What are Literary Devices and Language Features?

Language features are the specific language techniques that an author includes to create meaning. Literary elements are aspects of a text that the reader interprets, for example, themes and characterisation. Literary elements and language features both come under the umbrella of literary devices, along with the conventions of other genres (for example, dramatic or poetic conventions). 

Literary elements and language features are closely linked, and it is essential that you are able to discuss how they work together to form complex analysis. A clear example of this is characterisation. Characterisation is how a particular character is constructed and represented – this is a literary element. However this construction is formed through language features, such as the selection of particular words (diction).


Language Features/Literary Device Description
OxymoronTwo words used together that have, or seem to have, opposite meanings. Example: pretty awful.
RepetitionThe act of doing or saying something again.
AlliterationThe repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables. Example: “Round the rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran” uses alliteration.
SimileAn expression comparing one thing with another, always including the words “as” or “like”. Example: The lines “She walks in beauty, like the night…” from Byron’s poem contain a simile.
MetaphorAn expression, often found in literature, that describes a person or object by referring to something that is considered to have similar characteristics to that person or object. Example: “The mind is an ocean” and “the city is a jungle” are both metaphors.
PersonificationWhen you associate a humanistic quality to an inanimate object.
ImageryThe use of pictures or words to create images, esp. to create an impression or mood.
Descriptive languageDescriptive language adds purpose, aesthetic value and emotion to a text. Example: adjectives, adverbs, similes, and metaphors
Figurative languageFigurative language refers to the use of words in a way that deviates from the conventional order and meaning in order to convey a complicated meaning, colorful writing, clarity, or evocative comparison. Example: This coffee shop is an ice box!
HyperboleExtravagant exaggeration. Example: Although he’s not given to hyperbole, Ron says we are light-years ahead of our time.
PunsA humorous use of a word or phrase that has several meanings or that sounds like another word. Example: She made a couple of dreadful puns.
Double entendreAmbiguity of meaning arising from language that lends itself to more than one interpretation.
OnomatopoeiaThe naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it.
Emotive languageEmotive language is the term used when certain word choices are made to evoke an emotional response. Example: Adjectives – Appalling, Wonderful, Heavenly, Magical and Tragic.
Inclusive languageInclusive language avoids biases, slang, or expressions that discriminate against groups of people based on race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Example: “We come in peace for all mankind” would likely now be “We come in peace for all humankind”
Exclusive languageExclusive language is language that uses words specifically chosen with the intent to exclude an individual or a group. Example: if you said “that is so retarded” and the person has a disability or knows someone with a disability
Direct address Direct address refers to any construct in which a speaker is talking directly to an individual or group. Example: “What time do you want to go to the game, Felix?"
Syntax The way in which linguistic elements are put together to form constituents. Example: The president’s tortured syntax was often satirized.
ClichéA saying or remark that is very often made and is therefore not original and not interesting. Example: The story is shamelessly corny, and grownups will groan at its clichés
IdiomA group of words in a fixed order that have a particular meaning that is different from the meanings of each word on its own. Example: ‘She was over the moon’
AssonanceRepetition of vowels without repetition of consonants used as an alternative to rhyme in verse. Example: “Hear the mellow wedding bells”
EuphemismA word or phrase used to avoid saying an unpleasant or offensive word.
Example: “Senior citizen” is a euphemism for “old person”.
MetonymyThe act of referring to something using a word that describes one of its qualities or features.
AnthropomorphismAn interpretation of what is not human or personal in terms of human or personal characteristics.
DictionThe connotations of words used in a text.
Syntax and punctuationSyntax- the grammatical arrangement of words in a sentence.
Punctuation- the act or practice of inserting standardized marks or signs in written matter to clarify the meaning and separate structural units.
Colloquial languageInformal and more suitable for use in speech than in writing.
Stylistic features The ways in which aspects of texts are arranged and how they affect meaning.
Examples of stylistic features are narrative viewpoint, structure of stanzas, juxtaposition
Cumulative listing Increasing by one addition after another.
Asyndeton Omission of the conjunctions that ordinarily join coordinate words or clauses. Example: “I came, I saw, I conquered”
SyndetonUsing conjunctions for effects. “He eats and sleeps and drinks”



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