAMPLE: Aquaman’s mortal enemy and the main villain of the comic book series is Black Manta. 


VOICE

The distinctive tone or style of a literary work or author.


ZEUGMA

Zeugma is a figure of speech where a verb or preposition joins two objects within the same phrase while conveying two different meanings. Zeugmas may confuse the reader or inspire them to think more deeply. 

ZEUGMA EXAMPLE: She was looking for motivation, a personal trainer, and some dessert. 


ZOOMORPHISM

Zoomorphism is a literary technique that ascribes the qualities of an animal to a person, deity, or object. It can be a helpful tool for describing a character to emphasise a certain characteristic. We can also use it with inanimate objects, such as when we call someone’s room a ‘pigsty.’ 

ZOOMORPHISM EXAMPLE: I didn’t know that leaving my dirty dishes in the sink would ruffle your feathers.