18 Literary Devices with Examples: A Complete Guide for ICSE Students.


In this blog we are going to look at the top 18 literary devices any ICSE student needs to know and learn to improve their score in English Literature.

What are literary devices?

Literary devices are used by writers to enhance their writing. Understanding literary devices while reading a chapter or poem will help you to understand what the author is trying to convey.

1. Allegory

An allegory is used by a writer when they want to address large and complex issues in an ideal manner. This gives the writer some space between himself and his works. Allegories are especially used in sensitive topics like politics or societal realities.

Examples include George Orwell’s Animal Farm which deals with the Russian Revolution.

2. Allusion

An allusion is an indirect reference to another story or well known work.

For example, the title of Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84 is itself an allusion to George Orwell’s novel 1984. Or you might hear a friend remark that they ‘went down a rabbit hole’ while carrying out research. This does not have a literal meaning; rather it is an allusion to a popular phrase appearing in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Caroll.

3. Cliffhanger

A cliffhanger is purposely created by a story-teller to leave the reader or viewer in suspense. One doesn’t know what happens next.

For example, among books, ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ and ‘The Da Vinci Code’ are examples of cliffhanger endings.

4. Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is when you as the reader know something which even the main characters are unaware of.

For example in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ the two main characters consume poison unaware that the other lover is still alive. This climax is a dramatic irony because the audience knows Juliet is alive while Romeo thinks she's dead, leading to tragic consequences.

5. Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is when the writer slowly builds suspense, planning to introduce something big later on.

For example when the writer says, ‘it was a dark and stormy night’ the reader can expect some danger or trouble in the story. For instance, in "Romeo and Juliet," Juliet's statement "My grave is like to be my wedding bed" foreshadows the tragic outcome of the lovers' fate.

6. Imagery

Imagery is used by the writer to bring a scene to life!

For example, describing a scene vividly and providing sensory details to create a realistic image in the reader’s mind. In "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald uses vivid imagery to bring the extravagant parties at Gatsby's mansion to life. For instance, he describes the "bright tan prayer rug of a beach" and the "blue gardens" surrounding the estate, painting a vivid picture that immerses the reader in the opulent atmosphere of the Jazz Age.

7. Humor

Humour is making the reader or viewer laugh by introducing comedy and being funny. This is a skill and it is a much loved genre.

For example, “The Pig” by Roald Dahl and “My Shadow” by R.L Stevenson are humorous poems.

8. Humor

Irony is when something said is very different from what it actually is. In the classic fairy tale "The Tortoise and the Hare," the hare confidently declares, "There's no way the slow tortoise can beat me in a race!" However, ironically, the tortoise's steady pace ultimately leads to victory, highlighting the theme of perseverance over arrogance.

9. Metaphor

A metaphor helps to explain something or make a comparison though not literally.

For example, “My sister’s best friend Carlotta is a night owl.” In this metaphor, "night owl" compares Carlotta's behaviour to that of an owl, implying she is active and alert during the night, even though she's not actually a bird.

10. Simile

A simile compares two things using the words "like" or "as" to highlight similarities between them.

For instance, when they say "white as a pearl," they are comparing the whiteness of something to the colour of a pearl, emphasising its purity or brightness.

11. Analogy

Analogy is a comparison mentioned which is otherwise difficult to spot. Analogies are generally made between two unrelated things which are very much unlike each other. “Life spins like a wheel” and “His body is thin like a stick” are analogies.

12. Motif

Motifs express recurring themes or concepts in a novel. They appear again and again.

Examples of motifs in literature are Lady Macbeth constantly washing her hands. This symbolises her guilt. Motifs also help to link the characters or events in the story.

13. Oxymoron

Oxymorons are commonly used. They use contradictory terms to create a deeper and more poetic effect. For instance, “cruel kindness”’, “deafening silence” and “deliberate mistake” are examples of Oxymorons.

14. Paradox

A paradox is a sentence that is unbelievable or a lie.

For example, Socrates revealed in Plato’s Apology, “I know only one thing and that is I know nothing.” A paradox can be humorous and defy logic.

15. Personification

Personification is assigning inanimate objects or non-living things a human quality. They help writers to express themselves better.

For example, “The sun smiled down on us” and “The giving tree” are examples of personification.

16. Suspense

As we all know, suspense is vital for the success of a good story or movie. It piques the reader’s curiosity. Suspense is used to maintain the reader’s attention.

For example, “Othello” by Willian Shakespeare and “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie are stories which are thrilling and exhilarating due to the suspense involved.

17. Symbolism

Symbolism is when the author takes one element and that is not restricted to a single idea or thought process.

For example if you see a rainbow you see the colours and admire it. However you also think about other things like hope! Or water is a drink but it also represents rebirth. The colour black similarly represents evil.

18. Satire

Satire is used a lot in pop culture. It is relevant even today. Satire is a genre which uses humour to attack the folly of people or society.

For example, R.K Laxman’s “The Common Man” is a satire which helped people realise the social realities of contemporary India.


In this complete guide to literary devices for ICSE students, we've explored 18 essential techniques essential for understanding and analyzing English literature. From allegory to satire, each device is exemplified with clear examples, providing students with a comprehensive toolkit to elevate their literary analysis skills. Armed with this knowledge, ICSE students can approach their English literature exams with confidence, ready to decipher the deeper layers of meaning within the texts they study.