Literary Terms


Figurative Language-  any language that is not intended to be interpreted in a strict literal sense.  The more common figures of speech are SIMILE, METAPHOR, PERSONIFICATION, and HYPERBOLE.


Simile-  a figure of speech comparing two seemingly unlike things using like or as.

Example:          “I’m like a one-eyed cat creeping through a seafood store.”

                                    -Elvis Presley, “Shake, Rattle, and Roll”



Metaphor-  a figure of speech involving an implied comparison between two seemingly unlike things.

            Example:          “I am bottled, fizzy water, and you are shaking me up.”

                                                -Incubus, “Just a Phase”


Personification-  a figure of speech in which something non-human is given human qualities.

            Example:          “Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go.”

                                                -Greenday, “Time of Your Life”


Hyperbole-  a figure of speech using great exaggeration.

            Example:          “I hate you with the red-hot intensity of a thousand suns!”

                                                -Diane Chambers, Cheers


Allusion-  a reference to a work of literature or to an actual event, person, or place, which the writer/speaker expects the audience to recognize.

Example:             Bruce Springstein’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” is an allusion to The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.


Paradox- a statement, often metaphorical, that seems to be self-contradicting but which has valid meaning.

            Example:          “I am a deeply superficial person.”

                                                -Andy Warhol


                                    “So foul and fair a day I have not seen”



Satire-  the technique that employs wit to ridicule a subject, usually some social institution or human foible, with the intention to inspire reform.

Example:            The Simpsons often using satire to ridicule educational, legal, economical, and social aspects of everyday life.



Irony-  a contrast between what is stated and what is really meant, or between what is expected to happen and what actually does happen.


Verbal Irony-  when the writer or speaker says one thing and means something entirely different.

                        Example:          In Lewis Carroll’s “The Crocodile,” he states:

                                                            How cheerfully he seems to grin,

                                                            How neatly spread his claws

                                                            And welcomes little fishes in

                                                            With gently smiley jaws!

He says that the crocodile welcomes little fish into his gently smiling jaws.  He really means that the crocodile is eating the fish and that his massive, toothy jaws are anything but gentle.


Dramatic Irony- when the reader or audience knows something that a character does not know.

Example:            In The Diary of Anne Frank we are told at the beginning of the play that no one but Mr. Frank survives the Nazi prison camps.  Thus, we watch the play knowing what the main characters themselves don’t know; that only one of them will survive the war.


            Irony of Situation-  an occurrence that is contrary to what is expected or intended.