Literary Term Definitions

A definition is an explanation of a word’s meaning, in this case, in regard to how it’s used in literature. With each of the terms defined, you can find detailed information regarding it, as well as examples in literature.

Home » Glossary of Literary Terms » Literary Term Definitions
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  • a
  • Definition Abjection
    Abjection is a literary term that refers to subjective horror, or someone’s reaction to physically or emotionally disturbing subject matter.
  • Definition Abridgment
    An abridgment is a condensed or shortened version of a book. It contains the most important details and removes any digressions.
  • Definition Acatalectic
    Acatalectic refers to a line of poetry that has a complete number of syllables in the final foot.
  • Definition Act
    An act is a primary division of a dramatic work, like a play, film, opera, or other performance. The act is made up of shorter scenes.
  • Definition Actant
    The word “actant” is used in relation to the actantial model. This is a model that defines the roles of characters and objects.
  • Definition Affective
    The word “affective” is used to refer to the emotional qualities of a literary work.
  • Definition Afflatus
    The word afflatus is defined as a burst of sudden inspiration. A writer, artist, musician, or other creator is powerfully inspired.
  • Definition Agon
    The word “agon” refers to the conflict between two characters in a literary work. It is used to describe the protagonist and antagonist.
  • Definition Alazon
    The alazon is one of the three traditional characters in Greek comedy. They have an inflated sense of worth and often boast.
  • Definition Aleatory
    Aleatory refers to art that’s created through random chance. This kind of writing involves the author making random choices in regard to style, content, and characters.
  • Definition Alterity
    Alterity is a term used to refer to anything that’s different or “other.” It’s often used today to describe something, someone, or a group that does not conform to expected or traditional norms.
  • Definition Amoebean Verse
    Amoebean verse is poetry that uses alternating speakers. The writer creates two distinct voices that alternate speaking on a regular basis.
  • Definition Anagogical 
    Anagogical is a term used to describe a spiritual interpretation of ideas, statements, literature, events, and more. It is most commonly used when describing the scriptures. 
  • Definition Anagram
    An anagram is a rearrangement of the letters in a word or phrase to create a new word or phrase.
  • Definition Anatomy
    In literature, anatomies are the division of a literary work or idea into parts. This is done so that a reader might better analyze the individual pieces.
  • Definition Angst
    The term “angst” is usually described as a feeling of apprehension or anxiety about anything. It was first used by Kierkegaard in the 1800s.
  • Definition Anthology
    An anthology is a collection of literary works that were chosen by a single compiler, a group of people, or an institution of some kind.
  • Definition Anti-Stratfordian
    “Anti-Stratfordian” is a blanket term given to all those who subscribe to a theory of alternative authorship in regard to the works ascribed to William Shakespeare.
  • Definition Antimasque
    The antimasque is a type of masque that occurs before the main masque and is usually presented to great contrast. 
  • Definition Antiphon
    An antiphon is a short chant that is usually used as part of a Christian ritual. These chants are sung as refrains, or repeated sections of verse. 
  • Definition Antonomasia
    Antonomasia is the practice of replacing a proper name with a word or phrase. This is usually something that describes the person or type of person. 
  • Definition Appositive
    An appositive occurs when a word, sometimes a noun, is followed by another noun or phrase that names or changes it in some way.
  • Definition Arcadia
    Arcadia, in poetry, is a term that refers to an idealized, unspoiled natural landscape. It is a utopia and perfect in every way.
  • Definition Automatic Writing
    Automatic writing occurs when someone with a claimed psychic ability writes without consciously deciding which words to put down on paper.
  • Definition Avant-garde 
    In literature, the term avant-garde refers to poetry or prose that pushes the boundaries and is experimental.
  • b
  • Definition Bard
    The term “bard” is used to describe a professional story teller. They could also be a musician, oral historian, genealogist, or another writer. 
  • Definition Bestiary
    A bestiary is a compendium of beasts that originated in the ancient world.
  • Definition Bias
    Bias is undue favor or support to a particular person, group, race, or one argument over another.
  • Definition Bibliomancy
    Bibliomancy is a literary divination practice. It uses a sacred text, such as the Bible, as a method to predict the future.
  • Definition Brechtian
    The term “Brechtian” is used to describe literature that relates to the work of Bretolt Brecht, a famed German playwright and poet during the early 1900s.
  • Definition Byronic
    The term “Byronic” is used to describe anything that exhibits the characteristics of Lord Byron’s writing or evokes the type of life he led.
  • Definition Byronic Hero
    The Byronic hero is a type of character inspired by the life and work of George Gordon, better known as Lord Byron.
  • c
  • Definition Canon
    A literary canon is a collection of materials that are considered to represent a specific period or genre.
  • Definition Chapbook
    A chapbook is a small book that’s published with around 40 pages. The tradition arose in 16th century Europe, and it's still popular today.
  • Definition Cliché
    A cliché is a trite, overused expression that can be found in writing and everyday life.
  • Definition Climax
    The climax is the point at which the main character is forced to contend with the central conflict of the story.
  • Definition Connotation
    A connotation is the feeling a writer creates through their word choice. It’s the idea a specific word or set of words evokes.
  • Definition Context
    The context is the setting in which a story, poem, novel, play, or other literary work is situated.
  • Definition Critique
    A critique is defined as an evaluation of something, whether that be visual or literary arts. It analyzes all of the writer's choices.
  • d
  • Definition Denotation
    Denotation is the literal definition of a word. It is the meaning that’s most commonly found in dictionaries and other academic sources.
  • Definition Denouement
    The denouement is at the end of a story, where the plotlines are tied up and resolved.
  • Definition Dialect
    A dialect is a form of a language spoken by a group of people.
  • Definition Didacticism
    Didacticism refers to a type of literature that’s mean to convey instructions or very specific pieces of information.
  • Definition Discourse
    Discourse is written or spoken words. It is communication that describes thought through language in everyday life and literature.
  • Definition Doppelgänger
    A doppelgänger is a person who looks like someone else but doesn't necessarily act like that person.
  • e
  • Definition Ekphrastic
    Ekphrastic is a type of poem that explores art. The poet engages with any type of visual art within their writing.
  • Definition Epilogue
    An epilogue is an extra chapter at the end of a literary work. 
  • Definition Ethos
    Ethos is one of the three modes of persuasion, along with logos and pathos. In rhetoric, it refers to an argument that appeals to the audience through empathizing with the speaker’s credibility.
  • Definition Eulogy
    A eulogy is a speech, or short piece of writing, created in honor of someone who has recently died.
  • Definition Existentialism
    In its simplest form, existentialism is the exploration of the nature of existence with emphasis on the experiences of humanity.
  • Definition Explication
    An explication is a literary technique that's used to create a close analysis. Usually, it’s related to the analysis of a portion of a text.
  • f
  • Definition Falling Action
    The falling action occurs near the end of the story, following the climax and before the resolution.
  • Definition Faulty Parallelism
    Faulty parallelism is the use of incorrect structures. It occurs when parts of a sentence mean the same thing but don't use the same form.
  • Definition Figurative Language
    Figurative language refers to figures of speech that are used in order to improve a piece of writing.
  • g
  • Definition Genre
    Genre is a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
  • Definition Greater Romantic Lyric
    Greater Romantic Lyric refers to a particular type of Romantic poem in which the author spends an extended period of time contemplating a particular subject.
  • Definition Grotesque
    Grotesque is an adjective used to describe something that’s at once mysterious, ugly, hard to understand, and distorted.
  • h
  • Definition Hero
    In literature, a hero is the principal or primary character of a work.
  • Definition Hubris
    Hubris is a classical term used to refer to excessive pride in a story’s characters.
  • i
  • Definition Impressionism
    Impressionism in literature refers to stories dependent on a character’s subjective point of view. These stories are based around that character’s impressions of their experiences.
  • Definition Intertextuality
    Intertextuality is a feature of a text that references another text. It reflects upon the latter and uses it as a reference for the new written work.
  • k
  • Definition Kenning
    A kenning is a figure of speech in which two words are combined to form a new expression.
  • l
  • Definition Literary Adaptation
    An adaptation occurs when a literary work, such as a poem or novel, is made into a new genre, such as a film or musical.
  • Definition Logos
    Logos is the use of logic to create a persuasive argument in writing.
  • m
  • Definition Mood
    Mood is the feeling created by the writer for the reader. It is what happens within a reader because of the tone the writer used in the poem.
  • Definition Moral
    A moral is the meaning or message conveyed through a story.
  • Definition Morpheme
    A morpheme is the smallest meaningful part of any language. It might be a word, or it might be part of a word.
  • o
  • Definition Old English
    Old English is the earliest recorded version of the English language spoken in England and Scotland during the Middle ages.
  • Definition Omniscient Narrator
    An omniscient narrator knows what’s happening at all times, and all points, of the story.
  • Definition Ordinal Number
    Ordinal numbers are used in linguistics to represent the position or ranking of something, such as first and 1st.
  • p
  • Definition Paraphrasing
    Paraphrasing a poem means to simplify it down to its most basic elements, clarifying along the way and choosing less complicated language.
  • Definition Pedantic
    A pedant, or someone who exhibits pedantic behavior, will correct small mistakes that are not necessarily important in the broader scheme of things.
  • Definition Periodic Structure
    Periodic structure is form of writing in which the main clause of the sentence, or its predicate, are held till the end of the sentence.
  • Definition Periodical
    A periodical is a series of publications that appear at a regular schedule. Magazines are a common example.
  • Definition Plot
    The plot is a connected sequence of events that make up a novel, poem, play, film, television show, and other narrative works.
  • Definition Poem Subject
    The subject of a poem might also be called the main idea, goal, or thing about which the poem is concerned.
  • Definition Proem
    A proem is an introduction to a literary work. It is a preface to what’s to come after. 
  • r
  • Definition Rhyme Scheme
    The rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme that’s used in a poem. It corresponds with the end sounds that feature in lines of verse.
  • Definition Riddle
    Riddles are tricky phrases or questions that have double meanings and are usually challenging to solve or answer.
  • Definition Rising Action
    The rising action comes after the exposition and before the climax. It includes the complicating or inciting incident.
  • Definition Run-On Sentence
    A run-on sentence is a long sentence that is made up of two independent clauses joined together.
  • s
  • Definition Scansion
    Scansion is the analysis of a poem’s metrical patterns. It organizes the lines, metrical feet, and individual syllables into groups.
  • Definition Semantics
    Semantics is the study of the meanings of words, symbols, and various other signs.
  • Definition Serendipity
    Serendipity is the experience of finding something joyful in that which came unexpectedly.
  • Definition Sesquipedalian
    Sesquipedalian is defined as the use of words that are overly long and have multiple syllables. Sometimes, they are neologisms.
  • Definition Snark
    Snark refers to a sarcastic comment. It is a combination the words “snide” and “remark.”
  • Definition Subjective
    The word “subjective” refers to a particular point of view. It is based on someone’s personal opinions and beliefs.
  • Definition Superlative
    A superlative is one degree of adverb and adjective. It refers to the adverb or adjective to the greatest degree.
  • Definition Syllogism
    A syllogism is a three-part argument. It is based in logic and on deductive reasoning.
  • Definition Syndeton
    Syndeton refers to a sentence that uses conjunctions to join phrases, words, and clauses. It is one of three different ways of using conjunctions, or not, within sentences.
  • Definition Syntax
    Syntax is the rules that govern language. It is concerned with various parts of speech and the way that words are used together.
  • t
  • Definition Thesis Statement
    A thesis statement is the main argument of a piece of writing. It can be found in academic/formal writing novel writing.
  • Definition Tone
    Tone tells us how the writer feels about the text, at least, to an extent. All forms of writing, aside from the academic, have a tone of some sort.
  • Definition Tuffet
    A tuffet is “a tuft or clump of something” or "a footstool or low seat”.
  • u
  • Definition Undertone
    An undertone is the secondary tone or meaning of a literary work.
  • v
  • Definition Verisimilitude
    Verisimilitude is a concept that’s concerned with uncovering how truthful an assertion is.
  • Definition Verse
    Verse is a term that refers to various parts of poetry, such as a single line of poetry, a stanza, or the entire poem.
  • w
  • Definition Wax poetic
    “Wax poetic” is an English phrase that is used to describe someone’s overly flowery and longwinded style of speech.
  • Definition Wit
    When a writer uses wit in their work they’re attempting to provoke laughter by mocking someone or something.
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