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Glossary of Literary Theory
by Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown


A mode of analyzing literature that focuses on aspects of form rather than aspects of content and that may be used to determine the distinctive features of a literary work, an author, or a particular literary period. Al the phonological level, such analysis concerns itself with sound patterns, rhyme, meter, assonance, alliteration, euphony, and so forth. At the syntactic level, it concerns itself with sentence structure, grammatical kinds of sentences (simple, compound, complex, compound-complex), rhetorical kinds of sentences (loose, periodic, balanced, antithetical), functional kinds of sentences (statement, question, command, exclamation), sentence length, sentence openers (subject, expletive, coordinating conjunction, adverb word. conjunctive phrase, prepositional phrase, verbal phrase, adjective phrase. absolute phrase, adverb clause, front-shift), means of articulating sentences (coherence devices, transitional expressions), and the like. At the lexical level, it concerns itself with diction (general or specific, abstract or concrete, formal or informal, polysyllabic or monosyllabic, common or technical, referential or emotive, denotative or connotative). At the rhetorical level it concerns itself with iterative imagery and figures of speech (metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, irony, and personification, among other things). Stylistics often has scientific pretensions and may involve the amassing of reams of quantitative data. (See also Linguistics and literary theory.)

© Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown,
University of Toronto
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University of Toronto English Library
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Last modified: March 31, 1997