Glossary of Literary Terms
  • Alliteration: the repetition of initial consonant sounds
  • Allusion: the reference to something in history or literature
  • Antagonistwhoever or whatever opposes the protagonist
  • Apostrophe: a figure of speech in which someone absent or dead or something nonhuman is addressed as if it were alive and present and could reply.
  • Assonance:; the repetition at close intervals of the vowel sounds of accented syllables or important words.


  • Cacophony:  a harsh or unpleasant spoken sound created by clashing consonants: "bifocals cracked"
  • Climax:  the point of greatest tension or importance, where the decisive action of the work takes place.
    Coming of age story: also called a rite of passage story.  It is a story that chronicles the passage of a young person into adulthood, usually by portraying their reaction to a significant event in a transitional period in a life.
  • Conflict: a clash between opposing forces
  • Consonance: The repetition at close intervals of the final consonant sounds of accented syllables or important words.
  • Crisis: a peak moment of tension in the action of a work, the moment of highest indecision.


  • Dilemma: a problem which has no desirable solution.
  • Direct presentation: the writer tells readers what kind of personality the character possesses rather than allowing the character to show his or her personality and allow readers to draw their own conclusions.
  • Dramatic irony:  the reader knows more than the characters in the work do.
  • Dramatic point of view: also called objective point of view.  The third person narrator relates only what we can see and hear, without giving access to the thoughts and feelings of any of the characters.
  • Dynamic character: a character who undergoes a fundamental personality change as a result of the conflicts he or she has endured.
  • End rhyme: rhyme that occurs at the end of lines.
  • Epiphany: a sudden moment of revelation about the deep meaning inherent in common things.
  • Escape literature:  literature whose purpose is entertainment rather than any sort of deeper human understanding.
  • Euphony: a pleasant spoken sound created by smooth consonants such as "supple" or "measure."
  • Exposition: the portion of a literary work occurring at the beginning of a piece and functioning to introduce main characters and conflicts as well as provide any necessary background information.
  • Extended Metaphor: a sustained comparison in which part or all of a poem consists of a series of related metaphors.
  • Eye rhyme: words that are spelled alike, but that do not sound alike: "catch/watch"


  • Falling action: the portion of a work following the climax where the conflicts are resolved.
  • Feet: The pattern of accented and unaccented syllables in a line of poetry.  The most common feet are the iamb (unstressed/stressed), trochee (stressed/unstressed), anapest (two unstressed/one stressed), dactyl (one stressed/two unstressed) and spondee (two stressed)
  • Feminine rhyme: a rhyme with two or three stressed syllables--minty/plenty
  • Figurative language: language employing figures of speech; language that cannot be taken literally or only literally.
  • First person point of view: a character in the story is telling the story.
  • Flashback: the presentation of an event or situation that occurred before the time in which the work's action takes place.
  • Flat character: a character who is two-dimensional and not fully developed.
  • Foreshadow: the presentation early in a work of things that seem to have no significance at the time, but which later are revealed to have great significance.


  • Hyperbole (also called overstatement): a type of verbal irony in which the speaker exaggerates, says more than what he or she means.


  • Imagery: the use of language to evoke sensory impressions in the reader.
  • Indeterminate ending:  an ending to a work in which the central conflict is left unresolved.
  • Indirect presentation: the writer presents the character in action, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about the personality of that character.
  • In medias res: a Latin term meaning "in the midst of things."  It refers to the fact that any literary work will necessarily begin in the middle of an action or story, necessitating background information.
  • Imperfect rhyme (also called approximate rhyme): a term used for words in a rhyming pattern that have some kind of sound correspondence but are not perfect rhymes.
  • Internal rhyme: a rhyme in which one or both of the rhyme words occurs within the line.
  • Irony: a literary device or situation that depends on the existence of at least two separate and contrasting levels of meaning or experience.


  • Limited omniscient point of view: third person narrator who gives the reader access to the thoughts and feelings of one character, usually the protagonist.


  • Masculine rhyme--a rhyme with one stressed syllable--cat/hat
  • Metaphor: an implicit comparison between two dissimilar objects.  The comparison won't use any signal words, such as like or as.  It will just say that one thing is another and expect the reader to know that the writer is making the comparison.  The purpose of metaphor is to make the unfamiliar familiar to the reader by comparing it to something that the reader is presumably familiar with.
  • Meter: The pattern of rhythm in a poem, based on accented and unaccented syllables with one foot per line.  Meters are defined by the characteristic pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in the poem's feel. 


  • Objective point of view:  also called the dramatic point of view.  The third person narrator relates only what we can see and hear, without giving access to the thoughts and feelings of any of the characters.
  • Omniscient point of view: third person narrator who tells everything that everyone says and does as well as what they think and feel.
  • Onomatopoeia: a word whose sound resembles what it describes: "growl, snap."
  • Overstatement (also called hyperbole): a type of verbal irony in which the speaker exaggerates, says more than what he or she means.
  • Oxymoron: a condensed form of paradox where seemingly contradictory words are joined together.


  • Paradox: A statement that initially appears to be contradictory but then, on closer inspection, turns out to make sense.
  • Pastoral: Poetry idealizing the lives of shepherds and country folk, although the term is often used loosely to include any poems with a rural aspect. Sidelight: "Pastor" is the Latin word for shepherd. In classical poetry, the pastoral conventions    featured a shepherd's meditations on themes such as nature or romance. From another recurrent theme, the expression of grief over the death of a fellow shepherd, emerged the long-enduring conventions of the pastoral elegy.
  • Perfect rhyme: Rhyme where the accented vowel sounds are preceded by differing consonant sounds: "placate/ donate."
  • Personification: a form of metaphor in which human characteristics are attributed to nonhuman things.  Personification offers the writer a way to give the world life and motion by assigning familiar human behaviors and emotions to animals, inanimate objects, and abstract ideas.
  • Plot: the sequence of events in a literary work.  The structure of the plot usually consists of exposition, complication (rising action), crisis, climax, falling action, and resolution.
  • Point of view: the narrative voice that the author creates to tell the story.
  • Protagonist: central character in central conflict.


  • Reliable narrator:  a question to consider when the point of view is either first person or third person limited.  This narrator relates the story accurately and is a trustworthy storyteller.
  • Resolution: the final stage in the plot where all the loose ends are tied up.
  • Rhyme: The repetition of accented vowel sound and all succeeding sounds in important or importantly positioned words. 
  • Rhythm: refers to the pattern of stresses and pauses in spoken language.
  • Rising action: the conflicts develop in intensity.
  • Round character: a character who is three-dimensional and multi-faceted.


  • Sarcasm: a form of irony where apparent praise is used to convey strong, bitter criticism.
  • Serious literature: literature whose purpose is to enhance the reader's understanding of the human condition.
  • Setting: the time and place in which a story takes place.
  • Simile: a figure of speech that makes an explicit comparison between two things by using words such as like, as, than, appears, and seems.
  • Situational irony: the situation turns out differently than expected.
  • Stanza: An arrangement or group of lines forming a unit of division of a poem.  From  the Italian, "stopping place."
  • Static character: a character who does not change in the course of a literary work, regardless of the conflicts he or she endures.
  • Stereotype: a character who possesses one or two easily recognized and identified traits which enable the observer to accurately predict behavior and personality, i.e., the dumb blonde, the town drunk: a figure differentiated by role rather than by psychology.
  • Suspense: the quality of having the reading wonder What's going to happen next?
  • Symbolism: a person, object, action or idea whose meaning transcends its literal sense.


  • Theme: the general meaning or insight of a literary work.
  • Tone: the speaker's attitude toward his or her subject matter.


  • Understatement: a type of verbal irony whereby the speaker says less that what he or she means.
  • Unreliable narrator: a question to consider when the point of view is either first person or third person limited.  This narrator relates the story inaccurately and is not a trustworthy storyteller.


  • Verbal irony: the speaker means the opposite of what he or she says.  Both speaker and listener must be aware of the discrepancy.