Stylistic Devices: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:03 Stylistic Devices
  • 1:05 Definitions and Examples
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Do you use stylistic devices on a daily basis? I bet you do! In this lesson, we'll learn about stylistic devices through definitions and examples so that we can better identity and use them in our daily lives.

Stylistic Devices

What if I said, 'It feels like I walked 1,000 miles today' or 'I'm going to die if I have to sit through one more meeting.' If you interpreted either of those sentences literally, you would probably be concerned about the person saying them. But, if we look at these sentences figuratively, we know that the first sentence signifies someone who is exhausted, and the second reflects a person's lack of patience, attention, and overall boredom. Both of these sentences use stylistic devices to help the reader understand the emotion of the speaker and imagery of the idea being conveyed.

Stylistic devices refer to any of a variety of techniques to give an additional and/or supplemental meaning, idea, or feeling. Also known as figures of speech or rhetorical devices, the goal of these techniques is to create imagery, emphasis, or clarity within a text in hopes of engaging the reader.

Let's take a look at some examples to learn more about how to find and understand these devices.

Definitions and Examples

There are many stylistic devices in literature, but today we are going to focus on six specific devices that are used most commonly.

Metaphor

Metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two unlike things that share a common characteristic. When you use metaphor, you speak about something as if it were something else entirely.

For example, 'Juliet is the sun' is a famous line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo compares Juliet to the sun. Juliet is not literally the sun; however, Juliet and the sun share common traits that are implied through the metaphor. Juliet and the sun both shine bright in Romeo's eyes, and both are his life force.

Let's look at another example. 'Kathy got out of the car with an army of children.' Does Kathy literally have an army of children? No, but the metaphor in this sentence puts an image in the reader's mind that implies Kathy has a significant amount of children getting out of her car.

Simile

A simile is a figure of speech where two things are directly compared using the words 'like' or 'as.'

For example, 'When the donuts arrived, my dad popped out of his seat like a piece of toast.'

Dad's action of getting out of his seat is being compared to a piece of toast popping out of a toaster. We know a toaster shoots the toast up quickly when it has finished cooking, and therefore, the reader gets the image that the speaker's dad was excited about the donuts and jumped quickly out of his seat to get one.

Personification

Personification is a figure of speech that gives inanimate objects human characteristics.

For example, take the sentence: 'Opportunity was knocking at her door.' Can opportunity literally knock on someone's door? No, but it implies that a great opportunity was coming her way and is seemingly unavoidable.

Or, how about the sentence, 'The house looked depressed.' Can a house literally be depressed like a human? No, but it does provide a picture in the reader's mind that the house was run down. One could envision broken windows, chipped paint, or missing shutters.

Hyperbole

A hyperbole is an exaggeration that is not meant to be taken seriously. A hyperbolic phrase grabs the reader's attention and provides an emphasis regarding a message the author intends.

For example, take the sentence, 'I told you a million times not to call her.' We know this person did not literally tell their friend a million times, but it reminds the recipient of the statement they were told repeatedly. It feels like an 'I told you so' will follow this conversation.

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