See also: Glossary of poetry terms, Literary criticism, Literary theory, and Index of literature articles
The following is a list of literary terms; that is, those words used in discussion, classification, criticism, and analysis of poetry, novels, and picture books.
|Abecedarius||an acrostic in which the first letter of every word, strophe or verse follows the order of the alphabet|||
|Accent||Noun used to describe the stress put on a certain syllable while speaking a word. Ex.- In Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” there has been much controversy over the pronunciation of “Abora” in line 41. According to Herbert Tucker of the website For Better For Verse, the accent is on the first and last syllable of the word, making its pronunciation: AborA.|||
|Accentual verse||Accentual verse is common in children's poetry; nursery rhymes and the less well-known skipping-rope rhymes are the most common form of accentual verse in the English Language.|||
|Acrostic||An acrostic is a poem or other form of writing in which the first letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message. An Acrostic By Edgar Allan Poe.|||
|Adjective||a word or phrase which modifies a noun or pronoun, grammatically added to describe, identify, or quantify the related noun or pronoun.|||
|Adverb||A describing word used to modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Typically ending in -ly, adverbs answer the questions when, how, and how many times.|||
|Allegory||A specific type of writing in which the settings, characters, and events stand for other specific people, events, or ideas.|||
|Alliteration||Repetition of the initial sounds of words, as in “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers”|||
|Allusion||A figure of speech that makes a reference to, or representation of, people, places, events, literary work, myths, or works of art, either directly or by implication.|||
|Anachronism||Erroneous use of an object, event, idea, or word that does not belong to that time period.|||
|Anagnorisis||The point in a plot where a character recognizes the true state of affairs|||
|Analepsis||An interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point the story has reached|||
|Analogy||Comparison between two things that are otherwise unlike. H|||
|Anapest||a version of the foot in poetry in which the first two syllables of a line are unstressed, followed by a stressed syllable. Ex. Intercept (the syllables in and ter are unstressed followed by cept which is stressed)|||
|Anecdote||a short account of a particular incident or event, especially of an interesting or amusing nature.|||
|Antagonist||the adversary of the hero or protagonist of a drama or other literary work: Iago is the antagonist of Othello.|||
|Antecedent||A word or phrase referred to by any relative pronoun.|||
|Apollonian and Dionysian|
|Apostrophe||A figure of speech in which the speaker addresses an object, concept, or person (usually absent) that is unable to respond.|||
|Astrophic||stanzas having no particular pattern.|||
|Asyndeton||The omission of conjunctions between clauses. An example is when John F. Kennedy said on January the 20th 1961 "...that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."|||
|Beast fable (beast epic)|
|Blank verse||Verse written in iambic pentameter without rhyme.|||
|Capa y espada|
|Chain of Being|
|Chanson de geste|
|Closed heroic couplet|
|Comedy of errors|
|Comedy of humors|
|Comedy of intrigue|
|Comedy of manners|
|Coup de théâtre|
|Couplet||Two lines with rhyming ends. Shakespeare often used a couplet to end a sonnet.|||
|Crown of sonnets|
|Death of the novel|
|Dependent Clause||A group of words containing a subject and a verb, but does not equate to a complete thought.|||
|Deus ex machina|
|Dialogic||A work primarily featuring dialogue; a piece of, relating to, or written in dialogue.|||
|Diction||Also known as "lexis" and "word choice," the term refers to the words selected for use in any oral, written, or literary expression. Diction often centers on opening a great array of lexical possibilities with the connotation of words by maintaining first the denotation of words.|||
|Didactic||Intended to teach, instruct, or have a moral lesson for the reader.|||
|Dimeter||A line of verse made up of two feet (two stresses).|||
|Dissociation of sensibility|
|Dolce stil nuove|
|Drama of sensibility||Using ones senses as a medium for writing to relay emotion and the perception of sensations of oneself or of others and play upon those sensations to create a relatability stemming from the human condition.|||
|Duple meter/duple rhythm|
|Ekphrasis||A vivid, graphic, or dramatic written commentary or description of another visual form of art.|||
|End-stopped line||A line in poetry that ends in a pause—indicated by a specific punctuation, such as a period or a semicolon.|||
|Enjambment||The continuing of a syntactic unit over the end of a line. Enjambment occurs when the sense of the line overflows the meter and line break.|||
|Épater la bourgeoisie|
|Epic poetry||A long poem that narrates the victories and adventures of a hero. It can be identified by lofty or elegant diction.|||
|Explication de texte|
|Exposition (literary technique)|
|Exposition (dramatic structure)|
|Fancy and imagination|
|Feminine rhyme||A rhyme with two syllables. One is stressed, one is unstressed. Examples: “Merry”, “Coffee”.|||
|Figure of speech|
|Fin de siècle|
|Flashback||An interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point the story has reached|||
|Flashforward||An interjected scene that takes the narrative forward in time from the current point of the story in literature, film, television and other media|||
|Free indirect discourse|
|Future||Expresses a condition happening in the future by using shall, will, am, is, are and going to with a verb. Adverbs are also used with the present tense of the verb to show future tense.|||
|Genius and talent|
|Haibun||Prose written in a terse, haikai style, accompanied by haiku|||
|Haikai||Broad genre comprising the related forms haikuhaikai-renga and haibun|||
|Haiku||Modern term for standalone hokku|||
|Heresy of paraphrase|
|Hexameter||A line from a poem hat has six feet in its meter. Another name for hexameter is "The Alexandrine."|||
|Hokku||In Japanese poetry, the opening stanza of a renga or renku (haikai no renga)|||
|Hyperbaton||a figure of speech that alters the syntactic order of the words in a sentence or separates normally-associated words.The term may also be used more generally for all different figures of speech that transpose the natural word order in sentences.|||
|Hypotactic||A term where different subordinate clauses are used in a sentence to qualify a single verb, or modify it.|||
|In medias res|
|Interjection||A word that’s tacked onto a sentence in order to add strong emotion. It’s grammatically unrelated to the rest of the sentence. They are usually followed by an exclamation point.|||
|Intertextuality||Refers to the way in which different works of literature interact with and relate to one another in order to construct meaning.|||
|Ji-amari||The use of one or more extra syllabic units (on) above the 5/7 standard in Japanese poetic forms such as waka and haiku.|||
|Jitarazu||The use of fewer syllabic units (on) than the 5/7 standard in Japanese poetic forms such as waka and haiku.|||
|Kigo||In Japanese poetry, a seasonal word or phrase required in haiku and renku|||
|Kireji||In Japanese poetry, a "cutting word" required in haiku and hokku|||
|Lacuna||gap, hole, conspicuous absence|
|L'art pour l'art|
|Level stress (even accent)|
|Local color[disambiguation needed]|
|Lyric||A short poem with a song-like quality, or designed to be set to music; often conveying feelings, emotions, or personal thoughts.|||
|Marxist literary criticism|
|Melodrama||A work that is characterized by extravagant theatricality and by the predominance of plot and physical action over characterization|||
|Metaphor||Making a comparison between two unlike things without using the words like, as, or than.|||
|Mystery play (miracle play)|
|Mise en scène|
|Mock-heroic (mock epic)|
Students are asked to write literary analysis essays because this type of assignment encourages you to think about how and why a poem, short story, novel, or play was written. To successfully analyze literature, you’ll need to remember that authors make specific choices for particular reasons. Your essay should point out the author’s choices and attempt to explain their significance.
Another way to look at a literary analysis is to consider a piece of literature from your own perspective. Rather than thinking about the author’s intentions, you can develop an argument based on any single term (or combination of terms) listed below. You’ll just need to use the original text to defend and explain your argument to the reader.
Allegory - narrative form in which the characters are representative of some larger humanistic trait (i.e. greed, vanity, or bravery) and attempt to convey some larger lesson or meaning to life. Although allegory was originally and traditionally character based, modern allegories tend to parallel story and theme.
- William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily- the decline of the Old South
- Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde- man’s struggle to contain his inner primal instincts
- District 9- South African Apartheid
- X Men- the evils of prejudice
- Harry Potter- the dangers of seeking “racial purity”
Character - representation of a person, place, or thing performing traditionally human activities or functions in a work of fiction
- Protagonist - The character the story revolves around.
- Antagonist - A character or force that opposes the protagonist.
- Minor character - Often provides support and illuminates the protagonist.
- Static character - A character that remains the same.
- Dynamic character - A character that changes in some important way.
- Characterization - The choices an author makes to reveal a character’s personality, such as appearance, actions, dialogue, and motivations.
Look for: Connections, links, and clues between and about characters. Ask yourself what the function and significance of each character is. Make this determination based upon the character's history, what the reader is told (and not told), and what other characters say about themselves and others.
Connotation - implied meaning of word. BEWARE! Connotations can change over time.
- confidence/ arrogance
- mouse/ rat
- cautious/ scared
- curious/ nosey
- frugal/ cheap
Denotation - dictionary definition of a word
Diction - word choice that both conveys and emphasizes the meaning or theme of a poem through distinctions in sound, look, rhythm, syllable, letters, and definition
Figurative language - the use of words to express meaning beyond the literal meaning of the words themselves
- Metaphor - contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme without using like or as
- You are the sunshine of my life.
- Simile - contrasting to seemingly unalike things to enhance the meaning of a situation or theme using like or as
- What happens to a dream deferred, does it dry up like a raisin in the sun
- Hyperbole - exaggeration
- I have a million things to do today.
- Personification - giving non-human objects human characteristics
- America has thrown her hat into the ring, and will be joining forces with the British.
Foot - grouping of stressed and unstressed syllables used in line or poem
- Iamb - unstressed syllable followed by stressed
- Made famous by the Shakespearian sonnet, closest to the natural rhythm of human speech
- How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
- Spondee - stressed stressed
- Used to add emphasis and break up monotonous rhythm
- Blood boil, mind-meld, well- loved
- Trochee - stressed unstressed
- Often used in children’s rhymes and to help with memorization, gives poem a hurried feeling
- While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
- Anapest - unstressed unstressed stressed
- Often used in longer poems or “rhymed stories”
- Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
- Dactyls - stressed unstressed unstressed
- Often used in classical Greek or Latin text, later revived by the Romantics, then again by the Beatles, often thought to create a heartbeat or pulse in a poem
- Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
The iamb stumbles through my books; trochees rush and tumble; while anapest runs like a hurrying brook; dactyls are stately and classical.
Imagery - the author’s attempt to create a mental picture (or reference point) in the mind of the reader. Remember, though the most immediate forms of imagery are visual, strong and effective imagery can be used to invoke an emotional, sensational (taste, touch, smell etc) or even physical response.
Meter - measure or structuring of rhythm in a poem
Plot - the arrangement of ideas and/or incidents that make up a story
- Foreshadowing - When the writer clues the reader in to something that will eventually occur in the story; it may be explicit (obvious) or implied (disguised).
- Suspense - The tension that the author uses to create a feeling of discomfort about the unknown
- Conflict - Struggle between opposing forces.
- Exposition - Background information regarding the setting, characters, plot.
- Rising Action - The process the story follows as it builds to its main conflict
- Crisis - A significant turning point in the story that determines how it must end
- Resolution/Denouement - The way the story turns out.
Point of View - pertains to who tells the story and how it is told. The point of view of a story can sometimes indirectly establish the author's intentions.
- Narrator - The person telling the story who may or may not be a character in the story.
- First-person - Narrator participates in action but sometimes has limited knowledge/vision.
- Second person - Narrator addresses the reader directly as though she is part of the story. (i.e. “You walk into your bedroom. You see clutter everywhere and…”)
- Third Person (Objective) - Narrator is unnamed/unidentified (a detached observer). Does not assume character's perspective and is not a character in the story. The narrator reports on events and lets the reader supply the meaning.
- Omniscient - All-knowing narrator (multiple perspectives). The narrator knows what each character is thinking and feeling, not just what they are doing throughout the story. This type of narrator usually jumps around within the text, following one character for a few pages or chapters, and then switching to another character for a few pages, chapters, etc. Omniscient narrators also sometimes step out of a particular character’s mind to evaluate him or her in some meaningful way.
Rhythm - often thought of as a poem’s timing. Rhythm is the juxtaposition of stressed and unstressed beats in a poem, and is often used to give the reader a lens through which to move through the work. (See meter and foot)
Setting - the place or location of the action. The setting provides the historical and cultural context for characters. It often can symbolize the emotional state of characters. Example – In Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the crumbling old mansion reflects the decaying state of both the family and the narrator’s mind. We also see this type of emphasis on setting in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.
Speaker - the person delivering the poem. Remember, a poem does not have to have a speaker, and the speaker and the poet are not necessarily one in the same.
Structure (fiction) - The way that the writer arranges the plot of a story.
Look for: Repeated elements in action, gesture, dialogue, description, as well as shifts in direction, focus, time, place, etc.
Structure(poetry) - The pattern of organization of a poem. For example, a Shakespearean sonnet is a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter. Because the sonnet is strictly constrained, it is considered a closed or fixed form. An open or free form poem has looser form, or perhaps one of the author’s invention, but it is important to remember that these poems are not necessarily formless.
Symbolism - when an object is meant to be representative of something or an idea greater than the object itself.
- Cross - representative of Christ or Christianity
- Bald Eagle - America or Patriotism
- Owl - wisdom or knowledge
- Yellow - implies cowardice or rot
Tone - the implied attitude towards the subject of the poem. Is it hopeful, pessimistic, dreary, worried? A poet conveys tone by combining all of the elements listed above to create a precise impression on the reader.