literary devices

12 Literary Devices with Examples

Literary devices are everywhere and essential for a good essay or research paper. Whether it’s for school or college, literary devices can make a boring paper exciting. Included in this article are 12 literary devices from most common like a metaphor to more complex ones like motif.

1. Simile

Definition: A figure of speech comparing two different things using the word “like” or “as”.

Example: The class was beyond nervous waiting for the teacher to hand back our math tests, but Olivia was sitting her chair cool as a cucumber, confident that she has earned an A.


2. Metaphor

Definition: A comparison between two things that are otherwise unrelated.

Example: She is a pillar as she reads her speech in front of the class.


3. Alliteration

Definition: Use of words that begin with the same letter and can reinforce a feeling or concept.

Example: While many major executives are distracted by downturns in the economy, the Western workforce is becoming increasingly complicit and complacent.


4. Hyperbole

Definition: Exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

Example: It wasn’t until the waiter placed my food in front of me that I realized I was as hungry as a horse.


5. Foreshadowing

Definition: An indication that something will happen in the future, but the details are often left out, so suspense is created to keep readers interested. An example of this would be if a character says that bad things happen whenever the season changes, as a reader you would look out for when a season changes in the book and expect something bad to happen.

Example: I woke up abruptly to the sound of the wind howling outside. I threw off my covers and felt a chill down my spine while walking to the window. Outside a blanket of white covered the ground; the first snow fall. Excitement filled my body, realizing that I can spend the day sledding.

I pulled on my snow stuff and raced out the door – only to slip on the front walk way and bend my knee in a direction that I knew it was not meant to go. I must have screamed because my mom came racing outside with her eyes wide.


6. Personification

Definition: Personification gives human characteristics to nonhuman things or inanimate objects. These can be things such as animals, concepts or objects and the human characteristics could be emotions, behaviors, or actions.

Example: The clock glared at me menacingly as I hurried to get myself ready for work.


7. Imagery

Definition: Creates a mental image of any of your five senses (sight, smell, hear, taste, touch).

Example: She walked into the bookstore and looked around in amazement. There were stacks of books in every corner with vibrant covers and the smell of fresh brewed coffee filled the air. She walked around, taking in the hushed murmur of voices emanating from the shapes occupying the soft, velvety chairs surrounding low tables. That’s when she knew she was going to spend all day here.


8. Symbolism

Definition: Using concrete images to represent an abstract idea or to communicate a deeper meaning and evoke emotion.

Example: Symbolism can be shown several ways and a clear example of this is roses symbolizing love or doves symbolizing peace.


9. Flashbacks

Definition: A transition in a story to an earlier time that interrupts the chronological order of events.

Example: When Tom walked into his childhood bedroom, he blinked and then he was suddenly five again playing with matchbox cars on the floor.

“Dinners ready!” His mother called from the kitchen downstairs. It was Friday which meant ziti with meatballs. Tom took a deep breath and then was back to being thirty and standing in the middle of the room. He sighed as he started filling the moving boxes.


10. Onomatopoeia

Definition: A word that sounds like the noise that it describes.

Example: It was the middle of winter and my teeth chattered as I made my way through the snow. Only a few more feet and I’d be warm next to the crackling fire.


11. Motif

Definition: A repeated pattern through imagery, sound, or symbolism that reoccurs within a story.

Example: An example of a motif would be evil step mothers in fairytales. If a fairytale has a step mother in it, then one can assume that she’ll be evil because it’s a symbol that reoccurs within that genre.


12. Oxymoron

Definition: A phrase made of two or more words that have opposite meaning and when placed close together, they create an interesting contrasting effect.

Example: There was a deafening silence when I walked into the library.



Author: Chelsea DiNeno