Basic Literature Terms in Spanish

Instructor: Elena Sacramento Lechado

Elena has a PhD in linguistics from University of La Laguna (Spain). Currently, she teaches Spanish as a foreign language and creates teaching resources.

This lesson provides you with the basic terminology to talk about literature in Spanish. Learn the main vocabulary and their definitions and see some relevant examples in this lesson.

Talking About Literature

What kind of literary works do you prefer reading? Do you know any poems in Spanish? Do you know the Spanish term for 'essay'? We're going to look at some basic vocabulary that will come in handy to talk about literatura (lee-teh-rah-TOO-rah) in Spanish. Technical or specific vocabulary can be tricky, but don't worry! Luckily, literary terms in Spanish are quite similar to English.

Keep reading to discover these basic terms in Spanish. Let's get on with it!

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombian author and Nobel Prize in Literature.

Literary Genres

Let's start with the definition of género (pronounced: HEH-neh-roh), or genre (ie a group or category in which we can classify literary works depending on their structure and content). The main types are:

  • (la) narrativa (lah nah-rah-TEE-bah; narrative): literary genre that uses the technique of narration or story-telling, such as novels or tales.
  • (la) poesía (lah poh-eh-SEE-ah; poetry): form of literature that expresses the author's emotions or feelings through the beauty of language, organized in verses.
  • (el) drama (ehl DRAH-mah; drama): literary composition written in the form of a dialog, intended to be represented on a stage, with actors embodying characters.
  • (el) ensayo (ehl ehn-SAH-yoh; essay): literary composition in which the author expresses his/her perspective on a particular subject or theme in a free and personal manner.


Now take a look at the following extracts. Each one belongs to a different literary genre. Can you match them?


Por una mirada, un mundo,
por una sonrisa, un cielo,
por un beso... ¡yo no sé
que te diera por un beso!

(For a glance, a world,
for a smile, a heaven,
for a kiss… I do not know
what I would you give for a kiss!)

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Rima XXIII (1868).


El día en que lo iban a matar, Santiago Nasar se levantó a las 5.30 de la mañana para esperar el buque en que llegaba el obispo.

(On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five thirty in the morning to wait for the ship the bishop was coming on.)

Gabriel García Márquez, Crónica de una muerte anunciada (1981).


Hay un hecho que, para bien o para mal, es el más importante en la vida pública europea de la hora presente. Este hecho es el advenimiento de las masas al pleno poderío social.

(There is one fact which, whether for good or ill, is of utmost importance in the public life of Europe at the present moment. This fact is the accession of the masses to complete social power.)

José Ortega y Gasset, La rebelión de las masas (1929).


La Poncia: No tendrás queja ninguna. Ha venido todo el pueblo.
Bernarda: Sí, para llenar mi casa con el sudor de sus refajos y el veneno de sus lenguas.
Amelia: ¡Madre, no hable usted así!

(La Poncia: You can't complain. The whole village has come.
Bernarda: Yes, to fill my house with the sweat from their clothing and the venom of their tongues.
Amelia: Mother, don't you speak like that!)

Federico García Lorca, La casa de Bernarda Alba (1936).

The answers are:

A) Poesía.
B) Narrativa.
C) Ensayo.
D) Drama.

Easy, right? Let's now learn other literary terms.

Main Literary Terms

Let's focus on some of the characteristics that make up literary works.

Narrative Types

  • (la) ficción (lah feek-SYOHN; fiction): events that are imagined, not real. Fiction generally refers to works written in prose form, such as novels or short stories.
  • (el) suspenso (ehl soos-PEHN-soh) or suspense (soos-PEHN-seh): type of literary work characterized by provoking feelings of suspense or tension in the reader or the audience.

Suspense or suspenso.


  • (el) personaje (ehl pehr-soh-NAH-heh): fictitious character invented by the author who is part of the story or literary work. A character could be a person, an animal, or any animated being. What's your favorite personaje from a literary work you know?
  • (el/la) protagonista (ehl/lah proh-tah-goh-NEES-tah): protagonist, main or leading character. For example, in the fragment from Crónica de una muerte anunciada we read above, the protagonista is Santiago Nasar.
  • (el) héroe (ehl EH-roh-eh): the hero is normally the protagonist or main character. The reader generally empathizes with the héroe, whose decisions and experiences contribute to the development of the story. (Notice that the feminine form of this word is heroína.)

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