Literary Devices that Start with S

There are many literary devices that start with s. These techniques offer the writers and readers to enhance the storytelling to the readers. From ‘Simile’ to ‘Symbolism’ and ‘Stream of Consciousness’ to ‘Synecdoche’, these devices are the building blocks of narrative artistry, which creates strong imagery and emotional connections. These devices add depth and beauty to the written word.

1- Sarcasm

Sarcasm involves mocking, ironic language intended to convey contempt or ridicule. Winston Churchill utilized political sarcasm, as in his famous quip insulting appeasement: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.” Sarcasm has been widely used by the writers in their literary work.

Example in Literature

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

Well, I don’t see no p’ints about that frog that’s any better’n any other frog.

In the novel, Huckleberry Finn encounters a character namely ‘the Duke’. The character is known for his deceptive and manipulative nature. The Duke is using sarcasm to criticize the value that people are placing on a frog. He outwardly claims that there is no significant difference between the frog in question and other frogs. He actually intends to exploit the frog for financial gain.

2- Sardonic

Sardonic speech or humor is bitterly mocking or cynical. Sardonic works may contain a tone of scornful mockery.

Example in literature

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

In the novel, Mr. Bennet often employs sardonic humor. When he was asked about the nervous disposition of his wife, he replied,

You are too hasty, sir. I am not going to say she is nervous. She is just a delicate creature. You must not doubt her sincerity, even if it is not the most graceful. She means well, as far as she is capable.

The writer uses sardonic humor through the character of Mr. Bennet. He satirizes the social norms and expectations of the time. The sardonic remarks of Mr. Bennet serve as a commentary on the limitations and absurdities of the society in which he is living.

3- Satire

Satire uses humor, irony and exaggeration to expose folly or critique an individual, idea or society. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels satirizes human nature through its exaggerated settings.

Example in literature

“Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift

In the novel, the writer uses satire to criticize various aspects of the society. In the land of Lilliput, there is a famous example of a silly war. The Lilliputians fight over how to crack an egg and whether it is the big end or the small end. Swift uses this absurd conflict to satirize the triviality of political disputes and wars in the real world.

4- Scansion

Scansion analyzes metrical patterns in poetry by marking stressed and unstressed syllables. Scansion determines the meter of a poem.

Example in literature

“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

In the passage, the scansion helps to identify the metrical pattern, which is iambic pentameter. In iambic pentameter, each line consists of ten syllables with alternating stressed (expressed by “/”) and unstressed (expressed by “x”) syllables.

5- Science Fiction

Science fiction incorporates futuristic technology and science into imaginative narratives. H.G. Wells pioneered early science fiction with works like The Time Machine.

Example in literature

“The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells

“The War of the Worlds” is a classic example of science fiction. It revolves around the idea of an alien invasion. The writer uses the genre to explore the potential consequences of advanced technology from an extraterrestrial source. The novel raises questions about human vulnerability, adaptability and the consequences of technological progress.

6- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

A self-fulfilling prophecy causes an initially false belief to become true through people acting as if it were true. Oedipus inadvertently fulfills the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother.

Example in literature

“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

In the novel, the character Macbeth receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become the king of Scotland. This prophecy plants a seed of ambition and desire for power in Macbeth’s mind. As he becomes consumed by his quest for the throne, he engages in a series of ruthless actions including murder in order to make the prophecy a reality. In the end, his actions lead to his own downfall, as he fulfills the witches’ prophecy in a tragic and self-destructive manner.

7- Semantic

Semantics refers to the meaning encoded in language. Semantic analysis examines meaning beyond syntax and structure.

Example in literature

“1984” by George Orwell

In the novel, the writer introduces the concept of Newspeak. A language which is created by the totalitarian regime to control thought and limit freedom of expression. The government continually redefines and restricts the language altering the meaning of words to serve its own purposes. For example, ‘doublethink’ is a term introduced in the novel, which means the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and accept both of them.

8- Sensory Language

Sensory language evokes physical senses like sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Effective description utilizes vivid sensory details.

Example in literature

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

In the excerpt, the writer employs sensory language to describe the summer days in Maycomb. She writes,

The days were long, the weather was hot, and the air smelled of pine trees and the sweet taste of persimmons.

The description of the long, hot summer days, the scent of pine trees and the taste of persimmons permits the readers to imagine the sights, smells and flavors of Maycomb during this season.

9- Sesquipedalian

Sesquipedalian refers to extremely lengthy, multi-syllabic words. Politicians sometimes use sesquipedalian language to sound intelligent.

Example in literature

“Mary Poppins” by P.L. Travers

In the context, the character Mary Poppins is known for her occasional use of sesquipedalian words. She says to the children,

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is the word I use to describe something quite extraordinary.

The writers sometimes use sesquipedalian words to add a touch of humor, playfulness or eccentricity to their characters or narratives. In this case, it is a lighthearted and memorable way for the character to convey her unique and magical personality, which make the story more engaging and fun for readers.

10- Sestet

A sestet is a six-line stanza or unit within a poem. Sestets form the conclusion of Italian sonnets following the octave. The sestet serves as the conclusion of the sonnet, which summarizes the key theme of immortalizing love through poetry.

Example in literature

“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

In this sestet, the poet reflects on the enduring nature of the love, which he describes throughout the sonnet. He asserts that as long as people can breathe and see, his words will live on and by extension, the beauty and love he expresses will continue to exist.

11- Sestina

A sestina interweaves six repeated words through a complex pattern across 39 lines. The repeating words conclude each line according to a set arrangement. The intricate pattern of sestina makes it unique, which follows a specific order.

Example in literature

“Sestina” by Ezra Pound

All the long gone years, over the edge,
To the close and holy darkness,
Where the dog star wanes, and fails to portend
Bright quest in Heaven, strange new splendor
And the first were last, and the last shall be first,
End. Begin. Send.

In this sestina, the poet uses the form to explore themes of time, transformation and cyclical patterns. The six repeating words at the end of each line in the first stanza (edge, darkness, portend, splendor, first and send) have been repeated in a specific order throughout the poem, which creates a unique pattern that guides the reader through the text.

12- Short Story

A short story is a brief fictional narrative shorter than a novel. It focuses on a single character or event. It aims to convey a complete narrative in a shorter format compared to novels.

Example in literature

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe’

In ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, the narrator is also the main character, who tells the story of his descent into madness and the murder he commits. The story is set in a small and dimly lit room where the narrator obsessively describes his growing agitation and hatred for the old man’s eye. He believes them as evil. The narrative follows his meticulous planning and execution of the murder, and the subsequent psychological torment he experiences.

13- Sibilance

Sibilance is a literary device that involves repetition of ‘s’ and ‘sh’ sounds. It adds a soft and flowing quality to the text. The serpent’s words to Eve in Genesis contain sibilance: “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”

Example in literature

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Here, the sibilance is used to create a soothing and melodic quality. The lines ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ and ‘Fluttering and dancing in the breeze’ contain ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds. It mimics the gentle rustling of the daffodils in the breeze. This sibilant quality enhances the sensory experience of the reader, which makes the scene more vivid and evocative.

14- Simile

A simile compares two unlike things using “like” or “as”. It creates a vivid image and enhance the understanding of the reader.

Example in literature

“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck

George describes Lennie’s strength by saying,

Lennie! If you jus’ looked and learned, you wouldn’t get in no trouble. You was only foolin’, I knowed it. Nobody can’t blame a person for lookin’.

In the aforesaid passage, the simile ‘Nobody can’t blame a person for lookin’ has been used to compare the behavior of a person. The comparison is made with the word ‘for, which highlights that just as nobody can be blamed for looking, nobody can be blamed for Lennie’s actions when he does not fully understand their consequences.

15- Situational Irony

Situational irony occurs when events contrast with expectations. Rain on your wedding day constitutes situational irony if the weather was sunny and clear as forecasted.

Example in literature

“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding

In the novel, a group of British boys is stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. They initially attempt to establish order and create a civilized society. However, as the story unfolds, their situation descends into chaos, brutality and violence. The situational irony lies in the fact that the boys rescued by a passing naval officer marks the end of their ordeal but it also reveals the extent of their descent into savagery.

16- Slang

Slang consists of informal words that are outside of conventional use. It is often used in literature to convey the voice and personality of characters. It depicts the language and culture of a specific time or social group.

Example in literature

“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger

The protagonist Holden Caulfield often uses slang terms to express his feelings and attitudes. He frequently uses the word ‘phony’ to describe the people he considers insincere or fake. He says,

That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write ‘Phony’ on it.

The use of slang reflects the rebellious and critical attitude of Holden towards the adult world. It adds authenticity to his character, which emphasizes his teenage perspective and his struggle to find genuineness in the world around him.

17- Snark

Snarky remarks express derision through sarcasm, criticism, and negativity. Snark often manifests in online commentary and social media discourse.

Example in literature

“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

In the novel, Mr. Darcy engages in a conversation with Elizabeth Bennet and the two characters, who exchange snarky remarks. For instance, when Mr. Darcy is asked to dance with Elizabeth, he responds,

She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.” Elizabeth retorts with a snarky comment, “You are too hasty, sir. I may not return your feelings.

The initial comment of Mr. Darcey is a snarky way of saying that Elizabeth is not attractive enough for him. The response of Elizabeth is equally snarky as she implies that she might not reciprocate his feelings hinting at her own wit and independence.

18- Solecism

A solecism involves incorrect or unconventional grammar that flouts accepted usage rules. E.E. Cummings flouted grammatical conventions through words invented and arranged uniquely.

Example in literature

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

In the novel, the character ‘Huck’ often uses colloquial and grammatically incorrect language in his narration. He says,

We was always naked, day and night, whenever he was around.

The use of the word ‘was’ instead of ‘were’ is a grammatical solecism. It is a deliberate choice by Mark Twain to reflect Huck’s uneducated and vernacular speech. Twain uses mistakes in Huck’s speech to show he’s from a tough, poor background. It adds authenticity to the character and serves as a reminder of his lack of formal education.

19- Soliloquy

A soliloquy involves a character speaking their private thoughts aloud. Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” speech exemplifies a soliloquy.

Example in literature

“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

In ‘Macbeth’, Macbeth delivers a soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 7. He contemplates the idea of assassinating King Duncan. He says,

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well. It were done quickly.

Macbeth is struggling with his internal conflict that whether to carry out the murder of King Duncan. He thinks about the results and believes that it is better to commit the murder quickly once it is decided. The soliloquy provides insight into moral struggle and ambition of Macbeth, which set the stage for the tragic events that follow.

20- Sonnet

A sonnet contains fourteen lines and follows a poetic meter and rhyme scheme. It is a classic form of poetry, which is often used to express deep emotions, particularly love.

Example in literature

“Sonnet” 18 by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

The sonnet begins with a question that whether he should compare the person he loves to a summer’s day. He then goes on to describe how the person is even more beautiful and gentle than a summer day. The sonnet suggests that as compare to a brief and imperfect summer, the beauty of a person is forever and flawless.

21- Speaker

The speaker is the voice narrating a poem or essay. Analyzing the speaker provides insight into tone, style and point of view.

Example in Literature

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

In the novel, the story is narrated by Scout Finch who is the main character and serves as the speaker. Scout is a young girl growing up in the racially divided town of Maycomb, Alabama. She shares her observations, experiences and thoughts as she recounts the events in the novel.

22- Spondee

A spondee consists of two accented syllables together. For example: heart-beat, break-down, bold-faced.

Example in literature

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

In the line, the words ‘at a glance’ form a spondee, as both ‘at’ and ‘glance’ are stressed syllables. This metrical foot creates emphasis and a sense of suddenness in the description of the field of daffodils that the speaker encounters.

23- Stanza

Stanzas divide written poetry into grouped lines and sentences. Blank verse poetry has unrhymed, metered stanzas.

Example in literature

“Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson

And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm

The second stanza of the poem serves to continue the theme of hope represented by the metaphor of a ‘little Bird’. It suggests that hope is resilient and enduring even in the face of significant challenges.

24- Static Character

A static character does not change or evolve over the course of a narrative. Many minor characters remain static while major characters undergo development.

Example in literature

“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Roger Chillingworth is a character who exhibits static qualities.

From the start to the finish of the story, he stays obsessed with getting back at the man who had an affair with his wife. His focus on this goal never changes. He is consumed by his desire for revenge and this aspect of his character remains constant throughout the story.

25- Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness reproduces the continuous flow of thoughts and impressions passing through a character’s mind. James Joyce pioneered stream of consciousness style in works like Ulysses.

Example in literature

“Ulysses” by James Joyce

In ‘Ulysses’, the character Leopold Bloom’s stream of consciousness is vividly depicted. Joyce employs this technique to delve into Bloom’s inner thoughts and feelings as he navigates his daily life in Dublin. Bloom’s inner monologue takes the reader through a labyrinth of thoughts, memories and sensory perceptions, which offers a glimpse into his complex psyche and the intricacies of his personal experience.

26- Subjective

Subjective information stems from personal feeling or bias rather than facts. The narrator’s criticisms of society in Notes from Underground reflect subjective opinions.

Example in literature

“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte

In ‘Jane Eyre’, the novel is primarily written from the first person perspective of the protagonist i.e. Jane Eyre. This subjective narrative style immerses the reader in inner thoughts, emotions and personal experiences of Jane. The reader sees the events and characters of the story through the eyes of Jane understanding her feelings of love, hardship and self discovery.

27- Subtext

Subtext refers to implied meaning beyond the literal surface of a text. Analyzing subtext reveals deeper motivations and significance.

Example in literature

“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

In ‘Hamlet’, one of the most famous example of subtext occurs in the interactions between Hamlet and his mother Queen Gertrude. The dialogue on the surface may seem polite and controlled, however the subtext reveals a complex layer of emotions and unspoken accusations. For example, in Act 3, Hamlet says,

Come, come, and sit you down. You shall not budge. You go not till I set you up a glass where you may see the inmost part of you.

On the surface, Hamlet invites his mother to sit and have a conversation. However, the subtext beneath his words conveys his anger, frustration and the desire to confront her about her hasty marriage to his uncle King Claudius. He considers the Claudius as suspected person of murdering his father. The ‘glass’ he mentions symbolizes a mirror that reflects her inner guilt and conscience.

28- Superlative

A superlative describes something as being the most outstanding of its kind. For example: biggest, best, brightest, happiest.

Example in literature

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

Mark Twain uses superlatives to describe the vast and untamed beauty of the Mississippi River. He writes,

The river looked miles and miles across. The sun was just going down, it was beautiful.

The author employs superlatives to emphasize the grandeur and magnificence of the Mississippi River. Phrases like ‘miles and miles across’ and ‘beautiful’ elevate the perception of the readers about the size of the river and its breathtaking sunset view.

29- Surrealism

Surrealism employs imaginary dreamlike imagery defying conventional logic. Surrealist works may freely associate disjointed images.

Example in literature

“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

The above passage is a prime example of Surrealism in literature. The sudden and inexplicable transformation of the main character into an insect challenges the boundaries of reality and logic, which plungs the reader into an unsettling and dreamlike world. This use of Surrealism allows Kafka to explore complex themes of isolation, alienation and the absurdity of human existence.

30- Symbolism

Symbolism uses objects, images, or motifs to represent abstract concepts. The green light in The Great Gatsby symbolizes Gatsby’s longing and hope.

Example in literature

“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A.

The novel serves as a powerful symbol of the central theme of sin and its consequences. It is a visual representation of Hester Prynne’s transgression and her punishment as well as a symbol of her inner strength and resilience. The scarlet letter which she is required to wear as a form of public shaming carries a deeper meaning throughout the novel.

31- Synecdoche

A synecdoche represents something through a part of it or vice versa. Referring to hired hands as “all hands on deck” utilizes synecdoche.

Example in literature

“Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” by William Wordsworth

Five years have past; five summers, with the length / Of five long winters!

Wordsworth uses synecdoche while using ‘five summers’ and ‘five long winters’, which represent the passage of time. He does not literally mean that only five summers and winters have gone by but uses these seasonal elements to symbolize the passage of five years. It is a way of succinctly conveying the idea of the passage of time and the changes that have occurred over that period.

32- Synesthesia

Synesthesia blends sensory experiences across modalities. Poets employ synesthesia to compare distinctive senses, like “a loud perfume”.

Example in literature

“Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov

I felt her in my arms, a dream. I felt her in my arms, and I thought I was dreaming.

The writer employs synesthesia to describe the sensation of holding Lolita in terms of a dream. He uses the tactile experience of feeling her in his arms and blends it with the sensory perception of a dream. This creates a unique and evocative image in the mind of the reader. The act of holding Lolita is so surreal and dreamlike that it transcends the boundaries of reality.

33- Syntax

Syntax governs grammatical sentence structure. Stylistic syntax varies from author to author in literature.

Example in literature

“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Dickens skillfully uses syntax to create a series of parallel constructions, which emphasizes the stark contrasts and dualities that run throughout the novel. The repetition of ‘it was’ and ‘it was the’ followed by opposing ideas highlights the theme of duality and sets the tone for the entire story.

Literary Devices that Start with S
Literary Devices that Start with S

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