How to Understand Literary Devices

To understand literary devices, you need to first develop a positive attitude to the subject, know exactly what is meant by a literary device and assemble the most commonly used literary devices.

But of course, there are other equally important steps to take to understand literary devices in Literature.

In this tutorial, I will teach you how to easily understand literary devices. The truth is it is not easy to show another person how to understand literary techniques but I will try as much as I can.

So if you wish to learn my tried and tested approaches to understanding literary devices then keep reading.

Without further ado, let’s look at the steps anyone can take to fully understand literary devices.

1. Adopt a positive attitude to the study of literary devices.

Most students struggle to understand literary devices simply because they doubt their ability to grasp the concept of literary devices. So I would strongly advise that you begin by telling yourself you can understand literary devices.

This is the only way you will be able to invest all your time and energy in an effort to, once and for all, comprehend the concept of literary devices.

2. Know what literary devices are.

To overcome your difficulty in understanding literary devices, you need to know what is meant by a literary device. Now, I am not just talking about the definition of a literary device.

Beyond the definition of a literary device, it is necessary to grasp the concept in its entirety. In fact, try to develop your own idea of what a literary device is.

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This will help you to easily spot a particular literary device. You will also be in a better position to answer almost every question about literary devices.

Here are a couple of things to know about literary devices.

Definition of a Literary Device

Here is how defines literary devices:

Literary devices are specific techniques that allow a writer to convey a deeper meaning that goes beyond what is on the page.

Further Understanding of Literary Devices

From the definition, you must always bear in mind the following.

  • Technique – it is all about writing or speaking with a purposefully constructed style of expressing an idea.
  • There are many different ways a writer can use language differently from the normal and the usual. This is why we have multiple literary devices.
  • Though literary devices have a deeper meaning, there is no magical formula for identifying a literary device and its purpose. Therefore, what you must do is get creative and look deep to discover what is special about a particular expression.

3. Become conversant with commonly used literary devices.

The next step to take to understand literary devices and to be able to answer literary devices questions is to get to know as many literary terms or devices as possible.

Start with the commonest literary devices and then keep adding the less common ones.

Here are some examples of the most popular literary devices you need to know, write correctly and pronounce properly.















Pathetic fallacy

4. Study the definitions of literary devices.

Now that you are familiar with the specific literary devices that you may be required to use in an answer to a question in Literature, it is time for you to know the definition and meaning of each one of these devices.

Here is a large collection of literary devices and their definitions. You can download the printable PDF copy of the whole ebook if you like.

A word of caution, though. Do not try to understand too many literary devices at the same time. You can tackle about five or even fewer at a time.

When you are confident that you have done enough, you can move on to another set.

5. Study multiple examples of the various literary devices.

One important way to grasp the meaning of any literary device is to become familiar with a lot of examples of that particular literary device.

This ebook will help you to discover more examples of literary devices.

Do not forget to write more examples yourself. Practice writing examples of literary devices at every opportunity. This is an effective way to fully grasp the concept of literary devices.

6. Learn the basic structure of each literary device.

It is also helpful to sit down and look closely at the structure of an example of a particular literary device.

For example, if you take ‘parallelism’, study an example closely to identify what it is about the expression that gives it that name.

Then go ahead and find out if another instance of parallelism follows the same pattern. You will quickly realize that it does.

This can be an eye-opener to understanding such literary devices as rhyme, oxymoron, inversion and alliteration.

7. Look out for extraordinariness in the use of an expression.

For every specific literary device, there is an element of the creative and extraordinary use of language.

You see, there are common or usual ways we use language in our everyday communication.

What a writer does is go beyond the ordinary and produce something unusual and extraordinary. It is when language is used or written in those extraordinary ways that we say the writer has used a literary device (or a literary technique).

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So one way to understand literary devices is to bear in mind, all the time, that there is something unique about an expression that qualifies to be called a literary device.

And when you are able to identify that uniqueness, your problem will be half solved.

Here is a quick example for you. Consider the highlighted expression in the sentence below.

As we approached the valley, an ancient rock stood, staring us in the face.

Can you spot its extraordinariness? Here it is.

In ordinary, everyday language, you will hardly hear someone portraying a rock as a person with legs and eyes and with the ability to ‘stand’ and ‘stare’.

But a writer can use language in this unique way for a particular effect. This is what makes the above expression a literary device.

Can you state the particular literary device used in the above expression? It is personification.

8. See if there is an element of deliberateness in a writer’s style in choosing words.

Each time you need to find out if there is a literary device in a particular expression, begin by looking for possible instances of the deliberate use of a unique style by the writer.

This is what I referred to early on as the extraordinary or unusual use of language.

And if you can see any deviation from the normal use of language, you can be sure that the writer is using a literary device.

The next step is to identify the specific literary device.

This is where your knowledge of the various definitions, examples and structure of different literary devices we talked about will help you to get the actual literary device in that particular expression.

9. Collect more instances of literary devices from books.

By now, you will have become more comfortable with understanding literary devices. But do not rest on your oars.

Go the extra mile to fish out more examples of literary devices in the books you love to read.

It is vital to do this so that your initial understanding will get more grounded.

10. Practice writing your own examples of literary devices.

I said this earlier. So let me just repeat that never stop writing personally more examples of as many literary devices as possible.

11. Look for questions on literary devices.

The most effective way to cement your progress in understanding literary devices is to practice answering questions on literary devices.

You can find countless questions on literary devices at Cegast Academy. We also have numerous Literature tests that seek to help students to understand better literary devices.

12. Allow someone you trust to assess your progress.

One other smart step to take to understand literary devices is to find a teacher or a classmate to help you stay on course. Make that person your accountability partner in your efforts to learn how to understand and answer questions on literary devices.

Each time you answer a set of Literature past questions, let them mark it for you and show you how to improve.

13. Never get complacent.

Finally, make sure that the little progress you begin to make in your quest to understand literary devices does not make you become over-confident. Avoid the temptation to feel like you have finished learning literary devices. Because there is no end to learning.

Learning is a lifelong undertaking so make it a habit to keep looking for additional ways to understand literary devices.

Final Thoughts

It is always possible for anyone to study literary devices and understand them sufficiently. All it takes is a positive mindset, an unwavering desire to succeed and the application of the actionable steps I have outlined in this tutorial.

You can also learn how to pass a high school Literature test with relative ease. Below are similar guides to enable you to obtain better grades in your examinations.

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And if you are a teacher, this article about how to teach high school Literature might help you to prepare your Literature students for the upcoming exam.

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