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Full List of Literary Devices for Cambridge and IB Students

Struggling with your English papers due to a limited knowledge of literary terms?

This alphabetical list of literary devices is extensive, so take a steady look and save it for revision prep! Here are the devices:

Beginning with A

  1. Abbreviation - A graphic reduction, as in 'etc.' for 'et cetera'.

  2. Acronym - A group of abbreviations, pronounced as if they were words of their own, as in 'UNESCO'

  3. Acrostic - The first of each line in a poem is dedicated to a subject or the name of a person, usually the poet.

  4. Allegory - A story that contains a hidden meaning (typically moral, political or spiritual) through the use of symbols.

  5. Alliteration - The same sound repeats in a group of words, usually at the beginnings of closely-connected words.

  6. Allusion - A reference to something outside of the text, which readers can only understand when they are aware of the context.

  7. Ambiguity - A single word or expression can have multiple meanings, references, attitudes or feelings - free to be interpreted when noticed for the first time.

  8. Amplification - A rhetorical device that seeks to make an idea more richly ornamented, broader in scope, or more forceful.

  9. Anachronism - A type of juxtaposition wherein a setting contains something that does not belong in that time period.

  10. Anadiplosis - A type of repetition wherein a group of words is repeated in either the same sentence or the next.

  11. Anagram - a word or phrase that rearranges into another word or phrase, such as 'Tom Marvolo Riddle' rearranging into 'I am Lord Voldemort'.

  12. Analogy - A comparison that likens one situation to something else, typically done by writers to explain something of importance in a simple manner.

  13. Anaphora - A type of repetition wherein the same words are repeated at the beginning or different clauses or sentences.

  14. Antilogy - A rhetorical device used to express a contradictory or paradoxical statement within a single sentence.

  15. Anthropomorphism - Giving human traits, emotions or intentions to non-human entities, such as in the stories with an animal as the protagonist.

  16. Antithesis - The contrasting of two ideas, which makes the principle idea more striking, such as "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times".

  17. Aphorism - An observation or saying that contains general truth, or some kind of moral principle, such as "All is fair in love and war".

  18. Assonance - A type of repetition with a resemblance of vowel sounds between nearby words or syllables, to create emphasis or rhythm.

  19. Asyndeton - An ommision of coordinating conjunctions (words like 'and', 'but', and 'or', which connect clauses and sentences), as in "I came, I saw, I conquered".

Beginning with B

  1. Ballad - A formal lyric poem with a fixed meter and rhyme, wherein the last line of each stanza ends with the same line.

  2. Bildungsroman - A genre of novel that shows a young protagonist embarking on a journey from childhood to adulthood.

  3. Blank Verse - The name given to poetry that lacks rhyme but still contains meter, usually iambic pentameter.

Beginning with C

  1. Cacophony - A combination of words that sounds harsh or unpleasant together, usually due to a lot of consonants such as B, D, K, P, T, or G.

  2. Cadence - When a group of words in a sentence or in a line of poetry is arranged in a manner that sounds beautiful or harmonious.

  3. Caesura - A pause that occurs within a line of poetry, noted by a punctuation - a comma, period, ellipsis or dash - such as in "To be, or not to be".

  4. Caricature - The presentation of an object, an idea or a person in an excessively unfavourable light, with exaggerated features.

  5. Chiasmus - The grammar of one phrase is inverted in the next phrase, and so the same words are repeated in the reverse order. For example, "Pleasure's a sin, and sometimes sin's a pleasure".

  6. Circumlocution - Saying too many words where just a few would do, due to a person's embarrassment, in order to be vague or evasive.

  7. Colloquialism - The use of informal words or phrases in writing or speech, usually due to these words being used casually within a regional dialect.

  8. Common meter - A meter pattern for poetry wherein each stanza has four lines that contain eight and six syllables alternatively.

  9. Connotation - Words that carry meanings, interpretations and associations apart from or beyond their literal meaning.

  10. Consonance - A type of repetition where the same consonant sound is repeated in a group of nearby words or syllables, to create emphasis or rhythm.

Beginning with D

  1. Denotation - The opposite of connotation, where words contain nothing more than their literal meaning: the explicit meaning of a word, phrase or idea.

  2. Diction - The writer's choice of words and expressions, including their choice of vocabulary and the manner in which they communicate.

  3. Digression - When an author diverts their attention to matters that are extraneous to the principal subject being discussed, i.e., a slight diversion.

  4. Dissonance - The lack of harmony or agreement between words and phrases, characters, or things, in order to create a sense of conflict or confusion for readers.

  5. Dramatic Irony - A plot device used in drama to highlight the difference between a character's understanding of a given situation to that of the audience.

Beginning with E

  1. Elegy - A type of poem that contains serious reflection, usually mourning the loss of someone who died.

  2. Enjambment - A sentence in a poem runs on from one line to the next without any punctuation or marked stop: carrying its idea without a pause.

  3. Enumeration - A rhetorical device when a writer chooses to list out items, events, ideas, or other parts of a story or setting.

  4. Epanalepsis - The repetition of a word or phrase at the end of the same sentence, such as in "Beloved is mine; she is Beloved".

  5. Epigram - A short poem or statement that conveys a single thought or a statement, and usually ends on a satirical note (often with a punchline).

  6. Epigraph - A quotation that you might find at the beginning of a chapter in one of your literary texts, usually related to the story in some way.

  7. Epistrophe - A type of repetition wherein one or more words are repeated at the end of each successive phrase, for eg. "Of the people, by the people, for the people".

  8. Ethos - A mode of persuasion that appeals to the audience by emphasising the speaker's credibility and authority.

  9. Euphemism - The use of words or expressions to disguise painful or uncomfortable ideas, so the literal meaning of words are devoid of deep meaning.

  10. Extended Metaphor - A metaphors that unfolds across multiple lines or multiple paragraphs of a text, so the writer can explain the idea in intricate detail.

Beginning with F

  1. Flashback - A narrative reversion to previous events, so the author can provide background information or important details about the story.

  2. Flash-Forward - An insertion in the story-telling process of a scene which happens after the currently-narrated event.

  3. Foreshadowing - A literary device used by authors to hint or leave clues about events that will be happening much later in the story.

  4. Free Verse - A type of poetry that use any strict meter or rhyme scheme, and seems to be the norm today, like blank verse and formal verse once was.

Beginning with G

  1. Generalisation - A rhetorical statement made by the author to include a large number of evidence under an idea may have been verified by only one or a few.

  2. Gesture - A signifying movement that is capable of communicating something to the audience without the need for words.

  3. Gibberish - An unitelligible or meaningless speech or writing, usually given when a character is either mumbling or actually speaking in a foreign language.

Beginning with H

  1. Hamartia - A literary term that refers to any tragic flaw or error in a character's personality that eventually leads to their downfall.

  2. Hubris - A literary term that refers to excessive pride or overconfidence in a character, which drives them to overstep limits and lead them to their downfall.

  3. Hyperbole - A rhetorical device wherein the author or speaker exaggerates their argument to place emphasis on an important point.

  4. Hypotyposis - A term used when the description of a setting is so detailed, realistic, animated and striking

Beginning with I

  1. Iamb - A metrical pattern in poetry in which one unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable.

  2. Idiom - A phrase that, when taken as a whole, contains a meaning that cannot be understood without taking the context or hidden meaning into account.

  3. Imagery - Descriptive language used by writers to create a picture with words or to evoke a sensory experience for the reader.

  4. Internal Rhyme - A poetic device where a rhyme occurs in the middle of the lines in poetry, instead of at the end of lines, and continues for multiple lines.

  5. Irony - A situation which contains the opposite effect to the one that was desired by the characters or the readers, creating a humorous or tragic effect.

Beginning with J

  1. Jargon - When the writer uses language only understandable to subject-matter experts or students, reducing the effect of accurate communication.

  2. Juxtaposition - A situation wherein an author places two things side-by-side, in order to highlight their differences.

Beginning with L

  1. Lamentation - An expression of poetry to convey the depths of the writer's perspective on grief, sorrow or pain.

  2. Line Break - The break wherein the poet decides to stop a line and moves on to the next line, with or without the completion of the idea.

  3. Litotes - When the writer or character is adopts a tone of sarcasm - instead of stating something directly, states that the opposite statement is not true.

  4. Logos - A mode of persuasion that appeals to the audience's sense of logical reasoning through the citing of data, facts, statistics and other such detail.

Beginning with M

  1. Maxim - A brief sentence that contains a piece of wisdom or a general rule of behaviour - usually something completely original, and not a proverb.

  2. Meiosis - Understating the significance of a person, situation or idea, to create a dramatic effect and to make the informed audience ponder about meaning.

  3. Metaphor - An assertion that compares two different scenarios as being a representation of each other, to create meaning beyond what is seen.

  4. Metonymy - Substituting the name of one thing with another word, due to repetition or circumstance, for eg. Voldemort as 'He Who Must Not be Named'.

  5. Monologue - A speech made by a character to deliver their thoughts, ideas and beliefs, to develop the reader's understanding of the character.

  6. Mood - A general atmosphere or emotion created for the reader through the use of setting, imagery, word choice and tone.

  7. Motif - A recurring element or idea throughout a work of literature, such as the green light in 'The Great Gatsby'.

Beginning with N

  1. Narrative - A story that contains the occurence of events, conveyed with a specific choice of words and the presence of an intended message or effect.

Beginning with O

  1. Ode - A formal lyric poem that the poet usually addressed as a form of praise to a person, idea or object that fascinates them.

  2. Onomatopoeia - A device in which a word is formed based on the actual sound associated with what is named, such as 'squeak', or 'tingle'.

  3. Oxymoron - When two contradictory words are intentionally paired, in order to convey meaning, for eg., 'sweet sorrow', or 'loud silence'.

Beginning with P

  1. Palindrome - A word, sentence or verse that reads the same backwards or forwards, for eg. the language 'Malayalam', or the sentence, 'Madam, I'm Adam'.

  2. Paradox - A logically self-contradicting statement, or a statement that runs contrary a current statement that is already established or expected.

  3. Parallelism - When two or more elements of a sentence (or series of sentences) have the same grammatical structure.

  4. Parastasis - An accumulation of sentences that are repeating the same thing.

  5. Parataxis - Placing sentences side-by-side (usually without conjunctions) to give them equal importance, such as in "I came, I saw, I conquered".

  6. Parody - A conscious and deliberate imitation of the style of a work, an artist, or a genre, intended to create a mocking or simply comic effect.

  7. Pathetic Fallacy -When a writers gives human emotions to things, such as objects, weather or animals, in order to reflect the inner emotions of a character.

  8. Pathos - A mode of persuasion that appeals to the audience's emotions, sense of duty, or purpose, in order to influence the listener's point of view.

  9. Personification - When a writer endows life and human qualities to non-human things, such as 'flowers dancing', figuratively.

  10. Plot - The chronological sequence of events in which a story takes place, also containing the cause-and-effect relationships, which may be unclear in narration.

  11. Point of View - The perspective that the narrator holds while relaying the events of the story or argument.

  12. Polysyndeton - The repetition of conjunctions such as 'and', 'or', or 'but', several times in close succession, for eg. in Chapter 3 of The Great Gatsby.

  13. Pun - A form of word play where the writer picks words that have similar sounds but different meanings, usually with the purpose of creating a humorous effect.

Beginning with R

  1. Red Herring - A piece of information in a story that is meant to distract readers from an important truth, usually found in mystery or suspense stories.

  2. Recapitulation - A repetition of different points made in an argument, phrased in a condensed form, usually found at the conclusion.

  3. Repetition - A rhetorical device wherein a word or phrase is repeated in order to create emphasis and stress in the writing.

  4. Redundancy - A repetition of an idea two or more times in close succession without adding more stress or effect to the argument.

  5. Rhetorical Question - A rhetorical device wherein a question is asked without the need for an answer, in order to emphasize a message or sense of frustration.

  6. Rhyme - A repetition of similar sounds within a poem, especially at the end of the lines, since a rhyme pattern is a requirement in formal verse.

  7. Rhythm - A 'movement' created in prose or poetry through a succession of strong and weak elements, in order to give the audience a sense of pacing.

  8. Rounded Characters - The term used to describe life-like or complex characters with believable motives, desires and overall traits, for eg. Achebe's Okonkwo

Beginning with S

  1. Sarcasm - When the narrator or a character use inflection to mock someone or something (sometimes a bit aggressively), usually for humorous effect.

  2. Satire - The use of humour to criticise an idea, usually in order to show how certain stances or ideologies appear silly from a different perspective.

  3. Setting - The place or surroundings in which an event or story takes place, and is usually significant in shaping the story's characters and events.

  4. Sibilance - Sibilance is the sound of hissing snakes or whistling winds, usually created by placing the letter 's' in close succession, and is a type of alliteration.

  5. Simile - A comparison of thing with another, in order to show a similarity or a likening, according to the perspective of the speaker.

  6. Soliloquy - A device wherein a character speaks to themselves out loud, in order to rationalise the sitation, giving the readers an insight into their perspective.

  7. Sonnet - A type of poem that contains fourteen lines that follows a strict rhyme scheme and metrical pattern.

  8. Static Characters - Characters who don't really change or develop as a result of the story's major plot developments.

  9. Stream of Consciousness - A device wherein a character's thought process is directly coneveyed without any form of filter, in to reveal their state of mind.

  10. Symbolism - When the writer uses a real-world object, person, or place, to represent something more abstract, such as an idea or a quality.

  11. Synecdoche - When the writer mentions a small part of a whole idea, to represent the whole idea, such as in "All hands on deck", or "Lend me your ears".

Beginning with T

  1. Theme - A theme is an exploration of a universal idea, through the use of characters and events, in order to convey a message or a broader truth.

  2. Tone - The attitude adopted by the writer while penning down their perspective about a topic, often noticeable through their authorial choices.

Beginning with U or V

  1. Understatement - When something is expressed less strongly than it should have, for the sake of downplay or to create a humorous effect.

  2. Verbal Irony - Unlike the irony within a situation, verbak irony is evident when the words spoken by an individual is the opposite of what they actually mean.

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Full List of Literary Devices for Cambridge and IB Students
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