Literary Devices: Meanings and Examples
The English language comprises many literary devices that add richness and life to phrases and expressions. In our daily lives we encounter literary devices in poems, stories, newspapers, plays, songs, movies and even in our very own conversations.
This article defines the most common literary devices, and gives examples of each.
An allegory is a device used to represent an idea, principle or meaning, which can be presented in literary form, such as a poem or novel; or in a visual form such as a painting or drawing.
As a literary device, an allegory is defined as an “extended metaphor”, or “symbolic representation”. Very often an allegoric story or play illustrates an idea or moral principle in which objects take on symbolic meaning.
Alliteration is the repetition of the first syllables of a series of words and/ or phrases. Modern alliteration is predominantly consonantal.
Alliteration can be broken down into two groups:
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds but not consonant sounds.
Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds by not vowel sounds.
An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a reference to, representation of a place, historical event, literary work, myth, or work of art. Allusions can be direct references or implications.
In the first example above, the sentence alludes to Achilles, the warrior of Greek mythology, who could only be harmed if something hit his heel. (i.e. Achilles’ only weakness was his heel)
An analogy is a comparison that is made between two things that are in some way/ ways similar. An analogy is often used to help explain something or make it easier to understand
The turning point of the action in a story, play or plot is referred to as the climax.
The climax represents the point at which the story gets exciting and more alive. In some stories there may be several points that can be arguably called the climatic points.
A hyperbole is a figure of speech in which an overstatement or exaggeration occurs.
Often used in poetry or in casual speech, hyperboles are usually used to create emphasis or effect.
Irony is incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.
Ironic statements (verbal irony) typically imply a meaning that is opposite to the literal meaning.
Sarcasm is a form of verbal irony.
A situation is ironic if actions taken have an effect exactly opposite from what was intended or expected.
A metaphor is a comparison in which one thing is said to be another. The words “like” and “as” are not used in metaphors.
Onomatopoeia is the formation of a word that imitates or suggests the sound that it represents.
An oxymoron is figure of speech that combines contradictory terms.
Personification is a figure of speech where something nonhuman is given the characteristics of a human.
PUN (also called PARANOMASIA)
A pun is a play on words wherein one word is used to convey two meanings at the same time. Puns are often intended for a humorous or rhetorical effect.
A simile is a figure of speech that compares two unlike quantities by employing the words “like”, “as”, or “than”.
The following video illustrates excellent examples of literary devices that can be found in songs.