Great literary devices dictionary

Another AMAZING source of literary devices, definitions, and examples.

The author’s attitude, stated or implied, toward a subject. Some possible attitudes are pessimism, optimism, earnestness, seriousness, bitterness, humorous, and joyful. An author’s tone can be revealed through choice of words and details. In your opinion, what is the author’s tone in this story?

The climate or feeling in a literary work. The choice of setting, objects, details, images, and words all contribute towards creating a specific mood. What do you perceive the mood to be in this story?

Here is a list of commonly used tones and moods. Some are positive, some are negative, some are neutral.

NOTE FOR TEACHERS: Great website for teaching tone & mood can be found at:

Want to see the difference in tone and mood using a film trailer? Check out the following trailers for "Mary Poppins."

The big idea about life or human nature that is conveyed by a literary work. For example: friendship. Themes are expressed through feelings of the main character, thoughts and conversations, thoughts that are repeated, what the main character learns, or actions or events.

"Thematic statements" are an opinion you have about a specific story and it's theme. If you read "Cinderella" you will find a LOT of themes. One theme could be "justice." A thematic statement you could make might be: "Bad people usually are punished for their wrongdoings."

A thematic statement is a beginning to a literary response on theme. NOT an end. When writing about theme, it's best to identify the author and title of the work followed by a theme you feel is present in the story. Next, follow up with a thematic statement and structure the rest of your response to supporting what you have stated.

Check out Albert P.'s theme paragraphs above. Be sure to look at the first draft and the "revised" draft. You will notice a BIG difference between the two.

Figurative language:a type of language in which words do not mean exactly what they say. It forces the reader to make an imaginative leap in order to comprehend an author's point.


How should you write a well-written paragraph concerning motif?

Here’s a sample paragraph we brainstormed in class regarding motif. Motif is a reappearing idea or event in a story that leads us to better understand what an author is trying to see. Motif is like the rung of a ladder: by climbing the rungs and focusning on them, we can reach the theme at the top of the ladder.

Motif in The Phantom Tollbooth
In chapter 8 of the novel The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Milo receives a gift from the king that will help him. Juster uses the gift as a motif. The gift is a box filled with all the words known to man. The king tells Milo “there is no obstacle you cannot overcome. All you must learn to do is use them well and in the right places.” This is a motif because Milo has received other gifts. Each gift leads Milo to new knowledge. The king’s gift teaches Milo that he can learn to overcome his obstacles in his life. This motif goes with a theme of knowledge. Knowledge when used well can conquer anything.

A person, place, or object which has a meaning in itself but suggests other meanings as well is called a "symbol." Things, characters, and actions can be symbols. Anything that suggests a meaning beyond the obvious can be a symbol. Some symbols are conventional (standard or typical), generally meaning the same thing to ALL readers. For example: bright sunshine symbolizes goodness and water is a symbolic cleaner.

Check out the short film, "Teclopolis" and see if you can identify symbols! To view it, go to the following link:

Idiom is defined as an expression that does not mean what it literally says. It’s meaning is often quite different from the word-to-word translation. (Try typing “idiom + __”)

Common idioms:
  1. fish out of water = person in a situation where they don't know what to do
  2. the pot calling the kettle black = a person criticizes or accuses someone of something that they themself are doing
  3. don't throw the baby out with the bath water = don't destroy or toss out a group of ideas because you might lose a good one in the process
  4. over the hill = something is past its prime