28 Common Literary Devices to Know

By Alan Reiner – December 18, 2023

As you delve into the world of literature, understanding common literary devices is essential. These tools, such as metaphors and similes, add depth and artistic value to a piece of writing, allowing you to better grasp the author’s intentions. 

To expand your knowledge of literary devices, it’s crucial to study their definitions and concepts. Familiarizing yourself with a range of literary devices equips you with the ability to analyze and interpret literature at a higher level, thus enhancing your reading experience. 

In this article, we will discuss 28 common literary devices, providing clarity on their definitions, examples, and applications. By familiarizing yourself with these devices, you’ll be better prepared to recognize them in the texts you encounter and even incorporate them into your own writing, making it more captivating and engaging for readers.

Comparing Literary Devices, Elements, and Techniques

Literary devices, elements, and techniques are essential tools in the world of literature, art, and drama. These aspects enhance a writer’s work and can take various forms, such as prose, dialogue, and rhetorical devices.

Literary Devices

Literary devices convey deeper meanings, create aesthetic appeal, and evoke emotions through language and wordplay. Examples include metaphors, similes, and alliterations. They can make a story or poem more engaging.

Literary Elements

Literary elements are the building blocks of a narrative, shaping its structure and content. These elements include plot, setting, theme, character, point of view, and tone. They’re fundamental for creating an effective story.

Literary Technique

Literary techniques refer to the ways a writer engages with language and genre conventions. Examples include dramatic irony, foreshadowing, and juxtaposition. These techniques help to develop a unique style and captivate the reader’s attention.

In summary, literary devices, elements, and techniques work together to create compelling stories in various forms, including art, drama, and prose. Learning about these aspects will enrich your understanding and appreciation of literature.

Identifying Literary Devices While You Read

Understanding literary devices isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying a well-written book. Even if you aren’t familiar with terms like personification, onomatopoeia, or anthropomorphism, these elements can still enhance your reading experience.

However, identifying these literary devices can deepen your appreciation of a text and help you understand the author’s intentions. The more versed you are in recognizing these elements, the more fully you can grasp the nuances of the writing. Spotting these devices can help you uncover layers of meaning that might otherwise go unnoticed.

To become proficient at identifying literary devices, you should acquaint yourself with a wide range of them. Your first step is knowing what to look for; from there, it’s a matter of practice. By exposing yourself to various literary styles and genres, you’ll naturally become adept at identifying these devices, all while maintaining your engagement and enjoyment of the text.

Incorporating Literary Devices into Your Own Writing

Using literary devices in your writing can enhance themes, settings, moods, imagery, and symbolism. While experimenting with various techniques, remain confident in your knowledge and maintain a clear and neutral tone.

Crafting Immersive Settings: The Power of Imagery and Symbolism

Incorporate these devices to create engaging themes and develop your story’s setting. Shape your settings with rich descriptions, using devices like imagery and symbolism to make scenes come alive in your reader’s mind.

Emotional Storytelling: Using Mood, Foreshadowing, and Flashback

Focus on mood to capture your audience’s emotions and create unforgettable experiences. Employ literary techniques such as foreshadowing and flashback to impact readers by encapsulating the narrative’s emotions.

Visual Storytelling: The Role of Imagery in Connecting with Your Audience

Utilize imagery to paint vivid pictures by carefully crafting figurative language, like similes or metaphors. This contributes to a stronger connection between the reader and your writing, allowing them to visualize and experience your world.

Layered Narratives: The Significance of Symbolism in Storytelling

Embrace symbolism to enrich your narrative with multiple layers of meaning. This enables readers to explore deeper interpretations of character actions, objects, or occurrences and form a connection with the recurring elements in your story.

Don’t shy away from experimenting with various literary devices to find the best fit for your writing style. By showing your mastery and weaving these techniques seamlessly, you can create captivating stories and characters that will resonate with your readers.

28 Different Literary Devices, Their Meanings, And Examples

Allegory

An allegory is a narrative that uses characters, objects, or events to represent abstract themes or ideas.

 a farm scene where animals act similar to a government council

For example, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is an allegory for the Russian Revolution and communism.

Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the same beginning consonant sound in a series of words.

For example: “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

Allusion

An allusion is an indirect reference to a person, place, event, or idea.

For example, calling someone a “Romeo” alludes to the character from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Amplification

Amplification is a form of emphasis by repeating a word or phrase and adding more detail.

For example: “The forest was not just dark, it was pitch black, filled with shadows and hidden dangers.”

Anagram

An anagram is a word or phrase formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase.

For example, the word “listen” is an anagram of “silent.”

Analogy

An analogy is a comparison between two things to show their similarities.

For example: “Just as a sword is the weapon of a warrior, a pen is the weapon of a writer.”

Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is attributing human characteristics or emotions to nonhuman beings, such as animals or objects.

For example: “The wind whispered through the trees.”

Antithesis

Antithesis is the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas or words in a balanced or parallel construction.

For example: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Chiasmus

Chiasmus is a figure of speech in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order.

For example: “You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”

Colloquialism

Colloquialism is the use of informal words or phrases in writing or speech.

For example: “That exam was a piece of cake.”

Circumlocution

Circumlocution is the use of many words when fewer would do, often to be deliberately vague or evasive.

For example: “The person of diminutive stature” instead of “the short person.”

Epigraph

An epigraph is a short quotation or phrase at the beginning of a book or chapter, usually to suggest its theme.

For example, an epigraph might come from a famous speech or literary work.

Euphemism

A euphemism is a mild or indirect expression used in place of a more direct or harsh one.

a setting sun to symbolize the euphemism “passed away” as a peaceful transition, representing the end of the day

For example: “He passed away” instead of “He died.”

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a literary device where the author hints at future events in the story, often through subtle clues or symbolism.

Hyperbole

Hyperbole is an exaggeration for emphasis or effect.

For example: “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.”

Imagery

Imagery is the use of descriptive language to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind.

For example: “The autumn leaves were a blanket of red and gold.”

Metaphor

A metaphor is a direct comparison between two unlike things, without using “like” or “as.”

For example: “The world is a stage.”

Mood

the concept of mood in relation to language and literature

Mood is the atmosphere or emotional setting created by a piece of writing. It can be influenced by factors such as word choice, tone, and imagery.

Motif

A motif is a recurring theme, subject, or idea throughout a literary work.

For example, the recurring motif of eyes in “The Great Gatsby.”

Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is the use of words that imitate the sound they describe.

For example: “The bees buzzed” or “The leaves rustled in the wind.”

Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory words for dramatic effect.

For example: “deafening silence” or “living dead.”

Paradox

A paradox is a statement or situation that seems contradictory but reveals a deeper truth.

a huge library with countless books stretching into the horizon, and in the foreground, there’s a person holding an open book with a look of realization, overwhelmed by the enormity of understanding

For example: “The more you know, the more you realize how little you know.”

Personification

Personification is attributing human qualities or actions to nonhuman things, such as objects or animals.

For example: “The sun smiled down on the happy children.”

Portmanteau

A portmanteau is a word created by combining the sounds and meanings of two different words.

combines elements of breakfast and lunch to represent “brunch,” and includes a cityscape partially obscured by “smog,” a mix of smoke and fog

For example: “brunch” (breakfast + lunch) or “smog” (smoke + fog).

Puns

Puns are a play on words using words with similar sounds or multiple meanings to create humor or irony.

For example: “Why do we never tell secrets on a farm? Because the potatoes have eyes and the corn has ears.”

Satire

Satire is a literary style that uses humor, irony, or exaggeration to expose and criticize human folly or vice.

caricatured politician and exaggerated elements that symbolize common societal issues, surrounded by an audience with varied reactions

For example, Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” is a satirical novel.

Simile

A simile is a comparison between two unlike things using the words “like” or “as.”

For example: “Her eyes sparkled like diamonds.”

Symbolism

Symbolism is the use of symbols to represent ideas or qualities in literature.

For example, a rose might symbolize love or beauty.

Tone

n author surrounded by contrasting environments that symbolize different tones: a bright, cheerful side representing a positive tone and a dim, moody side for a serious or somber tone.

Tone is the author’s attitude toward their subject or audience, conveyed through word choice, sentence structure, and other literary elements.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main types of literary devices?

There are several types of literary devices, including figurative language (such as similes and metaphors), sound devices (like alliteration and onomatopoeia), and narrative structures (like foreshadowing and flashbacks). These devices help enrich the overall experience of reading and interpreting a text.

How can literary devices be used effectively?

To use literary devices effectively, you should make sure they serve a purpose in your writing. They can help convey meaning, create mood, emphasize themes, and develop characters. Be careful not to overuse them, as it may distract readers from the main message of your work.

What is the purpose of using literary devices in writing?

Literary devices are used to enhance the reader’s experience by creating depth and layers of meaning within a text. They can help bring vividness to descriptions, highlight important themes, and add emotional resonance. Moreover, they contribute to the writer’s unique style and voice.

How can understanding literary devices improve reading comprehension?

By understanding literary devices, you can better appreciate the nuances of a text and grasp the underlying messages or themes intended by the author. Recognizing these devices also enables you to analyze and interpret literature on a deeper level, ultimately enhancing your reading experience.

Can you provide examples of commonly used literary devices?

Some commonly used literary devices include:

  • Simile: comparing two things using “like” or “as” (e.g., “Her smile was as warm as sunshine.”)
  • Metaphor: comparing two things without using “like” or “as” (e.g., “His words were daggers to her heart.”)
  • Alliteration: repetition of initial consonant sounds in closely connected words (e.g., “She sells seashells by the seashore.”)
  • Personification: giving human-like qualities to non-human entities (e.g., “The wind whispered through the trees.”)

Which literary devices are used most frequently in various genres?

Different genres may rely on specific literary devices more often than others. For example, poetry often uses metaphors, similes, and alliteration to create vivid imagery, whereas science fiction typically employs world-building and futuristic concepts. Understanding the conventions of each genre will help you identify and appreciate the literary devices in use.