A Glossary of English Literary Terms

The following is a list of English literary terms, those words are used in discussion, classification, criticism, and analysis of poetry, novels, picture books and so on.

Aesthetic: Having appreciation of the beautiful.

Allegory: A narrative or discourse put in figurative language intended to point a moral.

Alliteration: The repetition of the same initial letter in every succeeding word.

Anthem: A national song.

Aphorism: A concise sentence containing precept or important truth.

Archaism: Old fashioned or obsolete word.

Assonance: Repetition of a vowel sound without the recurrence of consonant sounds.

Autobiography: A graphic account or character sketch of one’s own life written by oneself.

Analogue: A word or thing similar or parallel to another.

Allusion: a reference to some person, place or event with literary, historical, geographical, Biblical, mythical or cultural significance.

Analogy: a comparison of ideas or objects which are essentially different but which are alike in one significant way.

Antagonist: the force (usually, but not always, a person) that opposes the main character (the protagonist) in his attempt to solve a problem and thus to resolve the conflict he is involved in.

Anticlimax: an outcome of a situation or series of events that, by contrast to what was anticipated, is ludicrous or disappointing. The anticlimax can often create a humorous effect.

Archetype: a representation of an element of universal human experience; something recognized by all. An idea or desire that automatically and unconsciously resonates (a feeling of shared emotion or belief) powerfully and deeply within a large group.

Atmosphere: the general over-all feeling of a story conveyed in a large part by the setting and the mood.

Archaic: language of the past.

Ballad: A short narrative poem.

Biography: The history or the life of a particular person.

Bibliography: The science of description of books, a list of a authorities on any subject.

Blank verse: Poetry without rhyme.

Bluestocking: A term used to describe a lady affecting literary tastes.

Burlesque: A literary or dramatic work intended to excite language by extravagant contrast or caricature.

Calligraphy: Beautiful penmanship or art of writing.

Canto: A part of a long poem.

Catastrophe: Denotes the last stage of a tragedy.

Colloquialism: A colloquial form of speech.

Caudate sonnet: A form of sonnet (q.v.) in which the normal pattern of fourteen lines is modified by one or more codas or ‘tails’.

Characterization:The portrayal in a story of an imaginary person by what he says or does, by what others say about him or how they react to him, and by what the author reveals directly or through a narrator.

Cliche: An expression so often used that it has lost its freshness and effectiveness.

climax: The point of highest interest or dramatic intensity in a story.Usually it marks a turning point in the action, since the reader is no longer in doubt about the outcome.

Coincidence: A striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently
by mere chance.

Conflict: The struggle between two opposing forces, ideas, or beliefs which form the basis of a story’s plot. The conflict is resolved when one force – usually the protagonist- succeeds or fails in overcoming the opposing force or gives up trying.

connotation: An emotional coloration/association in addition to the explicit or denotative meaning of any specific word or phrase.

Context: the whole sentence or paragraph surrounding a word or expression.

Couplet: a pair of lines in a poem which rhyme.

Comedy: A kind of drama which begins with miss fortune or discord but ends in happiness.

Dirge: A funeral hymn,a song expressive of grief.

Denotation: The precise, literal meaning of a word or expression (the dictionary meaning) as opposed to a possible connotative meaning.

Denouement: The unraveling of the plot of a story, following the climax, in which the writer explains how and why everything turned out as it did…falling action.

Dialect: The language used in a particular region. The vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation different from other regions.

Dichotomy: A division into two opposing parts, such as the dichotomy of the soul and body or the dichotomy of good and evil in humans.

Drama: A story with a plot and conflict, acted upon a stage in front of a camera or over the radio. Types: comedy, tragedy, horror, melodrama, fantasy and so on.

Effigy: An image, a likeness of figures in sculpture, painting, etc.

Elegy: A song of mourning.

Epic: A narrative poem of some heroic deed or event.

Epilogue: A poem or speech at the end of a play.

Euphemism: An affected style of writing, substitution of mild or vague expression for harsh or blunt one.

Eulogy: Speech or writing in praise of person, etc.

Exemplum: A story  that conveys a precept or a useful.

Epitaph: Inscription on a tomb or a monument.

Episode: A part of a dramatic work such as a serial television or radio program. An episode is a part of a sequence of a body of work, akin (similar) to a chapter of a book.

Essay: A short non-fiction work on one topic. Types: Informational and Personal.

Epithet: Basically an adjective used before a person or thing.

Epigram: A witty statement which in apparently self-contradictory.

Fantasy: A tale involving such unreal characters and improbable events that the reader is not expected to believe it. Some fantasies are intended merely to entertain (escape fantasy); others have a more serious purpose as in Interpretive fantasy (The Rocking Horse Winner DH Lawrence).

Figurative language: Imagination is needed to complete meaning( History and Development of the Essay handout for a full list of Figurative language)

Flashback: A device by which a writer interrupts the main action of a story to recreate a situation or incident of an earlier time as though it were occurring in the present.

Flat character: A character presented in outline (one or two traits), somewhat stereotyped; easy to describe.

Foreshadowing: The dropping of important hints by the author to prepare the reader for what is to come and to help the reader anticipate the outcome.

Free verse: Poetry which has neither rhythm or rhyme.

Farce: Dramatic work parely to excite laughter.

Fairy tale : The fairy tale belongs to folk literature  (q.v.) and is part of the oral tradition.

Fable: A very short, allegorical story of animal characters with a moral.

Glossary: An alphabetical list on unfamiliar of difficult words and phrases.

Hymn: Song in praise of god.

Hyperbole: Exaggerated statement not to be taken literally as ‘O Hamlet ; thou hast cleft my heart in twain.

Hackneyed:Trite; statements or words which are worn out as an expression or comment.

Idyl: A short poem describing simple, rural, pastoral scenes.

Interlude: A short musical entertainment given between acts of a play etc.

Image: Picture of words.

Imagery: The collection use of imagery.

Irony: A statement of a situation or an action which actually means the opposite of it’s surface meaning.

Incident: One of the events (usually minor) that make up the total action or plot of a work of fiction.

Internal rhyme: A line of poetry in which a word in the middle rhymes with a word at the end of the line.

Jargon: A mixture of two or more languages.

Jingle: Usually a verse or verses with a catchy rhythm, emphatic rhyme and alliteration.

Juxtaposition: An act or instance of placing two things close together or side by side. This is often done in order to compare/contrast the two, to show similarities or differences, etc. It has a quality of being unexpected.

Locale:The particular place in which the action in a work of fiction occurs.

Lay: A short lyric or narrative poem meant to be sung.

Lyric: A short poem expressing personal thoughts and feelings of a single speaker.

Melodrama: A kind of drama that provides sensational entertainment.

Metaphor: An implicit comparison between two different things.

Monologue: A single person speaking alone with or without an audience.

Mood: The frame of mind or state of feeling created by a piece of writing.

Moral: The lesson taught by a literary work; found in escape fiction, parables and fables. Recall that interpretive literature has a theme.

Motif: A recurring object, concept, or structure in a work of literature.

Motivation: Reason(s) given in a narrative for the characters behaving the way they do. Understanding a character’s motivations is essential to Literary analysis.

Narration: An account or story of an event, or series of events, whether true or imaginary.

Narrative poetry: A poem which tells a story. Types: ballad, epic, saga.

Narrator: The person in a poem, short story or novel who tells what is happening.

Neology: Bringing into use of new words into a language.

Ode: In modern usage,a lyric poem, often in the form of an address.

Orthography: The part of grammar dealing with correct spelling.

Parable: An allegorical story with a religious moral.

Paraphrase: A restatement of a poem or piece of prose in your own words.

Pathos: That quality in prose that evokes in the reader a feeling of pity and compassion.

 Plot: The series of events or episodes that make up the action in a work of fiction.

PEN: An international association of Poets, Play-wright,Editors, Essayists and Novelists.

Panegyric: Something written or spoken in praise of a distinguished person or event.

 Parody: Imitation of a poem or a writing.

Philology: Science of language.

Plagiarist: One who steals from the writing of others and claims it as his own.

Prologue: Introduction to a play or literary work.

Prosody: Science of versification.

Personification: A figure in which lifeless objects or ideas a rational meaning.

Quatrain: A four-line stanza, commonly used in the English/Shakespearean
sonnet: 3 quatrains followed by a rhyming couplet.

 Realism: The faithful portrayal of people, scenes, and events as they are, not as the
writer would like them to be.

Resolution: The events following the climax in a work of fiction; sometimes called the falling action.

Rising action: The series of incidents in a story which provide suspense and lead to the outcome.

Round character: A complex character, like a real person- possessing both good and bad qualities- not stereotyped.

Recto and Verso: The recto is the right-hand page in book;the verso the left-hand page.

Rhetoric: The art of persuasive impressive speaking or writing.

Satire: A piece of writing that criticizes manners, individuals, or political and social institutions by holding them up to ridicule.

Sentimentality: a superabundance of emotion in a story; the author of a sentimental story is consciously manipulating the reader through selective use of detail and stereotypes.

Setting: The time and place in which the events of a work of fiction occur.

Stereotype: A “stock” character in a story, presented according to certain widely accepted ideas of how such a person should look, think, or act. Ex. a “good” student wears glasses and is poor at sports.

Style: The distinctive manner in which a writer uses language, her conscious choice and arrangement of words.

Suspense: A feeling of excitement, curiosity, or expectation about the outcome of a work of fiction.

 Symbol: An object that stands for, or represents an idea, belief, superstition, social or political institution, etc. Ex. a pair of scales is often used as a symbol for justice.

 Satire: A composition in verse or prose aiming at eliminating evil customs from the society.

Sonnet: A lyric poem of fourteen lines.

Stanza: Group of ( usually four of more) rhymed lives; metrical division of poem.

Simile: A simile is an explicit comparison between two different things. Usually ‘as’ and ‘like’ are used in it.

Theme: The idea, general truth, or commentary on life or people brought out through a story.

Tone: The feeling conveyed by the author’s attitude toward his subject and the particular way in which he writes about it.

 Unity: An arrangement of parts of material that will produce a single, harmonious design or effect in a literary work.

Verisimilitude: The state of being true to life. Any specific details that are realistic and help to make a story seem true. [Compiled] [Sharmin Jahan Sayma]


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