OWL logo
General WritingResearch and CitationTeaching and TutoringSubject-Specific WritingJob Search WritingESL
OWL at Purdue Logo

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/). When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice at bottom.

Literary Terms


This handout gives a rundown of some important terms and concepts used when talking and writing about literature.

Contributors:Elizabeth Boyle
Last Edited: 2015-08-17 04:09:57

Included below is a list of literary terms that can help you interpret, critique, and respond to a variety of different written works. This list is by no means comprehensive, but instead offers a primer to the language frequently used by scholars and students researching literary works. This list and the terms included in it can help you begin to identify central concerns or elements in a work that might help facilitate your interpretation, argumentation, and analysis. We encourage you to read this list alongside the other guides to literary interpretation included on the OWL Website. Please use the links on the left-hand side of this page to access other helpful resources.

The Basics

Types of Prose Texts

Terms for Interpreting Authorial Voice

Terms for Interpreting Characters

Terms for Interpreting Word Choice, Dialogue, and Speech

Terms for Interpreting Plot

Terms for Interpreting Layers of Meaning

Works Cited

For more information or to read about other literary terms, please see the following texts:

Baldick, Chris. Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Mikics, David. A New Handbook of Literary Terms. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.

Taafe, James G. A Student’s Guide to Literary Terms. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1967. Print.


Copyright ©1995-2015 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.