English Literature & Composition: Glossary of Literary Devices #cwp11x

As an extension of the AP Literature and Composition by The University of California, Berkeley. It’s an experiment where one must understand literary terminology and how to use it when analyzing texts of various types and lengths. I

The best way to remember what these terms mean is to apply them to our reading. For example, as we read fiction, make sure to identify the setting, the protagonist, and any examples of symbols, irony, etc. When one identify them, it helps to write out a short explanation for oneself.

Here is a brief list of some key literary terms, divided into three categories–devices, forms, and elements–as well as some relevant examples. You should do additional research into other terms that might be useful.


Literary devices are structures used by writers to convey their messages. When used well, literary devices help readers to appreciate and analyze a piece of writing.


The repetition of initial consonant sounds to emphasize and connect words, as well as to create an effect through sound.

Example: Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary… While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping… – “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe


A reference to a well-known person, artwork, place, event, or other piece of writing used to add meaning to a story through intertextuality.

Example: The title of William Faulkner’s book The Sound and the Fury is from lines in Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “it is a tale/Told by an idiot/full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.”


The techniques a writer uses to create and build characters through:

  • Their actions and speech
  • What other characters say about them, or how they react to them
  • What the author writes directly, or through a narrator


Speech that reflects the pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar from a particular area, ethnic, or social class.

Example: “I ain’ gwyne to len’ no mo’ money ’dout I see security. Boun’ to git yo’ money back a hund’d times, de preacher says! Ef I could git de ten cents back, I’d call it squah, en be glad er de chanst.” –Jim, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain


Interruption of the plot line to report something that occurred before the beginning of the story.

Figurative Language

Language that has meaning beyond the literal; also called “figures of speech”. For example:

  • Simile: a comparison of two things using the words “like” or “as”
  • Metaphor: a comparison of two things essentially different but with some commonalities (metaphors do not use “like” or “as.”)
  • Hyperbole: an extreme exaggeration used for emphasis or humor
  • Personification: human qualities attributed to an animal, object, or idea


Important hints in a story that prepare the reader for something to come.


Words or phrases that appeal to the reader’s senses—sight, smell, touch, sound, taste.


Writing that involves surprising, interesting, or amusing contradictions or contrasts. There are two main types of irony:

    • Verbal irony–words are used to suggest the opposite of their usual meaning
    • Situational irony–something happens that contradicts our expectations


Using words that imitate sounds.

Examples: hiss, zoom, buzz, and swish

Point of View

The perspective from which a story is told.

    • First-person: narrator is a character in the story; uses “I,” “we,” etc.
    • Third-person: the narrator is outside the story; uses “he,” “she,” “they”
    • Third-person limited: the narrator tells only what one character thinks, experiences, etc.
    • Third-person omniscient: the narrator can see into the minds of all characters


Writing that humorously addresses human failings, ideas, social customs, politics, or institutions in order to change them or affect opinions about them.

ExampleJonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”  is a classic example of satire.



The distinctive way that a writer uses language, including word choice, sentence length, syntax, and complexity, as well as the use of figurative language and imagery.


A feeling of excitement, curiosity, or anticipation about what will happen.


A person, place, or thing that represents something beyond itself. A symbol is often something concrete or that represents an abstract idea.

Example: In Shakespeare’s As you Like It, ‘a stage’ symbolizes the world and ‘players’ symbolize men and women:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
they have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…

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