English Literary Terms and Devices
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Figures of Speech
There exists literal(surface meaning) language and figurative language. Figures of speech are the latter; they create rich images and deepen meaning
- ~ Juliet is beautiful and nurturing. (literal)
- "Juliet is the sun." (figurative)
A reference to history, myth, religion, art, or another piece of literature. (to allude/refer to)
~"My Genius is rebuked, as it is said/ Mark Antony's was by Caesar." (Macbeth)
- A comparison; an argument using analogy is only as strong as the analogy itself.
- A is to B as X is to Y
- Hand is to glove as foots is to sock.
- "Yes, as sparrows eagles,? or the hare the lion"
- Opposites grammatically balances on a line
- 'It persuades him and disheartens him" (Macbeth)
- good and bad
to address a thing, a concept, a person as though present and able to hear; often preceded by "O"
O Shakespeare, how I wish you were still alive!
Justice, why have you let me down?
A polite or sanitized way of saying something that might otherwise sound harsh
"He passed away" instead of "he is dead."
An exaggeration for effect
I could eat a horse!
He was my North, my South, my East and West"
the literal words are opposite to the intended meaning. Sarcasm is an extreme form
Juliet's words have two meanings when she speaks to Paris-one level refers to Romeo.
"What a beautiful day!" (when it is raining outside)
An outcome is the opposite to what one would expect
Lady Macbeth advises her husband not to think too deeply about the murders or he'll go mad; but then she goes mad
A comparison of dissimilar things not using the words "like" or "as"
Life is a box of chocolates.
the big sleep.
the reader/audience knows vital information that a character doesn't
Oedipus doesn't realize he killed his father and married his mother-but we do.
using the name of one thing for that of another it naturally suggests
the pen is mightier than the sword (pen=power of literature; Sword=physical force)
Nice ride (ride=car)
Neighbouring words that seem to contradict each other
- loving hate
- fiend angelical
- jumbo shrimp
- smart ass
two statements that seem contradictory at first blush, but which contain truth upon closer examination
"Fathered he is,/ And yet he's fatherless."
Fair is foul, and foul is fair
Forced to be free
Giving human characteristics to something not human
The sea was angry that day, my friend.
The hours crawled by.
a play on words, often using homophones or homographs. The intention is often humorous
- Donkey is an ass!
- (Ass means both fool and donkey.)
A comparison using the word "like" or "as" ("as if/"as though")
Life is like a box of chocolates.
Figure of speech in which the part stands for the whole
- All hands on deck!
- (hands meaning sailors)
- Nice wheels.
- (wheels meaning car)
- Opposite of hyperbole
- [Litotes is a form of understatement that uses a negative to state a positive]
In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio says his fatal would is just a "scratch"
Words and Meaning
every word a reader reads creates a response. The reader is constantly making and revising meaning
Old-fashioned or obsolete language
"opposites" around which a text is structured, providing balance, symmetry, contrast, unity, and thematic significance
Overused, outworn metaphor/expression
It's raining cats and dogs!
Informal language used in everyday speech and writing.
He's a great guy
The positive, neutral, and negative nuances/emotional colourings of a word
the dictionary definition of a word
thin means not having much body fat
A language or manner of speaking peculiar to an individual or class or region.
the words the writer chooses to create specific effects
In "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe chooses words such as mad and blood to create a sense of horror.
An expression which would be nonsensical if translated word for word into another language
- He takes the cake.
- The cat's got my tongue.
- You hit the nail on the head.
- The sensory images words create.
- (Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste, Smell)
- Birds singing: sound
- Bacon frying: smell
- The hot sun: touch
- (More than one sensory image may apply)
Related to allusion. When another text is referred to in a text, the meaning expands.
Shelley's Frankenstein contains references to Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, together, they create even more meaning.
Frost's "Out, out-" alludes to Macbeth's nihilism
Specialized language of professions or fields of endeavor not generally understandable to the layperson
Teachers sometimes administer "criterion- referenced" tests
atmosphere and feelings the text creates
"It was a dark and stormy night" creates a spooky atmosphere.
Motifs are recurring structures, words, images, that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.
The word blood is used more times in Macbeth than in all other Shakespeare plays combined. It is major motif of the play, and emphasizes the degree to which Macbeth is steeped in blood.
Very informal; can pass out of the language quickly
Characteristic manner of expression in prose or verse. How a particular writer says things
An item or word that represents something else; something that stands for an idea, quality, or other abstraction
- The dove stands for peace.
- Birds often stand for freedom.
- White often represents innocence.
The writer's attitude comes through words and the way he/she uses them (sarcastic, humorous, embittered, ironic, joyful, melancholic, reflective, etc.)
J.K. Rowling's tone is humorous when Ron eats slugs.
What the writer is trying to say; often a generalization about life or the human condition
In "The Raven," Poe implies that never-ending mourning can lead to emotional instability and madness.
Provide unity and please or displease the ear/mind; create an emotional and aesthetic response
A repeated consonant sound at the beginnings of words that are close to one another; a subset of consonance
A repeated vowel sound in words that are closet o one another (Vowels: a,e,i,o,u[y])
A repeated consonant sound, particularly within or at the end of words
Harsh or discordant sounds (Generally, hard consonants)
- dirty British coaster
- slat-caked smoke stack
(Hard "c" that sounds "k")
Mellifluous, pleasing, soft sounds (Generally, soft consonants)
- Sandalwood, cedar wood, and sweet white wine
- (soft "c" that sounds "s")
A word that imitates the sound associated with it (it sounds like what it is)
Snap, crackle, pop, buzz, boom clang crash, plop
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