50 Literary Devices (Definitions)

alliteration
the repetition of the first sound in words

Alice’s aunt ate apples and acorns around August.
Better butter makes a batter better.

allusion
a reference to something literary, mythological, or historical that the author assumes the reader will recognize

“When she lost her job, she acted like a Scrooge, and refused to buy anything that wasn’t necessary.”

“He was a Good Samaritan yesterday when he helped the lady start her car.”

assonance
vowels are repeated in words that are close to each other

“Men sell the wedding bells.”

The same vowel sound of the short vowel “-e-” repeats itself in almost all the words

anaphora
the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses

“I want my money right now, right here, all right?”

metaphor
a comparison between two unlike things

Her voice is music to his ears.
The assignment was a breeze.
The skies of his future began to darken.

simile
comparing two unlike things usually formed with ‘like’ or ‘as’

He’s as happy as a clam.
Her cheeks are red like a rose.

hyperbole
a figure of speech that uses exaggeration to express strong emotion, make a point, or evoke humor

You always get to go first!
I never get the answer right.

imagery
when the writer or speaker uses their descriptions to access the senses of the reader of listener

consonance
the repetition of consonant sounds in the middle or at the end of words

enjambment
when the writer uses line breaks meaningfully and abruptly to either emphasize a point or to create dual meanings

repetition
when the writer or speaker knowingly repeats a word or group of words for effect

rhyme
when the end or final sound of two or more words are identical

rhythm
when the arrangement of words creates an audible pattern or beat when read out loud

onomatopoeia
when the words sound like what they mean

idiom
an accepted phrase or expression having a meaning different from the literal

personification
representing an abstract quality or idea as a person or creature

meter
a pattern of stressed/unstressed syllables in poetry

end rhyme
rhyme that occurs at the end of two or more lines of poetry

allegory
a story, play, or picture in which characters or settings are used as symbols or abstract ideas

slant rhyme
two words that have some sound in common but do not rhyme exactly

tone
the attitude a writer takes towards a subject, character, or the reader

internal rhyme
rhyme that occurs within a line, rather than at the end

diction
a writer’s or speaker’s choice of words

oxymoron
an expression in which two words that contradict each other are joined

cacophony
loud, harsh, or disagreeable sounds

blank verse
poetic form written in unrhymed iambic pentameter

free verse
poetic form that does not have a regular meter or rhyme scheme

ballad
a type of poem that is meant to be sung and is both lyric and narrative in nature

colloquial language
informal language; language that is “conversational”

euphemism
an indirect, less offensive way of saying something that is considered unpleasant

elegy
A sad or mournful poem, especially one mourning the dead

irony
a contrast between what is expected and what actually exists or happens

foil
two characters that highlight each other by their differences

foreshadowing
the use of hints and clues to suggest what will happen later in a plot

juxtaposition
placing two elements side by side to present a comparison or contrast

lyric
a short poem of songlike quality

monologue
a speech made by one actor or speaker

ode
a poem usually addressed to a particular person, object or event that has stimulated deep and noble feelings in the poet

paradox
an apparently contradictory statement that actually contains some truth

pun
a play on words, often achieved through the use of words with similar sounds but different meanings

rhetorical question
a question asked for an effect, not actually requiring an answer

sarcasm
harsh words intended to hurt someone

satire
a literary work that ridicules or criticizes a human vice through humor or derision

symbol
something that stands for or represents something else

understatement
saying less than one means, for effect

wit
intellectually amusing language that surprises and delights

stream of consciousness
a style of writing in which the author tries to reproduce the random flow of thoughts in the human mind

sonnet
Fourteen-line poem that is usually written in iambic pentameter and has one of several rhyme schemes.

epiphany
a moment of sudden realization or insight

epitaph
an inscription on a tombstone or monument in memory of the person buried there

atmosphere
The emotional mood created by a literary work