Glossary of literary terms

This glossary of literary terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts used in the discussion, classification, analysis, and criticism of all types of literature, such as poetry, novels, and picture books, as well as of grammar, syntax, and language techniques. For a more complete glossary of terms relating to poetry in particular, see Glossary of poetry terms.

A

abecedarius
A special type of acrostic in which the first letter of every word, strophe or verse follows the order of the alphabet.[1]
acatalexis
accent
Any noun 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 verse
Accentual 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]
acrostic
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. Example: An Acrostic (1829) by Edgar Allan Poe.[5]
act
adage

Also adagium.

A concise, memorable, and usually philosophical aphorism which communicates an important truth derived from experience, custom, or both, and which is considered true and credible because of its tradition of being handed down from generation to generation. Adages are often interesting observations, ethical rules, or skeptical comments on life in general. Similar sayings include proverbs, maxims, and epigrams.
adjective
Any word or phrase which modifies a noun or pronoun, grammatically added to describe, identify, or quantify the related noun or pronoun.[6][7]
adverb
A descriptive 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
allegory
A type of writing in which the settings, characters, and events stand for other specific people, events, or ideas.[9]
alliteration
Repetition of the initial sounds of words, as in "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers".[10]
allusion
A figure of speech that makes a reference to or a representation of people, places, events, literary works, myths, or works of art, either directly or by implication.[10]
anachronism
The erroneous use of an object, event, idea, or word that does not belong to the same time period as its context.[11]
anacrusis
anadiplosis
anagnorisis
The point in a plot at which a character recognizes the true state of affairs.[12]
analepsis
An interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point the story has reached.[13]
analogue
analogy
A comparison between two things that are otherwise unlike.[14][15]
anapest
A 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 and followed by cept, which is stressed).[16]
anaphora
anastrophe
anecdote
A short account of a particular incident or event, especially of an interesting or amusing nature.[17]
annals
annotation
antagonist
The adversary of the hero or protagonist of a drama or other literary work; e.g. Iago is the antagonist[18] in William Shakespeare's Othello.[18]
antanaclasis
antecedent
A 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
apostrophe
A typographical symbol (') 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
assonance
A phonetic technique where the words utilised sound similar to one another.
astrophic
Stanzas having no particular pattern.[2][8]
asyndeton
The omission of conjunctions between successive clauses. An example is when John F. Kennedy said on January 20, 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