What is a Comparison?
A comparison is a consideration of the similarities or differences between two things. Comparisons can be made between people, places, ideas, or other entities. Making a comparison can highlight how two things are alike or unalike, creating meaningful and/or innovative perspectives for the reader.
Use of Comparison in Literature
Writers use comparisons for description and imagery to enhance a reader’s understanding and/or enjoyment of the material. Many literary devices utilize this form of figurative language , such as:
Poetry is often constructed by using comparison, such as “She walks in beauty , like the night .”
Examples of Comparison in Literature
In the following comparison examples, we will try to analyze literary devices used to show comparisons.
A metaphor makes a hidden comparison between two things or objects that are dissimilar to each other, but have some characteristics common between them. Unlike simile , we do not use “like” or “as” to develop a comparison in a metaphor. Consider the following examples:
Example #1: When I Have Fears (By John Keats)
These lines are from When I Have Fears , by John Keats .
“Before high-pil’d books, in charact’ry Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain,”
John Keats compares writing poetry with reaping and sowing, and both these acts stand for the insignificance of a life and dissatisfied creativity.
Example #2: As You Like It (By William Shakespeare)
This line is from As You Like It , by William Shakespeare .
“All the world’s a stage and men and women merely players…”
Shakespeare uses a metaphor of a stage to describe the world, and compares men and women living in the world with players (actors).
A simile is an open comparison between two things or objects to show similarities between them. Unlike a metaphor, a simile draws resemblance with the help of words “like” or “as.”
Example #3: Lolita (By Vladimir Nabokov)
This line is from the short story Lolita , by Vladimir Nabokov.
“Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa.”
In this line, Vladimir Nabokov compares old women leaning on their sticks to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Here the comparison made between two contrasting things creates a hilarious effect.
An analogy aims at explaining an unfamiliar idea or thing, by comparing it to something that is familiar.
Example #4: The Noiseless Patient Spider (By Walt Whitman)
These lines are from Walt Whitman ’s poem The Noiseless Patient Spider “:
“And you O my soul where you stand, Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space, Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them, Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.”
Walt Whitman uses an analogy to show similarity between a spider spinning a web and his soul.
Example #5: Night Clouds (By Amy Lowell)
These lines are from Night Clouds , written by Amy Lowell:
“The white mares of the moon rush along the sky Beating their golden hoofs upon the glass Heavens.”
Amy constructs an analogy between clouds and mares. She compares the movement of the white clouds in the sky at night with the movement of white mares on the ground.
An allegory uses symbols to compare persons or things, to represent abstract ideas or events. The comparison in allegory is implicit.
Example #6: Animal Farm (By George Orwell)
Animal Farm , written by George Orwell , is an allegory that compares animals on a farm to the Communist Revolution in Russia before WW II. The actions of the animals on the farm can be compared with the greed and corruption after the revolution. The animals on the farm represent different sections of Russian society after the revolution.
For instance, “Pigs” can be compared to those who became the authority after the revolution;”Mr. Jones,” the owner of the farm, is likened to the overthrown Tsar Nicholas II; and “Boxer,” the horse, stands for the laborer class.
Example #7: Faerie Queen (By Edmund Spenser)
Faerie Queen is an allegory by Edmund Spenser, in which the good characters of the book can be compared to the various virtues , while the bad characters can be compared to vices. For example, “The Red- Cross Knight” represents Holiness, and “Lady Una” Truth, Wisdom, and Goodness. Her parents symbolize the Human Race, and the “Dragon,” which has imprisoned them, stands for Evil.
Function of Comparison
The above examples of comparison help us realize that, in general, writers utilize different kinds of comparison to link an unfamiliar or a new idea to common and familiar objects. It helps readers to comprehend a new idea, which may have been difficult for them to understand otherwise. The understanding of a new idea turns out to be simpler when viewed with a comparison to something that is familiar to them.
In addition, by making use of various literary tools for comparison, writers increase their chances of catching the attention and interest of their readers, as comparisons help them identify what they are reading to their lives.
- Comparison and Contrast Essay
Literary devices, terms, and elements, definition of comparison.
As a literary device, comparison is a broad term for any act of describing the relationship between two things or more things. These things (whether people, actions, intangible concepts, places, etc) may be alike or different to any degree. Through comparison, an author may show new connections that the reader may not have thought of, or may make an unfamiliar thing more familiar. There are many more specific types of comparison, as we will see below.
The word comparison comes from the Latin word comparare , which means “to pair, match.”
Types of Comparisons
- Analogy —Another umbrella term, similar to the definition of comparison, referring to any comparison that explores the similarities or differences between two things.
- Juxtaposition —Placing two concepts, characters, ideas, etc., near each other so that the reader makes comparisons between them and perhaps contrasts them as well.
- Metaphor —Comparing two things without the use of “like” or “as;” asserting that one thing is another, such as “My love is an ocean.”
- Simile —Comparing two things with the conjunction “like” or “as,” such as “My love was like an ocean.”
- Pun —Using comparison to creative cognitive links in a humorous way, for example, “I’m glad I know sign language, it’s pretty handy.”
- Allegory —An extended metaphor that carries throughout an entire piece of literature that compares the situation in the story to a real-life situation.
Common Examples of Comparison
We use comparisons all the time in the real world and in everyday speech. Comparisons help us understand the world around us because we can either explain unfamiliar things through already known entities, or complicate familiar things by describing them in new ways that thus creates cognitive links. Examples of comparison abound, and are found in each of the following cases:
- “Have you met my friend Janet? She’s exactly like your sister, except more dramatic.”
- “This new young adult novel is like Harry Potter meets Titanic.”
- “Come on now, quick as a bunny.”
- “The little red dress is the new little black dress this season when it comes to Hollywood glamour.”
- “Wearing white after Labor Day would be a sin of epic proportions.”
Significance of Comparison in Literature
Comparisons play an important role in just about any work of literature imaginable, as they are a primary function of the brain. It is through comparisons that we learn and map out the world. Even the simple act of naming things requires comparison in the brain—we refer, for example, to many different-looking objects as “chair” because we can compare them in our minds and realize they all have the same general function. Comparisons are especially important in literature because authors are creating a new world for the reader to understand and become interested in, and authors must show how this new, fictive world is similar and dissimilar from the one the reader lives in (even if the work of literature is completely realistic). Writers also may use comparisons to make their lines more poetic.
Examples of Comparison in Literature
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And summer’s lease hath all too short a date. Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimmed; And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed; But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
(“ Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare)
William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” includes one of the famous examples of comparison in literature. The speaker asks explicitly if he should compare his beloved to “a summer’s day,” and goes on to do so. He finds the summer’s day inadequate as a comparison for his beloved, insisting that “thou art more lovely and more temperate.” This comparison works to show the speaker’s all-encompassing love.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him, But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather He said it for himself. I see him there Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
(“Mending Wall” by Robert Frost)
Robert Frost uses many examples of comparisons in his poetry in order to create stronger imagery . In this excerpt from “Mending Wall,” the speaker and his neighbor walk along the wall that divides them, trying to put it back together. While the neighbor likes this wall, and affirms that “good fences make good neighbors,” the speaker is suspicious of this premise. The speaker uses the simile of his neighbor looking like “an old-stone savage armed,” which creates a sense that the neighbor is more like a caveman than a modern human, and that his opinions are similarly outdated.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And then one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
( The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
This excerpt from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby comprises the final few lines of the novel. There is a strong sense of nostalgia that Fitzgerald relates through this ending. He does this by creating the metaphor of the characters trying to travel into the future against a current that pulls them back into reflections on their past. This example of comparison is an excellent metaphor in that in describes the familiar relationship of trying to row against the current with a more intangible experience.
TOM: But the wonderfullest trick of all was the coffin trick. We nailed him into a coffin and he got out of the coffin without removing one nail. . . . There is a trick that would come in handy for me—get me out of this two-by-four situation! . . . You know it don’t take much intelligence to get yourself into a nailed-up coffin, Laura. But who in hell ever got himself out of one without removing one nail?
( The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams)
In this excerpt from Tennessee Williams’s play The Glass Menagerie , the protagonist Tom compares his own life to the magician’s trick of getting out of a nailed-up coffin. This is a particularly striking example of comparison because from the outside Tom’s life might not look so terrible. Clearly, however, he views it as a prison that is nearly impossible to escape.
So Gen should have said something more, and Carmen should have listened more, but instead she kissed him, because the important thing was to forget. That kiss was like a lake, deep and clear, and they swam into it forgetting.
( Bel Canto by Ann Patchett)
This evocative comparison example comes from the contemporary author Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto . In it, she compares a kiss between two characters to a lake. This is an interesting comparison because it is unusual, and perhaps not one that the reader will have thought of before. Patchett justifies this comparison with the beautiful idea of the characters swimming into the kiss, as they might have done into a lake, forgetting the dangerous situation they are in.
Test Your Knowledge of Comparison in Literature
1. Which of the following statements is the best comparison definition? A. Describing two or more things in relation to each other. B. Showing that one thing is better than another. C. Showing how two things are dissimilar.
2. Which type of comparison can be found in the following quote from William Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello?
Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on.
A. Pun B. Allegory C. Metaphor
3. Which of the following lines from Robert Frost poetry contains a comparison example? A.
For I have had too much Of apple-picking: I am overtired Of the great harvest I myself desired.
(“After Apple Picking”) B.
You may see their trunks arching in the woods Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.
(“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”)
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Literary Devices to Compare and Contrast
An analogy clarifies by comparison. Unlike simile and metaphor, the analogy provides more explanation, often describing the comparison without naming it, revealing it as implied rather than stated. Analogies tend to run longer than other forms of comparison because they go deeper into the characteristics of something, or the heart of an idea or emotion which involves the theme of the story.
“Stinging flames of words blistered their tongues…. Silence was worse. Beneath its slow-burning weight, their black looks singed. After a few days, their minds shriveled into dead coals. Some speechless nights, they lay together like logs turned completely to ash. They were almost afraid to move, lest they sift into flakes and disintegrate.” (Louise Erdrich, winner of the Pulitzer Prize) “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.” (Macbeth, by William Shakespeare)
Antithesis is contrasting two elements in parallel form.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Setting foot on the moon is one small step for a man and one giant leap for mankind. (Neil Armstrong) At times Essex thought that Sir Francis Bacon lacked enthusiasm as a friend; Queen Elizabeth thought he lacked loyalty as a subject.
One thing is compared to another different thing by being spoken of as if it were that other thing. A is B. Use a metaphor when:
- You have a lot of ideas that don’t easily fit together
- You want to evoke emotional associations
- You want a strong image to sum up your message
- You want this description to be remembered. Make it clear. Spell out what it stands for. Understand the emotions it arouses. Choose words that refer to both the idea and the image.
The ship plowed the sea. Love is a battlefield. “Bolshevism is a ghoul descending from a pile of skulls. It is not policy; it is a disease. It is not a creed; it is a pestilence.” (Winston Churchill) “Conscience is a man’s compass.” (Vincent Van Gogh) “Memories are bullets. Some whiz by and only spook you. Others tear you open and leave you in pieces.” (Kill the Dead, by Richard Kadrey) “Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul / And sings the tune without words / And never stops at all.” (“Hope Is the Thing With Feathers,” by Emily Dickinson,)
Beware of mixing metaphors within the same paragraph or page in the narrative. These distract the reader from the story. However, if you want to show a character as pompous, or absurd, have the character speak in mixed metaphors. For example: The manager said, “Let’s get our ducks in a row so we’re all on the same page.”
One thing compared to another dissimilar thing using the words LIKE or AS. The comparison can be between abstract things, such as a sensation, mood, or idea, and something concrete, such as a person or thing. The key to creating a wonderful simile is to form it in the words and attitude of the point of view character, so it showcases the character instead of the author. Search your manuscript for the commonly used similes and create fresh ones in their place.
- He was as smart as a post.
- As dark as the heart of a sociopath.
- The old man got poked and prodded every morning like a piece of meat unearthed from the back of the fridge, suspect until proven otherwise.
- “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you much keep moving.” (Albert Einstein)
- She was as crazy as a bag of cats.
- “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” (E.L. Doctorow)
- “I would have given anything for the power to soothe her frail soul, tormenting itself in its invincible ignorance like a small bird beating about the cruel wires of a cage.” (Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad)
- “They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies.” ( 1984 , by George Orwell)
Literary Devices and Writer Unboxed
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- About Author
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Joni M. Fisher
Author & Journalist
Latest posts from Joni M. Fisher
- Literary Devices to Compare and Contrast - October 18, 2022
- Facts Matter in Fiction, Part 2 - September 21, 2022
- Facts Matter in Fiction, Part 1 - August 12, 2022
Excellent examples. As useful as the sun rising every morning to shed light on the open grassy fields.
Joni M Fisher
Oh, Ronald, your making me blush. Thank you!
Comparative Analysis Guide: Home
A comparative essay asks that you compare at least two (possibly more) items. These items will differ depending on the assignment. You might be asked to compare:
- positions on an issue (e.g., responses to midwifery in Canada and the United States)
- theories (e.g., capitalism and communism)
- figures (e.g., GDP in the United States and Britain)
- texts (e.g., Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth)
- events (e.g., the Great Depression and the global financial crisis of 2008–9)
Although the assignment may say “compare,” the assumption is that you will consider both the similarities and differences; in other words, you will compare and contrast.
From "The comparative essay", Vikki Visvis & Jerry Plotnick, in Writing Advice , University of Toronto, accessed 5/06/2017, <http://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/types-of-writing/comparative-essay/>
A literary comparison essay is an essay that examines two or more works in relation to one another. It examines a select set of similarities and differences. When reading for analysis, you are not reading for a surface understanding, you are reading to understand why things happen and what the deeper meaning behind a character is, or a setting, or an event.
Block vs Point-by-point Comparative Essay Structure
To deconstruct the topic thoroughly: rewrite the topic in your own words; ask questions of the topic; brainstorm ideas, list your key points in order to ensure that you do not ignore any key element of the topic. Consider which quotations and/or specific text references you can draw on to illustrate and illuminate your key points. Order your points to allow for a logical and cohesive discussion and ensure that you have selected enough examples and quotations for each text to enable sufficient comparison to unfold.
- Harvard Writing Center: How to write a comparative analysis An article outlining the five elements required to write a good compare-and-contrast essay.
- Using Textual Evidence A collection of tips on quoting and using textual evidence and the technique of close reading, as well as some basic literary terminology you may find helpful to know.
- Literary devices and terms List of literary devices with detailed definition and examples.
- Author's craft: Literary devices A useful website that explains the use of literary devices and their effects.
- Compare and contrast transition words Some compare and contrast transition words to help in your writing.
- Comparative linking phrases Some key phrases or words that you might want to use when linking sentences and paragraphs in a comparative analysis.
- Transitioning - beware of velcro A velcro transition will not persuade an essay's readers that they are in the hands of a serious writer with something serious to say.
- Types of papers: Compare and contrast To write a compare/contrast essay, you’ll need to make NEW connections and/or express NEW differences between two things.
- Comparative essay terminology Flashcards and audio - also links to a quiz.
Sample compare/contrast essays
- Sample compare-contrast essay outline A sample outline for an essay comparing and contrasting Achilles’ and Odysseus’ attitudes toward war. Although this sample mentions only one paragraph per topic sentence, you may have more than one paragraph supporting each main point.
- Comparing two novels How to compare two novels in a comparative essay with examples.
- Last Updated: May 10, 2018 10:04 AM
- URL: https://libguides.stalbanssc.vic.edu.au/comparative-analysis
Comparison in Composition
- An Introduction to Punctuation
- Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
- M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
- B.A., English, State University of New York
In composition , comparison is a rhetorical strategy and method of organization in which a writer examines similarities and/or differences between two people, places, ideas, or things. Words and phrases that often signal a comparison include similarly, likewise, by comparison, by the same token, in like manner, in the same way , and in a similar fashion .
Comparison (often referred to as comparison and contrast ) is one of the classical rhetorical exercises known as the progymnasmata .
- "A Brother of St. Francis," by Grace Rhys
- "The Lowest Animal," by Mark Twain
- "Luxuries," by George Ade
- "Of Youth and Age," by Francis Bacon
- "On the Difference Between Wit and Humor," by Charles S. Brooks
- "Red-Bloods and Mollycoddles," by G. Lowes Dickinson
- "Two Ways of Seeing a River," by Mark Twain
- "Watching Baseball, Playing Softball," by Lubby Juggins
- Comparison in Laurie Lee's "Appetite"
- Comparison in Sarah Vowell's Place Description
From the Latin, "compare."
Examples and Observations
- "A car is useless in New York, essential everywhere else. The same with good manners." (Mignon McLaughlin, The Complete Neurotic's Notebook . Castle Books, 1981)
- "The truth of the matter was, the baby looked very much like a mouse in every way. He was only about two inches high; and he had a mouse's sharp nose, a mouse's tail, a mouse's whiskers, and the pleasant, shy manner of a mouse. Before he was many days old he was not only looking like a mouse but acting like one, too--wearing a gray hat and carrying a small cane." (E.B. White, Stuart Little . Harper, 1945)
- "Must a powerful fairy like myself condescend to explain her doings to you who are no better than an ant by comparison , though you think yourself a great king?" (Andrew Lang, "The Wonderful Sheep." The Blue Fairy Book , 1889)
- establish a clear basis for comparison;
- make a thorough and specific presentation; and
- provide an effective arrangement for the material.
- Comparison and Contrast Essays To gain the most from your use of comparison and contrast , . . . you need to(W.J. Kelly, Strategy and Structure . Allyn and Bacon, 1999)
- Arranging Details in Comparison and Contrast Essays "Ordering detail in a comparison-contrast essay requires some thought. One possible arrangement is the block pattern whereby all the points about one subject are made (in a block) then all the points about the other subject are made (in a second block). . . . "A second possible arrangement for the details of comparison-contrast is the alternating pattern , whereby a point is made for one subject, then for the other. A second point is made for the first subject, then for the other. This alternating pattern continues until all the points are made for both subjects. . . . "In general, the block method works better for essays with fewer points of comparison or contrast that are not extensively developed . . .. "An alternating pattern is usually a better choice for an essay with many points of comparison and contrast or an essay with extensively developed ideas." (Barbara Fine Clouse, Patterns for a Purpose . McGraw-Hill, 2003)
- Complaining vs. Moaning "Visitors to Britain are rarely able to grasp--sometimes after decades of residency--the vital distinction its inhabitants make between complaining and moaning. The two activities seem similar, but there is a profound philosophical and practical difference. To complain about something is to express dissatisfaction to someone whom you hold responsible for an unsatisfactory state of affairs; to moan is to express the same thing to someone other than the person responsible. The British are powerfully embarrassed by complaining, and experience an almost physical recoil from people who do it in public. They do love to moan though. The background music of British life is a running aria of moaning about pretty much everything--our weather, our politics, our permanently under-performing national sports teams, our reality-TV-obsessed media, and so on. Moaning, a source of entertainment in its own right, is also an important psychic comfort blanket, a way of venting resentment without taking responsibility for effecting change." (John Lanchester, "Party Games." The New Yorker , June 7, 2010)
- European Football vs. American Football "Although European football is the parent of American football, the two games show several major differences. European football, sometimes called association football or soccer, is played in more than 80 countries, making it the most widely played sport in the world. American football, on the other hand, is popular only in the United States and Canada. Soccer is played by 11 players with a round ball. Football, also played by 11 players in somewhat different positions on the field, uses an elongated round ball. Soccer has little body contact between players, and therefore requires no special protective equipment. Football, in which players make maximum use of body contact to block a running ball carrier and his teammates, requires special headgear and padding. In soccer, the ball is advanced toward the goal by kicking it or by butting it with the head. In football, on the other hand, the ball is passed from hand to hand across the opponent's goal. These are just a few of the features that distinguish association and American football." (student paragraph, "Football and Soccer")
- A "Sexist Interlude" by Bill Bryson: Women vs. Men at the Checkout Counter "Although the store had only just opened, the food hall was busy and there were long queues at the tills. I took a place in a line behind eight other shoppers. They were all women and they all did the same mystifying thing: They acted surprised when it came time to pay. This is something that has been puzzling me for years. Women will stand there watching their items being rung up, and then when the till lady says, 'That's four pounds twenty, love,' or whatever, they suddenly look as if they've never done this sort of thing before. They go 'Oh!' and start rooting in a flustered fashion in their handbag for their purse or checkbook, as if no one had told them that this might happen. "Men, for all their many shortcomings, like washing large pieces of oily machinery in the kitchen sink or forgetting that a painted door stays wet for more than thirty seconds, are generally pretty good when it comes to paying. They spend their time in line doing a wallet inventory and sorting through their coins. When the till person announces the bill, they immediately hand over an approximately correct amount of money, keep their hands extended for the change however long it takes or however foolish they may begin to look if there is, say, a problem with the till roll, and then--mark this--pocket their change as they walk away instead of deciding that now is the time to search for the car keys and reorganize six months' worth of receipts." (Bill Bryson, Notes From a Small Island . William Morrow, 1995
Also Known As: comparison and contrast
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Literary Criticism: Comparing/Contrasting Works, Characters, or Authors
- Getting Started
- 1. What is Literary Criticism
- Critical Literary Lenses
- Literary Elements
- Comparing/Contrasting Works, Characters, or Authors
- 3. Find Literary Criticism
- 4. Write Your Paper
- MLA Citation This link opens in a new window
Comparing/Contrasting Literary Works, Characters, or Authors
Comparing literary works.
- Consider which works you want to compare/contrast.
- You could make a list of themes from each work and compare them side by side.
- Free writing is also a great way to get your ideas on paper.
- Spend time brainstorming- those who explore their ideas often have better essays in the end.
- Try to determine the central theme of the work you are considering.
- Look for a second work that has a similar theme
- Good vs. Evil
- Coming of Age
- War and its perils
- Individual vs. Society
These are only some of the themes out there. You can explore many other options for your paper!
Questions to Ask
- What is the overall message of the work?
- Does the main character evolve as the story progresses?
- What was the main conflict in the work?
- Is the work trying to convey a message about society?
- How do symbols tie into or help to develop the theme?
- Select two characters you would like to analyze.
- Reread text and focus in on these characters, taking notes as you go.
- Make a list of traits for each character and compare/contrast them side by side.
- What important traits do the characters possess?
- Is the character a main protagonist or antagonist?
- Look at the characters actions- how can they be interpreted?
- How does the character interact with others?
- How does the character interact with the world they live in?
- Do you see changes in the character as the plot progresses?
- You can also focus your compare/contrast criticism on two authors.
- Reread the authors works you will be critiquing
- Take notes about the authors as you read
- What does the text say about the Author?
- What kind of message is the Author trying to convey to their audience?
- Does the author's life and background effect the themes of their works?
- Do historical events influence the authors?
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- Next: 3. Find Literary Criticism >>
Analyzing texts: comparing and contrasting.
- The Albert Team
- Last Updated On: May 30, 2023
What We Review
Comparing and contrasting texts is a vital skill for students. It helps understand texts better individually and acknowledges different authors’ approaches.
This article will provide some tools to engage high school English students in comparing and contrasting literary texts and explain the value of this practice.
Why Compare and Contrast Texts?
Literary analysis involves understanding different authors’ approaches to similar topics. An example is Jack London’s Call of the Wild and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies . Both discuss survival.
Call of the Wild features an animal protagonist, Buck the dog. On the other hand, Lord of the Flies centers on a human protagonist, Ralph. The stories also have diverse settings. One occurs in the Canadian wilderness, and the other in a remote island jungle.
Comparing and contrasting two texts that address survival in impossible conditions helps students grasp the author’s purpose and viewpoint in each story better.
Identifying Similarities and Differences
After reading two texts that share something in common, such as a theme , have students create a T-Chart or Venn Diagram to write down similarities and differences. For instance, Call of the Wild and Lord of the Flies have clear similarities. In each story, protagonists face cruel acts in survival struggles. They encounter hidden dangers and contemplate abandoning hope of rescue.
The stories also have major differences. When Call of the Wild ends, Buck chooses wildlife over society. However, in Lord of the Flies , Ralph returns to civilization after rescue.
Noting these similarities and differences prepares students for deeper analysis. They can explore why authors handle similar themes differently.
Analyzing text similarities and differences helps students grasp an author’s viewpoint. They must discern between significant and insignificant connections.
Take Call of the Wild and Lord of the Flies as examples. Despite different settings, both environments are wild. This shared savagery, not differing locations, drives the story and character decisions.
Additionally, these two stories have very different endings for their protagonists. One chooses to live free from society’s expectations, and the other chooses to return to society and its rules. Students will understand why these two stories ended differently by studying a little bit about both of these authors’ backgrounds.
William Golding’s WW2 combat experience influenced Lord of the Flies . He wanted to show that anyone could turn evil under certain circumstances.
Ralph’s return to civilization shows the reader that society’s rules have a purpose in keeping us protected, even from ourselves.
On the other hand, Jack London wanted to critique society’s domestication of dogs in Call of the Wild . Unlike humans, he felt that dogs should be allowed to return to their ancestral roots by answering the “call of the wild”.
Even though two texts can share similar themes, each author’s personal background and purpose in writing the novel shapes individual texts into unique stories.
Incorporating Textual Evidence to Support Claims
When students arrive at a claim that states the similarities and differences between two or more texts, they should always support these claims with sufficient and relevant text evidence .
Having strong and specific claims should be students’ first step in building an effective argument. Students who have too vague a claim will struggle to find evidence to support it. When students are first able to establish a clear and arguable position, locating the right evidence to support this position is much easier.
For example, to support the claim that Ralph wants to go home and return to civilization, in Lord of the Flies , Ralph establishes specific rules for the group of boys to follow on the island. He tries to mimic the social structure he has been used to. But some of the boys, primarily Jack, actively fight against these rules.
To support the claim that Buck enjoys being a wild dog and no longer wants to be tethered to humans, in Call of the Wild , Buck repeatedly leaves his last and loving honor, John Thornton, to interact with the neighboring wolves before finally deciding never to return.
Students may be tempted to make common mistakes when comparing and contrasting similar texts, such as focusing on surface-level similarities and differences and not using textual evidence to support claims. For example, if students merely focused on one story being about a dog and the other being about a human, they miss the author’s purpose and message entirely. Additionally, if students provide incorrect or insufficient evidence, it only weakens their argument.
Comparing and contrasting two or more literary texts helps students better understand each text individually as well as acknowledge how different authors approach similar themes, story structures, or the process of character development . Through this process, students form a firmer grasp of the author’s purpose and how the author’s personal experiences influence the stories that they write.
Practice Makes Perfect
In addition to the recommended activities above, Albert provides a wide range of texts for students to analyze and interpret. For emerging readers, check out our Short Readings course, which uses short passages to reinforce fundamental reading skills. Readers at all ability levels may enjoy our Leveled Readings course, which offers Lexile® leveled passages focused on a unifying essential question that keeps all students on the same page regardless of reading level. Learn more about the Lexile Framework here !
For authentic practice, check out our Essential Readings in Literature course. This course provides an overview of the core texts that American students often read in English class. Each text is broken down by skill, ensuring that students approach their reading from every angle.
With our easy-to-use interface and informative feedback, Albert.io is the perfect tool for reinforcing close reading skills and helping students develop a deeper understanding of the texts they encounter.
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Common literary devices, such as metaphors and similes, are the building blocks of literature, and what make literature so enchanting. Language evolves through the literary devices in poetry and prose; the different types of figurative language make literature spark in different ways.
Consider this your crash course in common literary devices. Whether you’re studying for the AP Lit exam or looking to improve your creative writing, this article is crammed with literary devices, examples, and analysis.
What are Literary Devices?
- Common Literary Devices in Poetry
- Common Literary Devices in Prose
- Repetition Literary Devices
- Dialogue Literary Devices
- Word Play Literary Devices
- Parallelism Literary Devices
- Rhetorical Devices
Let’s start with the basics. What are literary devices?
Literary devices take writing beyond its literal meaning. They help guide the reader in how to read the piece.
Literary devices are ways of taking writing beyond its straightforward, literal meaning. In that sense, they are techniques for helping guide the reader in how to read the piece.
Central to all literary devices is a quality of connection : by establishing or examining relationships between things, literary devices encourage the reader to perceive and interpret the world in new ways.
One common form of connection in literary devices is comparison. Metaphors and similes are the most obvious examples of comparison. A metaphor is a direct comparison of two things—“the tree is a giant,” for example. A simile is an in direct comparison—“the tree is like a giant.” In both instances, the tree is compared to—and thus connected with—something (a giant) beyond what it literally is (a tree).
Other literary devices forge connections in different ways. For example, imagery, vivid description, connects writing richly to the worlds of the senses. Alliteration uses the sound of words itself to forge new literary connections (“alligators and apples”).
By enabling new connections that go beyond straightforward details and meanings, literary devices give literature its power.
What all these literary devices have in common is that they create new connections: rich layers of sound, sense, emotion, narrative, and ultimately meaning that surpass the literal details being recounted. They are what sets literature apart, and what makes it uniquely powerful.
Read on for an in-depth look and analysis at 112 common literary devices.
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Literary Devices List: 14 Common Literary Devices
In this article, we focus on literary devices that can be found in both poetry and prose.
There are a lot of literary devices to cover, each of which require their own examples and analysis. As such, we will start by focusing on common literary devices for this article: literary devices that can be found in both poetry and prose. With each device, we’ve included examples in literature and exercises you can use in your own creative writing.
Afterwards, we’ve listed other common literary devices you might see in poetry, prose, dialogue, and rhetoric.
Let’s get started!
Metaphors, also known as direct comparisons, are one of the most common literary devices. A metaphor is a statement in which two objects, often unrelated, are compared to each other.
Example of metaphor: This tree is the god of the forest.
Obviously, the tree is not a god—it is, in fact, a tree. However, by stating that the tree is the god, the reader is given the image of something strong, large, and immovable. Additionally, using “god” to describe the tree, rather than a word like “giant” or “gargantuan,” makes the tree feel like a spiritual center of the forest.
Metaphors allow the writer to pack multiple descriptions and images into one short sentence. The metaphor has much more weight and value than a direct description. If the writer chose to describe the tree as “the large, spiritual center of the forest,” the reader won’t understand the full importance of the tree’s size and scope.
Similes, also known as indirect comparisons, are similar in construction to metaphors, but they imply a different meaning. Like metaphors, two unrelated objects are being compared to each other. Unlike a metaphor, the comparison relies on the words “like” or “as.”
Example of simile: This tree is like the god of the forest. OR: This tree acts as the god of the forest.
What is the difference between a simile and a metaphor?
The obvious difference between these two common literary devices is that a simile uses “like” or “as,” whereas a metaphor never uses these comparison words.
Additionally, in reference to the above examples, the insertion of “like” or “as” creates a degree of separation between both elements of the device. In a simile, the reader understands that, although the tree is certainly large, it isn’t large enough to be a god; the tree’s “godhood” is simply a description, not a relevant piece of information to the poem or story.
Simply put, metaphors are better to use as a central device within the poem/story, encompassing the core of what you are trying to say. Similes are better as a supporting device.
Does that mean metaphors are better than similes? Absolutely not. Consider Louise Gluck’s poem “ The Past. ” Gluck uses both a simile and a metaphor to describe the sound of the wind: it is like shadows moving, but is her mother’s voice. Both devices are equally haunting, and ending the poem on the mother’s voice tells us the central emotion of the poem.
Learn more about the difference between similes and metaphors here:
Simile vs. Metaphor vs. Analogy: Definitions and Examples
Simile and Metaphor Writing Exercise: Tenors and Vehicles
Most metaphors and similes have two parts: the tenor and the vehicle. The tenor refers to the subject being described, and the vehicle refers to the image that describes the tenor.
So, in the metaphor “the tree is a god of the forest,” the tenor is the tree and the vehicle is “god of the forest.”
To practice writing metaphors and similes, let’s create some literary device lists. grab a sheet of paper and write down two lists. In the first list, write down “concept words”—words that cannot be physically touched. Love, hate, peace, war, happiness, and anger are all concepts because they can all be described but are not physical objects in themselves.
In the second list, write down only concrete objects—trees, clouds, the moon, Jupiter, New York brownstones, uncut sapphires, etc.
Your concepts are your tenors, and your concrete objects are your vehicles. Now, randomly draw a one between each tenor and each vehicle, then write an explanation for your metaphor/simile. You might write, say:
Have fun, write interesting literary devices, and try to incorporate them into a future poem or story!
An analogy is an argumentative comparison: it compares two unalike things to advance an argument. Specifically, it argues that two things have equal weight, whether that weight be emotional, philosophical, or even literal. Because analogical literary devices operate on comparison, it can be considered a form of metaphor.
Making pasta is as easy as one, two, three.
This analogy argues that making pasta and counting upwards are equally easy things. This format, “A is as B” or “A is to B”, is a common analogy structure.
Another common structure for analogy literary devices is “A is to B as C is to D.” For example:
Gordon Ramsay is to cooking as Meryl Streep is to acting.
The above constructions work best in argumentative works. Lawyers and essayists will often use analogies. In other forms of creative writing, analogies aren’t as formulaic, but can still prove to be powerful literary devices. In fact, you probably know this one:
“That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” — Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
To put this into the modern language of an analogy, Shakespeare is saying “a rose with no name smells as a rose with a name does.” The name “rose” does not affect whether or not the flower smells good.
Analogy Writing Exercise
Analogies are some of the most common literary devices, alongside similes and metaphors. Here’s an exercise for writing one yourself.
On a blank sheet of paper: write down the first four nouns that come to mind. Try to use concrete, visual nouns. Then, write down a verb. If you struggle to come up with any of these, any old word generator on the internet will help.
The only requirement is that two of your four nouns should be able to perform the verb. A dog can swim, for example, but it can’t fly an airplane.
Your list might look like this:
Verb: Fall Nouns: Rain, dirt, pavement, shadow
An analogy you create from this list might be: “his shadow falls on the pavement how rain falls on the dirt in May.
Your analogy might end up being silly or poetic, strange or evocative. But, by forcing yourself to make connections between seemingly disparate items, you’re using these literary devices to hone the skills of effective, interesting writing.
Is imagery a literary device? Absolutely! Imagery can be both literal and figurative, and it relies on the interplay of language and sensation to create a sharper image in your brain.
Imagery is what it sounds like—the use of figurative language to describe something.
Imagery is what it sounds like—the use of figurative language to describe something. In fact, we’ve already seen imagery in action through the previous literary devices: by describing the tree as a “god”, the tree looks large and sturdy in the reader’s mind.
However, imagery doesn’t just involve visual descriptions; the best writers use imagery to appeal to all five senses. By appealing to the reader’s sense of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, your writing will create a vibrant world for readers to live and breathe in.
The best writers use imagery to appeal to all five senses.
Let’s use imagery to describe that same tree. (I promise I can write about more than just trees, but it’s a very convenient image for these common literary devices, don’t you think?)
Notice how these literary device examples also used metaphors and similes? Literary devices often pile on top of each other, which is why so many great works of literature can be analyzed endlessly. Because imagery depends on the object’s likeness to other objects, imagery upholds the idea that a literary device is synonymous with comparison.
Imagery Writing Exercise
Want to try your hand at imagery? You can practice this concept by describing an object in the same way that this article describes a tree! Choose something to write about—any object, image, or idea—and describe it using the five senses. (“This biscuit has the tidy roundness of a lady’s antique hat.” “The biscuit tastes of brand-new cardboard.” and so on!)
Then, once you’ve written five (or more) lines of imagery, try combining these images until your object is sharp and clear in the reader’s head.
Imagery is one of the most essential common literary devices. To learn more about imagery, or to find more imagery writing exercises, take a look at our article Imagery Definition: 5+ Types of Imagery in Literature .
Symbolism combines a lot of the ideas presented in metaphor and imagery. Essentially, a symbol is the use of an object to represent a concept—it’s kind of like a metaphor, except more concise!
Symbols are everywhere in the English language, and we often use these common literary devices in speech and design without realizing it. The following are very common examples of symbolism:
A few very commonly used symbols include:
- “Peace” represented by a white dove
- “Love” represented by a red rose
- “Conformity” represented by sheep
- “Idea” represented by a light bulb switching on
The symbols above are so widely used that they would likely show up as clichés in your own writing. (Would you read a poem, written today, that started with “Let’s release the white dove of peace”?) In that sense, they do their job “too well”—they’re such a good symbol for what they symbolize that they’ve become ubiquitous, and you’ll have to add something new in your own writing.
Symbols are often contextually specific as well. For example, a common practice in Welsh marriage is to give your significant other a lovespoon , which the man has designed and carved to signify the relationship’s unique, everlasting bond. In many Western cultures, this same bond is represented by a diamond ring—which can also be unique and everlasting!
Symbolism makes the core ideas of your writing concrete.
Finally, notice how each of these examples are a concept represented by a concrete object. Symbolism makes the core ideas of your writing concrete, and also allows you to manipulate your ideas. If a rose represents love, what does a wilted rose or a rose on fire represent?
Symbolism Writing Exercise
Often, symbols are commonly understood images—but not always. You can invent your own symbols to capture the reader’s imagination, too!
Try your hand at symbolism by writing a poem or story centered around a symbol. Choose a random object, and make that object represent something. For example, you could try to make a blanket represent the idea of loneliness.
When you’ve paired an object and a concept, write your piece with that symbol at the center:
The down blanket lay crumpled, unused, on the empty side of our bed.
The goal is to make it clear that you’re associating the object with the concept. Make the reader feel the same way about your symbol as you do!
Personification, giving human attributes to nonhuman objects, is a powerful way to foster empathy in your readers.
Personification is exactly what it sounds like: giving human attributes to nonhuman objects. Also known as anthropomorphism, personification is a powerful way to foster empathy in your readers.
Think about personification as if it’s a specific type of imagery. You can describe a nonhuman object through the five senses, and do so by giving it human descriptions. You can even impute thoughts and emotions—mental events—to a nonhuman or even nonliving thing. This time, we’ll give human attributes to a car—see our personification examples below!
Personification (using sight): The car ran a marathon down the highway.
Personification (using sound): The car coughed, hacked, and spluttered.
Personification (using touch): The car was smooth as a baby’s bottom.
Personification (using taste): The car tasted the bitter asphalt.
Personification (using smell): The car needed a cold shower.
Personification (using mental events): The car remembered its first owner fondly.
Notice how we don’t directly say the car is like a human—we merely describe it using human behaviors. Personification exists at a unique intersection of imagery and metaphor, making it a powerful literary device that fosters empathy and generates unique descriptions.
Personification Writing Exercise
Try writing personification yourself! In the above example, we chose a random object and personified it through the five senses. It’s your turn to do the same thing: find a concrete noun and describe it like it’s a human.
Here are two examples:
The ancient, threadbare rug was clearly tired of being stepped on.
My phone issued notifications with the grimly efficient extroversion of a sorority chapter president.
Now start writing your own! Your descriptions can be active or passive, but the goal is to foster empathy in the reader’s mind by giving the object human traits.
You know that one friend who describes things very dramatically? They’re probably speaking in hyperboles. Hyperbole is just a dramatic word for being over-dramatic—which sounds a little hyperbolic, don’t you think?
Basically, hyperbole refers to any sort of exaggerated description or statement. We use hyperbole all the time in the English language, and you’ve probably heard someone say things like:
- I’ve been waiting a billion years for this
- I’m so hungry I could eat a horse
- I feel like a million bucks
- You are the king of the kitchen
None of these examples should be interpreted literally: there are no kings in the kitchen, and I doubt anyone can eat an entire horse in one sitting. This common literary device allows us to compare our emotions to something extreme, giving the reader a sense of how intensely we feel something in the moment.
This is what makes hyperbole so fun! Coming up with crazy, exaggerated statements that convey the intensity of the speaker’s emotions can add a personable element to your writing. After all, we all feel our emotions to a certain intensity, and hyperbole allows us to experience that intensity to its fullest.
Hyperbole Writing Exercise
To master the art of the hyperbole, try expressing your own emotions as extremely as possible. For example, if you’re feeling thirsty, don’t just write that you’re thirsty, write that you could drink the entire ocean. Or, if you’re feeling homesick, don’t write that you’re yearning for home, write that your homeland feels as far as Jupiter.
As a specific exercise, you can try writing a poem or short piece about something mundane, using more and more hyperbolic language with each line or sentence. Here’s an example:
A well-written hyperbole helps focus the reader’s attention on your emotions and allows you to play with new images, making it a fun, chaos-inducing literary device.
Is irony a literary device? Yes—but it’s often used incorrectly. People often describe something as being ironic, when really it’s just a moment of dark humor. So, the colloquial use of the word irony is a bit off from its official definition as a literary device.
Irony is when the writer describes something by using opposite language. As a real-life example, if someone is having a bad day, they might say they’re doing “ greaaaaaat ”, clearly implying that they’re actually doing quite un-greatly. Or a story’s narrator might write:
Like most bureaucrats, she felt a boundless love for her job, and was eager to share that good feeling with others.
In other words, irony highlights the difference between “what seems to be” and “what is.” In literature, irony can describe dialogue, but it also describes ironic situations : situations that proceed in ways that are elaborately contrary to what one would expect. A clear example of this is in The Wizard of Oz . All of the characters already have what they are looking for, so when they go to the wizard and discover that they all have brains, hearts, etc., their petition—making a long, dangerous journey to beg for what they already have—is deeply ironic.
Irony Writing Exercise
For verbal irony, try writing a sentence that gives something the exact opposite qualities that it actually has:
The triple bacon cheeseburger glistened with health and good choices.
For situational irony, try writing an imagined plot for a sitcom, starting with “Ben lost his car keys and can’t find them anywhere.” What would be the most ironic way for that situation to be resolved? (Are they sitting in plain view on Ben’s desk… at the detective agency he runs?) Have fun with it!
Juxtaposition refers to the placement of contrasting ideas next to each other, often to produce an ironic or thought-provoking effect. Writers use juxtaposition in both poetry and prose, though this common literary device looks slightly different within each realm of literature.
In poetry, juxtaposition is used to build tension or highlight an important contrast. Consider the poem “ A Juxtaposition ” by Kenneth Burke, which juxtaposes nation & individual, treble & bass, and loudness & silence. The result is a poem that, although short, condemns the paradox of a citizen trapped in their own nation.
Just a note: these juxtapositions are also examples of antithesis , which is when the writer juxtaposes two completely opposite ideas. Juxtaposition doesn’t have to be completely contrarian, but in this poem, it is.
Juxtaposition accomplishes something similar in prose. A famous example comes from the opening A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of time.” Dickens opens his novel by situating his characters into a world of contrasts, which is apt for the extreme wealth disparities pre-French Revolution.
Juxtaposition Writing Exercise
One great thing about juxtaposition is that it can dismantle something that appears to be a binary. For example, black and white are often assumed to be polar opposites, but when you put them next to each other, you’ll probably get some gray in the middle.
To really master the art of juxtaposition, try finding two things that you think are polar opposites. They can be concepts, such as good & evil, or they can be people, places, objects, etc. Juxtapose your two selected items by starting your writing with both of them—for example:
Across the town from her wedding, the bank robbers were tying up the hostages.
I put the box of chocolates on the coffee table, next to the gas mask.
Then write a poem or short story that explores a “gray area,” relationship, commonality, or resonance between these two objects or events—without stating as much directly. If you can accomplish what Dickens or Burke accomplishes with their juxtapositions, then you, too, are a master!
A paradox is a juxtaposition of contrasting ideas that, while seemingly impossible, actually reveals a deeper truth. One of the trickier literary devices, paradoxes are powerful tools for deconstructing binaries and challenging the reader’s beliefs.
A simple paradox example comes to us from Ancient Rome.
Catullus 85 ( translated from Latin)
I hate and I love. Why I do this, perhaps you ask. I know not, but I feel it happening and I am tortured.
Often, “hate” and “love” are assumed to be opposing forces. How is it possible for the speaker to both hate and love the object of his affection? The poem doesn’t answer this, merely telling us that the speaker is “tortured,” but the fact that these binary forces coexist in the speaker is a powerful paradox. Catullus 85 asks the reader to consider the absoluteness of feelings like hate and love, since both seem to torment the speaker equally.
Another paradox example comes from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
“To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.”
Here, “natural” and “pose” are conflicting ideas. Someone who poses assumes an unnatural state of being, whereas a natural poise seems effortless and innate. Despite these contrasting ideas, Wilde is exposing a deeper truth: to seem natural is often to keep up appearances, and seeming natural often requires the same work as assuming any other pose.
Note: paradox should not be confused with oxymoron. An oxymoron is also a statement with contrasting ideas, but a paradox is assumed to be true, whereas an oxymoron is merely a play on words (like the phrase “same difference”).
Paradox Writing Exercise
Paradox operates very similarly to literary devices like juxtaposition and irony. To write a paradox, juxtapose two binary ideas. Try to think outside of the box here: “hate and love” are an easy binary to conjure, so think about something more situational. Wilde’s paradox “natural and pose” is a great one; another idea could be the binaries “awkward and graceful” or “red-handed and innocent.”
Now, situate those binaries into a certain situation, and make it so that they can coexist. Imagine a scenario in which both elements of your binary are true at the same time. How can this be, and what can we learn from this surprising juxtaposition?
If you haven’t noticed, literary devices are often just fancy words for simple concepts. A metaphor is literally a comparison and hyperbole is just an over-exaggeration. In this same style, allusion is just a fancy word for a literary reference; when a writer alludes to something, they are either directly or indirectly referring to another, commonly-known piece of art or literature.
The most frequently-alluded to work is probably the Bible. Many colloquial phrases and ideas stem from it, since many themes and images from the Bible present themselves in popular works, as well as throughout Western culture. Any of the following ideas, for example, are Biblical allusions:
- Referring to a kind stranger as a Good Samaritan
- Describing an ideal place as Edenic, or the Garden of Eden
- Saying someone “turned the other cheek” when they were passive in the face of adversity
- When something is described as lasting “40 days and 40 nights,” in reference to the flood of Noah’s Ark
Of course, allusion literary devices aren’t just Biblical. You might describe a woman as being as beautiful as the Mona Lisa, or you might call a man as stoic as Hemingway.
Why write allusions? Allusions appeal to common experiences: they are metaphors in their own right, as we understand what it means to describe an ideal place as Edenic.
Like the other common literary devices, allusions are often metaphors, images, and/or hyperboles. And, like other literary devices, allusions also have their own sub-categories.
Allusion Writing Exercise
See how densely you can allude to other works and experiences in writing about something simple. Go completely outside of good taste and name-drop like crazy:
Allusions (way too much version): I wanted Nikes, not Adidas, because I want to be like Mike. But still, “a rose by any other name”—they’re just shoes, and “if the shoe fits, wear it.”
From this frenetic style of writing, trim back to something more tasteful:
Allusions (more tasteful version): I had wanted Nikes, not Adidas—but “if the shoe fits, wear it.”
An allegory is a story whose sole purpose is to represent an abstract concept or idea. As such, allegories are sometimes extended allusions, but the two common literary devices have their differences.
For example, George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an allegory for the deterioration of Communism during the early establishment of the U.S.S.R. The farm was founded on a shared goal of overthrowing the farming elite and establishing an equitable society, but this society soon declines. Animal Farm mirrors the Bolshevik Revolution, the overthrow of the Russian aristocracy, Lenin’s death, Stalin’s execution of Trotsky, and the nation’s dissolution into an amoral, authoritarian police state. Thus, Animal Farm is an allegory/allusion to the U.S.S.R.:
Allusion (excerpt from Animal Farm ):
“There were times when it seemed to the animals that they worked longer hours and fed no better than they had done in [Farmer] Jones’s day.”
However, allegories are not always allusions. Consider Plato’s “ Allegory of the Cave ,” which represents the idea of enlightenment. By representing a complex idea, this allegory could actually be closer to an extended symbol rather than an extended allusion.
Allegory Writing Exercise
Pick a major trend going on in the world. In this example, let’s pick the growing reach of social media as our “major trend.”
Next, what are the primary properties of that major trend? Try to list them out:
- More connectedness
- A loss of privacy
- People carefully massaging their image and sharing that image widely
Next, is there something happening at—or that could happen at—a much smaller scale that has some or all of those primary properties? This is where your creativity comes into play.
Well… what if elementary school children not only started sharing their private diaries, but were now expected to share their diaries? Let’s try writing from inside that reality:
I know Jennifer McMahon made up her diary entry about how much she misses her grandma. The tear smudges were way too neat and perfect. Anyway, everyone loved it. They photocopied it all over the bulletin boards and they even read it over the PA, and Jennifer got two extra brownies at lunch.
Try your own! You may find that you’ve just written your own Black Mirror episode.
Ekphrasis refers to a poem or story that is directly inspired by another piece of art. Ekphrastic literature often describes another piece of art, such as the classic “ Ode on a Grecian Urn ”:
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede Of marble men and maidens overwrought, With forest branches and the trodden weed; Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral! When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Ekphrasis can be considered a direct allusion because it borrows language and images from other artwork. For a great example of ekphrasis—as well as a submission opportunity for writers!—check out the monthly ekphrastic challenge that Rattle Poetry runs.
Ekphrasis writing exercise
Try your hand at ekphrasis by picking a piece of art you really enjoy and writing a poem or story based off of it. For example, you could write a story about Mona Lisa having a really bad day, or you could write a black-out poem created from the lyrics of your favorite song.
Or, try Rattle ‘s monthly ekphrastic challenge ! All art inspires other art, and by letting ekphrasis guide your next poem or story, you’re directly participating in a greater artistic and literary conversation.
Flash! Bang! Wham! An onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like the noise it describes. Conveying both a playfulness of language and a serious representation of everyday sounds, onomatopoeias draw the reader into the sensations of the story itself.
Onomatopoeia words are most often used in poetry and in comic books, though they certainly show up in works of prose as well. Some onomatopoeias can be found in the dictionary, such as “murmur,” “gargle,” and “rumble,” “click,” and “vroom.” However, writers make up onomatopoeia words all the time, so while the word “ptoo” definitely sounds like a person spitting, you won’t find it in Merriam Webster’s.
Here’s an onomatopoeia example, from the poem “Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio” by Carl Sandburg .
The onomatopoeias have been highlighted in bold. These common literary devices help make your writing fresh, interesting, and vivid, creating a sonic setting that the reader can fall into.
Learn more about onomatopoeias here!
Onomatopoeia Writing Exercise
Onomatopoeias are fun literary devices to use in your work, so have fun experimenting with them. In this exercise, take a moment to listen to the noises around you. Pay close attention to the whir of electronics, the fzzzzzzz of the heater, the rumbling of cars on the street, or the tintintintintin of rain on the roof.
Whatever you hear, convert those sounds into onomatopoeias. Make a list of those sounds. Try to use a mix of real words and made up ones: the way you represent noise in language can have a huge impact on your writing style .
Do this for 5 to 10 minutes, and when you have a comprehensive list of the sounds you hear, write a poem or short story that uses every single word you’ve written down.
If you built your political campaign off of wordplay, would you be punning for president?
A pun is a literary device that plays with the sounds and meanings of words to produce new, often humorous ideas. For example, let’s say you used too much butter in your recipe, and it ruined the dish. You might joke that you were “outside the margarine of error,” which is a play on the words “margin of error.”
Puns have a rich literary history, and famous writers like Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, as well as famous texts like The Bible, have used puns to add depth and gravity to their words.
Pun Writing Exercise
Jot down a word or phrase that you commonly use. If you’re not sure of what to write down, take a look at this list of English idioms . For example, I might borrow the phrase “blow off steam,” which means to let out your anger.
Take any saying, and play around with the sounds and meanings of the words in that saying. Then, incorporate the new phrase you’ve created into a sentence that allows for the double meaning of the phrase. Here’s two examples:
If I play with the sound of the words, I might come up with “blowing off stream.” Then, I would put that into a sentence that plays with the original meaning of the phrase. Like: “Did you hear about the river boat that got angry and went off course? It was blowing off stream.”
Or, I might play with the meanings of words. For example, I might take the word “blowing” literally, and write the following: “someone who cools down their tea when they’re angry is blowing off steam.”
Searching for ways to add double meanings and challenge the sounds of language will help you build fresh, exciting puns. Learn more about these common literary devices in our article on puns in literature .
16–27. Common Literary Devices in Poetry
The following 12 devices apply to both poetry and prose writers, but they appear most often in verse. Learn more about:
12 Literary Devices in Poetry: Identifying Poetic Devices
28–37. Common Literary Devices in Prose
The following 10 devices show up in verse, but are far more prevalent in prose. Learn more about:
- Parallel Plot
- In Media Res
- Dramatic Irony
10 Important Literary Devices in Prose: Examples & Analysis
38–48. Repetition Literary Devices
Though they have uncommon names, these common literary devices are all forms of repetition.
- Anaphora (prose)
Repetition Definition: Types of Repetition in Poetry and Prose
49–57. Dialogue Literary Devices
While these literary elements pertain primarily to dialogue, writers use euphemisms, idioms, and neologisms all the time in their work.
How to Write Dialogue in a Story
58–67. Word Play Literary Devices
The following literary devices push language to the limits. Have fun with these!
- Double Entendre
Word Play: Examples of a Play on Words
68–72. Parallelism Literary Devices
Parallelism is a stylistic device where a sentence is composed of equally weighted items. In essence, parallel structure allows form to echo content. Learn all about this essential stylistic literary device below.
- Grammatical parallelism
- Rhetorical parallelism
- Synthetic parallelism
- Antithetical parallelism
- Synonymous parallelism
Parallelism Definition: Writing With Parallel Structure
73–112. Rhetorical Devices
Rhetorical devices are literary devices intended to persuade the reader of something. You might have heard of ethos, pathos, and logos, but do you know your aposiopesis from your hyperbaton?
Many literary devices can also be considered rhetorical devices. After all, a metaphor can convince you of something just as well as a syllogism. Nonetheless, the following 40 rhetorical/literary devices will sharpen your style, argumentation, and writing abilities.
- Reductio ad Absurdum
Common Rhetorical Devices List: The Art of Argument
Master These Common Literary Devices With Writers.com!
The instructors at Writers.com are masters of literary devices. Through masterful instruction and personal expertise, our instructors can help you add, refine, and improve your literary devices, helping you craft great works of literature. Check out our upcoming courses , and join our writing community on Facebook !
Very nice the litrery divices
Brilliant litery devices
I love this literary term it help a lot
thank you this was life-changing
Broaden the vucablry it does
enjoyed this (and learned some new things, too). HB
Wow, very educating and nice! Quite helpful
It is very nice visiting this site.
This was put together profoundly; thank you! As a writer, you can never learn enough. I will begin incorporating these into my stories. Words can’t express how helpful this was, and it was very efficiently put together as well, so kudos to that!
I’m so happy this article helped you, Jalen! Happy writing!
Thank you for this article! It really helped a lot! hands up to the good samaritan of understanding literature :D.
But I would have one last question: Would any sort of intertextuality be considered an Allusion? (Also when you refer to the author for example?)
Great questions! That’s a great way to think about allusion–any sort of intertextuality is indeed allusive. In fact, your use of “Good Samaritan” is an allusion to the Bible, even if you didn’t mean it to be!
And yes, because an allusion is anything referential, then a reference to another author also counts as an allusion. Of course, it can’t be directly stated: “She’s reading Shakespeare” doesn’t count, but “She worships the Immortal Bard” would be an allusion. (It’s also an allusion to the story of the same name by Isaac Asimov).
I’m glad to hear our article was helpful. Happy reading!
This will help! Thanks!
There is also Onomatopoeia, you can make the list 45
This article really helped me, the techniques are amazing, and the detail is incredible. Thank you for taking your time to write this!
I’m so glad this was helpful, Gwen! Happy writing!
this was useful 🙂 thanks
I love personification; you can do so much with it.
Hi, I’m really sorry but I am still confused with juxtaposition.
Hi Nate! Juxtaposition simply describes when contrasting ideas are placed next to each other. The effect of juxtaposition depends on the ideas that are being juxtaposed, but the point is to surprise or provoke the reader.
Take, for example, the opening line of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Here, happy and unhappy families are being juxtaposed, and the contrast between the two is meant to provoke the reader and highlight the differences between those families. This juxtaposition sets up the novel as a whole, which often discusses themes of family and happiness (among many other themes).
I hope this helps!
very nice indeed
[…] 33 Common Literary Devices: Definitions, Examples, and Exercises […]
[…] 44 Common Literary Devices: Definitions, Examples, and Exercises […]
Thanks a lot for this it was really nice, good and fun to read it and it was really helpful for me as a student👔so please keep up with the good work 😉🌹💖😚😍💝💞💐
VERY GOOD READ I LOVED IT SO MUCH YAY QUEEEEEEEENNNNNN
Really helping. It’s a wonderful article
O mother Ghana, teach your children to change their negative attitudes towards you and what you have Please which literary device is this?
The device employed here is called apostrophe, which is when the writer addresses something not actually present for literary effect. Read more about it at this link .
This was very effective towards my writing and my family really enoyed seeing how much I had learnt. Thanks a lot.
so irony is literally sarcasm then
Sometimes! Sarcasm is a form of verbal irony.
Verbal irony occurs when a person intentionally says the opposite of what they mean. For example, you might say “I’m having the best day ever” after getting hit by a car.
Sarcasm is the use of verbal irony with the intent of mocking someone or something. You might say “Good going, genius” to someone who made a silly mistake, implying they’re not a genius at all.
Hope that makes sense!
Love this article! I used to struggle in my literature class, but after reading though this article, I certainly improved! Thanks! However, I have one question I really need your help with- Can I assume that a phrase which is the slightest bit plausible, a hyperbole? For example, a young elementary student who is exceptionally talented in basketball, to such an extent that he was quite famous nation-wide, said that he would be the next Lebron James although he was still very young. Would this be considered as a hyperbole? It would be great if you can help me with this.
That’s a great question! Although that claim is certainly exaggerated, it probably wouldn’t be hyperbole, because the child believes it to be true. A hyperbole occurs when the writer makes an exaggerated statement that they know to be false–e.g. “I’ve been waiting a billion years for this.”
Of course, if the child is self-aware and knows they’re just being cheeky, then it would be hyperbole, but I get the sense that the child genuinely believes they’re the next Lebron. 🙂
I’m glad this article has helped you in your literature class!
That makes a lot of sense, thanks for your reply!
Sorry, I have another question related to hyperbole. This is an extract from Animal Farm:
“Squealer was sent to make the necessary explanation to the others. ‘Comrades!’ he cried. ‘You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege? Many of us actually dislike milk and apples. I dislike them myself. Our sole object in taking these things is to preserve our health. Milk and apples (this has been proved by Science, comrades) contain substances absolutely necessary to the well being of a pig. We pigs are brain-workers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Jones would come back! Yes, Jones would come back! Surely, comrades,’ cried Squealer almost pleadingly, skipping from side to side and whisking his tail, ‘surely there is no one among you who wants to see Jones come back?’ Now if there was one thing that the animals were completely certain of, it was that they did not want Jones back. When it was put to them in this light, they had no more to say. The importance of keeping the pigs in good health was all too obvious.”
May I know if the speech made by Squealer in this extract is a hyperbole, gaslight (I’m not sure if this is a literary device), or some other device(s)? I know this is very wordy so you can take your time, no rush.
(I am doing a chapter analysis of chapter 3 in Animal Farm)
By the way, if you have written any other articles, please let me know! I would like to read them, thanks!
Take a look at writers.com/writing-tips for our archive on the craft of writing!
It wouldn’t be hyperbole, as a hyperbole is usually a word or phrase, not an entire passage of text. It’s better to analyze this passage in terms of its rhetorical strategies: Squealer is appealing to nebulous ideas like Science and the return of Jones–appeals to logos and pathos, despite there being a lack of evidence.
These strategies are logical fallacies: arguments that are easily disproven through reasoning, but which often resonate when people don’t employ critical thinking. Some of the fallacies here are “appeal to fear” and the “false dilemma” that Jones will return if the pigs don’t eat apples and milk (this is also a “red herring”).
I can’t provide much more help than this, as I don’t want to write your assignment for you, but I’m happy to point you in this direction, because understanding how logical fallacies are abused is essential to being an informed reader and citizen. 🙂
Ok, thanks for your reply!
Thank you! I am studying for an English final and this was a life saver!
My pleasure, Isla, good luck on your final!
I have a literature exam coming up,so this was much needed.Thank you!
Indeed this has been of great help to me.
I am so greatful of this website it really helps me a lot about myself and my family
This is awesome
This website is very useful to understand litery devices…
thanks it was helpful
Hi what is the name of the literary device where you name a character after their personality eg. Mr Knighley, Miss honey or Miss Trunchball? Thank you
That’s called an “aptronym”!
Mind blowing indeed. I had no idea there were so many names for patterns I hear people use with words. This lis is great as is. I am using it to probe further into what they are. I would only suggest that if the time ever allowed for someone to provide a brief detail or definition to each it would save a lot of time for many like me. None the less, I am grateful for the work provided. Thank you.
It awesome and amazing
It is personification as well as apostrophe, as Sean suggested. Ghana (the nation, I am assuming) is personified as a mother who is able to teach her citizens (children) to change their negative attitudes towards her.
This has truly helped me alot. Definitely great
Thanks so much, I never knew the list to this was as tall as everest, way back in school I didn’t take lit lessons serious and forgot everything til it came to mind to revise these devices And here google landed me, and thanks again so much.
This is awesome,it truly help me alot
It was great fun I had an amazing time doing the literary exercises and they helped so much. They really expanded my knowledge of the entire topic it was a wonderful thing to read, it will definitely help me with any English essay I have in the future.
It was very helpful. I must say that I have a better understanding of these literary devices. It was wonderful reading them.
I am overjoyed in knowing that we have different types of literary devices in literature. Thank you for this interesting article.
This is excellent and amazing.
This information was very useful Appreciated 🤗🙏
Thank you so much, I was literarily dying because of my English final!! I needed all these literal devices.
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