10th Grade Literary Terms

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, students will learn about common literary terms they are likely to encounter in 10th-grade poetry, fiction, and non-fiction texts. These terms are commonly found in short stories, novels, poems, speeches, drama, persuasive essays, and newspaper editorials.

10th Grade Literature

Much of 10th grade Language Arts deals with reading and analyzing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction texts. A major part of analyzing a work of literature is being able to identify the different elements that authors use to make texts more interesting and believable. Let's take a look at some common literary terms found in 10th grade poetry, fiction, and non-fiction texts.

Terms Related to Poetry

Without figurative language, poetry would seem dull and lifeless. The following elements of poetry help bring it to life. Find a book of poetry and look for examples of these common elements.

  • Alliteration: The repetition of similar sounds with the first letter(s) of the words. Example: The Physics professor talked on the phone about his fish supper. In this example, you can hear a repetition of the 'F' sound in the words physics, phone, and fish.
  • Imagery: The use of the senses to paint a mental picture in the reader's mind. Example: The people 'scurried' away as the 'white, fluffy' snow began to fall in 'soft, cold clumps'. The smell of 'fresh pine' lingered in the air.
  • Metaphor: A comparison of two things without using 'like' or 'as.' Example: She is a flower, waiting to bloom.
  • Onomatopoeia: Onomatopoeia refers to words that sound like their meaning. Examples: Splish! Splash! Bam! Boom!
  • Personification: Attributing human-like characteristics to non-humans. Example: The wind howled in anguish.
  • Simile: In contrast to a metaphor, a simile compares two things using 'like' or 'as.' Example: Her hair was as golden as the sun.

Terms Related to Fiction

Fiction is all about making a 'make-believe' story seem as realistic as possible. Elements of fiction help accomplish that goal. These common literary terms deal with characterization, conflict, and other terms associated with short stories and novels.

  • Antagonist: The person who opposes the main character or protagonist. Example: Lord Voldemort is the primary antagonist in the 'Harry Potter' series.
  • External Conflict: A conflict that occurs outside of a character. Examples: character versus character, character versus nature, and character versus society.
    • Character versus character is a type of external conflict that occurs when one character has a conflict with another. For example, two people arguing over who has to wash the dishes is an example of character versus character.
    • Character versus nature is a type of external conflict that occurs when a character faces issues from the natural world that are out of his or her control, such as severe weather.
    • Character versus society is a type of external conflict that occurs when a character struggles with a community or society at large. For example, a character facing racial discrimination would be dealing with character versus society.
  • Foreshadowing: When the text hints at something to come later in the story. Example: Dark rain clouds might symbolize danger ahead.
  • Internal Conflict: A conflict that occurs inside of a character. Example: If you only have enough money to buy one candy bar, but you're having trouble deciding between a Snickers and a Butterfinger, you're experiencing an internal conflict.
  • Point of View: The perspective from which the story is told. Examples include first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient.
    • First person point of view comes from one character's thoughts and feelings. I thought about his question, but I couldn't come up with an immediate answer.
    • Second person point of view occurs when the narrator speaks directly to the reader. If you want to know the truth, I never really enjoyed my job.
    • Third person limited point of view is told from a narrator who can see into the mind of one of the characters. Lucia thought about Scott's question, but she couldn't come up with an immediate answer.
    • Third person omniscient point of view is told from the perspective of a narrator who can see into the minds of all characters. Scott waited, impatiently, wondering what was taking Lucia so long to respond. Meanwhile, Lucia was thinking about Scott's question but was unable to come up with an immediate answer.
  • Protagonist: the main character. Example: Harry Potter is the protagonist in the 'Harry Potter' series. Without Harry, there is no story.
  • Setting: the time and place of the story. Examples: The future; America in 1920; early morning in midtown Manhattan; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
  • Symbol: An object that represents more than its literal meaning. Example: The color green is often used as a symbol for wealth. A skull and crossbones typically symbolizes death.
  • Theme: The main subject or 'big idea' of a work of literature. Example: The theme of a story about war could be that war causes senseless suffering.
  • Tone: The author's attitude towards the topic he or she is writing about. Example: The tone of a story could be funny, sad, or serious.

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