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Literary Elements and Devices in Poetry and Literature: Terminology and Examples

Updated on March 2, 2013

A Handbook to Literature - This book has been a wonderful partner in my world of literature education.

I LOVE this book!
I LOVE this book!

Memorization tips - click to enlarge

Literary Elements of Poetry and Literature

A perpetual list of literary elements - will continue to evolve and grow


  • Denotation - The dictionary meaning of a word. For example, Greg is thin. thin = slender
  • Connotation - A secondary meaning of a word - with tone and attitude. Example, Greg is scrawny. scrawny = skinny, wimpy, weak
  • Tone - The author's attitude emerges through the text
  • Mood - The reader's feelings provoked by reading the text
  • Imagery - Words which create visual or sensory images in the reader's mind
  • Alliteration - The repetition of the SAME beginning sound in several words of a poem. For example, "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers..."
  • Assonance - The repetition of vowel sounds at the beginning or middle of a poem. For example,"Go low and slow, Below the ridge..."
  • Allusion - A reference to characters or situations from other well known texts. For example, "To be or not to be, said the honey bee"
  • Symbolism - Something that represents something else. For example, The "emerald ghost" in Emily Dickinson's Nature XXVI - symbolizes the approaching storm
  • Oxymoron - A figure of speech that joins together two seemingly contradictory elements. For example, "Here with you in the bright light - we climbed the hill, Here with you in the darkest light - we keep our movements still"The oxymoron is darkest light.
  • Rhyme - The last word in the poem rhymes - sounds the same. For example, you, too, blue, stew, blew, crew...
  • Limerick - A fixed stanza with FIVE lines - usually lighthearted and direct with plenty of rhyme and rhythm. For example, A Limerick by Edward Lear -
    There was an Old Man with a beard,
    Who said, 'It is just as I feared!
    Two Owls and a Hen,
    Four Larks and a Wren,
    Have all built their nests in my beard!'
  • Meter - A way of placing emphasis on words and syllables that create a repetitive rhyme and rhythm
  • Hyperbole - An exaggeration. For example, "If I don't give this kiss I will die!"
  • Simile - Comparison of two similar and/or unlike things - uses LIKE or AS. For example, As strong as an ox, thin as a rail, fame is like a bee
  • Metaphor - Comparison of two similar and/or unlike things - does NOT use LIKE or AS. For example,He is an ox, she is a rail, fame is a bee
  • Onomatopoeia - This refers to the sound a person, animal or object makes. Examples are; ZAP! Pop! Smack, sizzle, gurgle, plop, splash, buzz, whoosh
  • Personification/Anthropomorphism - When an object is given human-like qualities. For example, The leaves raced across the lawn with the children. The tornado flicked pirouettes across the land. Note - Although anthropomorphism is personification it is predominantly used with forces of nature such as wind, fire and rain. The term anthropomorphism comes from Greek literature and is common in mythology - particularly gods and deities.
  • Polysyndeton - The use of several conjunctions. For example, ...and swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps
  • Pun - A play on words. Using the initial meaning to emphasize another. For example, Corduroy pillows are making headlines, The optometrist made a spectacle of himself.
  • Idioms - An expression that is not translated literally but represents something else. For example, Bury the hatchet, the cold shoulder, kick the bucket, tie the knot, foot the bill... click here for a list of angry idioms or here for happy idioms.


Alliteration: Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers

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    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Marissa, how nice to see you! What a small world. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. You are going to be a fantastic teacher. Please take care.

    • profile image

      Marissa Vargas 

      6 years ago

      Miss Olive:

      This was a great hub; very informative. Its great to see you doing such a wonderful job teaching. I've gone back to college to complete my bachelor's and here I am reading up on literary elements off your site and getting tips from my 14 year old son. Keep up the good work. :)

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      6 years ago from Texas

      The Suburban Poet - I'm still smiling! :) Who could possibly reject you!?!? :)

      MisguidedGhost16 - I'm thrilled to know you have found this helpful. I'm still adding and tweaking this as time and ideas allow. Best wishes on all your writing endeavors.

    • MisguidedGhost16 profile image

      MisguidedGhost16 

      6 years ago from Queens, New York

      this was extremely helpful. I look forward to taking this passage and it's information into consideration while I'm writing my next piece. Thanks!

    • The Suburban Poet profile image

      Mark Lecuona 

      6 years ago from Austin, Texas

      That's right... Happy Hour is what pretentiousness is all about. They all assume it's a line anyway right? So might as well go all in on Shakespeare... at least they will then know they are rejecting a thinking man....

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      6 years ago from Texas

      The Suburban Poet - I just LOL'd in my classroom! :)

      How about a gut busting bar limerick? hehe

    • The Suburban Poet profile image

      Mark Lecuona 

      6 years ago from Austin, Texas

      Well I'm back.. I guess I'm gushing... I really like this hub and I want to memorize all these terms and whip them out at Happy Hour sometime!!!!! Egofest alert!

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      6 years ago from Texas

      B. Leekley - Thank you for the additional sources. I greatly appreciate it.

      mjfarms - 'salad days' of learning :) Wow, sometimes I REALLY wish I could get in a time machine and venture back to different moments. Thank you for reading and for your lovely comment.

    • mjfarns profile image

      mjfarns 

      6 years ago from Bloomington, Illinois USA

      This hub took me back to the salad days of learning and teaching the wonderful subject of literature! Thank you so much for a trip in the time machine!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      6 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Thanks for the helpful hub. I like the puns. Some terms from fiction writing and criticism: plot, theme, character development, story, story structure, climax, tension, suspense, dialogue, hero, villain, protagonist, main characters, novel, novella, novelette, short story, short short story, flash fiction, scene, conflict. For poetry terms see

      http://thewordshop.tripod.com/forms.html

      For drama terms see

      http://highered.mcgraw-hill.com/sites/0072405228/s...

      and

      http://www.waycross.edu/faculty/selby/1102/d1.html

      For rhetorical terms see

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_rhetorica...

      For grammar terms see

      http://www.usingenglish.com/glossary.html

      It's such a big topic you may need a group of hubs.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      6 years ago from Texas

      Sunnie Day - Thank you! I love teaching. I appreciate your compliment :)

      RTalloni - Refreshers are good. Glad you spotted this hub and came by.

      The Suburban Poet - that is a great suggestion. I'll see about adding a compare and contrast of the two. Thank you.

      StephanieBCrosy - ohhhh I like that! I'll have to remember your tip - thank you!

      My Minds Eye33 - Poe is awesome and certainly unique. Thank you for bookmarking - that means you'll be back :)

    • My Minds Eye53 profile image

      My Minds Eye53 

      6 years ago from Tennessee

      I write a lot of poetry. I have never studied it and most of what I have read has been from Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss and Edgar Allen Poe. I know, weird combination. I learned the most from Poe. I have never had anyone tell me I am doing it wrong. I found this Hub very interesting and bookmarked it. I even learned a thing or two.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      6 years ago from New Jersey

      Great list of terms and examples. I also love your graphics for the simile and metaphor. I never heard of the term "polysyndeton." When I teach anthropomorphism and personification, I always say the difference is in form and ability. Anthropomorphism is literally just an inanimate object having human form, but personification is giving it human qualities like walking, talking, thinking. Then I say think of Alice in Wonderland.

    • The Suburban Poet profile image

      Mark Lecuona 

      6 years ago from Austin, Texas

      This is a great reference. What if you added poetry and prose so people could see the distinction?

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      6 years ago from the short journey

      Such a neat read! An enjoyable refresher course that will make a great easy reference tool. :)

      Voted up.

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 

      6 years ago

      Hi Marisa,

      I bookmarked this one..really helpful..You were born to teach..Thank you my friend.

      Sunnie

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      6 years ago from Texas

      makusr! Thank you! It is nice to see you - I appreciate your lovely comment. It really makes me feel great.

    • makusr profile image

      Manoj Kumar Srivastava 

      6 years ago from India

      missolive, Your hub is full of information. It is useful to those who want to do a serious study of things. Your hub on photo websites was very useful and I have bookmarked it. Your hubs are written lucidly and explain the things well. Full marks to the teacher.

      With warm wishes,

      MAKUSR

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      6 years ago from Texas

      LailaK - What a great complement! It makes me very happy to hear I make sense! LOL I know it sounds kind of silly, but that is the goal. :)

      You are very welcome and I am glad to share.

      Thank you for reading and commenting - you REALLY made my day!

    • LailaK profile image

      LailaK 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Your hubs are always practically beneficial! I am studying these elements in school right now, and I have to admit that your explanations made more sense than my book did. Thanks a lot for this! :)

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      MsDora - there are so many terms and I don't think I will ever finish listing them all, but it is nice to review and get ideas. Glad to see you stopped by - thank you for your supportive comment :)

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      7 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks another literature lesson. "Polysyndeton" is new to me. Good job!

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Vinaya! So glad to see you stopped by. You were my first follower and I will never forget your supportive words. I'm honored to know this hub has been useful for you. Continued best wishes Vinaya!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      Very useful hub, I will come back again.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      H.C Porter - even though I teach - everything I do is always a blast from the past. As for going back and re-checking, I can be an "over-tweaker" I have to force myself to stop editing lol Hope all is well. Thank you for stopping by.

      TattoKitty - Thanks for the vote up and useful clicks. I have added your suggestions. Thank you!

      asmalftlkar - thank you for your compliment. I truly enjoy writing helpful hubs. Must be why I enjoy teaching ;)

      ShellaKay - Thanks for the vote and follow. Refreshers are always great. I look forward to reading your poetry.

      AUPADHYAY - Thank you for the lovely compliment. I'm glad you have found this hub useful.

    • AUPADHYAY profile image

      ANIL KUMAR UPADHYAY 

      7 years ago from INDIA, UTTAR PRADESH STATE, KANPUR CITY

      Excellent hub. I found some useful tips to be followed. Thanks. An awesome one.

    • SheliaKay profile image

      SheliaKay 

      7 years ago from Marietta, Ohio..... but born and raised in Northern Ohio on Lake Erie

      Very informative. I have been out of school a long time and have been studying poetry for the first time. You got my vote and follow.

    • asmaiftikhar profile image

      asmaiftikhar 

      7 years ago from Pakistan

      great and useful informative hub misolive.keep benefiting people like this.Thanks

    • TattooKitty profile image

      TattooKitty 

      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Great list of poetic devices! Voted up and useful! I'd like to add "onomatopoeia" and "anthropomorphism" as well ;)

    • H.C Porter profile image

      Holly 

      7 years ago from Lone Star State

      Wow... I just had a flash back to when I was in school. :) and feel the overwhelming need to go back and re-read some of my work and make some corrections.

      Nice Job- I am bookmarking this one and have a few people I think can benefit from reading this. Voted Up and Useful!

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Husky! It's nice to jiggle the noggin every now and then ;)

      If you think of any that you would like to see included please let me know.

      Thank you for stopping by and the vote up

    • profile image

      Husky1970 

      7 years ago

      A very nice review lesson of poetry and literature terminology, missolive. Brought back memories of those high school English classes. Voted up.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      You are very welcome

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 

      7 years ago from Canada

      That wraps it up nicely, thank you!

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