Glossary of literary terms

The following is a list of literary terms; that is, those words used in discussion, classification, criticism, and analysis of poetry, novels, and picture books.

TermDescriptionCitationNotes
AbecedariusAn acrostic in which the first letter of every word, strophe or verse follows the order of the alphabet[1]
Acatalexis
AccentNoun used to describe the stress put on a certain syllable while speaking a word. For example, there has been disagreement over the pronunciation of "Abora" in line 41 of "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. According to Herbert Tucker of the website For Better For Verse, the accent is on the first and last syllable of the word, making its pronunciation: AborA.[2][3]
Accentual verseAccentual verse is common in children's poetry. Nursery rhymes and the less well-known skipping-rope rhymes are the most common form of accentual verse in the English Language.[4]
AcrosticAn acrostic is a poem or other form of writing in which the first letter, syllable, or word of each line, paragraph, or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message. An Acrostic by Edgar Allan Poe.[5]
ActItalic text
AdjectiveA word or phrase which modifies a noun or pronoun, grammatically added to describe, identify, or quantify the related noun or pronoun.[6][7]
AdverbA describing word used to modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Typically ending in -ly, adverbs answer the questions when, how, and how many times.[2][8]
Aisling
AllegoryA type of writing in which the settings, characters, and events stand for other specific people, events, or ideas.[9]
AlliterationRepetition of the initial sounds of words, as in "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers"[10]
AllusionA figure of speech that makes a reference to, or representation of, people, places, events, literary work, myths, or works of art, either directly or by implication.[10]
AnachronismErroneous use of an object, event, idea, or word that does not belong to that time period.[11]
Anacrusis
Anadiplosis
AnagnorisisThe point in a plot where a character recognizes the true state of affairs[12]
Analects
AnalepsisAn interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point the story has reached[13]
Analogue
AnalogyComparison between two things that are otherwise unlike. H[14][15]
AnapestA version of the foot in poetry in which the first two syllables of a line are unstressed, followed by a stressed syllable. E.g. Intercept (the syllables in and ter are unstressed followed by cept which is stressed)[16]
Anaphora
Anastrophe
AnecdoteA short account of a particular incident or event, especially of an interesting or amusing nature.[17]
Annals
Annotation
AntagonistThe adversary of the hero or protagonist of a drama or other literary work: Iago is the antagonist[18] of Othello.[18]
Antanaclasis
AntecedentA word or phrase referred to by any relative pronoun.[6]
Antepenult
Anthology
Anticlimax
Antihero
Antimasque
Anti-romance
Antimetabole
Antinovel
Antistrophe
Antithesis
Antithetical couplet
Antonym
Aphorism
Apocope
Apollonian and Dionysian
Apologue
Apology
Apothegm
Aposiopesis
Apostrophea mark ' used to indicate the omission of letters or figures, the possessive case (as in "John's book"), or the plural of letters or figures (as in "the 1960's") In the contraction "can't," the apostrophe replaces two of the letters in the word "cannot."[19]
Apron stage
Arcadia
Archaism
Archetype
Aristeia
Argument
Arsis and thesis
Asemic writing
Aside
AssonanceA phonetic technique where the words utilised sound similar to one another.
AstrophicStanzas having no particular pattern[2][8]
AsyndetonThe omission of conjunctions between clauses. An example is when John F. Kennedy said on January the 20th 1961 "...that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."[20]
Aubade
Audience
Autobiography
Autotelic
Avant-garde
Ballad
Ballade
Ballad stanza
Bard
Baroque
Bathos
Beast fable
Beast poetry
Beginning rhyme
Belles-lettres
Bestiary
Beta reader
Bibliography
Bildungsroman
Biography
Blank verseVerse written in iambic pentameter without rhyme.[8][21]
Boulevard theatre
Bourgeois tragedy
Bouts-Rimés
Breviloquence
Burlesque
Burletta
Burns stanza
Byronic hero
Cadence
Caesura
Calligram
Canon
Canso
Canticle
Canto
Canzone
Captivity narrative
Caricature
Carmen figuratum
Carpe diem
Catachresis
Catalexis
Catastrophe
Catharsis
Caudate sonnet
Cavalier poet
Celtic art
Celtic Revival
Chain rhyme
Chanson de geste
Chansonnier
Chant royal
Chapbook
Character
Characterization
Charactonym
Chaucerian stanza
Chiasmus
Chivalric romance
Choriamb
Chronicle
Chronicle play
Cinquain
Classical unities
Classicism
Classification
Clerihew
Cliché
Climax
Cloak and dagger
Close reading
Closed couplet
Closet drama
Collaborative poetry
Colloquialism
Comédie larmoyante
Comedy
Comedy of errors
Comedy of humors
Comedy of intrigue
Comedy of manners
Comic relief
Commedia dell'arte
Commedia erudita
Common measure
Commonplace book
Common rhyme
Conceit
Concordance
Concrete universal
Confessional literature
Confidant/confidante
Conflict
Connotation
Consistency
Consonance
Contradiction
Context
Contrast
Convention
Coup de théâtre
CoupletTwo lines with rhyming ends. Shakespeare often used a couplet to end a sonnet.[8]
Courtesy book
Courtly love
Cowleyan ode
Cradle books
Craft cycle
Crisis
Cross acrostic
Crown of sonnets
Curtain raiser
Curtal sonnet
Dactyl
Dandy
Débat
Death poem
Decadence
Decasyllable
Decorum
Denotation
Dénouement
Description
Deus ex machina
Deuteragonist
Dialect
DialogicA work primarily featuring dialogue; a piece of, relating to, or written in dialogue.[11]
Dialogue
Dibrach
DictionAlso known as "lexis" and "word choice," the term refers to the words selected for use in any oral, written, or literary expression. Diction often centers on opening a great array of lexical possibilities with the connotation of words by maintaining first the denotation of words.[22]
DidacticIntended to teach, instruct, or have a moral lesson for the reader.[11]
Digest size
Digression
Dime novel
Diameter
DimeterA line of verse made up of two feet (two stresses)[9]
Dipody
Dirge
Discourse
Dissociation of sensibility
Dissonance
Distich
Distributed stress
Dithyramb
Diverbium
Divine afflatus
Doggerel
Dolce stil nuove
Domestic tragedy
Donnée
Doppelgänger
Double rhyme
Drama
Dramatic character
Dramatic irony
Dramatic lyric
Dramatic monologue
Dramatic proverb
Dramatis personae
Dramaturgy
Dream allegory
Dream vision
Droll
Dumb show
Duodecimo
Duologue
Duple meter/duple rhythm
Dystopia
Dynamic character
Echo verse
Eclogue
EkphrasisA vivid, graphic, or dramatic written commentary or description of another visual form of art.[2][8]
Elegy
Elision
Emblem
Emblem book
Emendation
End rhyme
End-stopped lineA line in poetry that ends in a pause—indicated by a specific punctuation, such as a period or a semicolon.[9]
English sonnet
EnjambmentThe continuing of a syntactic unit over the end of a line. Enjambment occurs when the sense of the line overflows the meter and line break.[2]
Entr'acte
Envoi
Epanalepsis
Épater la bourgeoisie
Epic poetryA long poem that narrates the victories and adventures of a hero. It can be identified by lofty or elegant diction.[8]
Epic simile
Epic Theater
Epigraph
Epilogue
Epiphany
Episode
Episteme
Epistle
Epistolary novel
EpistropheRepetition of a word or phrase at the end of clauses or sentences[23]
Epitaph
Epithalamion
Epithet
Epizeuxis
Epode
Eponymous author
Erziehungsroman
Essay
Ethos
Eulogy
Euphony
Euphuism
Exaggeration
Exegesis
Exemplum
Exordium
Experimental novel
Explication de texte
Exposition (literary technique)
Extended metaphor
Extrametrical verse
Eye rhyme
Fable
Fabliau
Falling action
Falling rhythm
Fancy and imagination
Fantasy
Farce
Feminine ending
Feminine rhymeA rhyme with two syllables. One is stressed, one is unstressed. Examples: "merry", "coffee".[2][8]
Fiction
Figurative language
Figure of speech
Fin de siècle
FlashbackAn interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point the story has reached[13]
FlashforwardAn interjected scene that takes the narrative forward in time from the current point of the story in literature, film, television, and other media[13]
Flat character
Foil
Folio
Folk drama
Folklore
Foot
Foreshadowing
Form
Fourteener
Frame story
Free indirect discourse
Free verse
French forms
Fustian
Gallows humor
Gathering
Genetic fallacy
Genius and talent
Genre
Georgian poetry
Georgics
Gesta
Ghazal
Gloss
Gnomic verse
Golden line
Goliardic verse
Gongorism
Gonzo journalism
Gothic novel
Grand Guignol
Great chain of being
Greek chorus
Greek tragedy
Grub Street
Guignol
Gushi
Hagiography
HaibunProse written in a terse, haikai style, accompanied by haiku[24]
HaikaiBroad genre comprising the related forms haiku haikai-renga and haibun[24]
HaikuModern term for standalone hokku[24]
Half rhyme
Hamartia
Headless line
Head rhyme
Hemistich
Hendecasyllable
Hendecasyllabic verse
Heptameter
Heptastich
Heresy of paraphrase
Heroic couplets
Heroic drama
Heroic quatrain
Heroic stanza
HexameterA line from a poem hat has six feet in its meter. Another name for hexameter is "The Alexandrine."[8]
Hexastich
Hiatus
High comedy
Higher criticism
Historical linguistics
Historic present
History play
HokkuIn Japanese poetry, the opening stanza of a renga or renku (haikai no renga)[25]
Holograph
Homeric epithet
Homily
Horatian ode
Horatian satire
Hornbook
Hovering accent
Hubris
Hudibrastic
Humor
Humours
Hymn
Hymnal stanza
Hypallage
HyperbatonA figure of speech that alters the syntactic order of the words in a sentence or separates normally-associated words. The term may also be used more generally for all different figures of speech that transpose the natural word order in sentences.[26][27]
Hyperbole
Hypercatalectic
Hypermetrical
Hypocorism
Hysteron-proteron
HypotacticA term where different subordinate clauses are used in a sentence to qualify a single verb or modify it.[8]
Iambic pentameter
Idiom
Idyll
Imagery
Imagism
Incipit
Indeterminacy
Inference
In medias res
Innuendo
InterjectionA word that's tacked onto a sentence in order to add strong emotion. It's grammatically unrelated to the rest of the sentence. They are usually followed by an exclamation point.[8]
Internal conflict
Internal rhyme
Interpretation
IntertextualityRefers to the way in which different works of literature interact with and relate to one another to construct meaning.[8]
Intuitive description
Irony
Jacobean era
Jeremiad
Ji-amariThe use of one or more extra syllabic units (on) above the 5/7 standard in Japanese poetic forms such as waka and haiku.[28]
Jintishi
JitarazuThe use of fewer syllabic units (on) than the 5/7 standard in Japanese poetic forms such as waka and haiku.[29]
Jueju
Juggernaut
Juncture
Juvenalian satire
Kabuki
Kafkaesque
Kenning
KigoIn Japanese poetry, a seasonal word or phrase required in haiku and renku[30]
King's English
KirejiIn Japanese poetry, a "cutting word" required in haiku and hokku[31]
Kitsch
Künstlerroman
Lacuna
Lai
Lake Poets
Lament
Art for art's sake
Laureate
Lay
Legend
Legitimate theater
Leonine rhyme
Level stress (even accent)
Light ending
Light poetry
Light rhyme
Light stress
Light poetry
Limerick
Linked rhyme
Link sonnet
Literary ballad
Literary criticism
Literary movement
Literary epic
Literary fauvism
Literary realism
Literary theory
Literature
Litotes
Liturgical drama
Logaoedic
Logical fallacy
Logical stress
Logos
Long metre
Long poem
Loose sentence
Lost Generation
Low comedy
Lullaby
Lune
Lushi
LyricA short poem with a song-like quality, or designed to be set to music; often conveying feelings, emotions, or personal thoughts.[9]
Macaronic language
Madrigal
Magic realism
Malapropism
Maqama
Märchen
Marginalia
Marinism
Marivauge
Masculine ending
Masculine rhyme
Masked comedy
Masque
Maxim
Meaning
Medieval drama
Meiosis
Melic poetry
MelodramaA work that is characterized by extravagant theatricality and by the predominance of plot and physical action over characterization[11]
Memoir
Menippean satire
Mesostic
MetaphorMaking a comparison between two unlike things without using the words like, as, or than.[9]
Metaphysical conceit
Metaphorical language
Meter
Metonymy
Metrical accent
Metrical foot
Metrical structure
Microcosm Theatre
Middle Comedy
Miles gloriosus
Miltonic sonnet
Mimesis
Minnesang
Mystery play (miracle play)
Mise en scène
Mock-heroic (mock epic)
Mode
Monodrama
Monody
Monogatari
Monograph
Monologue
Monometer (monopody)
Monostich
Monograph
Mood
Mora
Moral
Morality play
Motif
Motivation
Mummers Play
Muses
Musical comedy
MuwashshahA multi-lined strophic verse form which flourished in Islamic Spain in the 11th century, written in Arabic or Hebrew[32]
Mystery play
Mythology
Narrative point of view
Narrator
NaturalismA theory or practice in literature emphasizing scientific observation of life without idealization and often including elements of determinism[11]
NeologismThe creation of new words, some arising from acronyms, word combinations, direct translations, and the addition of prefixes or suffixes.[6]
Non-fiction
NovelA genre of fiction that relies on narrative and possesses a considerable length, an expected complexity, and a sequential organization of action into story and plot distinctively. This genre is flexible in form, although prose is the standard, focuses around one or more characters, and is continuously reshaped and reformed by a speaker.[2]
Novella
Novelle
Narrative poem
Objective correlative
Objective criticism
Obligatory scene
Octameter
Octave
OctetAn eight line stanza of poetry[8]
OdeA lyrical poem, sometimes sung, that focuses on the glorification of a single subject and its meaning. Often has an irregular stanza structure.[11]
Oedipus complex
Onomatopoeiathe formation of a word, as cuckoo, meow, honk, or boom, by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent.[33]
Open couplet
Oulipo
Orchestra
Ottava rimaA verse form in which a stanza has eight iambic pentameter lines following the rhyme scheme ABABABCC. An ottava rima was often used for long narratives, especially epics and mock heroic poems.[2]
Oxford Movement
Oxymoron
Palinode
Pantoum
Pantun
Parable
Paraclausithyron
Paradelle
Paradox
Paraphrase
Pararhyme
ParatacticCombining of various syntactic units, usually prepositions, without the use of conjunctions to form short and simple phrases.[9]
Partimen
Pastourelle
Pathetic fallacy
Pathya Vat
Parallelism
Parody
PastoralA work depicting an idealized vision of the rural life of shepherds.[8]
Pathos
PhraseA sequence of two or more words, forming a unit.In the poem “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Coleridge, the words “pleasure-dome” is a phrase read not only in this poem, but also in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” when she uses also uses the phrase.[11]
Periodical literature
Peripetia
Persona
Personification
Phronesis
Picaresque novel
Plain style
Platonic idealism
Plot
Poem and song
Poetic diction
Poetic transrealism
Point of view
Polysyndeton
Post-colonialism
Postmodernism
Present PerfectA verb tense that describes actions just finished or continuing from the past into the present. This can also imply that past actions have present effects.[8]
Primal scene
Procatalepsis
ProlepsisAn interjected scene that takes the narrative forward in time from the current point of the story in literature, film, television and other media[13]
Prologue
Progymnasmata
Prose
Prosimetrum
Prosody (poetry)
Protagonist
Protologism
Proverb
Pruning poem
Psalm
Pun
Purple prose
Pyrrhic
Quatrain
Quintain
Recusatio
Redaction
Red herring
Refrain
Regency novel
Regionalism
RengaA genre of Japanese collaborative poetry[34]
RenkuIn Japanese poetry, a form of popular collaborative linked verse formerly known as haikai no renga, or haikai[35]
RenshiA form of collaborative poetry pioneered by Makoto Ooka in Japan in the 1980s[36]
Repetition
Reverse chronology
Rhapsodes
Rhetoric
Rhetorical device
Rhetorical operations
Rhetorical question
Rhyme
Rhymed prose
Rhyme royal
RhythmA measured pattern of words and phrases arranged by sound, time, or events. These patterns are [created] in verse or prose by use of stressed and unstressed syllables.[2][22]
Rising action
Robinsonade
Romance
Romanzo d' appendice
Roman à clef
Round-robin story
Ruritanian romance
Russian formalism
Saj'
Satire
Scansion
Scene
Scènes à faire
Sea shanty
Sensibility
Sestet
Setting
Shadorma
Shakespearean sonnet
Sicilian octave
SimileA comparison of two different things that utilizes “like” or “as”.[8]
Slant rhyme
Skaz
Sobriquet
Soliloquy
SonnetA 14 line poem written in iambic pentameter. There are two types of sonnets: Shakespearean and Italian. The Shakespearean sonnet is written with 3 quatrain and a couplet in ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG rhythmic pattern. An Italian sonnet is written in 2 stanzas with an octave followed by a septet in ABBA, ABBA, CDECDE or CDCDCD rhythmic pattern.[8]
Sonneteer
Speaker
SpondeeA foot consisting of two syllables of approximately equal stress.[8]
Spenserian stanza
Sprung rhythm
StanzaGroup of lines offset by a space and then continuing with the next group of lines with a set pattern or number of lines.[8]
Static character
Stereotype
StichicAdjective describing poetry with lines of the same meter and length throughout, but not organized into regular stanzas. Example: Form of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight"[2]
Strambotto
Stream of consciousness writing
Structuralism
SublimeAdjective meaning an immeasurable experience, unable to be rationalized.[2]
Subplot
Syllogism
Symbolism
SynecdocheA term where an entire idea is expressed by something smaller, such as a phrase or a single word; one part of the idea expresses the whole. This concept can also be reversed.[8]
Synesthesia in literature
SyntaxThe study of how words are arranged in a sentence. Ex.- Line 68 of Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode,” is difficult to determine its syntax because of the way the words are arranged: “Which wedding Nature to us gives in dower.” The word “wedding” could be seen as a verb or a noun.[2]
Tautology
Tableau
Tail rhyme
Tagelied
Tale
TankaIn Japanese poetry, a short poem in the form 5,7,5,7,7 syllabic units[37]
Tan-rengaIn Japanese poetry, a tanka where the upper part is composed by one poet, and the lower part by another[38]
Techne
TelestichA telestich is a poem or other form of writing in which the last letter, syllable or word of each line, paragraph or other recurring feature in the text spells out a word or a message.[39]
Tenor
Tercet
Terza rima
Tetrameter
Tetrastich
Text
Textual criticism
Textuality
Theater of Cruelty
Theater of the Absurd
Theme
Thesis
Thesis play
Third person narrative
Threnody
Tirade
Tone
TornadaIn Occitan lyric poetry, a final, shorter stanza (cobla), addressed to a patron, lady, or friend[40]
Tract
Tragedy
Tragedy of blood
Tragic flaw
Tragic hero
Tragic irony
Tragicomedy
Transcendentalism
Transferred epithet
Transition
Translation
Tribrach
Trimeter
Triolet
Triple rhyme
Triple meter
Triple rhythm
Triplet
Tristich
Tritagonist
Trivium
Trobar clus
TrocheeA two syllable foot with the accent syllable on the first foot.[2][8]
Trope
Troubadour
Trouvère
Tuckerization
Truncated line
Tumbling verse
Type character
Type scene
Ubi sunt
Underground art
Underground press
Understatement
Unities
Universality (disambiguation)
University Wits
Uta monogatari
Unreliable narrator
Variable syllable
Variorum
Varronian satire (Menippean satire)
Vates
Vaudeville
Verb displacement
Verisimilitude
Verism
Vers de société
Vers libre
Verse
Verse paragraph
Versiprose
Verso
Victorian literature
Vignette
Villain
Villanelle
Virelay
Virgule
Voice
VoltaA turn or switch that emphasizes a change in ideas or emotions. It can be marked by the words “but” or “yet.” In a sonnet, this change separates the octave from the sestet.[41]
Vorticism
VulgateThe use of informal, common speech, particularly of uneducated people. Similar to the use of vernacular.[11]
Waka
Wardour Street EnglishA pseudo-archaic form of diction affected by some writers, particularly those of historical fiction.[42]
Weak ending
Weak foot
Well-made play
Wellerism
Western fiction
Wit
Word accent
Wrenched accent
ZaThe site of a renga session; also, the sense of dialogue and community present in such a session[43]
Zappai


Further reading

  • M. H. Abrams. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Thomson-Wadsworth, 2005. ISBN 1-4130-0456-3.
  • Chris Baldick. The Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford Univ. Press, 2004. ISBN 0-19-860883-7.
  • Chris Baldick. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford Univ. Press, 2001. ISBN 0-19-280118-X.
  • Edwin Barton & G. A. Hudson. Contemporary Guide To Literary Terms. Houghton-Mifflin, 2003. ISBN 0-618-34162-5.
  • Mark Bauerlein. Literary Criticism: An Autopsy. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8122-1625-3.
  • Karl Beckson & Arthur Ganz. Literary Terms: A Dictionary. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1989. ISBN 0-374-52177-8.
  • Peter Childs. The Routledge Dictionary of Literary Terms. Routledge, 2005. ISBN 0-415-34017-9.
  • J. A. Cuddon. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Penguin Books, 2000. ISBN 0-14-051363-9 .
  • Dana Gioia. The Longman Dictionary of Literary Terms: Vocabulary for the Informed Reader. Longman, 2005. ISBN 0-321-33194-X.
  • Garner, Bryan. Garner's Modern English Usage. Oxford University Press, 2016. ISBN 9780190491482
  • Sharon Hamilton. Essential Literary Terms: A Brief Norton Guide with Exercises. W. W. Norton, 2006. ISBN 0-393-92837-3.
  • William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature. Prentice Hall, 2005. ISBN 0-13-134442-0.
  • X. J. Kennedy, et al. Handbook of Literary Terms: Literature, Language, Theory. Longman, 2004. ISBN 0-321-20207-4.
  • V. B. Leitch. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. W. W. Norton, 2001. ISBN 0-393-97429-4.
  • Frank Lentricchia & Thomas McLaughlin. Critical Terms for Literary Study. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1995. ISBN 0-226-47203-5.
  • David Mikics. A New Handbook of Literary Terms. Yale Univ. Press, 2007. ISBN 0-300-10636-X.
  • Ross Murfin & S. M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006. ISBN 0-312-25910-7.
  • John Peck & Martin Coyle. Literary Terms and Criticism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. ISBN 0-333-96258-3.
  • Edward Quinn. A Dictionary of Literary And Thematic Terms. Checkmark Books, 2006. ISBN 0-8160-6244-7.
  • Lewis Turco. The Book of Literary Terms: The Genres of Fiction, Drama, Nonfiction, Literary Criticism, and Scholarship. Univ. Press of New England, 1999. ISBN 0-87451-955-1.