Literary devices list: examples of literary devices and how to use them

Learn about literary devices, including rhetorical devices and stylistic devices, and how you can use them to improve your communication skills. This content series is part of Semantix’s copywriting toolkit, which is designed to boost your language skills and equip you with a wealth of effective writing tools.

Read our list of literary devices
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      A command of more advanced writing techniques can take your writing to another level or give you the ability to capture the attention of a large audience with an engaging speech. Whether you’re a creative writing student, have a speech to write or you’re a professional writer, the toolkit provides a valuable resource, including definitions of literary devices and examples.

      A toolkit for writers

      A professional writer uses literary devices to make sure that their writing reads well, is remembered and gets the results they intend. This often means convincing a reader of an idea, getting them to buy a product or even changing their mind about something important.

      Literary devices are a superpower when it comes to truly great writing, as has been proven for many, many years. That’s why Semantix has created a literary devices toolkit for copywriters, students and other writers who want to hone their craft. The toolkit is a content series that provides lists of literary devices, their definitions, examples and suggested uses. If your writing needs to really hit the mark, choose a literary device from the toolkit that fits your purpose and let it work its magic!

      Examples of literary devices

      A list of literary devices

      Literary device

      Definition

      Example

      AlliterationRepetition of the same initial consonant sound throughout a sentence, phrase or verse. Alliteration is popular in marketing text."Don’t dream it. Drive it."
      AnadiplosisThe repetition of a word that ends one sentence, phrase or verse at the beginning of the next sentence, phrase or verse."Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
      AnaphoraThe repetition of words at the beginning of successive sentences, phrases or verses."I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

      I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice." - Martin Luther King Jr.
      AntanaclasisA single word or phrase is repeated, but with two different meanings."People on the go, go for coke." - Coca-Cola
      AntithesisA phrase that uses a parallel grammar structure to emphasise important differences between opposing ideas, things or people."No pain, no gain."
      AntimetaboleThe repetition of words from the first half of the sentence or phrase in the second half, but in reverse order."I know what I like, and I like what I know."
      AphorismA short, witty phrase that expresses a generally accepted truth.''Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." - Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
      AssonanceThe repetition of vowel sounds in words that are close to each other in a sentence, phrase or verse."Oh no, this is so slow."
      ChiasmusThe reversed repetition of the grammatical structure of a sentence, phrase or clause."It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice."
      ConduplicatioThe repetition of an important word from anywhere in one sentence, phrase or verse at the beginning of the next sentence, phrase or verse.“I am filled with a profound and abiding gratitude to the American people. Gratitude is a word that I cherish. Gratitude is what defines the humanity of the human being.” - used by Elie Weisel in his ‘The Perils of Indifference’ speech.
      DiaphoraThe repetition of a name, firstly as a proper noun to signify the person and then as a noun to signify its meaning."For your Gods are not gods but man-made idols."
      DiocopeRepetition broken up by one or more intervening words."I want a meal, a beautiful, lavish meal."
      EpanalepsisThe repetition of the first part of a sentence, phrase or verse at the end of the sentence, phrase or verse."Nothing is worse than doing nothing."
      EpimoneThe continual repetition of a phrase or question.No beggar, no beggar, no beggar, sir!" - Charles Dickens, David Copperfield.
      EpistropheEpistrophe is the repetition of the final element of a structure. This could be the repetition of a single word or an entire clause or sentence."Here we go round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush." - from a well-known children's nursery rhyme.
      EpizeuxisThe repetition of one word or phrase in immediate succession."Come here, come here, come here!"
      HypophoraA sentence where the writer or speaker poses a question, and then immediately provides the answer."What did he want? He wanted to know how it worked."
      HyperbatonInverting the arrangement of common words."Some by virtue fall,’ which is an inversion of ’Some fall by virtue." - William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure.
      JuxtapositionPlacing two elements side by side in a phrase to emphasise the contrast between the two."For richer, or poorer." - phrase used in some wedding vows.
      IsocolonA sentence composed of two or more phrases of similar structure and length that mean the same thing.A bicolon has two phrases; a tricolon has three phrases; a tetracolon has four phrases. This description is an example of a tricolon!
      MesodiplosisThe repetition of a word or phrase in the middle of every sentence, phrase or verse."Me, but not you; us, but not them; you, but not him."
      MetaphorMaking a comparison between two unsimilar things to signify something without using ‘like’ or ‘as’ as used in simile.The term "I’m the black sheep of the family" to express being the unusual or non-conforming member of the family.
      ParallelismThe repetition of grammatical elements, words or structures used to create impact by emphasising a parallel position between concepts."Don’t marry someone you can live with, marry someone you can’t live without."
      PolyptotonThe repetition of words derived from the same root but used to mean different things."Please please me" - from John Lennon’s lyrics.
      SyncopeShortening words by omitting syllables or letters."The road extended o’er the heath..." - William Wordsworth, The World Is Too Much with Us.
      SynecdocheUsing part of an element to signify the whole."Boots on the ground" instead of "soldiers".

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      Do rhetorical devices improve your writing?

      Rhetorical and literary devices have been used for centuries by some of the world’s greatest writers. They provide a time-proven way to keep readers, or listeners, engaged and give your writing impact, rhythm and style.

      There are many literary devices that writers can choose from and each one has a range of possible uses. Knowing which device will get the results you intend provides you with either a good starting place when you're looking for creative inspiration, or a way to add some extra impact to existing copy.

      The best writers’ works are rich with rhetorical and literary devices... and that’s no accident. The right words can keep readers turning the pages of a book, convince minds or sell millions of products.

      What is rhetoric and what are literary devices?

      The term ‘rhetoric’ is used to describe language that’s designed to have a persuasive or dramatic effect, especially with regards to public speaking. This is because it’s shaped to appeal to an audience’s sense of logic, emotions, ethics or awareness of the passing of time.

      A literary device is a structure used in language to create impact. There are many different literary devices to choose from, and each one can be used to create a different effect. When used properly, literary devices help readers and listeners to appreciate, interpret and remember words.

      You might have used literary devices in your writing many times without realising it. We’re so used to reading and hearing them that they sometimes come naturally to talented writers. However, being able to use them purposely means being able to consciously control how your writing is likely to be received.

      If you analyse the words of truly great speakers, you'll find that they make use of a plethora of literary devices to create their intended impact. For example, it’s no accident that the words in the ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther King have been remembered and quoted for decades. His delivery makes use of many literary devices, cleverly designed to deliver a powerful punch.

      They can also be found in the books of great writers, who have used them to add impact, colour and beauty to their work. For example, the works of the most famous wordsmith of all time, William Shakespeare, are rich with finely crafted literary devices of all kinds.

      The difference between literary and rhetorical devices

      The terms literary device and rhetorical device are commonly used interchangeably. However, they aren’t exactly interchangeable terms. By definition, a rhetorical device is a technique used in writing or speech to convince a reader or listener of something, while a literary device is a technique used in writing or speech to express something. It’s easy to confuse the two and there are a lot of crossovers. For example, if writing expresses a concept well it’s usually able to convince a reader too, so it could be called either!

      The difference between stylistic and rhetorical devices

      The term stylistic device is used to describe figures of speech that involve non-literal language. For example, metaphor and simile. Therefore, a stylistic device can be used in the role of either a rhetorical device if it’s used to convince, or a literary device if it’s used to express something.

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      Crafting great writing takes time and it’s easy to make mistakes that can be costly. If you’re translating into other languages, the task becomes even more complex.

      Literary devices can be used in every language but it’s often not as straightforward as substituting one word for another. A translator working in their first language can use the source copy’s literary device in translation but might have to change words or structures to achieve the intended effect. Poorly translated literary devices sometimes make no sense at all and can seriously damage the credibility of your material.

      Our multilingual copywriters get our clients the best results from their marketing and other writing in more than 200 languages. With access to thousands of translators, we team you with a translator who is not only fluent in your target language, but one who knows your industry.

      If you’d like to find out how to boost your business by using our multilingual copywriting services, or if you’d like some advice on which direction is right for your translation needs, contact us today.

      Further reading

      • A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms – Richard Lanham, University of California Press, 2013
      • Simplified Glossary of Literary Terms/Devices: An-easy-to use Source of Definitions, Examples and Exercises For Students and Teachers – Victor Igiri, 2022
      • The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (Oxford Quick Reference) 4th Edition – Chris Baldick, OUP Oxford, 2015
      • The Elements of Eloquence – Mark Forsyth, Icon Books, 2013
      • The Elements of Rhetoric - Ryan N S Topping, Angelico Press, 2016
      • The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory – J A Cuddon, Penguin, 2014
      • The Rhetorical Device: Literary Resources for The Writer Vol. 1 of 2 – Paul F Kisak, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016
      • Writing with Clarity and Style: A Guide to Rhetorical Devices for Contemporary Writers – Robert A Harris, Routledge, 2017
      • The Use of Rhetorical Devices in Selected Speeches by Clinton & Trump: Discourse from the Electoral Campaign 2016 – Larissa Wolf, AV Akademikerverlag, 2018

      Sources

      • Studiobinder (online) ‘What is antithesis’ blog post
      • Writing with Clarity and Style: A Guide to Rhetorical Devices for Contemporary Writers – Robert A Harris, Routledge, 2017
      • The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (Oxford Quick Reference) 4th Edition – Chris Baldick, OUP Oxford, 2015
      • Voltaire, The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Philosophical Dictionary, Volume 4 (of 10).
      • The Crafting of Eloquence: How rhetorical and literary devices turn basic communication into soaring words of art.
      • Toastmasters (online) ‘The Crafting of Eloquence’ blog post.