Welcome to the website dedicated to literary devices (literary terms). Here you will find a list literary devices (literary terms) with definitions and examples. Please feel free to post your thoughts and vote on your favorite literary device.
A hyperbole is a literary device wherein the author uses specific words and phrases that exaggerate and overemphasize the basic crux of the statement in order to produce a grander, more noticeable effect. The purpose of hyperbole is to create a larger-than-life effect and overly stress a specific point. Such sentences usually convey an action or sentiment that is generally not practically/ realistically possible or plausible but helps emphasize an emotion.

“I am so tired I cannot walk another inch” or “I’m so sleepy I might fall asleep standing here”.

In literature, one of the strongest devices is imagery wherein the author uses words and phrases to create “mental images” for the reader. Imagery helps the reader to visualize more realistically the author’s writings. The usage of metaphors, allusions, descriptive words and similes amongst other literary forms in order to “tickle” and awaken the readers’ sensory perceptions is referred to as imagery. Imagery is not limited to only visual sensations, but also refers to igniting kinesthetic, olfactory, tactile, gustatory, thermal and auditory sensations as well.

The gushing brook stole its way down the lush green mountains, dotted with tiny flowers in a riot of colors and trees coming alive with gaily chirping birds.

In literature the internal rhyme is a practice of forming a rhyme in only one lone line of verse. An internal rhyme is also known as the middle rhyme because it is typically constructed in the middle of a line to rhyme with the bit at the end of the same metrical line.

The line from the famed poem Ancient Mariner, “We were the first that ever burst”.

The term ‘inversion’ refers to the practice of changing the conventional placement of words. It is a literary practice typical of the older classical poetry genre. In present day literature it is usually used for the purpose of laying emphasis this literary device is more prevalent in poetry than prose because it helps to arrange the poem in a manner that catches the attention of the reader not only with its content but also with its physical appearance; a result of the peculiar structuring.

In the much known and read Paradise Lost, Milton wrote:

“Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit

Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste

Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,

With loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,

Sing Heav'nly Muse. . .”

The use of irony in literature refers to playing around with words such that the meaning implied by a sentence or word is actually different from the literal meaning. Often irony is used to suggest the stark contrast of the literal meaning being put forth. The deeper, real layer of significance is revealed not by the words themselves but the situation and the context in which they are placed.

Writing a sentence such as, “Oh! What fine luck I have!”. The sentence on the surface conveys that the speaker is happy with their luck but actually what they mean is that they are extremely unhappy and dissatisfied with their (bad) luck.

Juxtaposition is a literary device wherein the author places a person, concept, place, idea or theme parallel to another. The purpose of juxtaposing two directly or indirectly related entities close together in literature is to highlight the contrast between the two and compare them. This literary device is usually used for etching out a character in detail, creating suspense or lending a rhetorical effect.

In Paradise Lost, Milton has used juxtaposition to draw a parallel between the two protagonists, Satan and God, who he discusses by placing their traits in comparison with one another to highlight their differences.

The use of Kennings in literature is characteristically related to works in Old English poetry where the author would use a twist of words, figure of speech or magic poetic phrase or a newly created compound sentence or phrase to refer to a person, object, place, action or idea. The use of imagery and indicative, direct and indirect references to substitute the proper, formal name of the subject is known as kennings. The use of kennings was also prevalent in Old Norse and Germanic poetry.

Kennings are rare in modern day language. Here are a few examples from Beowulf:

Battle-sweat = blood
Sky-candle = sun
Whale-road = ocean
Light-of-battle = sword

Litotes are figures of rhetoric speech that use an understated statement of an affirmative by using a negative description. Rarely talked about, but commonly used in modern day conversations, litotes are a discreet way of saying something unpleasant without directly using negativity. Sometimes called an ironical understatement and/or an avoidance of a truth which can be either positive or negative. Common examples: “I'm not feeling bad,” or “he's definitely not a rocket scientist.” The actual meanings are: “I am feeling well,” and “he is not smart.” Litotes were used frequently in Old English Poetry and Literature, and can be found in the English, Russian, German, Dutch and French languages.

In everyday conversations in the 21st century, one may hear expressions like:

“not the brightest bulb”
“not a beauty”
“not bad”
“not unfamiliar”

These are all examples of negative litotes that mean the opposite: “a dim bulb, or dumb,” “plain in appearance,” “good,” and “knows very well.” Perhaps our society is not trying to be humorous or sarcastic, but kinder?

Sometimes double negatives in literature, music and films create a litote that was not intended; for instance in the Rolling Stones hit “I Can't Get No Satisfaction,” actually means “I CAN receive satisfaction.”

Perhaps some best description litotes are found in the bible: take for instance, Jeremiah 30:19:

“I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will make them honored, and they shall not be small.” Correctly interpreted, he is saying “there will be many and they will be great or large.”

Malapropism in literature refers to the practice of misusing words by substituting words with similar sounding words that have different, often unconnected meanings, and thus creating a situation of confusion, misunderstanding and amusement. Malapropism is used to convey that the speaker or character is flustered, bothered, unaware or confused and as a result cannot employ proper diction. A trick to using malapropism is to ensure that the two words (the original and the substitute) sound similar enough for the reader to catch onto the intended switch and find humor in the result.

In the play Much Ado About Nothing, noted playwright William Shakespeare’s character Dogberry says, "Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons." Instead, what the character means to say is “"Our watch, sir, have indeed apprehended two suspicious persons."

Metaphors are one of the most extensively used literary devices. A metaphor refers to a meaning or identity ascribed to one subject by way of another. In a metaphor, one subject is implied to be another so as to draw a comparison between their similarities and shared traits. The first subject, which is the focus of the sentences is usually compared to the second subject, which is used to convey a degree of meaning that is used to characterize the first. The purpose of using a metaphor is to take an identity or concept that we understand clearly (second subject) and use it to better understand the lesser known element (the first subject).

“Henry was a lion on the battlefield”. This sentence suggests that Henry fought so valiantly and bravely that he embodied all the personality traits we attribute to the ferocious animal. This sentence implies immediately that Henry was courageous and fearless, much like the King of the Jungle.

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