Allegory: device of using character and/or story elements symbolically to represent an abstraction in addition to the literal meaning

Alliteration: the repetition of sounds, especially initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words (e.g. "she sells sea shells")

Allusion: a direct or indirect reference to something which is presumably commonly known, such as an event, book, myth, place, or work of art

Ambiguity: the multiple meanings, either intentional or unintentional, of a word, phrase, sentence, or passage

Analogy: a similarity or comparison between two different things or the relationship between them

Antecedent: the word, phrase, or clause referred to by a pronoun

Aphorism: a terse statement of known authorship which expresses a general truth or moral principle

Apostrophe: a figure of speech that directly addresses an absent or imaginary person or a personified abstraction, such as liberty or love

Atmosphere: the emotional mood created by the entirety of a literary work, established partly by the setting and partly by the author's choice of objects that are described


Clause: a grammatical unit that contains both a subject and a verb

Colloquial: the use of slang or informalities in speech or writing

Conceit: a fanciful expression, usually in the form of an extended metaphor or surprising analogy between seemingly dissimilar objects

Connotation: the non-literal, associative meaning of a word; the implied, suggested meaning


Denotation: the strict, literal, dictionary definition of a word, devoid of any emotion, attitude, or color

Diction: referring to style, diction refers to the writer's word choices, especially with regard to their correctness, clearness, or effectiveness

Didactic: from the Greek, literally means "teaching"


Euphemism: from the Greek for "good speech," a more agreeable or less offensive substitute for a generally unpleasant word or concept

Extended metaphor: a metaphor developed at great length, occurring frequently in or throughout a work


Figurative language: writing or speech that is not intended to carry literal meaning and is usually meant to be imaginative and vivid

Figure of speech: a device used to produce figurative language


Generic conventions: refers to traditions for each genre

Genre: the major category into which a literary work fits (e.g. prose, poetry, and drama)


Homily: literally "sermon", or any serious talk, speech, or lecture providing moral or spiritual advice

Hyperbole: a figure of speech using deliberate exaggeration or overstatement


Imagery: the sensory details or figurative language used to describe, arouse emotion, or represent abstractions

Infer (inference): to draw a reasonable conclusion from the information presented

Invective: an emotionally violent, verbal denunciation or attack using strong, abusive language

Irony: the contrast between what is stated explicitly and what is really meant

Verbal irony: words literally state the opposite of speaker's true meaning

Situational irony: events turn out the opposite of what was expected

Dramatic irony: facts or events are unknown to a character but known to the reader or audience or other characters in work


Loose sentence: a type of sentence in which the main idea comes first, followed by dependent grammatical units


Metaphor: a figure of speech using implied comparison of seemingly unlike things or the substitution of one for the other, suggesting some similarity

Metonymy: from the Greek "changed label", the name of one object is substituted for that of another closely associated with it (e.g. "the White House" for the President)

Mood: grammatically, the verbal units and a speaker's attitude (indicative, subjunctive, imperative); literarily, the prevailing atmosphere or emotional aura of a word


Narrative: the telling of a story or an account of an event or series of events


Onomatopoeia: natural sounds are imitated in the sounds of words (e.g. buzz, hiss)

Oxymoron: from the Greek for "pointedly foolish," author groups apparently contradictory terms to suggest a paradox


Paradox: a statement that appears to be self-contradictory or opposed to common sense but upon closer inspection contains some degree of truth or validity

Parallelism: from the Greek for "beside one another," the grammatical or rhetorical framing of words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs to give structural similarity

Parody: a work that closely imitates the style or content of another with the specific aim of comic effect and/or ridicule

Pedantic: an adjective that describes words, phrases, or general tone that is overly scholarly, academic, or bookish

Periodic sentences: a sentence that presents its central meaning in a main clause at the end

Personification: a figure of speech in which the author presents or describes concepts, animals, or inanimate objects by endowing them with human attributes or emotions

Point of view: the perspective from which a story is told (first person, third person omniscient, or third person limited omniscient)

Predicate adjective: one type of subject complement, an adjective, group of adjectives, or adjective clause that follows a linking verb

Predicate nominative: another type of subject complement, a noun, group of nouns, or noun clause that renames the subject

Prose: genre including fiction, nonfiction, written in ordinary language


Repetition: the duplication, either exact or approximate, of any element of language

Rhetoric: from the Greek for "orator," the principles governing the art of writing effectively, eloquently, and persuasively

Rhetorical modes: the variety, conventions, and purposes of the major kinds of writing (exposition explains and analyzes information; argumentation proves validity of an idea; description re-creates, invents, or presents a person, place, event or action; narration tells a story or recount an event)


Sarcasm: from the Greek for "to tear flesh," involves bitter, caustic language that is meant to hurt or ridicule someone or something

Satire: a work that targets human vices and follies or social institutions and conventions for reform or ridicule

Semantics: the branch of linguistics which studies the meaning of words, their historical and psychological development (etymology), their connotations, and their relation to one another

Style: an evaluation of the sum of the choices an author makes in blending diction, syntax, figurative language, and other literary devices;  or, classification of authors to a group and comparison of an author to similar authors

Subject complement: the word or clause that follows a linking verb and complements, or completes, the subject of the sentence by either renaming it or describing it

Subordinate clause: contains a subject and verb (like all clauses) but cannot stand alone; does not express complete thought

Syllogism: from the Greek for "reckoning together," a deductive system of formal logic that presents two premises (first "major," second "minor") that inevitably lead to a sound conclusion (e.g. All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, Socrates is mortal)

Symbol (symbolism): anything that represents or stands for something else (natural, conventional, literary)

Syntax: the way an author chooses to join words into phrases, clauses, and sentences


Theme: the central idea or message of a work, the insight it offers into life

Thesis: in expository writing, the thesis statement is the sentence or group of sentences that directly express the author's opinion, purpose, meaning, or proposition

Tone: similar to mood, describes the author's attitude toward his material, the audience, or both

Transition: a word or phrase that links different ideas


Understatement: the ironic minimalizing of fact, presents something as less significant than it is


Wit: intellectually amusing language that surprises and delights


(Compiled by Dr. Christopher Sewell from Stanford University)