Types of Literary Devices: 13 You Must Know ✍️

  • Writing
Contra Tips
· 8 min read

Captivate audiences with literary devices like allusion, metaphor, and repetition. Plus, learn how they differ from literary elements and techniques.

Whether you're a business owner who wants to write well, a public speaker seeking to spark change, or an Independent aiming to create engaging work for clients, you need that “oomph” factor in your writing. But how do you make those ordinary content pieces extraordinary? Enter literary devices.

These tools possess the power to upgrade the quality of your blog posts, speeches, and social media captions. 

From allusion and metaphor to repetition and hyperbole, here’s all you need to know about the different types of literary devices and how they persuade and strengthen communication with readers.

What are literary devices? 📚

Literary devices are carefully crafted techniques writers employ to reach and engage with readers on a more profound level. These rhetorical devices manipulate language and structure to add a deeper meaning to writing and capture readers’ attention. By skillfully using literary devices, writers can transform words into compelling storytelling, acquiring their audience's interest and, in some cases, persuading them to action. 

The importance of literary devices 📖

Literary devices are secret ingredients that elevate everyday writing styles. They infuse language with depth, complexity, and richness, captivating readers and drawing them in. From the powerful imagery of a well-crafted metaphor and the rhythm of repetition to the high impact of hyperbole and the embodiment of symbolization, these devices enable writers to improve their craft, paint vivid pictures, and evoke emotions. 

List of literary devices 📓

As an independent freelance writer, you hold the power to breathe life into your words, and that's where literary devices in English — or any language, for that matter — come into play. These tools are the secret sauce for elevating your work from ordinary to extraordinary, which in turn will help you land (and keep) clients. By mastering these techniques, you can create content that leaves lasting impacts on your audience.

Here are 13 common literary devices with definitions and examples, as well as why they're beneficial:

1. Metaphor 🫶

A metaphor is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things without using "like" or "as." It suggests a resemblance between the two entities and often uses figurative language. For example: “Her laughter was music to his ears.” Here, we’re comparing laughter with music, implying that her laughter is as melodious as music.

2. Simile 🐆

A simile compares two unlike things using "like" or "as." Like metaphors, similes create visual imagery and emphasize similarities. For instance, “he runs as fast as a cheetah.” In this case, it means that the subject runs at an impressive speed.  

3. Alliteration 🫑

Alliteration is the repetition of the same initial sound in a series of words, such as in a sentence or a series of phrases. This literary device adds rhythm, musicality, and emphasis to a sentence, making it more memorable. This famous tongue twister is a great example of alliteration: "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers."

4. Hyperbole 🗣️

This literary device uses exaggeration for emphasis or dramatic effect in creative writing. It amplifies a statement to evoke emotion. For example: "I've told you a million times!" This uses exaggeration (the number of times) to highlight the speaker's exasperation.

5. Personification 🌬️

Personification (or anthropomorphism) assigns human qualities to inanimate objects or animals, adding life to non-human entities, making them relatable, and helping the reader connect with them. For example, when we say, "The wind whispered through the trees," we attribute the human characteristic of whispering to the intangible wind. Another popular example is George Orwell’s famous literary work, Animal Farm, wherein the characters are various livestock species with human personas. 

6. Symbolism 🕊️

Symbolism uses objects, characters, or actions to represent abstract ideas, adding depth and layers of meaning to writing. For example, a dove universally symbolizes peace, while red roses illustrate love.

7. Allusion ❤️

An allusion refers to a well-known person, event, or work of literature in writing. Often used in a flashback, an allusion enriches the text by connecting and associating cultural or historical elements the reader is likely to be familiar with. For example, when we say, "He was a real Romeo with the ladies," we evoke the image of Romeo from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to describe someone charming.

8. Irony 🔥

A contrast between what's anticipated and what actually happens, irony creates a sense of surprise or humor in writing. It showcases the gap between expectations and reality in an engaging way for readers. There are two types: dramatic irony and situational irony. For example, "The fire station burned down" presents a situation opposite to what is typically expected.

9. Foreshadowing 🌑

This literary device hints at the events to come in a narrative. It builds anticipation and suspense, preparing the reader for future developments. For example, when a character in a novel says, "I have a bad feeling about this," it suggests something ominous might occur later in the story.

10. Onomatopoeia 🐝

This is a fun literary device where words imitate the sounds associated with their meaning. Onomatopoeias add sensory appeal, immersing the reader in an auditory experience. For example, words such as "buzz," "hiss," or "crash" sound like their meaning, creating vivid mental soundscapes.

11. Oxymoron 🦐

An oxymoron is a figure of speech combining contradictory terms to create a thought-provoking effect. For example, the word "bittersweet" presents contrasting ideas within a single word: bitter and sweet. This highlights the tension between them. Another excellent example is "jumbo shrimp." 

12. Euphemism 💡

A euphemism replaces harsh words or concepts with mild, indirect phrasing. This literary device is often used to soften negative impact or tactfully and gently convey sensitive information. For instance, using "passed away" instead of "died" or "let go" instead of "fired."

13. Imagery 🌈

Imagery uses descriptive language to paint realistic mental pictures in readers' minds. Compelling word choice for this literary device appeals to the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. For example, “The scent of freshly baked bread floated through the air, filling the room with warmth.” As soon as someone reads this sentence, they may think of a steaming hot bread loaf and relate to its aroma.

Literary devices, literary elements, and literary techniques ✏️

The terms literary devices, literary elements, and literary techniques are often used interchangeably in professional writing. But what do they actually mean? 

Literary devices refer to the techniques and structures used by writers to create their desired impacts on their readers. When considering metaphor versus simile versus analogy, these are all tools for enhancing language and engaging audiences. And there are many others (as mentioned above). Here are some more:

  • Malapropism: A William Shakespeare favorite, malapropism means using an incorrect word inadvertently that sounds pretty much the same as the correct one. For example, “Cheer up –– I predicate a win.” In this sentence, the malapropism is “predicate,” which should have been “predict.”    
  • Metonymy: This figure of speech uses synonyms or something closely related to an object instead of using its actual name. For instance, the New York Stock Exchange is sometimes called “Wall Street.” 
  • Anachronism: Anachronism refers to chronological inaccuracies. For example, if you spot a television satellite dish in a 19th-century period film, it’s an anachronism.     
  • Chiasmus: This literary device uses words in reverse order. For instance, Lord Bryon in “Don Juan” said, “Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure.”

Literary elements, however, are the fundamental building blocks of literature. They're essential components like plot, setting, character, theme, and point of view that provide the framework and structure for a narrative. To brainstorm ideas for these elements, try prewriting

On the other hand, literary techniques encompass a broader range of strategies and methods. This category includes devices and elements and extends to narrative techniques, writing styles, tone, dialogue, and more. Literary techniques cover a writer's entire spectrum of choices to craft their work. 

Promote your freelance writing services on Contra ✅

If you’re an independent writer, mastering the use of literary devices in your own writing is a game-changer. Whether you're seeking to create engaging content, deliver compelling speeches, or enhance your everyday communication, the power of literary devices can't be overstated. And now that you've learned how to use these tools, put your newfound skills into practice and connect with clients on Contra. Join Contra today, showcase your talents and land jobs you’ll love, all commission-free.

Point of View: How to Craft Compelling Narratives 👁️

Unlock your writing’s potential by exploring the various types of points of view and their roles in crafting impactful narratives.
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