Literary Terms

When analysing texts (both poetry and prose) at both GCSE and IB level, it is very useful to have an in depth understanding of the following terms in order to be able to discuss the writer’s technique effectively. 

Examples are in bold.

Imagery Use of adjectives (descriptive words) to create a picture in the readers mind.
Metaphor A figure of speech in which a word or a phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

“I had fallen through a trapdoor of depression”


A figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind and is generally used to place emphasis on a description. 

“He was as brave as a lion”

Personification The attribution of human characteristics or a personal nature to something nonhuman.
Pathetic fallacy Using the environment and weather to create feeling and tone for the passage/story.
Oxymoron A figure of speech by which an idea produces a seemingly self-contradictory effect

“Cruel kindness”

Tripling A group of three words.
Parallelism Similarity of structure in a series or pair of related words and/or phrases.

“Live in your world, play in ours”

Tone The quality or character of a text
Hyperbole Obvious and intentional exaggeration to emphasise a point.
Alliteration The commencement of two or more stressed syllables of a word group with the same letter.

“Apt alliteration’s artful aid”

Plosive Hard-sounding words.

Basic plosives in English are: t, k, p, d, g and b


Fricative A consonant produced by the forcing of breath through a constricted passage.

Basic fricatives in English are: f, d, s

“Saw, say, sane”

Sibilance Using the sound of “S” repeatedly.

“Smooth, silky skin”

Assonance The repetition of the sound of a vowel in non-rhyming stressed syllables near to each other

“S, sh”

Onomatopoeia Formation of a word from the sound associated with what is named.

“Crack, boom, bang”

Juxtaposition An act or instance of placing words/phrases close together or side by side for comparison or contrast.
Jargon Technical words or expressions used by a group/profession that may be difficult for others to understand.
Paradox A statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
Antithesis A contrast or opposition between two things, or a person or thing that is the direct opposite of something else.

“Compassion is the antithesis of selfishness”

Syntax The arrangement of words/phrases to create sentences in English.
Archaisms Words and phrases not used in modern times.
Rhyming couplets When two lines in a poem rhyme together.
Half rhyme A near or imperfect rhyme.
Free verse Poetry that does not have rhyme or a regular meter
Enjambment The continuation of a sentence without pause beyond the end of a line or stanza (in a poem).
Allusion An expression that calls something to mind without explicitly mentioning it, a reference.
Ambiguity A word or phrase that has one or more meaning or uncertainty/inexactness in meaning of language.
Connotation An idea or concept that a word invokes in addition to its literal meaning.

“Red = anger”

Denotation The literal meaning of a word/phrase in contrast to any feelings or ideas that the word/phrase suggests
Caesura Any interruption, break or pause near the middle of a line in a poem.
Narrative persona Style of writing.
End-stops A rhetorical pause at the end of each line in a poem.
Omniscient narrator When a story is told by an all-knowing narrator.
Narrative structure How a story is told
Limited narrator When a story is limited to one character/persons point of view

 (To be continued)

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