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[ lit - uh -rer-ee ]

literary history.

literary style.

  • versed in or acquainted with literature; well-read.

a literary man.

  • characterized by an excessive or affected display of learning; stilted; pedantic.
  • preferring books to actual experience; bookish.

/ ˈlɪtrərɪ; ˈlɪtərərɪ /

a literary style

a literary discussion

a literary man

  • (of a word) formal; not colloquial

Derived Forms

  • ˈliterariness , noun
  • ˈliterarily , adverb

Other Words From

  • liter·ari·ly adverb
  • liter·ari·ness noun
  • non·liter·ari·ly adverb
  • non·liter·ari·ly·ness noun
  • non·liter·ari·ness noun
  • non·liter·ary adjective
  • over·liter·ari·ly adverb
  • over·liter·ari·ness noun
  • over·liter·ary adjective
  • pre·liter·ary adjective
  • pseudo·liter·ary adjective
  • quasi-liter·ary adjective
  • un·liter·ary adjective

Word History and Origins

Origin of literary 1

Example Sentences

Steve Erickson is the author of 10 novels including Shadowbahn, Zeroville, These Dreams of You and Our Ecstatic Days—as well as two works of literary non-fiction about politics and culture—that have been translated into 11 languages.

There, he determined to relaunch his stalled literary career.

We could also use a literary culture that nurtures more writers the way it has Duchovny.

Her debut poetry volume is expected in September, her first picture book is on the way, and she has several other literary projects cooking.

Much as I value serious literary fiction, I find reading it to be exceptionally draining.

From this attitude he draws a singular comic and literary power.

Lacey Noonan's A Gronking to Remember makes 50 Shades of Grey look like Madame Bovary in terms of its literary sophistication.

The goal is to create a literary anatomy of the last century—or, to be precise, from 1900 to 2014.

To reclaim it, he had to move beyond established conventions about how a literary career should be conducted.

A new book from Mallory Ortberg imagines what literary legends including King Lear and Jane Eyre would have texted.

Louis Petit de Bachaumon died; a native of Paris, known as the author of several literary works.

It was strenuously opposed by all possible means, governmental, legislative, and literary.

Samuel Badcock, an English divine and writer, died; admired as a pulpit orator and a man of literary talent.

She was a woman of great intellectual endowment, with highly cultivated literary tastes.

Robert Harley, earl of Oxford, died; an English statesman and literary character.

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  • Oregon State University - College of Liberal Arts - What is Literature? || Definition and Examples
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literature , a body of written works. The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution. Literature may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language , national origin, historical period, genre , and subject matter.

For historical treatment of various literatures within geographical regions, see such articles as African literature ; African theater ; Oceanic literature ; Western literature ; Central Asian arts ; South Asian arts ; and Southeast Asian arts . Some literatures are treated separately by language, by nation, or by special subject (e.g., Arabic literature , Celtic literature , Latin literature , French literature , Japanese literature , and biblical literature ).

Definitions of the word literature tend to be circular. The 11th edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary considers literature to be “writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest.” The 19th-century critic Walter Pater referred to “the matter of imaginative or artistic literature” as a “transcript, not of mere fact, but of fact in its infinitely varied forms.” But such definitions assume that the reader already knows what literature is. And indeed its central meaning, at least, is clear enough. Deriving from the Latin littera , “a letter of the alphabet,” literature is first and foremost humankind’s entire body of writing; after that it is the body of writing belonging to a given language or people; then it is individual pieces of writing.

Hear Clinton Terrell share his experience of going from solitary confinement to UC Berkeley

But already it is necessary to qualify these statements. To use the word writing when describing literature is itself misleading, for one may speak of “oral literature” or “the literature of preliterate peoples.” The art of literature is not reducible to the words on the page; they are there solely because of the craft of writing. As an art, literature might be described as the organization of words to give pleasure. Yet through words literature elevates and transforms experience beyond “mere” pleasure. Literature also functions more broadly in society as a means of both criticizing and affirming cultural values.

Hand with pencil writing on page. (handwriting; write)

The scope of literature

Literature is a form of human expression. But not everything expressed in words—even when organized and written down—is counted as literature. Those writings that are primarily informative—technical, scholarly, journalistic—would be excluded from the rank of literature by most, though not all, critics. Certain forms of writing, however, are universally regarded as belonging to literature as an art. Individual attempts within these forms are said to succeed if they possess something called artistic merit and to fail if they do not. The nature of artistic merit is less easy to define than to recognize. The writer need not even pursue it to attain it. On the contrary, a scientific exposition might be of great literary value and a pedestrian poem of none at all.

The purest (or, at least, the most intense) literary form is the lyric poem, and after it comes elegiac, epic , dramatic, narrative, and expository verse. Most theories of literary criticism base themselves on an analysis of poetry , because the aesthetic problems of literature are there presented in their simplest and purest form. Poetry that fails as literature is not called poetry at all but verse . Many novels —certainly all the world’s great novels—are literature, but there are thousands that are not so considered. Most great dramas are considered literature (although the Chinese , possessors of one of the world’s greatest dramatic traditions, consider their plays, with few exceptions, to possess no literary merit whatsoever).

The Greeks thought of history as one of the seven arts, inspired by a goddess, the muse Clio. All of the world’s classic surveys of history can stand as noble examples of the art of literature, but most historical works and studies today are not written primarily with literary excellence in mind, though they may possess it, as it were, by accident.

The essay was once written deliberately as a piece of literature: its subject matter was of comparatively minor importance. Today most essays are written as expository, informative journalism , although there are still essayists in the great tradition who think of themselves as artists. Now, as in the past, some of the greatest essayists are critics of literature, drama , and the arts.

Some personal documents ( autobiographies , diaries , memoirs , and letters ) rank among the world’s greatest literature. Some examples of this biographical literature were written with posterity in mind, others with no thought of their being read by anyone but the writer. Some are in a highly polished literary style; others, couched in a privately evolved language, win their standing as literature because of their cogency, insight, depth, and scope.

Many works of philosophy are classed as literature. The Dialogues of Plato (4th century bc ) are written with great narrative skill and in the finest prose; the Meditations of the 2nd-century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius are a collection of apparently random thoughts, and the Greek in which they are written is eccentric . Yet both are classed as literature, while the speculations of other philosophers, ancient and modern, are not. Certain scientific works endure as literature long after their scientific content has become outdated. This is particularly true of books of natural history, where the element of personal observation is of special importance. An excellent example is Gilbert White’s Natural History and Antiquities of Selbourne (1789).

Oratory , the art of persuasion, was long considered a great literary art. The oratory of Native Americans, for instance, is famous, while in Classical Greece, Polymnia was the muse sacred to poetry and oratory. Rome’s great orator Cicero was to have a decisive influence on the development of English prose style. Abraham Lincoln ’s Gettysburg Address is known to every American schoolchild. Today, however, oratory is more usually thought of as a craft than as an art. Most critics would not admit advertising copywriting, purely commercial fiction , or cinema and television scripts as accepted forms of literary expression, although others would hotly dispute their exclusion. The test in individual cases would seem to be one of enduring satisfaction and, of course, truth. Indeed, it becomes more and more difficult to categorize literature, for in modern civilization words are everywhere. Humans are subject to a continuous flood of communication . Most of it is fugitive, but here and there—in high-level journalism, in television, in the cinema, in commercial fiction, in westerns and detective stories, and in plain, expository prose—some writing, almost by accident, achieves an aesthetic satisfaction, a depth and relevance that entitle it to stand with other examples of the art of literature.

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/ˌlɪdəˈrɛri/, /ˈlɪtərɛri/.

Other forms: literarily

Use literary when you want to indicate writing with high artistic qualities. Something doesn't have to be "literature" to be literary , but they are related.

Literary comes from the Latin litterarius , meaning "letters," as in letters of the alphabet. Think of literary writing as writing that explores the richness of language or even contributes to it, especially in a high cultural way. The clever rhymes you invented about your grade school principal's bathing habits made your classmates laugh, but that doesn't make them great literary achievements.

  • adjective of or relating to or characteristic of literature “ literary criticism”
  • adjective appropriate to literature rather than everyday speech or writing “when trying to impress someone she spoke in an affected literary style” synonyms: formal (of spoken and written language) adhering to traditional standards of correctness and without casual, contracted, and colloquial forms
  • adjective knowledgeable about literature “a literary style” synonyms: literate versed in literature; dealing with literature

Vocabulary lists containing literary

To improve your fluency in English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR), learn this academic vocabulary list that includes words selected from the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) state standards.

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What is Literature? || Definition & Examples

"what is literature": a literary guide for english students and teachers.

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What is Literature? Transcript (English and Spanish Subtitles Available in Video; Click HERE for Spanish Transcript)

By Evan Gottlieb & Paige Thomas

3 January 2022

The question of what makes something literary is an enduring one, and I don’t expect that we’ll answer it fully in this short video. Instead, I want to show you a few different ways that literary critics approach this question and then offer a short summary of the 3 big factors that we must consider when we ask the question ourselves.

Let’s begin by making a distinction between “Literature with a capital L” and “literature with a small l.”

“Literature with a small l” designates any written text: we can talk about “the literature” on any given subject without much difficulty.

“Literature with a capital L”, by contrast, designates a much smaller set of texts – a subset of all the texts that have been written.

what_is_literature_little_l.png

speaker gesturing to literature with a small "l" rather than with a big "L"

So what makes a text literary or what makes a text “Literature with a capital L”?

Let’s start with the word itself.  “Literature” comes from Latin, and it originally meant “the use of letters” or “writing.” But when the word entered the Romance languages that derived from Latin, it took on the additional meaning of “knowledge acquired from reading or studying books.” So we might use this definition to understand “Literature with a Capital L” as writing that gives us knowledge--writing that should be studied.

But this begs the further question: what books or texts are worth studying or close reading ?

For some critics, answering this question is a matter of establishing canonicity.  A work of literature becomes “canonical” when cultural institutions like schools or universities or prize committees classify it as a work of lasting artistic or cultural merit.

The canon, however, has proved problematic as a measure of what “Literature with a capital L” is because the gatekeepers of the Western canon have traditionally been White and male. It was only in the closing decades of the twentieth century that the canon of Literature was opened to a greater inclusion of diverse authors.

And here’s another problem with that definition: if inclusion in the canon were our only definition of Literature, then there could be no such thing as contemporary Literature, which, of course, has not yet stood the test of time.

And here’s an even bigger problem: not every book that receives good reviews or a wins a prize turns out to be of lasting value in the eyes of later readers.

On the other hand, a novel like Herman Melville’s Moby-Di ck, which was NOT received well by critics or readers when it was first published in 1851, has since gone on to become a mainstay of the American literary canon.

moby_dick_with_quote.png

graphic with cover of Melville's "Moby Dick" and quote

As you can see, canonicity is obviously a problematic index of literariness.

So… what’s the alternative?  Well, we could just go with a descriptive definition: “if you love it, then it’s Literature!”

But that’s a little too subjective.  For example, no matter how much you may love a certain book from your childhood (I love The Very Hungry Caterpillar ) that doesn’t automatically make it literary, no matter how many times you’ve re-read it.

Furthermore, the very idea that we should have an emotional attachment to the books we read has its own history that cannot be detached from the rise of the middle class and its politics of telling people how to behave.

Ok, so “literature with a capital L” cannot always by defined by its inclusion in the canon or the fact that it has been well-received so…what is it then? Well, for other critics, what makes something Literature would seem to be qualities within the text itself.

According to the critic Derek Attridge, there are three qualities that define modern Western Literature:

1. a quality of invention or inventiveness in the text itself;

2.  the reader’s sense that what they are reading is singular. In other words, the unique vision of the writer herself.

3. a sense of ‘otherness’ that pushes the reader to see the world around them in a new way

Notice that nowhere in this three-part definition is there any limitation on the content of Literature. Instead, we call something Literature when it affects the reader at the level of style and construction rather than substance.

In other words, Literature can be about anything!

what_is_literature_caterpillar.png

speaker telling a secret with photo of Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" in the background

The idea that a truly literary text can change a reader is of course older than this modern definition. In the English tradition, poetry was preferred over novels because it was thought to create mature and sympathetic reader-citizens.

Likewise, in the Victorian era, it was argued that reading so-called “great” works of literature was the best way for readers to realize their full spiritual potentials in an increasingly secular world.

But these never tell us precisely what “the best” is.  To make matters worse, as I mentioned already, “the best” in these older definitions was often determined by White men in positions of cultural and economic power.

So we are still faced with the question of whether there is something inherent in a text that makes it literary.

Some critics have suggested that a sense of irony – or, more broadly, a sense that there is more than one meaning to a given set of words – is essential to “Literature with a capital L.”

Reading for irony means reading slowly or at least attentively.  It demands a certain attention to the complexity of the language on the page, whether that language is objectively difficult or not.

In a similar vein, other critics have claimed that the overall effect of a literary text should be one of “defamiliarization,” meaning that the text asks or even forces readers to see the world differently than they did before reading it.

Along these lines, literary theorist Roland Barthes maintained that there were two kinds of texts: the text of pleasure, which we can align with everyday Literature with a small l” and the text of jouissance , (yes, I said jouissance) which we can align with Literature. Jouissance makes more demands on the reader and raises feelings of strangeness and wonder that surpass the everyday and even border on the painful or disorienting.

Barthes’ definition straddles the line between objectivity and subjectivity. Literature differs from the mass of writing by offering more and different kinds of experiences than the ordinary, non-literary text.

Literature for Barthes is thus neither entirely in the eye of the beholder, nor something that can be reduced to set of repeatable, purely intrinsic characteristics.

This negative definition has its own problems, though. If the literary text is always supposed to be innovative and unconventional, then genre fiction, which IS conventional, can never be literary.

So it seems that whatever hard and fast definition we attempt to apply to Literature, we find that we run up against inevitable exceptions to the rules.

As we examine the many problematic ways that people have defined literature, one thing does become clear. In each of the above examples, what counts as Literature depends upon three interrelated factors: the world, the text, and the critic or reader.

You see, when we encounter a literary text, we usually do so through a field of expectations that includes what we’ve heard about the text or author in question [the world], the way the text is presented to us [the text], and how receptive we as readers are to the text’s demands [the reader].

With this in mind, let’s return to where we started. There is probably still something to be said in favor of the “test of time” theory of Literature.

After all, only a small percentage of what is published today will continue to be read 10, 20, or even 100 years from now; and while the mechanisms that determine the longevity of a text are hardly neutral, one can still hope that individual readers have at least some power to decide what will stay in print and develop broader cultural relevance.

The only way to experience what Literature is, then, is to keep reading: as long as there are avid readers, there will be literary texts – past, present, and future – that challenge, excite, and inspire us.

Want to cite this?

MLA Citation: Gottlieb, Evan and Paige Thomas. "What is Literature?" Oregon State Guide to English Literary Terms, 3 Jan. 2022, Oregon State University, https://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/wlf/what-literature-definition-examples. Accessed [insert date].

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Definition of literature

Examples of literature in a sentence.

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'literature.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin litteratura writing, grammar, learning, from litteratus

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Phrases Containing literature

  • gray literature

Articles Related to literature

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We know how the Nobel Prize committee defines literature, but how does the dictionary?

Dictionary Entries Near literature

literature search

Cite this Entry

“Literature.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/literature. Accessed 15 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of literature, more from merriam-webster on literature.

Nglish: Translation of literature for Spanish Speakers

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Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about literature

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literary adjective & noun

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Earlier version

  • literary, a. in OED Second Edition (1989)

What does the word literary mean?

There are ten meanings listed in OED's entry for the word literary , one of which is labelled obsolete. See ‘Meaning & use’ for definitions, usage, and quotation evidence.

How common is the word literary ?

How is the word literary pronounced?

British english, u.s. english, where does the word literary come from.

Earliest known use

early 1600s

The earliest known use of the word literary is in the early 1600s.

OED's earliest evidence for literary is from 1605, in the writing of Francis Bacon, lord chancellor, politician, and philosopher.

literary is a borrowing from Latin.

Etymons: Latin litterārius , literārius .

Nearby entries

  • literalize, v. 1703–
  • literalizer, n. 1825–
  • literalizing, n. & adj. 1826–
  • literally, adv. c1429–
  • literal-minded, adj. 1792–
  • literalness, n. a1631–
  • literarian, n. 1740–
  • literarily, adv. 1765–
  • literariness, n. 1872–
  • literarism, n. 1893–
  • literary, adj. & n. 1605–
  • literary adviser, n. 1801–
  • literary agency, n. 1829–
  • literary agent, n. 1794–
  • literary circle, n. 1772–
  • literary critic, n. 1758–
  • literary-critical, adj. 1820–
  • literary criticism, n. 1751–
  • literary-edit, v. 1923–
  • literary editing, n. 1861–
  • literary editor, n. 1801–

Meaning & use

History is Naturall, Civill, Ecclesiasticall & literary , whereof the three first I allow as extant, the fourth I note as deficient.
His Literare Inuentions doe appeare and are knowne partly by his Printed Treatise of Dibere Adam which is a Scholasticall engin Aucomaton .
Faint breathings of a minde burthened with other Literary employments.
A large Library, and other literary utensils.
Your Lordship was indued..in these light and literary Controversies [Latin in his leuibus & literariis controuersiis ] , with an incredible sharpness, and an excellent Facility and Plenty.
The Publick would not give You a bad reception, if..You admitted..short literary Dissertations in Latin or English.
We have daily Papers, weekly Papers,..political Papers, literary Papers, Papers of entertainment, &c.
The Seats of some Half a Dozen Gentlemen, noted in the literary Way.
His mother..struggling earnestly to procure him a literary education.
The parliamentary conflict on the great question of a standing army was preceded by a literary conflict.
A large measure of literary ability was appearing in Scotland.
The writer, it is plain, has exaggerated for the sake of literary effect.
The articles which he ‘ghosted’ for Jerry Turnbull, a millionaire with literary ambitions.
A large number of literary sources..are being systematically read against an Oxford dictionary.
Popular fiction and literary fiction are not necessarily mutually exclusive forms of writing. A popular novel may have considerable literary merit.
The literary intricacy of this novel is what gives it its deep-shelved complexity and makes it a lovely essay on the fiction-writing impulse.
  • literal c1450–1604 Of or relating to literature; = literary , adj. A.1. Obsolete .
  • literate 1558– Of, belonging, or relating to letters or literature, or to people engaged with this; literary. Now rare .
  • bookish 1567– Of or belonging to a book or books; literary.
  • paper 1592– figurative . Consisting of or carried on by means of pamphlets, documents, letters to periodicals, etc.; literary, written.
  • literary 1605– Of or relating to the writing, study, or content of literature, esp. of the kind valued for quality of form; of the nature of literature. Also in…
  • literatory 1652– Literary.
  • belletristical 1799– Of, relating to, or characteristic of belles-lettres ( belles-lettres , n. ).
  • belletristic 1821– Of, relating to, or characteristic of belles-lettres ( belles-lettres , n. ).
  • belletrist 1889– Of or relating to belles-lettres ( belles-lettres , n. ). Also (of writing): characterized by aestheticism.
  • lit. 1895– = literary , adj. Also lit. crit. : literary criticism; lit. ed. : literary editor; lit. sup. : literary supplement.
  • written 1909– Of something set down in writing, esp. a literary composition. Expressed in an appropriate or recognized literary form or style; composed or revised…
  • ylered Old English–1440 = lered , adj. , learned.
  • sciential c1454– Of, relating to, or based on knowledge or (in later use) science.
  • cunning ?1520–1630 transferred . Of things: Characterized by or full of knowledge or learning, learned.
  • scholarlike 1547–92 Relating to or characteristic of scholars or academic study; scholastic. Obsolete .
  • Palladian 1562– Of, relating to, or resembling Pallas (Athene), the goddess of wisdom in classical mythology. Also in extended use: relating to wisdom…
  • lettered 1567– Of or relating to literacy, learning, or educated people; characterized by learning or literary culture.
  • sophical 1601–
  • learned 1613– Of things: Pertaining to, manifesting, or characterized by, profound knowledge gained by study.
  • gnostic 1656– Relating to knowledge; cognitive; intellectual.
  • mathetic 1815– Relating to knowledge or to the process of learning.
  • sophic 1900– Relating to knowledge or speculation.
Our first and literary apprehensions being commonly instructed in Authors which handle nothing else [but idle fictions] .
Reader, The smaller literary mistakes are left to thy own ingenuity, the grosser errours of the Press, thou art desired thus to correct.
A complete set of Literary Cards, for teaching children to read, spell, count.
The reverse shews the royal arms of Scotland..extending through the literary circle.
So far from being quick and clever like my brother, and able to rival the literary feat which I have recorded of him, many years elapsed before I was able to understand the nature of letters, or to connect them.
A rude people, adopting a literary alphabet, transferred to the new characters the corresponding names with which they were familiar.
Simeon's state forged the mechanism for preserving Byzantium's Eastern European civilization among the non-Byzantine Orthodox Slavs by creating the Cyrillic literary alphabet.
  • literal a1500 Of, relating to, or of the nature of a letter, or the letters, of the alphabet. Also: consisting of or expressed in letters; written. Now rare .
  • characteristical 1588–1793 Of or relating to letters or symbols; relating to or involved in magical emblems or astrological symbols. Obsolete .
  • characterical 1595–1608 Of, relating to, or consisting of letters or other signs or symbols used in writing or printing. Obsolete .
  • literary 1646– Of or relating to the letters of the alphabet, or (occasionally) another set of letters or symbols used as an alphabet. Now rare .
Duke Charles, not satisfied with this literary assecuration, wrote back unto the King.
I am sensible how much I am..in a neglect on my part as to our literary exchanges.
Henry..endeavoured by a literary correspondence to..reestablish the good understanding between England and the See of Rome.
After two or three clandestine interviews, Mr. Clayton was again obliged to leave Bath; and we again renewed our literary correspondence.
Literary is not properly used of missive letters. It may be said, this epistolary correspondence..oftener than literary.
  • epistolical 1615– = epistolary , adj.
  • epistolary 1627– Chiefly literary . Of or relating to letters or letter-writing.
  • epistolar 1649 = epistolary , adj. (in various senses).
  • literal 1650–1819 Of or relating to letters or epistles; epistolary. Obsolete .
  • literary 1656–1773 That is communicated or conducted by correspondence by letter; epistolary. Obsolete .
  • epistolic 1670– Of, relating to, or used in letter-writing; epistolary. Also: spec. = epistolographic , adj.
  • epistolatory 1675– = epistolary , adj. (in various senses).
The tenth, of Literary Societies, and the Conversations of the Learned.
These quotations are made use of..to deter certain schoolmen..employing their hours in censuring, or rather abusing those literary personages.
Your Set of litterary Friends are..exceedingly absurd. They hold a consistory to consult how to argue with a madman.
Warburton..expressed his Concern that so literary a Man should be led away by the Methodists.
A few years since, he married Miss Edgeworth, a lady of a respectable literary family in Ireland.
In the true Literary Man there is thus ever..a sacredness.
Miss Jenkins..on the strength of..a pretty good library of divinity, considered herself literary , and looked upon any conversation about books as a challenge to her.
Artistic and literary Glasgow owed much to his genial energy.
He was introduced to the Friendly Club, a literary society that met once a week at the home of some member.
Anyone who thinks of the Fire Service as a soft option that literary types skived into during the war ought to have watched ‘Fire Rescue’.
[He] will talk to women spectacle wearers to find out if literary wit Dorothy Parker was right when she said men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses!
  • literary 1729– Of a person or group: engaged in the writing or critical appreciation of works of literature; having a thorough knowledge of literature; spec. …
Magnificence of the Spanish Embassador in Lisbon... Literary Prizes establish'd there.
He [ sc. Dr. Johnson] would not deign to speak to her..:‘You and he are to meet soon, on a literary party; plead for me.’
Literary Prizes —The proprietors of ‘The Memorial’ published yearly in Boston, offer the following premiums for contributions to their ‘Christmas and New Year's offering’.
She was..the leading lady of the place.., giving literary parties, with a degree of exclusiveness that made admission to them a privilege.
O Dinners! take my curse upon you all, But literary dinners most of all.
Last winter at a literary lunch, in South Kensington, a celebrated old critic..was heard to remark..‘A dull man.’
The English-Speaking Union are to launch a series of literary luncheons.
One evening, drunk and fizzing with recklessness, gatecrash a literary party.
When a slow read wins a literary prize, sales do improve—but only modestly.
The writers of the New Testament in general have never pretended to the beauties of literary language; and St. Paul, who was the most able, has used in the epistles the same expressions, as he would have used in common conversation.
I have been leading a ‘miscellaneous’ kind of life at Paris, if I may use a literary phrase.
There is indeed a sort of literary diction, which sometimes the inexperienced are ready to fall into insensibly, from their having been much more accustomed to the school..than to the scenes of real life and conversation.
The language is that of an old lady dictating to her grandchild by her fireside, and never once stopping to recast a sentence or turn a phrase into a more literary or less colloquial form.
The whole of the language is very ‘ literary ’, but the play is not dramatic.
A patchwork of stilted literary phrases jumbled together.
The distinctive resources of literary language do not work like a simple on-off switch, marking this as literary and that as not.
[They] speak a dialectless, self-consciously literary English.
  • polite ?a1500– Of language, the arts, or other intellectual pursuits: refined, elegant, scholarly; exhibiting good or restrained taste.
  • filed a1533– In senses of the verb: chiefly figurative of speech, etc.: Polished, smooth, neatly finished off or elaborated; fine (now rare ). Also with defining…
  • facetious 1542–1738 Of style, manners, etc.: polished, elegant, agreeable. Obsolete .
  • exquisited 1581 Made exquisite; refined.
  • refined 1582– Polished; not crude or vulgar. Of language, speech, etc.: cultivated, polished, elegant.
  • smooth 1589– Of style or diction: Flowing gently or easily; nicely modulated; not harsh or rugged; polished.
  • perpolite 1592–1648 Thoroughly or highly polished; = perpolished , adj. Chiefly figurative .
  • terse 1628–1774 figurative . Polite, polished, refined, cultured: esp. in reference to language. Obsolete (passing into 3).
  • washed 1628 figurative . Of language: ? Refined, elegant. (? after Latin lautus .) Obsolete .
  • refine 1646– Refined; spec. designating a type of fine broadcloth.
  • parliamentary 1789– Of language: such as is permitted to be used, or is customarily used, in Parliament (cf. unparliamentary , adj. ). Formerly also, in extended use…
  • literary 1793– Of language: having characteristics associated with works of literature or other formal writing; refined, elegant.
  • urbane 1800–76 Politely expressed; characterized by polite or refined expression. Obsolete .
Such is the type of our literary creations, the heroes of our dramas and our fictions.
We cannot help feeling that he looks upon Jesus rather as a good literary hero, than as his Saviour from sin and death.
His social personality is much more winning and more human than the literary counterpart that peeps out from his books.
His strength lay in his analysis of the emotions in literary characters and situations.
I get ideas from literary heroines.
Perhaps the most successful Canadian literary cat is the eponymous feline of Montrealer Yves Beauchemin's The Alley Cat.
Another iconoclastic literary sleuth, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot.
  • made a1387–1843 Of a story: invented, fictitious. Of a word: invented, coined. Of an errand: invented for a pretext; made-up. Obsolete .
  • feigned 1623 Fictitiously invented or devised. Also, related in fiction, fabled. Obsolete or archaic .
  • fictious 1641–1813 Given to or characterized by fiction.
  • fictitious 1773– Of, pertaining to, or of the nature of fiction.
  • literary 1842– Appearing in literature or books; fictional.
  • fictional 1843– Of, pertaining to, or of the nature of fiction.
Hirschl's pictures..appeal chiefly to cultured audiences..; and since his work is literary art, it should remain literary in the best sense of the term.
The music is too ‘ literary ’, but its craftsmanship and imagination are undeniable.
It is accepted by many as a compliment rather than as an insult to describe a painting as literary .
The atmosphere..is literary in the contrived and artificial sense, the experience behind the painting inauthentic.
The literary film has taken centre stage in the debates around women's cinema especially after the international success of Orlando and The Piano .
  • watery c1230– Of speech, style, emotion, a person, etc.: vapid, insipid; lacking in substance or interest; thin, feeble, weak.
  • meagre 1539– Deficient, inferior. Of writing, artistic work, etc., or its style or subject matter: lacking fullness or elaboration; weak, unsatisfying.
  • over-laboured 1579– Overworked; (also) excessively elaborate or laboured. Also as n.
  • bald 1589– Bare or destitute of ornament and grace; unadorned, meagrely simple. Of literary style.
  • spiritless 1592– Lacking dynamic qualities; characterized by the absence of animation, energy, or zest. Of a thing, esp. a literary or artistic work.
  • light 1597– Of literature, music, or other creative works: designed to be entertaining rather than thought-provoking.
  • meretricious 1633– Alluring by false show; showily or superficially attractive but having in reality no value or integrity.
  • standing 1661–1709 Of a work of art or literature: regarded as enduring or exemplary. Cf. standard , adj. B.I.3a. Obsolete .
  • effectual 1662 Powerful in effect, having powerful effects; = effective , adj. A.1. Now rare .
  • airy 1664– Like air in its lightness and buoyancy. Light, delicate, graceful in style or execution. Also, of a person or work of art: ingenious, witty.
  • severe 1665– In reference to style or taste, literary or artistic: Shunning redundance or unessential ornament; not florid or exuberant; sober, restrained…
  • correct 1676– In accordance with an acknowledged or conventional standard, esp. of literary or artistic style, or of manners or behaviour; proper.
  • enervate a1704– Of artistic style, etc.
  • free 1728– Of a literary, musical, or other artistic composition: not observing the normal conventions of style or form; (of a translation) conveying only the…
  • classic 1743– = classical , adj. A.7.
  • academic 1752– Conforming to the principles of an academy of arts, esp. painting, often too rigidly; conventional, esp. in an excessively formal way.
  • academical 1752– = academic , adj. B.4. Now rare .
  • chaste 1753– Pure in artistic or literary style; without meretricious ornament; chastened, subdued.
  • nerveless 1763– Of literary or artistic style: diffuse, insipid, lifeless.
  • epic 1769– Designating a book, film, or other creative work resembling or likened to an epic poem; dealing with heroic exploits and adventures, esp. in a…
  • crude 1786– Of literary or artistic work: Lacking finish, or maturity of treatment; rough, unpolished.
  • effective 1790– Of a work of art, a design, a literary composition, etc.: producing a striking or pleasing impression.
  • creative 1791 Inventive, imaginative; of, relating to, displaying, using, or involving imagination or original ideas as well as routine skill or intellect, esp…
  • soulless 1794– spec. Of literature, art, music, etc.: devoid of inspiration or feeling; cold, mechanical.
  • mannered 1796– Of art, architecture, etc.: characterized by or given to mannerism; artificial, affected, or over-elaborate in style.
  • manneristical 1830– = manneristic , adj.
  • manneristic 1837– Mannered, characterized by mannerisms of behaviour, style, etc.; spec. characterized by Mannerism in art, architecture, etc.
  • subjective 1840– Art and Literary Criticism . Expressing, bringing into prominence, or deriving its materials mainly from, the individuality of the artist or author.
  • inartistical a1849– Not artistical; = inartistic , adj.
  • abstract 1857– Designating music, dance, film, etc., which rejects representation of or reference to external reality, esp. in dispensing with narrative…
  • inartistic 1859– Not artistic; not in accordance with the principles of art.
  • literary 1900– Of the visual arts, music, etc.: concerned with depicting or representing a story or other literary work; that refers or relates to a text; that… Sometimes in a derogatory sense, implying dependency on a text at the expense of freedom of expression.
  • period 1905– Belonging to or characteristic of a particular historical period; deliberately old-fashioned or archaic in style, subject matter, etc.
  • atmospheric 1908– Evoking or designed to evoke an atmosphere (sense 4).
  • dateless 1908– Perpetually relevant, valuable, appealing, etc.; not dated; classic, timeless.
  • atmosphered 1920– Having or provided with atmosphere (sense 4).
  • non-naturalistic 1925– = non-naturalist , adj. A.3.
  • self-indulgent 1926– Chiefly depreciative . Of a literary, artistic, or other creative work: catering to or concerned with the creator's own tastes or preoccupations, without regard to…
  • free-styled 1933– Not observing conventions of style or form; improvisational, unrestrained. Cf. freestyle , adj. A.2.
  • soft-centred 1935– Essentially weak, vulnerable, or sentimental in nature. Usually somewhat depreciative .
  • freestyle 1938– Of a literary, musical, or artistic work or performance: = free , adj. A.II.10b.
  • pseudish 1938– Often with capital initial. Osbert Lancaster's mock or depreciative name for: a style or supposed ‘school’ of architecture regarded as imitative or…
  • decadent 1942– Said of other schools of literature and art characterized by decadence; spec. = aesthetic , adj. B.3.
  • post-human 1944– Designating or relating to art, music, etc., in which humanity or human concerns are regarded as peripheral or absent; abstract, impersonal…
  • kitschy 1946– Esp. of art, objects, design, and entertainment: having popular appeal but considered to be vulgar, of low quality, or lacking artistic merit, esp…
  • faux-naïf 1958– Of a work of art: self-consciously or meretriciously simple and artless.
  • ultra-processed 1961– Of a film, piece of music, or other artistic work: produced in such an elaborate way that the energy, spontaneity, or artistry of the original…
  • spare 1965– Of style: unadorned, bare, simple.
  • binge-worthy 1997– Of food or drink: extremely appetizing or enjoyable, in a way that encourages overindulgence.
Among the literaries , I have met with Mrs. Inchbald and Mrs. Barbauld.
I've often thought I could have given a better answer than I've heard some of your great literaries .
The diversities of descriptions, opinions and names..among learned writers and scientific men, may well cause a smile with literaries and readers.
Obstacles..may be a blessing in disguise to half-baked literaries .
Open your dailies and there they all are, a riot of column inches, written..by Underwood, Ubogu and Grayson, to mention but three budding literaries .
  • scholar c1600–97 depreciative . A person who possesses academic learning or theoretical knowledge but lacks practical skills or worldly experience. Obsolete .
  • man of letters 1645– a man of learning, a scholar; a professional writer, esp. one having a variety of literary or intellectual interests.
  • literator 1710– A person engaged in literary pursuits; a writer; = littérateur , n. Now rare .
  • literarian 1740– An educated or lettered person; one engaged in literary pursuits.
  • literary gent 1773– A man, esp. of high social standing, who writes or critiques works of literature; (also) a writer who expresses his literary knowledge in a refined…
  • literary 1801– A person who is engaged in literature as an occupation or interest; esp. an author. Chiefly in plural .
  • littérateur 1806– A literary man, a writer of literary or critical works.
The young people of this place, and vicinity, take a deep interest in spelling schools, literaries , etc.
Indeed, we have society out here... We have dances, and literaries , and box parties.
In many districts a ‘ literary ’ is held every Friday night, when the ‘Sandhillers’ of this district recite and sing and debate.
We spent a happy winter at this work and visiting our neighbors and going to the ‘ literaries ’ and dances.
At school that first winter, even before she ‘spoke any American’, she played the organ for the Friday literaries .
  • literary circle 1772– A particular group of people involved in writing or studying literature; (with the ) the literary world.
  • Athenaeum 1807– Used as a title for. An association of persons interested in scientific and literary pursuits, meeting for the purpose of mutual improvement; a…
  • literary 1875– U.S. A literary club or society; an event or gathering with a literary theme, typically also involving music and debate. Chiefly in plural . Now histo …

Pronunciation

  • ð th ee
  • ɬ rhingy ll

Some consonants can take the function of the vowel in unstressed syllables. Where necessary, a syllabic marker diacritic is used, hence <petal> /ˈpɛtl/ but <petally> /ˈpɛtl̩i/.

  • a trap, bath
  • ɑː start, palm, bath
  • ɔː thought, force
  • ᵻ (/ɪ/-/ə/)
  • ᵿ (/ʊ/-/ə/)

Other symbols

  • The symbol ˈ at the beginning of a syllable indicates that that syllable is pronounced with primary stress.
  • The symbol ˌ at the beginning of a syllable indicates that that syllable is pronounced with secondary stress.
  • Round brackets ( ) in a transcription indicate that the symbol within the brackets is optional.

View the pronunciation model here .

* /d/ also represents a 'tapped' /t/ as in <bitter>

Some consonants can take the function of the vowel in unstressed syllables. Where necessary, a syllabic marker diacritic is used, hence <petal> /ˈpɛd(ə)l/ but <petally> /ˈpɛdl̩i/.

  • i fleece, happ y
  • æ trap, bath
  • ɑ lot, palm, cloth, thought
  • ɔ cloth, thought
  • ɔr north, force
  • ə strut, comm a
  • ər nurse, lett er
  • ɛ(ə)r square
  • æ̃ sal on

Simple Text Respell

Simple text respell breaks words into syllables, separated by a hyphen. The syllable which carries the primary stress is written in capital letters. This key covers both British and U.S. English Simple Text Respell.

b, d, f, h, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w and z have their standard English values

  • arr carry (British only)
  • a(ng) gratin
  • o lot (British only)
  • orr sorry (British only)
  • o(ng) salon

Date of use

Variant forms.

  • 1600s literare , literarie , litterarie
  • 1600s–1700s litterary
  • 1600s– literary
  • 1600s letterary

literary is one of the 2,000 most common words in modern written English. It is similar in frequency to words like corner , debt , deliver , resolution , and transition .

It typically occurs about 50 times per million words in modern written English.

literary is in frequency band 6, which contains words occurring between 10 and 100 times per million words in modern written English. More about OED's frequency bands

Frequency of literary, adj. & n. , 1750–2010

* Occurrences per million words in written English

Historical frequency series are derived from Google Books Ngrams (version 2), a data set based on the Google Books corpus of several million books printed in English between 1500 and 2010.

The overall frequency for a given word is calculated by summing frequencies for the main form of the word, any plural or inflected forms, and any major spelling variations.

For sets of homographs (distinct entries that share the same word-form, e.g. mole , n.¹, mole , n.², mole , n.³, etc.), we have estimated the frequency of each homograph entry as a fraction of the total Ngrams frequency for the word-form. This may result in inaccuracies.

Decade Frequency per million words
17504.7
17607.3
177011
178019
179026
180034
181032
182032
183037
184033
185037
186035
187037
188046
189056
190054
191046
192049
193048
194043
195045
196051
197048
198046
199048
200042
201042

Frequency of literary, adj. & n. , 2017–2023

Modern frequency series are derived from a corpus of 20 billion words, covering the period from 2017 to the present. The corpus is mainly compiled from online news sources, and covers all major varieties of World English.

Smoothing has been applied to series for lower-frequency words, using a moving-average algorithm. This reduces short-term fluctuations, which may be produced by variability in the content of the corpus.

Period Frequency per million words
Oct.–Dec. 20174.9
Jan.–Mar. 20185.3
Apr.–June 20185.9
July–Sept. 20185.9
Oct.–Dec. 20185.7
Jan.–Mar. 20195.6
Apr.–June 20195.5
July–Sept. 20195.6
Oct.–Dec. 20195.5
Jan.–Mar. 20205.0
Apr.–June 20204.4
July–Sept. 20204.4
Oct.–Dec. 20204.5
Jan.–Mar. 20214.8
Apr.–June 20214.7
July–Sept. 20214.8
Oct.–Dec. 20214.8
Jan.–Mar. 20224.7
Apr.–June 20224.7
July–Sept. 20224.8
Oct.–Dec. 20225.1
Jan.–Mar. 20235.2

Compounds & derived words

  • literary history , n. 1692– The history of the treatment of, and references to, a particular theme, event, etc., in literature; (more generally) the history of literature…
  • literary world , n. 1727– (With the) the section of society involved in the production of works of literature; authors, publishers, etc., considered collectively.
  • literarian , n. 1740– An educated or lettered person; one engaged in literary pursuits.
  • literary property , n. 1747– a. Property consisting of written or printed compositions; b. the exclusive right of publication as recognized and limited by law.
  • literary criticism , n. 1751– The art or practice of judging and commenting on the qualities and character of a literary work; consideration or analysis of a text (cf. text, n.¹…
  • literary critic , n. 1758– A person who engages in literary criticism, esp. as an occupation.
  • literary historian , n. 1764– An expert in or student of literary history.
  • literarily , adv. 1765– In a literary manner; by or with regard to literature.
  • literary circle , n. 1772– A particular group of people involved in writing or studying literature; (with the) the literary world.
  • literary gent , n. 1773– A man, esp. of high social standing, who writes or critiques works of literature; (also) a writer who expresses his literary knowledge in a refined…
  • politico-literary , adj. 1776–
  • unliterary , adj. 1788– Not literary; lacking literary character; (also) unlearned.
  • literary agent , n. 1794– An agent (now typically a professional one) who acts on behalf of an author in dealing with publishers and others involved in promoting his or her…
  • literary executor , n. 1797– A person entrusted with a dead writer's papers and copyrighted and unpublished works.
  • literary adviser , n. 1801– A person who gives advice on matters relating to literature.
  • literary editor , n. 1801– a. The editor of the literary section of a newspaper or magazine; b. = editor, n. 2a.
  • literary theory , n. 1807– The field of study concerned with inquiry into the evaluation, analysis, and understanding of literary works and (now also) other texts (cf. text…
  • literary-critical , adj. 1820– Of or relating to literary criticism.
  • literary translator , n. 1824– A person who translates works of literature from one language into another, esp. professionally.
  • pseudo-literary , adj. 1824–
  • literary agency , n. 1829– (Originally) the function or capacity of literary agent; (now usually) a firm providing the services of a literary agent.
  • socio-literary , adj. 1834–
  • literary editorship , n. 1837– The position or occupation of literary editor.
  • subliterary , adj. 1848– Not quite literary; of a lower quality or standing than that of literature. Also: of or belonging to subliterature (subliterature, n.).
  • lit. , n.² & adj.² 1850– = literature, n. Cf. Eng. Lit., n.
  • non-literary , adj. 1850–
  • biblico-literary , adj. 1853– Of or relating to the literature of the Bible.
  • literary editing , n. 1861– The work of a literary editor; editing with a focus on literary style.
  • literariness , n. 1872– The quality of being literary, esp. in an affected or self-conscious way.
  • preliterary , adj. 1876–
  • literaryism , n. 1879– A word, phrase, or other use of language that is characteristic of or peculiar to literature or the art of writing, esp. of a self-conscious literary…
  • literarism , n. 1893– Engagement in literary pursuits; literariness; (esp.) advocacy of or belief in the importance of literature and literary studies (cf. scientism, n…
  • literary theorist , n. 1896– A person who theorizes about literature; an expert in or student of literary theory.
  • literary-edit , v. 1923– transitive to edit (proofs, etc.) paying particular attention to literary style; (also) to act as the literary editor of.
  • meta-literary , adj. 1965– Of or relating to metaliterature; concerned with or characteristic of metaliterature. Also: above or beyond the boundaries of any one literature…

Entry history for literary, adj. & n.

literary, adj. & n. was revised in September 2011.

literary, adj. & n. was last modified in July 2023.

oed.com is a living text, updated every three months. Modifications may include:

  • further revisions to definitions, pronunciation, etymology, headwords, variant spellings, quotations, and dates;
  • new senses, phrases, and quotations.

Revisions and additions of this kind were last incorporated into literary, adj. & n. in July 2023.

Earlier versions of this entry were published in:

OED First Edition (1903)

  • Find out more

OED Second Edition (1989)

  • View literary, a. in OED Second Edition

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The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms

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The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (3 ed.)  

Chris baldick.

“This dictionary’s virtues and its plain-spokenness make it ... as apt to the bedside table as to the desk: Dr Baldick is a Brewer for specialized tastes” - Times Literary Supplement

The best-selling Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (formerly the Concise dictionary) provides clear, concise, and often witty definitions of the most troublesome literary terms from abjection to zeugma. Now available in a new, fully updated and expanded edition, it offers readers increased coverage of new terms from modern critical and theoretical movements, such as feminism, and schools of American poetry, Spanish verse forms, life writing, and crime fiction.

It includes extensive coverage of traditional drama, versification, rhetoric, and literary history, as well as updated and extended advice on recommended further reading and a pronunciation guide to more than 200 terms. New to this fully revised edition are recommended entry-level web links. Boasting over 1,200 entries, it is an essential reference tool for students of literature in any language.

Bibliographic Information

Affiliations are at time of print publication..

Chris Baldick is Professor of English at Goldsmiths’ College, University of London. He has written widely on nineteenth-century literature and is the editor of The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales .

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Definition of literary adjective from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

  • literary criticism/theory

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literary in British English

Literary in american english, examples of 'literary' in a sentence literary, cobuild collocations literary, trends of literary.

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In other languages literary

  • American English : literary / ˈlɪtərɛri /
  • Brazilian Portuguese : literário
  • Chinese : 文学的
  • European Spanish : literario
  • French : littéraire
  • German : literarisch
  • Italian : letterario
  • Japanese : 文学の
  • Korean : 문학의
  • European Portuguese : literário
  • Latin American Spanish : literario
  • Thai : เกี่ยวกับวรรณกรรม

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  • literally impossible
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  • literary art
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Literary English

Definitions of Literature

What is Literature? Definition of Literature | English Literature

What is literature.

What is Literature? The word ‘ Literature’   is a modified form of a Latin word ( lit erra, litteratura or litteratus)  that means ‘ writing formed with letters’ . Let us look at what is literature in definition.

Literature can be any written work, but it especially is an artistic or intellectual work of writing. It is one of the Fine Arts, like Painting, Dance, Music, etc which provides aesthetic pleasure to the readers. It differs from other written works by only its one additional trait: that is aesthetic beauty. If a written work lacks aesthetic beauty and serves only utilitarian purpose it is not literature. The entire genre like poetry, drama, or prose is a blend of intellectual work and aesthetic beauty of that work. When there is no any aesthetic beauty in any written work that is not literature.

Definition of Literature according to different Writers

  Throughout the history of Literature, many of the great writers have defined it and expressed its meaning in their own way. Here are the few famous definitions by timeless celebrated authors.

Virginia Woolf : “Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.”

Ezra Pound : “Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.”

Alfred North Whitehead : “It is in literature that the concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression.”

Salman Rushdie : “Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination and of the heart.”

Henry James : “It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.”

S. Lewis : “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”

Oscar Wilde : “Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it but moulds it to its purpose. The nineteenth century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac.”

K. Chesterton : “Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”

M. Forster : “What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote.”

These definitions of literature by great writers present different aspects of it, and shows that in how many ways it can be effective.

Aristotle’s role in Literature

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and scientist. World know him as one of the great intellectuals in history. His contributions are numerous in almost every aspect of science; his contributions in literature are also notable. Aristotle was a student of Plato, but his point of view was differed from that of Plato’s. Aristotle almost wrote 200 treatises and many other things including all fields of science and philosophy. From those works, at least 80% has not survived in proper form. There are roughly 30 writings consisting of lecture notes and rough copies of scripts. Some ancient scholars, particularly the last head of the Lyceum, Andronicus of Rhodes edited the manuscript left. He did all the work of arranging, editing, and publishing the writings of Aristotle. Because of the large number of abbreviations, the writings were difficult to read, even for other philosophers,

The most widely known work of Aristotle in English Literature is his book named  The Poetics . In his book, he mostly gives responses to Plato’s ideas of poetry and talks about different genres of poetry. He has touched all the genres of poetry like comedy, tragic, epic, etc. The part of his work that dealt with comedic poetry is lost and the one about tragedy is available. The poetic genre of tragedy is the most developed among his works. (2)

Horace’s contributions

  Horace was a Roman poet.  The Art of Poetry  is his book in which he points out the factors for writing good poetry and drama. Horace’s approach to poetry is from a practical standpoint. He takes it as a craft instead of taking the theoretical approach of Plato or Aristotle. ( 3 ) Horace wrote only one important critical document in verse, that is,  Epistle to the Pisos,  later named  Ars Poetica  by Quintilian. It is another  Poetics  in Latin and brings to Horace the same reputation as to Aristotle in Greek. He followed Aristotle in his works.

Literature: A depiction of Society

It might sound strange that  what is literature’s  relation with a society could be. However, literature is an integral part of any society and has a profound effect on ways and thinking of people of that society. Actually, society is the only subject matter of literature. It literally shapes a society and its beliefs. Students, who study literature, grow up to be the future of a country. Hence, it has an impact on a society and it moulds it.

  Literature literally does the depiction of society; therefore, we call it ‘ mirror of   society’ . Writers use it effectively to point out the ill aspects of society that improve them. They also use it to highlight the positive aspects of a society to promote more goodwill in society.

The  essays  in literature often call out on the problems in a country and suggest solutions for it. Producers make  Films  and write  Novels  to touch subjects like morals, mental illnesses, patriotism, etc. Through such writings, they relate all matters to society. Other genre can also present the picture of society. We should keep in mind that the picture illustrated by literature is not always true. Writers can present it to change the society in their own ways.

The effects on society

 The effects of literature on a society can be both positive and negative. Because of this, the famous philosophers Aristotle and Plato have different opinions about its effect on society.

Plato was the one who started the idea of written dialogue. He was a moralist, and he did not approve of poetry because he deemed it immoral. He considered poetry as based on false ideas whereas the basis of philosophy came from reality and truth. ( 4 ) Plato claims that, “poetry inspires undesirable emotions in society. According to him, poetry should be censored from adults and children for fear of lasting detrimental consequences,” (Leitch & McGowan). He further explains it by saying, “Children have no ability to know what emotions should be tempered and which should be expressed as certain expressed emotions can have lasting consequences later in life”. He says, “Strong emotions of every kind must be avoided, in fear of them spiralling out of control and creating irreparable damage” (Leitch & McGowan). However, he did not agree with the type of poetry and wanted that to be changed.

Now Aristotle considers literature of all kinds to be an important part of children’s upbringing. Aristotle claims that, “poetry takes us closer to reality. He also mentioned in his writings that it teaches, warns, and shows us the consequences of bad deeds”. ( 5 ) He was of the view that it is not necessary that poetry will arouse negative feelings.

Therefore, the relation of literature with society is of utter importance. It might have a few negative impacts, through guided studying which we can avoid. Overall, it is the best way of passing information to the next generation and integral to learning.

Background to English Literature

  • What is English Literature?
  • History of English Literature
  • Various Types of Literature
  • What is Literary English?

What is Iambic Pentameter?

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Meaning of literature in English

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literature noun [U] ( WRITING )

  • He's very knowledgeable about German literature.
  • I had a brilliant English teacher who fired me with enthusiasm for literature at an early age .
  • She's studying for an MA in French literature.
  • Classic literature never goes out of print .
  • The festival is to encompass everything from music , theatre and ballet to literature, cinema and the visual arts .
  • action hero
  • alliterative
  • alternative history
  • fictionality
  • fictionally
  • non-canonical
  • non-character
  • non-literary
  • non-metrical
  • sympathetically
  • tartan noir

literature noun [U] ( SPECIALIST TEXTS )

  • advance notice
  • advance warning
  • advertisement
  • aide-mémoire
  • bumper sticker
  • push notification
  • the gory details idiom
  • the real deal

literature noun [U] ( INFORMATION )

  • information Can I get some information on uni courses?
  • details Please send me details of your training courses.
  • directions Just follow the directions on the label.
  • instructions Have you read the instructions all the way through?
  • directions We had to stop and ask for directions.
  • guidelines The government has issued new guidelines on health and safety at work.
  • adverse publicity
  • cross-selling
  • customer relationship management
  • demographics
  • differentiator
  • opinion mining
  • overexposure
  • trade dress
  • unadvertised
  • unmarketable

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literature | American Dictionary

Literature | business english, examples of literature, collocations with literature.

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the pale light of the moon

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Theme Definition

What is theme? Here’s a quick and simple definition:

A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. One key characteristic of literary themes is their universality, which is to say that themes are ideas that not only apply to the specific characters and events of a book or play, but also express broader truths about human experience that readers can apply to their own lives. For instance, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (about a family of tenant farmers who are displaced from their land in Oklahoma) is a book whose themes might be said to include the inhumanity of capitalism, as well as the vitality and necessity of family and friendship.

Some additional key details about theme:

  • All works of literature have themes. The same work can have multiple themes, and many different works explore the same or similar themes.
  • Themes are sometimes divided into thematic concepts and thematic statements . A work's thematic concept is the broader topic it touches upon (love, forgiveness, pain, etc.) while its thematic statement is what the work says about that topic. For example, the thematic concept of a romance novel might be love, and, depending on what happens in the story, its thematic statement might be that "Love is blind," or that "You can't buy love . "
  • Themes are almost never stated explicitly. Oftentimes you can identify a work's themes by looking for a repeating symbol , motif , or phrase that appears again and again throughout a story, since it often signals a recurring concept or idea.

Theme Pronunciation

Here's how to pronounce theme: theem

Identifying Themes

Every work of literature—whether it's an essay, a novel, a poem, or something else—has at least one theme. Therefore, when analyzing a given work, it's always possible to discuss what the work is "about" on two separate levels: the more concrete level of the plot (i.e., what literally happens in the work), as well as the more abstract level of the theme (i.e., the concepts that the work deals with). Understanding the themes of a work is vital to understanding the work's significance—which is why, for example, every LitCharts Literature Guide uses a specific set of themes to help analyze the text.

Although some writers set out to explore certain themes in their work before they've even begun writing, many writers begin to write without a preconceived idea of the themes they want to explore—they simply allow the themes to emerge naturally through the writing process. But even when writers do set out to investigate a particular theme, they usually don't identify that theme explicitly in the work itself. Instead, each reader must come to their own conclusions about what themes are at play in a given work, and each reader will likely come away with a unique thematic interpretation or understanding of the work.

Symbol, Motif, and Leitwortstil

Writers often use three literary devices in particular—known as symbol , motif , and leitwortstil —to emphasize or hint at a work's underlying themes. Spotting these elements at work in a text can help you know where to look for its main themes.

  • Near the beginning of Romeo and Juliet , Benvolio promises to make Romeo feel better about Rosaline's rejection of him by introducing him to more beautiful women, saying "Compare [Rosaline's] face with some that I shall show….and I will make thee think thy swan a crow." Here, the swan is a symbol for how Rosaline appears to the adoring Romeo, while the crow is a symbol for how she will soon appear to him, after he has seen other, more beautiful women.
  • Symbols might occur once or twice in a book or play to represent an emotion, and in that case aren't necessarily related to a theme. However, if you start to see clusters of similar symbols appearing in a story, this may mean that the symbols are part of an overarching motif, in which case they very likely are related to a theme.
  • For example, Shakespeare uses the motif of "dark vs. light" in Romeo and Juliet to emphasize one of the play's main themes: the contradictory nature of love. To develop this theme, Shakespeare describes the experience of love by pairing contradictory, opposite symbols next to each other throughout the play: not only crows and swans, but also night and day, moon and sun. These paired symbols all fall into the overall pattern of "dark vs. light," and that overall pattern is called a motif.
  • A famous example is Kurt Vonnegut's repetition of the phrase "So it goes" throughout his novel Slaughterhouse Five , a novel which centers around the events of World War II. Vonnegut's narrator repeats the phrase each time he recounts a tragic story from the war, an effective demonstration of how the horrors of war have become normalized for the narrator. The constant repetition of the phrase emphasizes the novel's primary themes: the death and destruction of war, and the futility of trying to prevent or escape such destruction, and both of those things coupled with the author's skepticism that any of the destruction is necessary and that war-time tragedies "can't be helped."

Symbol, motif and leitwortstil are simply techniques that authors use to emphasize themes, and should not be confused with the actual thematic content at which they hint. That said, spotting these tools and patterns can give you valuable clues as to what might be the underlying themes of a work.

Thematic Concepts vs. Thematic Statements

A work's thematic concept is the broader topic it touches upon—for instance:

  • Forgiveness

while its thematic statement is the particular argument the writer makes about that topic through his or her work, such as:

  • Human judgement is imperfect.
  • Love cannot be bought.
  • Getting revenge on someone else will not fix your problems.
  • Learning to forgive is part of becoming an adult.

Should You Use Thematic Concepts or Thematic Statements?

Some people argue that when describing a theme in a work that simply writing a thematic concept is insufficient, and that instead the theme must be described in a full sentence as a thematic statement. Other people argue that a thematic statement, being a single sentence, usually creates an artificially simplistic description of a theme in a work and is therefore can actually be more misleading than helpful. There isn't really a right answer in this debate.

In our LitCharts literature study guides , we usually identify themes in headings as thematic concepts, and then explain the theme more fully in a few paragraphs. We find thematic statements limiting in fully exploring or explaining a the theme, and so we don't use them. Please note that this doesn't mean we only rely on thematic concepts—we spend paragraphs explaining a theme after we first identify a thematic concept. If you are asked to describe a theme in a text, you probably should usually try to at least develop a thematic statement about the text if you're not given the time or space to describe it more fully. For example, a statement that a book is about "the senselessness of violence" is a lot stronger and more compelling than just saying that the book is about "violence."

Identifying Thematic Statements

One way to try to to identify or describe the thematic statement within a particular work is to think through the following aspects of the text:

  • Plot: What are the main plot elements in the work, including the arc of the story, setting, and characters. What are the most important moments in the story? How does it end? How is the central conflict resolved?
  • Protagonist: Who is the main character, and what happens to him or her? How does he or she develop as a person over the course of the story?
  • Prominent symbols and motifs: Are there any motifs or symbols that are featured prominently in the work—for example, in the title, or recurring at important moments in the story—that might mirror some of the main themes?

After you've thought through these different parts of the text, consider what their answers might tell you about the thematic statement the text might be trying to make about any given thematic concept. The checklist above shouldn't be thought of as a precise formula for theme-finding, but rather as a set of guidelines, which will help you ask the right questions and arrive at an interesting thematic interpretation.

Theme Examples

The following examples not only illustrate how themes develop over the course of a work of literature, but they also demonstrate how paying careful attention to detail as you read will enable you to come to more compelling conclusions about those themes.

Themes in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald explores many themes in The Great Gatsby , among them the corruption of the American Dream .

  • The story's narrator is Minnesota-born Nick Caraway, a New York bonds salesman. Nick befriends Jay Gatsby, the protagonist, who is a wealthy man who throws extravagant parties at his mansion.
  • The central conflict of the novel is Gatsby's pursuit of Daisy, whom he met and fell in love with as a young man, but parted from during World War I.
  • He makes a fortune illegally by bootlegging alcohol, to become the sort of wealthy man he believes Daisy is attracted to, then buys a house near her home, where she lives with her husband.
  • While he does manage to re-enter Daisy's life, she ultimately abandons him and he dies as a result of her reckless, selfish behavior.
  • Gatsby's house is on the water, and he stares longingly across the water at a green light that hangs at the edge of a dock at Daisy's house which sits across a the bay. The symbol of the light appears multiple times in the novel—during the early stages of Gatsby's longing for Daisy, during his pursuit of her, and after he dies without winning her love. It symbolizes both his longing for daisy and the distance between them (the distance of space and time) that he believes (incorrectly) that he can bridge. 
  • In addition to the green light, the color green appears regularly in the novel. This motif of green broadens and shapes the symbolism of the green light and also influences the novel's themes. While green always remains associated with Gatsby's yearning for Daisy and the past, and also his ambitious striving to regain Daisy, it also through the motif of repeated green becomes associated with money, hypocrisy, and destruction. Gatsby's yearning for Daisy, which is idealistic in some ways, also becomes clearly corrupt in others, which more generally impacts what the novel is saying about dreams more generally and the American Dream in particular. 

Gatsby pursues the American Dream, driven by the idea that hard work can lead anyone from poverty to wealth, and he does so for a single reason: he's in love with Daisy. However, he pursues the dream dishonestly, making a fortune by illegal means, and ultimately fails to achieve his goal of winning Daisy's heart. Furthermore, when he actually gets close to winning Daisy's heart, she brings about his downfall. Through the story of Gatsby and Daisy, Fitzgerald expresses the point of view that the American Dream carries at its core an inherent corruption. You can read more about the theme of The American Dream in The Great Gatsby here .

Themes in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

In Things Fall Apart , Chinua Achebe explores the theme of the dangers of rigidly following tradition .

  • Okonkwo is obsessed with embodying the masculine ideals of traditional Igbo warrior culture.
  • Okonkwo's dedication to his clan's traditions is so extreme that it even alienates members of his own family, one of whom joins the Christians.
  • The central conflict: Okonkwo's community adapts to colonization in order to survive, becoming less warlike and allowing the minor injustices that the colonists inflict upon them to go unchallenged. Okonkwo, however, refuses to adapt.
  • At the end of the novel, Okonkwo impulsively kills a Christian out of anger. Recognizing that his community does not support his crime, Okonkwo kills himself in despair.
  • Clanswomen who give birth to twins abandon the babies in the forest to die, according to traditional beliefs that twins are evil.
  • Okonkwo kills his beloved adopted son, a prisoner of war, according to the clan's traditions.
  • Okonkwo sacrifices a goat in repentence, after severely beating his wife during the clan's holy week.

Through the tragic story of Okonkwo, Achebe is clearly dealing with the theme of tradition, but a close examination of the text reveals that he's also making a clear thematic statement that following traditions too rigidly leads people to the greatest sacrifice of all: that of personal agency . You can read more about this theme in Things Fall Apart   here .

Themes in Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken

Poem's have themes just as plot-driven narratives do. One theme that Robert Frost explores in this famous poem,  The Road Not Taken ,  is the illusory nature of free will .

  • The poem's speaker stands at a fork in the road, in a "yellow wood."
  • He (or she) looks down one path as far as possible, then takes the other, which seems less worn.
  • The speaker then admits that the paths are about equally worn—there's really no way to tell the difference—and that a layer of leaves covers both of the paths, indicating that neither has been traveled recently.
  • After taking the second path, the speaker finds comfort in the idea of taking the first path sometime in the future, but acknowledges that he or she is unlikely to ever return to that particular fork in the woods.
  • The speaker imagines how, "with a sigh" she will tell someone in the future, "I took the road less travelled—and that has made all the difference."
  • By wryly predicting his or her own need to romanticize, and retroactively justify, the chosen path, the speaker injects the poem with an unmistakeable hint of irony .
  • The speaker's journey is a symbol for life, and the two paths symbolize different life paths, with the road "less-travelled" representing the path of an individualist or lone-wolf. The fork where the two roads diverge represents an important life choice. The road "not taken" represents the life path that the speaker would have pursued had he or she had made different choices.

Frost's speaker has reached a fork in the road, which—according to the symbolic language of the poem—means that he or she must make an important life decision. However, the speaker doesn't really know anything about the choice at hand: the paths appear to be the same from the speaker's vantage point, and there's no way he or she can know where the path will lead in the long term. By showing that the only truly informed choice the speaker makes is how he or she explains their decision after they have already made it , Frost suggests that although we pretend to make our own choices, our lives are actually governed by chance.

What's the Function of Theme in Literature?

Themes are a huge part of what readers ultimately take away from a work of literature when they're done reading it. They're the universal lessons and ideas that we draw from our experiences of works of art: in other words, they're part of the whole reason anyone would want to pick up a book in the first place!

It would be difficult to write any sort of narrative that did not include any kind of theme. The narrative itself would have to be almost completely incoherent in order to seem theme-less, and even then readers would discern a theme about incoherence and meaninglessness. So themes are in that sense an intrinsic part of nearly all writing. At the same time, the themes that a writer is interested in exploring will significantly impact nearly all aspects of how a writer chooses to write a text. Some writers might know the themes they want to explore from the beginning of their writing process, and proceed from there. Others might have only a glimmer of an idea, or have new ideas as they write, and so the themes they address might shift and change as they write. In either case, though, the writer's ideas about his or her themes will influence how they write. 

One additional key detail about themes and how they work is that the process of identifying and interpreting them is often very personal and subjective. The subjective experience that readers bring to interpreting a work's themes is part of what makes literature so powerful: reading a book isn't simply a one-directional experience, in which the writer imparts their thoughts on life to the reader, already distilled into clear thematic statements. Rather, the process of reading and interpreting a work to discover its themes is an exchange in which readers parse the text to tease out the themes they find most relevant to their personal experience and interests.

Other Helpful Theme Resources

  • The Wikipedia Page on Theme: An in-depth explanation of theme that also breaks down the difference between thematic concepts and thematic statements.
  • The Dictionary Definition of Theme: A basic definition and etymology of the term.
  • In this instructional video , a teacher explains her process for helping students identify themes.

The printed PDF version of the LitCharts literary term guide on Theme

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Definition of Theme

Come, gentle night ; come, loving, black-browed night; Give me my Romeo; and, when I shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night

Common Examples of Literary Themes

Many works of literature share common themes and central ideas. As a literary device, theme allows the author to present and reveal all aspects of human nature and the human condition. This enhances the enjoyment and significance of a literary work for readers by encouraging thought, interpretation, and analysis. Discovery and analysis of theme is also one of the primary reasons that readers return to “classic” literary works that are centuries old. There is no end or expiration to the significance and impact theme can have on readers of literature.

Famous Examples of Disney Movies and Their Themes

Difference between theme and subject matter.

Sometimes it can be difficult to determine the difference between the theme and subject matter of a literary work. They are both closely related to each other; however, the subject matter is the topic that is overtly addressed and presented by the writer whereas the theme is the meaning or underlying message that is imparted through the writing.

Examples of Theme in Literature

As a literary device, the purpose of theme is the main idea or underlying meaning that is explored by a writer in a work of literature. Writers can utilize a combination of elements in order to convey a story’s theme, including setting , plot , characters, dialogue , and more. For certain works of literature, such as fables , the theme is typically a “ moral ” or lesson for the reader. However, more complex works of literature tend to have a central theme that is open to interpretation and reflects a basic aspect of society or trait of humanity. Many longer works of literature, such as novels, convey several themes in order to explore the universality of human nature.

Example 1:  The Yellow Wall-Paper  (Charlotte Perkins Gilman)

If a physician of high standing, and one’s own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency – what is one to do? My brother is also a physician, and also of high standing, and he says the same thing. • So I take phosphates or phosphites whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good.

In her short story , Charlotte Perkins Gilman holds forth a revolutionary theme for the time period. The protagonist of the story is kept in a room with sickly yellow wall-paper as a means of “curing” her emotional and mental difficulties. Her husband, brother, and others are committed to keeping her idle. She is even separated from her baby. Rather than allow the narrator any agency over her daily life, they disregard her words and requests for the fact that she is a woman and considered incompetent.

Example 2:  Harlem  (Langston Hughes)

What happens to a dream deferred?       Does it dry up       like a raisin in the sun ?       Or fester like a sore—       And then run?       Does it stink like rotten meat?       Or crust and sugar over—       like a syrupy sweet?       Maybe it just sags       like a heavy load.        Or does it explode?

Hughes’s well-known poem explores the universality of hope and dreams among humans and the devastating legacy of oppression in deferring such hope and dreams. Hughes structures the poem in the form of questions and responses addressing what happens to a dream deferred. This calls on the reader to consider their own dreams as well those of others, which underscores the theme that dreams, and the hope associated with them, is universal–regardless of race, faith, etc.

Example 3:  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man  (James Joyce)

I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence , exile , and cunning.

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  • Literary Terms

Glossary of Literary Terms

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Also called “ action- adventure,” action is a genre of film, TV, literature, etc., in which the primary feature is the constant slam-bang of fights, chases, explosions, and clever one-liners. Action stories typically do not explore complex relationships between human beings or the subtleties of psychology and philosophy.

Ad hominem is Latin for “against the man,” and refers to the logical fallacy (error) of arguing that someone is incorrect because they are unattractive, immoral, weird, or any other bad thing you could say about them as a person.

An adage is a brief piece of wisdom in the form of short, philosophical, and memorable sayings. The adage expresses a well-known and simple truth in a few words.

Adventure (pronounced ad-ven-cher) was originally a Middle English word derived from the Old French aventure meaning “destiny,” “fate,” or “chance event.” Today, we define adventure as a remarkable or unexpected journey, experience, or event that a person participates in as a result of chance. This last detail, a result of chance , is a key element of adventure; the stories usually involve a character who is brought to the adventure by chance, and chance usually plays a large role in the episodes of the story. Also, adventures usually includes dangerous situations, narrow escapes, problems to be solved through intelligence and skill, exotic people and places, and brave deeds.

An allegory is a story within a story. It has a “surface story” and another story hidden underneath. For example, the surface story might be about two neighbors throwing rocks at each other’s homes, but the hidden story would be about war between countries.

  • Alliteration

In alliteration, words that begin with the same sound are placed close together. Although alliteration often involves repetition of letters, most importantly, it is a repetition of sounds.

Allusion is basically a reference to something else .  It’s when a writer mentions some other work, or refers to an earlier part of the current work. In literature, it’s frequently used to reference cultural works (e.g. by alluding to a Bible story or Greek myth).

Ambiguity is an idea or situation that can be understood in more than one way. This extends from ambiguous sentences (which could mean one thing or another) up to ambiguous storylines and ambiguous arguments .

  • Amplification

Amplification involves extending a sentence or phrase in order to further explain, emphasize, or exaggerate certain points of a definition, description, or argument.

An anagram is a type of word play in which the letters of a word or phrase are rearranged to create new words and phrases.

An analogy is a literary technique in which two unrelated objects are compared for their shared qualities. Unlike a simile or a metaphor, an analogy is not a figure of speech, though the three are often quite similar. Instead, analogies are strong rhetorical devices used to make rational arguments and support ideas by showing connections and comparisons between dissimilar things.

Anaphora is when a certain word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of clauses or sentences that follow each other. This repetition emphasizes the phrase while adding rhythm to the passage, making it more memorable and enjoyable to read.

An anecdote   is a very short story that is significant to the topic at hand; usually adding  personal knowledge or experience to the topic.

In a story, the antagonist is the opposite of the protagonist, or main character. Typically, this is a villain of some kind, but not always! It’s just the opponent of the main character, or someone who gets in their way.

Anthimeria (also known as antimeria) is the usage of a word in a new grammatical form, most often the usage of a noun as a verb.

  • Anthropomorphism

Anthropomorphism is giving human traits or attributes to animals, inanimate objects, or other non-human things. It comes from the Greek words anthropo (human) and morph (form).

Antithesis literally means “opposite” – it is usually the opposite of a statement, concept, or idea. In literary analysis, an antithesis is a pair of statements or images in which the one reverses the other. The pair is written with similar grammatical structures to show more contrast.

  • Antonomasia

Antonomasia is a literary term in which a descriptive phrase replaces a person’s name. Antonomasia can range from lighthearted nicknames to epic names.

An aphorism is a short, concise statement of a general truth, insight, or good advice.  It’s roughly synonymous with “a saying.” Aphorisms often use metaphors or creative imagery to get their point across.

Aphorismus is a term in which the speaker questions whether a word is being used correctly to show disagreement. Aphorismus is often written as a rhetorical question such as “How can you call this music ?”to show the difference between the usual meaning of a word and how it is  being used. So, the point is to call attention to the qualities of the word, suggesting that how it is being used is not a good example of the word.

An apologia is a defense of one’s conduct or opinions. It’s related to our concept of “apology,” but in many cases it’s the precise opposite of an apology! When you apologize, you’re saying “I did the wrong thing, and I regret it.” But in an apologia, you’re defending yourself , either by saying that what you did wasn’t wrong or denying that you were responsible for what happened.

An apologue is a short story or fable which provides a simple moral lesson. Apologues are often told through the use of animal characters with symbolical elements.

In literature, aporia is an expression of insincere doubt. It’s when the writer or speaker pretends, briefly, not to know a key piece of information or not to understand a key connection. After raising this doubt, the author will either respond to the doubt, or leave it open in a suggestive or “hinting” manner.

  • Aposiopesis

Aposiopesis is when a sentence is purposefully left incomplete or cut off. It’s caused by an inability or unwillingness to continue speaking. This allows the ending to be filled in by the listener’s imagination.

Appositives are noun phrases that follow or precede another noun, and give more information about it.

An archaism is an old word or expression that is no longer used with its original meaning or is only used in specific studies or areas.

An archetype (ARK-uh-type) is an idea, symbol, pattern, or character-type, in a story. It’s any story element that appears again and again in stories from cultures around the world and symbolizes something universal in the human experience.

An argument is a work of persuasion. You use it to convince others to agree with your claim or viewpoint when they have doubts or disagree.

Assonance is the repetition of the same or similar vowel sounds within words, phrases, or sentences.

Asyndeton is skipping one or more conjunctions (and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet) which are usually used in a series of phrases. Asyndeton is also known as asyndetism.

  • Autobiography

An autobiography is a self-written life story.

Auto = self

Graph = print or written

It is different from a  biography , which is the life story of a person written by someone else. Some people may have their life story written by another person because they don’t believe they can write well, but they are still considered an author because they are providing the information.

Bathos is text that abruptly turns from serious and poetic, to regular and silly.

A buzzword is a word or phrase that has little meaning but becomes popular during a specific time.

Cacophony is the use of a combination of words with loud, harsh sounds—in reality as well as literature.  In literary studies, this combination of words with rough or unharmonious sounds are used for a noisy or jarring poetic effect. Cacophony is considered the opposite of euphony which is the use of beautiful, melodious-sounding words.

Caesura refers to a break or pause in the middle of a line of verse. It can be marked as || in the middle of the line, although generally it is not marked at all – it’s simply part of the way the reader or singer pronounces the line.

Catharsis,  meaning “cleansing” in Greek, refers to a literary theory first developed by the philosopher Aristotle, who believed that cleansing our emotions was the purpose of a good story, especially a tragedy. Catharsis applies to any form of art or media that makes us feel strong negative emotions, but that we are nonetheless drawn to – we may seek out art that creates these emotions because the experience purges the emotions from our system.

A character is a person, animal, being, creature, or thing in a story. Writers use characters to perform the actions and speak dialogue, moving the story along a plot line. A story can have only one character (protagonist) and still be a complete story.

Chiasmus comes from a Greek word meaning “crossed,” and it refers to a grammatical structure that inverts a previous phrase. That is, you say one thing, and then you say something very similar, but flipped around.

  • Circumlocution

Circumlocution means “talking around” or “talking in circles.” It’s when you want to discuss something, but don’t want to make any direct reference to it, so you create a way to get around the subject. The key to circumlocution is that the statement has to be unnecessarily long and complicated.

A cliché is a saying, image, or idea which has been used so much that it sounds terribly uncreative. The word “cliche” was originally French for the sound of a printing plate, which prints the same thing over and over.

Climax is the highest point of tension or drama in a narrative’s plot. Often, climax is also when the main problem of the story is faced and solved by the main character or protagonist.

Coherence describes the way anything, such as an argument (or part of an argument) “hangs together.”  If something has coherence, its parts are well-connected and all heading in the same direction. Without coherence, a discussion may not make sense or may be difficult for the audience to follow. It’s an extremely important quality of formal writing.

  • Connotation

A connotation is a common feeling or association that a word has, in addition to its literal meaning (the denotation). Often, a series of words can have the same basic definitions, but completely different connotations—these are the emotions or meanings implied by a word, phrase, or thing.

Consonance is when the same consonant sound appears repeatedly in a line or sentence, creating a rhythmic effect.

A conundrum is a difficult problem, one that is impossible or almost impossible to solve. It’s an extremely broad term that covers any number of different types of situations, from moral dilemmas to riddles .

Comedy is a broad genre of film, television, and literature in which the goal is to make an audience laugh. It exists in every culture on earth (though the specifics of comedy can be very different from one culture to another), and has always been an extremely popular genre of storytelling.

Denotation is a word’ or thing’s “dictionary defintion”, i.e. its literal meaning.

The denouement is the very end of a story, the part where all the different plotlines are finally tied up and all remaining questions answered.

  • Deus ex machina

Deus ex machina is Latin for “a god from the machine.” It’s when some new character, force, or event suddenly shows up to solve a seemingly hopeless situation. The effect is usually much too abrupt, and it’s often disappointing for audiences.

Diacope is when a writer repeats a word or phrase with one or more words in between. A common and persistent example of diacope is Hamlet’s  “ To be , or not to be !”

Dialogue means “conversation.” In the broadest sense, this includes any case of two or more characters speaking to each other directly. But it also has a narrower definition, called the dialogue form . The dialogue form is the use of a sustained dialogue to express an argument or idea.

Diction refers to word choice and phrasing in any written or spoken text. Many authors can be said to have their own “diction,” because they tend to use certain words more than others or phrase things in a unique way.

  • Doppelganger

Doppelganger is a twin or double of some character, usually in the form of an evil twin . They sometimes impersonate a main character or cause confusion among the love interests.

Drama has two very different meanings. In modern pop culture, it means a genre of film or television that deals with serious, often negative, emotions. It’s the opposite of comedy, which is just for laughs. Drama refers only to film and television, not novels or other purely written art forms.

A dystopia is a horrible place where everything has gone wrong. Whereas utopia means a perfect paradise, dystopia means exactly the opposite.

Enjambment is continuing a line after the line breaks. Whereas many poems end lines with the natural pause at the end of a phrase or with punctuation as end-stopped lines, enjambment ends a line in the middle of a phrase, allowing it to continue onto the next line as an enjambed line.

An enthymeme is a kind of syllogism , or logical deduction, in which one of the premises is unstated.

An epigram is a short but insightful statement, often in verse form, which communicates a thought in a witty, paradoxical, or funny way.

An epiphany is an “Aha!” moment. As a literary device, epiphany is the moment when a character is suddenly struck with a life-changing, enlightening revelation or realization which changes his or her perspective for the rest of the story.

Epistrophe is when a certain phrase or word is repeated at the end of sentences or clauses that follow each other. This repetition creates a rhythm while emphasizing the repeated phrase. Epistrophe is also known as epiphora and antistrophe.

An epitaph is a short statement about a deceased person, often carved on his/her tombstone. Epitaphs can be poetic, sometimes written by poets or authors themselves before dying.

An Epithet is a glorified nickname. Traditionally, it replaces the name of a person and often describes them in some way.

An eponym refers to a person or thing after which something else is named. A person or thing’s name can come to be associated with the name of another character, person, product, object, activity, or even a discovery.

  • Equivocation

Commonly known as “doublespeak,” equivocation is the use of vague language to hide one’s meaning or to avoid committing to a point of view.

An essay is a form of writing in paragraph form that uses informal language, although it can be written formally. Essays may be written in first-person point of view (I, ours, mine), but third-person (people, he, she) is preferable in most academic essays.

Etymology is the investigation of word histories. Every word in every language has a unique origin and history; words can be born in many ways, and often their histories are quite adventurous and informative. Etymology investigates and documents the lives (mainly the origins) of words.

A euphemism is a polite, mild phrase that we substitute for a harsher, blunter way of saying something uncomfortable.

An excursus is a moment where a text moves away from its main topic – it’s roughly similar to “digression.”

Exemplum is just Latin for “example.” And that’s all it is. It’s an example, story, or anecdote used to demonstrate a point.

The exposition of a story is the first paragraph or paragraphs in which the characters, setting (time and place), and basic information is introduced.

  • Extended Metaphor

An extended metaphor is a metaphor that is developed in some detail by being used in more than one phrase, from a sentence or a paragraph, to encompassing an entire work.

A fairy tale is a story, often intended for children, that features fanciful and wondrous characters such as elves, goblins, wizards, and even, but not necessarily, fairies. The term “fairy” tale seems to refer more to the fantastic and magical setting or magical influences within a story, rather than the presence of the character of a fairy within that story.

In literature, a fable (pronounced fey-buh l) is a short fictional story that has a moral or teaches a lesson. Fables use humanized animals, objects, or parts of nature as main characters, and are therefore considered to be a sub-genre of fantasy.

Fantasy, from the Greek ϕαντασία  meaning ‘making visible,’ is a genre of fiction that concentrates on imaginary elements (the fantastic). This can mean magic, the supernatural, alternate worlds, superheroes, monsters, fairies, magical creatures, mythological heroes—essentially, anything that an author can imagine outside of reality.

A farce is a comedy in which everything is absolutely absurd. This usually involves some kind of deception or miscommunication.

  • Figures of Speech

A figure of speech is a word or phrase using figurative language—language that has other meaning than its normal definition. In other words, figures of speeches rely on implied or suggested meaning, rather than a dictionary definition.

Flashback is a device that moves an audience from the present moment in a chronological narrative to a scene in the past.

Folklore refers to the tales people tell – folk stories, fairy tales, “tall tales,” and even urban legends . Folklore is typically passed down by word of mouth, rather than being written in books. The key here is that folklore has no author – it just emerges from the culture and is carried forward by constant retelling.

  • Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing gives the audience hints or signs about the future. It suggests what is to come through imagery, language, and/or symbolism.

A genre is a category of literature identified by form, content, and style. Genres allow literary critics and students to classify compositions within the larger canon of literature.

A haiku is a specific type of Japanese poem which has 17 syllables divided into three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Haikus or haiku are typically written on the subject of nature.

Hamartia is the tragic flaw or error that reverses a protagonist’s fortune from good to bad.

Homophone is when two or more words have the same sound, but different meanings. They may be spelled the same or differently.

In literature, horror is a genre of fiction whose purpose is to create feelings of fear, dread, repulsion, and terror in the audience—in other words, it develops an atmosphere of horror.

Hyperbaton is a figure of speech in which the typical, natural order of words is changed as certain words are moved out of order.

Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which an author or speaker purposely and obviously exaggerates to an extreme. It is used for emphasis or as a way of making a description more creative and humorous.

An idiom is a phrase that conveys a figurative meaning different from the words used. In this sense, idiom is pretty much synonymous with “figure of speech,” though with a slightly narrower definition: an idiom is part of the language.

Imagery is language used to create images in the mind of the reader. Imagery includes figurative and metaphorical language to improve the reader’s experience through their senses.

An innuendo is when you say something which is polite and innocent on the surface, but indirectly hints at an insult or rude comment,  a dirty joke, or even social or political criticism.

  • Intertextuality

Intertextuality is a fact about literary texts – the fact that they are all intimately interconnected. Every text is affected by all the texts that came before it, since those texts influenced the author’s thinking and aesthetic choices.

Invective is the literary device in which one attacks or insults a person or thing through the use of abusive language and tone.

Irony is when there are two contradicting meanings of the same situation, event, image, sentence, phrase, or story.  In many cases, this refers to the difference between expectations and reality.

Jargon is the specific type of language used by a particular group or profession.

  • Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is the placement of two or more things side by side, often in order to bring out their differences.

Kairos in Ancient Greek meant “time” – but it wasn’t just any time. It was exactly the right time to say or do a particular thing.  In modern rhetoric, it refers to making exactly the right statement at exactly the right moment.

A limerick is a five-line poem with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA, lines 1,2, and 5 rhyme together, while lines 3 and 4 rhymes togther) and a reasonably strict meter (anapestic triameter for lines 1, 2, and 5; anapestic diameter for lines 3 and 4). Limericks are almost always used for comedy, and it’s usually pretty rude comedy at that – they deal with bodily functions, etc., and could be considered “toilet humor.”

Lingo is language or vocabulary that is specific to a certain subject, group of people, or region; including slang and jargon. The term lingo is relatively vague—it can mean any type of nonstandard language, and varies between professions, age groups, sexes, nationalities, ethnicities, location, and so on.

  • Literary Device

In literature, any technique used to help the author achieve his or her purpose is called a literary device .

Litotes is an understatement in which a positive statement is expressed by negating its opposite. The classic example of litotes is the phrase “not bad.” By negating the word “bad,” you’re saying that something is good, or at least OK.

  • Malapropism

Malapropisms are incorrect words used in place of correct words; these can be unintentional or intentional, but both cases have a comedic effect.

A maxim is a brief statement that contains a little piece of wisdom or a general rule of behavior.

Metanoia is a self-correction. It’s when a writer or speaker deliberately goes back and modifies a statement that they just made, usually either to strengthen it or soften it in some way.

A metaphor is a common figure of speech that makes a comparison by directly relating one thing to another unrelated thing (though these things may share some similarities).

Unlike similes, metaphors do not use words such as “like” or “as” to make comparisons.

Metonymy is a figure of speech that replaces words with related or associated words.  A metonym is typically a part of a larger whole, for example, when we say “wheels,” we are figuratively referring to a “car” and not literally only the wheels.

A mnemonic, also known as a memory aid, is a tool that helps you remember an idea or phrase with a pattern of letters, numbers, or relatable associations.  Mnemonic devices include special rhymes and poems, acronyms, images, songs, outlines, and other tools.

A monologue is a speech given by a single character in a story.

A motif is a symbolic image or idea that appears frequently in a story. Motifs can be symbols , sounds, actions, ideas, or words.

Mystery is a genre of literature whose stories focus on a mysterious crime, situation or circumstance that needs to be solved.

A narrative is a story. The term can be used as a noun or an adjective. As a noun, narrative refers to the story being told. As an adjective, it describes the form or style of the story being told.

A nemesis is an enemy, often a villain. A character’s nemesis isn’t just any ordinary enemy, though – the nemesis is the ultimate enemy, the arch-foe that overshadows all the others in power or importance.

Neologism is new word or phrase that is not yet used regularly by most speakers and writers.

In the strict definition, an ode is a classical poem that has a specific structure and is aimed at an object or person.  In the loose definition, an ode is any work of art or literature that expresses high praise.

  • Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia refers to words whose pronunciations imitate the sounds they describe.  A dog’s bark sounds like “woof,” so “woof” is an example of onomatopoeia.

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that puts together opposite elements. The combination of these contradicting elements serves to reveal a paradox, confuse, or give the reader a laugh.

A palindrome is a type of word play in which a word or phrase spelled forward is the same word or phrase spelled backward.

A parable is a short story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.

A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself, or that must be both true and untrue at the same time.

  • Parallelism

Parallelism, also known as parallel structure, is when phrases in a sentence have similar or the same grammatical structure.

A paraphrase is a restatement or rewording of text in order to borrow, clarify, or expand on information without plagiarizing.

A parody is a work that’s created by imitating an existing original work in order to make fun of or comment on an aspect of the original.

Pastiche is a creative work that imitates another author or genre. It’s a way of paying homage , or honor, to great works of the past.

  • Pathetic Fallacy

The pathetic fallacy is a figure of speech in which the natural world (or some part of it) is treated as though it had human emotions.

Peripeteia is a sudden change in a story which results in a negative reversal of circumstances. Peripeteia is also known as the turning point, the place in which the tragic protagonist’s fortune changes from good to bad.

Persona can refer to the characters in any dramatic or literary work.  But it has another special meaning in literary studies, where it refers to the voice of a particular kind of character—the character who is also the narrator within a literary work written from the first-person point of view.

  • Personification

Personification is a kind of metaphor in which you describe an inanimate object, abstract thing, or non-human animal in human terms.

Plagiarism is the act of using someone else’s ideas, words, or thoughts as your own, without giving credit to the other person. When you give credit to the original author (by giving the person’s name, name of the article, and where it was posted or printed), you are citing the source.

A platitude repeats obvious, simple, and easily understood statements that have little meaning or emotional weight.

A pleonasm is when one uses too many words to express a message. A pleonasm can either be a mistake or a tool for emphasis.

In a narrative or creative writing, a plot is the sequence of events that make up a story, whether it”s told, written, filmed, or sung. The plot is the story, and more specifically, how the story develops, unfolds, and moves in time.

Poetry is a type of literature based on the interplay of words and rhythm. It often employs rhyme and meter (a set of rules governing the number and arrangement of syllables in each line). In poetry, words are strung together to form sounds, images, and ideas that might be too complex or abstract to describe directly.

Polyptoton is the repetition of a root word in a variety of ways , such as the words “enjoy” and “enjoyable.” Polyptoton is a unique form of wordplay that provides the sentence with repetition in sound and rhythm.

A prologue is a short introductory section that gives background information or sets the stage for the story to come.

Prose is just non-verse writing. Pretty much anything other than poetry counts as prose.

  • Protagonist

Protagonist is just another word for “main character.” The story circles around this character’s experiences, and the audience is invited to see the world from his or her perspective.

A proverb is a short saying or piece of folk wisdom that emerges from the general culture rather than being written by a single, individual author.

A pun is a joke based on the interplay of homophones — words with the same pronunciation but different meanings.

A quest is a journey that someone takes in order to achieve a goal or complete an important task. Accordingly, the term comes from the Medieval Latin questa, meaning “search” or “inquiry.”

A rebus is a code or reference where pictures, letters, or symbols represent certain words or phrases. Perhaps the simplest and most common rebus in use today is “IOU” for “I owe you.”

  • Red Herring

A red herring is a misleading clue. It’s a trick used by storytellers to keep the reader guessing about what’s really going on.

Quite simply, repetition is the repeating of a word or phrase. It is a common rhetorical device used to add emphasis and stress in writing and speech.

The resolution, also known as the denouement, is the conclusion of the story’s plot structure where any unanswered questions are answered, or “loose ends are tied.”

Rhetoric is the ancient art of persuasion, in the broadest sense. It is the way you present and make your views convincing or attractive to your audience.

  • Rhetorical Device

A rhetorical device is any way of using language that helps an author or speaker achieve a particular purpose. Usually, the purpose is persuasion , since rhetoric is typically defined as the art of persuasion.

  • Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is a question that is not asked in order to receive an answer, but rather just to make a point.

In the strictest academic terms, a romance is a narrative genre in literature that involves a mysterious, adventurous, or spiritual a story line where the focus is on a quest that involves bravery and strong values, not a love interest. However, modern definitions of romance also include stories that have a relationship issue as the main focus.

Sarcasm is a form of verbal irony that mocks, ridicules, or expresses contempt. You’re saying the opposite of what you mean (verbal irony) and doing it in a particularly hostile tone.

The formal definition of satire is “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices.” It’s an extremely broad category.

  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that somehow causes itself to come true. The characters may try to prevent their fate, but in the end their actions simply cause that fate to come about.

Setting is the time and place (or when and where) of the story. It may also include the environment of the story, which can be made up of the physical location, climate, weather, or social and cultural surroundings.

A simile is a literary term where you use “like” or “as” to compare two different things, implying that they have some quality in common.

A soliloquy is a kind of monologue , or an extended speech by one character. In a soliloquy, though, the speech is not given to another character, and there is no one around to hear it.

A sonnet is a fourteen line poem with a fixed rhyme scheme. Often, sonnets use iambic pentameter: five sets of unstressed syllables followed by stressed syllables for a ten-syllable line.

In poetry, a stanza is a dividing and organizing technique which places a group of lines in a poem together, separated from other groups of lines by line spacing or indentation. There are many important pieces that together make up a writer’s style; like tone, word choice, grammar, language, descriptive technique, and so on.

Style is the way in which an author writes and/or tells a story. It’s what sets one author apart from another and creates the “voice” that audiences hear when they read.

The subtext is the unspoken or less obvious meaning or message in a literary composition, drama, speech, or conversation.

Surrealism is a literary and artistic movement in which the goal is to create something bizarre and disjointed, but still somehow understandable.

A symbol is any image or thing that stands for something else. It could be as simple as a letter, which is a symbol for a given sound (or set of sounds).

A synecdoche is figure of speech which allows a part of something to stand for a whole, or the whole to stand for a part.

A synonym is a word that has the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. When words or phrases have the same meaning, we say that they are synonymous of each other.

A synopsis is a brief summary that gives audiences an idea of what a composition is about. It provides an overview of the storyline or main points and other defining factors of the work, which may include style, genre, persons or characters of note, setting, and so on.

Tautology is defining or explaining something by saying exactly the same thing again in different words.

Theme is the central idea, topic, or point of a story, essay, or narrative.

A thriller is a genre of literature, film, and television whose primary feature is that it induces strong feelings of excitement, anxiety, tension, suspense, fear, and other similar emotions in its readers or viewers—in other words, media that thrills the audience.

A thesis is the main argument or point of view of an essay, nonfiction piece or narrative—not just the topic of the writing, but the main claim that the author is making about that topic.

Tone refers to the “feel” of a piece of writing. It’s any or all of the stylistic qualities of the writing, such as formality, dialect, and atmosphere.

The word trope can refer to any type of figure of speech, theme, image, character, or plot element that is used many times.  Any kind of literary device or any specific example can be a trope.

  • Understatement

Understatement is when a writer presents a situation or thing as if it is less important or serious than it is in reality.

Utopia is a paradise. A perfect society in which everything works and everyone is happy – or at least is supposed to be.

  • Verisimilitude

Verisimilitude simply means ‘the quality of resembling reality’ and a work of art, or any part of a work of art, has verisimilitude if it seems believably realistic. A verisimilitudinous story has details, subjects, and characters that seem similar or true to real life.

A villain is the bad guy, the one who comes up with diabolical plots to somehow cause harm or ruin. It is one of the archetype characters in many stories.

Wit is a biting or insightful kind of humor. It includes sharp comebacks, clever banter, and dry, one-line jokes. It is often cynical or insulting, which is what provides it with its characteristic sharpness.

Zeugma is when you use a word in a sentence once, while conveying two different meanings at the same time.

List of Terms

  • Anachronism
  • APA Citation
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Deuteragonist
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Flash-forward
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Science Fiction
  • Synesthesia
  • Turning Point
  • Urban Legend
  • Essay Guide
  • Cite This Website

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  1. literary Theory || Literary Theory in English literature || All literary Theories

  2. Definition of Literature What is Literature? Literature of Power and Knowledge, Thomas De Quincey

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  6. Literary Terms in English literature

COMMENTS

  1. Literary Definition & Meaning

    literary: [adjective] of, relating to, or having the characteristics of humane learning or literature. bookish 2. of or relating to books.

  2. LITERARY

    LITERARY definition: 1. relating to literature (= written artistic works, especially those with a high and lasting…. Learn more.

  3. LITERARY Definition & Meaning

    Literary definition: pertaining to or of the nature of books and writings, especially those classed as literature. See examples of LITERARY used in a sentence.

  4. LITERARY

    LITERARY meaning: 1. relating to literature (= written artistic works, especially those with a high and lasting…. Learn more.

  5. Literature

    Literature is a a body of written works. The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution. It may be classified according to a variety of systems, including language and genre.

  6. Literary

    literary: 1 adj of or relating to or characteristic of literature " literary criticism" adj appropriate to literature rather than everyday speech or writing "when trying to impress someone she spoke in an affected literary style" Synonyms: formal (of spoken and written language) adhering to traditional standards of correctness and without ...

  7. LITERARY definition in American English

    1. pertaining to or of the nature of books and writings, esp. those classed as literature. literary history. 2. pertaining to authorship. literary style. 3. versed in or acquainted with literature; well-read. 4.

  8. What is Literature? || Definition & Examples

    Let's start with the word itself. "Literature" comes from Latin, and it originally meant "the use of letters" or "writing.". But when the word entered the Romance languages that derived from Latin, it took on the additional meaning of "knowledge acquired from reading or studying books.". So we might use this definition to ...

  9. Literature Definition & Meaning

    The meaning of LITERATURE is writings in prose or verse; especially : writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest. How to use literature in a sentence.

  10. literary, adj. & n. meanings, etymology and more

    4.a. Of a person or group: engaged in the writing or critical appreciation of works of literature; having a thorough knowledge of literature; spec. engaged in literature as a profession; cf. literary agent n., literary editor n. The tenth, of Literary Societies, and the Conversations of the Learned.

  11. LITERARY

    LITERARY definition: relating to literature, or typical of the type of language that is used in literature: . Learn more.

  12. Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms

    The best-selling Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (formerly the Concise dictionary) provides clear, concise, and often witty definitions of the most troublesome literary terms from abjection to zeugma. Now available in a new, fully updated and expanded edition, it offers readers increased coverage of new terms from modern critical and ...

  13. literary adjective

    Definition of literary adjective in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Meaning, pronunciation, picture, example sentences, grammar, usage notes, synonyms and more.

  14. Glossary of literary terms

    Literature. 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 ...

  15. LITERARY definition and meaning

    3 meanings: 1. of, relating to, concerned with, or characteristic of literature or scholarly writing 2. versed in or.... Click for more definitions.

  16. What is Literature? Definition of Literature

    The word 'Literature' is a modified form of a Latin word (literra, litteratura or litteratus) that means 'writing formed with letters'. Let us look at what is literature in definition. Literature can be any written work, but it especially is an artistic or intellectual work of writing. It is one of the Fine Arts, like Painting, Dance ...

  17. Literary Terms: Definition and Examples of Literary Terms

    Literary terms refer to the technique, style, and formatting used by writers and speakers to masterfully emphasize, embellish, or strengthen their compositions. Literary terms can refer to playful techniques employed by comedians to make us laugh or witty tricks wordsmiths use to coin new words or phrases. They can also include the tools of ...

  18. Style

    Definition of Style. The style in writing can be defined as the way a writer writes. It is the technique that an individual author uses in his writing. It varies from author to author and depends upon one's syntax, word choice, and tone. It can also be described as a " voice " that readers listen to when they read the work of a writer.

  19. literary

    literary meaning: relating to literature, or typical of the type of language that is used in literature: . Learn more.

  20. LITERATURE

    LITERATURE definition: 1. written artistic works, especially those with a high and lasting artistic value: 2. all the…. Learn more.

  21. Literary Devices and Terms

    Literary Devices & Terms. Literary devices and terms are the techniques and elements—from figures of speech to narrative devices to poetic meters—that writers use to create narrative literature, poetry, speeches, or any other form of writing. All.

  22. Theme

    Here's a quick and simple definition: A theme is a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature. One key characteristic of literary themes is their universality, which is to say that themes are ideas that not only apply to the specific characters and events of a book or play, but also express broader truths ...

  23. Theme

    As a literary device, the purpose of theme is the main idea or underlying meaning that is explored by a writer in a work of literature. Writers can utilize a combination of elements in order to convey a story's theme, including setting, plot, characters, dialogue, and more. For certain works of literature, such as fables, the theme is ...

  24. Fiction in Literature: Definition & Examples

    Fiction Definition. Fiction (FICK-shun) is a literary genre comprised of narratives that aren't factual but are, instead, products of the authors' imaginations. Fiction is the opposite of nonfiction, a literary genre consisting of historically accurate narratives about real people or events. Fiction writers construct imaginary worlds ...

  25. Glossary of Literary Terms

    In the strict definition, an ode is a classical poem that has a specific structure and is aimed at an object or person. In the loose definition, an ode is any work of art or literature that expresses high praise. Onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia refers to words whose pronunciations imitate the sounds they describe. A dog's bark sounds like "woof ...