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.

Literary Terms | 1 elements of literature guide | Glossary of literary terms |
Literary Terms | 1 literary devices | Glossary of literary terms |


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.




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


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

Allegory example: George Orwell’s Animal Farm uses allegory through the animals on the farm when they separate in to 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 Definition: The occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. ‘the alliteration of ‘sweet birds sang’’

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


Analysis Definition: 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


Assonance Definition: 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’

Assonance Example: Sally sells sea shells beside the sea shore (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 Definition:  A poem or song narrating a story in short stanzas. Traditional ballads are typically of unknown authorship, having been passed on orally from one generation to the next.

Ballad example: Danny Boy by Frederic Weatherly

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

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

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Biography Definition:  An account of someone’s life written by someone else. It can be either a complete account or a portion of relevance.

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.

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


Character Definition:  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 Definition:  A rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order. 

Chiasmus Examples: Do you love me because I am beautiful? Or am I beautiful because you love me?


Chronological Definition:  following the order in which they occurred.

Chronological Examples: Diary writing, Procedural Texts and Recounts are generally written in chronological order.

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

Literary Terms - Cliche


Cliché Definition:  A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.‘that old cliché ‘a woman’s place is in the home’’

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

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


Comparison Definition:  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.


Contrast Definition:  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.


Description Definition:  A spoken or written account of a person, object, or event.

Description Example: The cowboy slowly stepped down from his sweating and broken horse, as the dust settled around the dimly lit stable.

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


Dialogue Definition:  A conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or film.

Dialogue Example: Jenny: “Michael where are you going for your vacation?” Michael: “To the south of France”


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

Drama Example: 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.


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


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.


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.

Fiction:  Literature in the form of prose, especially novels, that describes imaginary events and people.

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

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

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

Form:  The structure of a word, phrase, sentence, or discourse.

Generalization:  A general statement or concept obtained by inference from specific cases.

Genre:  A style or category of art, music, or literature.


Hyperbole:  Exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

Idiom:  A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g. over the moon, see the light).

Imagery:  Visually descriptive or figurative language, especially in a literary work.

Inference:  A conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning. read our complete guide to inference here.


Irony:  The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

Kenning:  A compound expression in Old English and Old Norse poetry with metaphorical meaning, e.g. oar-steed = ship.

Metaphor:  A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

Metonymy:  A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

Moral:  A lesson that can be derived from a story or experience.

Motive:  A reason for doing something.

Narrative Poetry:  Poetry that tells a story.

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

Non-fiction:  Prose writing that is informative or factual rather than fictional.

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

Ode:  A lyric poem, typically one in the form of an address to a particular subject, written in varied or irregular meter.


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

Oxymoron:  A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g. faith unfaithful kept him falsely true).

Personification:  The attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something non-human, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form.

Plot:  The main events of a play, novel, film, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.

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.

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:  The measured flow of words and phrases in verse or prose as determined by the relation of long and short or stressed and unstressed syllables.

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.

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 figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (e.g. as brave as a lion).

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

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

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

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