Writing Terms

Flashback to English 101! If you’re like most of us, some of those terms you learned back in high school can be hard to remember now. Here is a list of common writing terms defined.

Allegory–using a specific character or situation in your writing to express a more general truth

Alliteration–a series of words in a sentence all beginning with the same sound. (Remember the old tongue-twister “Peter picked a peck of pickled peppers”?)

Analogy–a comparison showing like parts of two unlike things. Remember those old tests? (foot is to person as paw is to cat, for instance)

Anaphora–several consecutive sentences starting with the same group of words. (President Bush’s speech is a good example: “We will not tire. We will not falter. We will not fail.”

Antonyms–opposites (day and night, for instance)

Cliche–similar to a dead metaphor; an expression that has been widely overused. (Like saying something cost “an arm and a leg”. Ugh!)

Denouement–French, defined by Merriam-Webster as the final outcome of the main dramatic complication in a literary work.

Double Entendre–a phrase that can be interpreted in two different ways. Usually one of the meanings is slightly “off color”. Thank you Erika for these examples!

  • Include Your Children When Baking Cookies
  • New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
  • Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
  • Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Euphemism–a phrase used in place of something disagreeable or upsetting (“passed on” instead of died)

Homographs–words that are spelled alike but pronounced differently and/or mean different things (Sahara desert and to desert someone, for instance)

Homonyms–words that are spelled and pronounced alike but have different meanings (baby; an infant, and baby; to coddle, for instance)

Hyperbole–deliberate exaggeration (scared to death)

Metaphor–this is similar to a simile, but more direct. One word is used directly in place of another to suggest a relationship between them. Usually a metaphor says one thing is something else. (Rachel is a peach, for instance)

Dead Metaphor–a metaphor that has lost its “force” through overuse. Most often not even recognized as a metaphor any more (being “over your head”, for instance)

Mixed Metaphor–an inconsistent metaphor (“That’s water over the bridge”, for instance; a cross of “water under the bridge” and “water over the dam”)

Onomatopoeia–a word that sounds like what it is (hiss, for instance)

Oxymoron–a phrase composed of two words with contradictory meanings–“virtual reality”, for instance

Personification–giving living attributes to an inanimate object (leaves dancing in the wind)

Simile–the similarities of two separate things are shown through a comparison using the words like or as. (lips as red as cherry wine, for instance)

Synonyms–words with the same meaning (happy and glad, for instance)

Voice–in writing, how you “sound” on the page. Your voice is your style, your tone, your unique way of telling a story.

Widows & Orphans–In publishing lingo, a “widow” is the last line of a paragraph, printed alone at the top of a page. An “orphan” is the first line of a paragraph, printed alone at the bottom of a page. Many word processors offer features to control these in your documents.