In any of your English subjects, there are always so many language features that are important to learn!
Understanding how a text is constructed will unlock key points for analysis and discussion, boosting your English marks. Even better — understanding language features can enrich your skills in other subjects too. You might find yourself analysing primary and secondary sources in history better, or delving deeper into a scientific report.
Whatever it is, understanding language features is a great skill to have. If you want to know more, you’re totally in the right place — keep reading for a comprehensive list! Our HSC English tutors can help you identify the perfect language features for your essay, so get in touch if you’re looking for guidance!
A persuasive device is a type of language feature that expresses and supports an opinion, making it stand out. The following are some specific techniques.
A situation or statement where two opposing things are presented, often to create favour for one or highlight their differences.
Example: In Despicable Me, Gru’s house is black and angular, contrasted with the more rounded and lightly coloured houses of the neighbours.
Like contrast, analogies are not always a persuasive device, but they can be used powerfully as one. The device contrasts two ideas to create an otherwise unstated relationship between them. It’s often used to prove an already established argument.
Example: In Luka Lesson’s poetry, he compares a sword and spoken word, implying the power of language.
This means a subtle reference to an event, person, text, place, you name it that readers may infer. Allusions are often made in passing, but reveal deeper meaning in the text.
Example: In Sylvia Plath’s ‘Daddy’, Plath uses allusions to Hitler to emphasise the foul character of her father.
Often in texts, the ending of a story or line is left for the reader to determine. This is particularly common in postmodern texts.
Authors who use ambiguity do not explicitly state what has happened to a character or plot. They may offer some clue for the reader to decipher, or they may keep it completely open-ended.
This encourages readers to think critically and engage more deeply with the text.
Example: At the end of Inception (Christopher Nolan), we do not know whether the main character is in reality or dreaming. This is shown through a camera cut just as audiences feel they are about to find out.
A technique that you probably know, but don’t realise it!
Assonance is like alliteration but emphasises vowel sounds being repeated. This is often at the start of words, but it can include repetition of vowels within words, too.
Example: “See ya later skater” repeats the ‘e’ and ‘a’ vowels, in this case creating a rhyming sequence. “‘Zooper Dooper’ (every Aussie kid’s favourite ice block) repeats the ‘o’.
Some words or phrases evoke certain feelings for a reader. This can be because of how they sound or feel, historical context or pop culture.
Example: ‘Beautiful’ and ‘cute’, while both describing how something is visually appealing, have different connotations. ‘Beautiful’ creates a sense of grace, elegance and maturity, while ‘cute’ is typically associated with youth and innocence.
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Diction refers to the author’s choice and use of words in a literary work. It includes the specific words chosen, their connotations, and the style in which they are used. Diction can have a powerful effect on the tone and meaning of a piece of writing.
For example, the word “frustrated” has a different connotation than the word “angry.” A writer may choose one over the other based on the desired effect on the reader. Additionally, the style of diction can be formal or informal, and can help convey the tone of the writing.
Example: From George Orwell’s “1984”:
“The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features.”
In this passage, Orwell’s diction is clear and descriptive, with words like “boiled,” “old,” and “coloured” creating a specific and vivid image of the hallway. The choice of words “enormous face,” “ruggedly handsome features” and “heavy black moustache” gives the reader a clear image of the poster, and its size and characteristics. The use of specific and descriptive words can help the reader create a more detailed mental image of the setting, characters, and objects within the narrative.
When a mild or “polite” expression is used instead of a vulgar or blunt term, it is a euphemism.
Example: We often say “passed away” instead of referring to death directly.
A little like connotation or euphemism, figurative language is a type of language feature used when certain words have meanings behind what is really being said. You can think of this like an extended metaphor. This type of language is particularly common in poetry.
Example: “A handsome manor house grew out of darkness at the end of the straight drive.” (JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
The deliberate exaggeration of a topic for emphasis or humour. Often, hyperbole is used in already emotional situations to gain greater reaction.
Example: “I was so exhausted that I slept for ten days.”
Language that creates a mental picture of the topic it talks about, often to enhance the mood behind a text.
Example: “The leaves created a blanket on the ground, with all kinds of red and gold hues to match my boots.”
When language is used to express somebody’s meaning or situation, that generally means the opposite. Irony is often a tip-of-the-tongue kind of humour that points out awkward or funny situations.
Example: Saying “isn’t this great weather?” right before storm hits.
Often, two things are compared to one another by describing one thing as being ‘like’ the other. This can create contrast or offer more power to a concept.
Usually similes are phrased with the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.
Example: “He roared like a lion.”
When two things that are generally very opposite are placed next to each other, creating a stark contrast.
Example: A brand new building standing next to an old, historical one.
Stating that something ‘is’ another thing to draw comparison or deeper understanding to a text. Often, figurative meanings can give the reader a greater appreciation of what is written.
Some metaphors appear continually throughout a text and help to shape the narrative arc. These are known as extended metaphors.
Example: “She had once been a great fortress, keeping secrets closely hidden.
A word that sounds exactly like what it represents, allowing the reader to ‘hear’ the text.
Example: Pop, snap, simmer, bubble, slop.
An oxymoron is a type of language feature where two words or concepts that contradict each other are used to create a complex idea, while maintaining some sense.
Example: “The dinner was awfully good.”
Personification is a literary device that involves giving human qualities, attributes, or emotions to non-human things or inanimate objects. The purpose of personification is to make the object or thing more relatable or understandable to the reader, by imbuing it with human-like qualities.
Personification is often used in poetry, prose, and other forms of creative writing to create a vivid and engaging image or scene.
Example: In the sentence “The wind whispered through the trees,” the wind is given a human-like quality of being able to whisper. This makes it easier for the reader to imagine and empathise with the wind.
Repetition is a literary device in which a word or phrase is repeated in a text to create emphasis, create a specific rhythm, or reinforce a specific idea or theme. It is a common technique used in poetry and prose, and can be used in various ways to achieve different effects.
Example: Consider the following passage from Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
In this passage, the phrase “I have a dream” is repeated several times to create a powerful and memorable rhythm. The repetition of this phrase emphasises King’s central message of hope and optimism and draws the listener’s attention to the idea of a better future. Additionally, the repetition of the phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident” emphasises the importance of these words and their connection to the American Creed of freedom and equality.
A question that has a very obvious answer, which the author does not expect to receive. Often rhetorical questions are used to make the audience think deeply about a topic. They can also provide humour and sarcasm.
Example: “Did you know that thousands of plastic bags wash up on beaches each year?”
Sibilance sort of sounds like what it is! This technique is like alliteration, but when all ‘s’ sounds are used. It can add an air of mystery or danger to a character, or it can be soft and flowing.
Example: When the snake talks in The Jungle King movie, she often uses several ‘s’ words in a row to highlight her hissing and sound more dangerous.
This is a blanket term for techniques often used within a text to focus on the sounds words produce and how they relate to each other. This can be important for rhyming schemes and tempo.
You’ll find many examples of this in poetry or songs.
Example: Rhythm, rhyme, resonance, etc.
The strength or force of a word, with low modality words being passive while high modality words are forceful.
Characters giving speeches or rallying crowds would use high modality words, as they raise the intensity and strength of the language and scene.
This is one form of showing modality within a text. Exclamation marks generally suggest high modality, or shock, excitement and anger. This can express the tone of dialogue being written.
Example: “This is the best day of my life!” elicits a response of elation.
Tone and Mood
Like the atmosphere, tone or mood is about creating certain feelings within a text. This time, it focusses more on the emotions the author has towards very specific subjects, rather than the scene as a whole.
Example: The enemy? His sense of duty was no less that yours, I deem. You wonder what his name was, where he came from. And if he was really evil at heart. […] War will make corpses of us all.” (J. R. R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings)
This dialogue expresses a mood of distaste for war and that it only leads to death, reflecting Tolkien’s own views.
Syntax is all about specific sentence structure and how the construction of words into a sentence creates meaning. This is a huge topic (in fact, people do entire degrees on it).
In a simple sense, syntax affects the readability and tone of a certain text. Short sentences create urgency, while compound sentences can create a more passive flow.
Example: “I could hear him behind me. Just one step off. I ran. I ran.”
Grammatical and Story Structures
This type of language feature is used when a story or narrative has two meanings that are presented. One is overt, or obvious. The other may be metaphoric and hidden. Often, this second meaning forms commentary around social or political aspects of the narrative.
Example: Narnia is often viewed as an allegory for the Bible, with Aslan as a symbol of Jesus. This creates religious understanding that runs alongside the main plot.
Putting two sentences, people or situations that are entirely different next to each other or in immediate succession.
This technique can increase tension, help audiences weigh up different scenarios or allow characters to balance one another out.
Example: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Archetypes are incredibly important in shaping stories. These characters or objects have recognisable tropes, often progressed across different texts by various authors.
This technique can add an element of predictability or certainty to a piece, but it can also be subverted to create great plot twists.
Example: Cady in Mean Girls and Mia in The Princess Diaries fit the archetype of a nerdy girl who is transformed.
Atmosphere, or mood, is vital in creating a compelling story. It refers to the feeling created by a scene, situation or text. It’s often driven by careful word choice. You might think of it a little like mise en scène in a movie, but in written form.
Example: “It was a cruel day, the bright orange blaze ripped through the treetops as I stood and watched it ravage homes, helpless.”
Characters are first introduced in a certain light, then formed through the arc of the story, often by their own actions or the actions of those around them.
You know the characterisation of a person is strong if you can imagine how they would react in a situation they are not already in.
Example: Sybil in Downton Abbey is characterised as being forthright and rebellious. Through her relationships, her empathetic side is drawn out.
Overused expressions that create instant meaning. Sometimes cliches can be annoying, but when used effectively, they create humour and momentum.
Example: “He ran like the wind.”
The time, place and social setting in which a text was written or set. Often, this determines the values and perspectives within a certain text.
It’s important to understand three kinds of contexts within text. First, we have literary (what was being written and created at the time of writing), historical (what was going on in the border world when the text was written), and personal (who the author was and what they had experienced).
On top of this, there’s also the internal context of where the text is set, which may be different from the context of when it was written.
Example: Picasso’s painting ‘Guernica’ was informed by the context of pre-WW2 Europe, so Picasso used blue and red in the work to symbolise anti-war sentiment.
A flashback is a literary device in which the narrative of a story shifts to a previous time period or event. Flashbacks are often used to provide additional context or backstory for a character, setting, or plot, and can be used to reveal important information or character development.
Example: Consider the following passage from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”:
“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced–or seemed to face–the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
In this passage, the narrator describes a smile that he had seen in the past. The description of the smile is a flashback, as it shifts the narrative to a previous time period. The purpose of the flashback is to provide context for the relationship between the narrator and the person who smiled, and to suggest that the relationship was a significant and memorable one.
Linear and Non-linear Narrative
Narratives in this context are about how a text is structured to create meaning.
Linear narratives follow the same time sequence as our usual days — always moving forward, in sequential order. A non-linear narrative jumps around in time to draw the audience’s attention to different elements.
You will notice that it’s quite rare for a novel or movie to be purely linear, as some non-linear elements break up pacing.
Example: The Age of Adeline is a film that follows a non-linear narrative.
Sometimes, texts present a ‘story within a story’, where the main narrative is being told by someone outside of the narrative itself. This can add suspense of an extra layer of context.
Example: In Little Women, Jo tells the story through her book by the same name.
When a text references another text, it’s known as intertextuality. This can be very overt, or it can be an allusion designed only for those who know both texts to pick up on it.
Example: Ten Things I Hate About You is based on and makes references to Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew.
When a situation is hinted at before it actually occurs. This is usually done by drawing audience attention to a particular subject or item that drops hints.
Example: In Juno, the main character by the same name starts displaying pregnancy symptoms before she actually takes a test.
The location that a narrative is placed in, like an internal context. This often affects the arc of the story.
Example: Abandoned castles and stormy moors are classic settings used in Gothic texts, while teen dramas are typically set in high schools and suburban towns.
The structure of a text that comes from the text type, broader context and stylistic choices of the author. This may include the way language is structured or different sentence choices.
Example: Divergent and The Hunger Games are both survival young adult novels, yet the authors’ choices and context of writing create differing themes.
An object or subject that symbolises a much larger element of the story. Hero characters often have a symbol attached as a way to enhance meaning and importance.
Example: Superman is symbolised by his cape, Katniss by a Mockingjay, etc.
Sometimes elements are intentionally left out of a text by the author. This is called omission, and it leaves a level of ambiguity for audiences to ‘fill in the blank’. Sometimes, an ending scenario can be implied but this is not always the case.
Example: At the end of the book, The Great Gatsby, the audience isn’t told explicitly what happens to each character, but they are given enough information to infer an ending.
Like so many language features, parallels create a contrast between two characters or plot points, allowing links to be formed between them. This is often seen if two plots run next to each other, or two characters with similar features but differing stories are introduced.
Example: In the film, Fantastic Mr Fox, Ash follows his father and lives a younger version of his life. However, he makes different decisions that reveal Mr Fox’s mistakes to himself.
When you give a non-human object feelings or senses, you are using pathetic fallacy. This is most commonly associated with weather.
Example: “The wind was angry as it ran through the trees.”
Point of View
Point of view refers to the perspective from which a story or narrative is told. It is the way that the author chooses to present the events of a story to the reader. There are three main points of view: first-person, second-person, and third-person.
First-person point of view is when the story is told from the perspective of a character within the story, using “I” or “we”. For example, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” the narrator is Nick Carraway, who tells the story from his own perspective. He says, “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” The reader experiences the events of the story through Nick’s eyes, and only knows what he knows.
Second-person point of view is less common in literature and is when the story is told directly to the reader, using “you.” An example of second-person point of view is Jay McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City,” in which the author speaks directly to the protagonist, saying, “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.”
Third-person point of view is when the story is told by a narrator outside of the story, using “he,” “she,” or “they.” The narrator may be omniscient (knowing everything about the characters and their thoughts), limited omniscient (knowing some, but not all, of the characters’ thoughts and feelings), or objective (reporting only the facts). An example of third-person point of view is Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in which the story is told by an omniscient narrator who is not a character in the story. The narrator says, “Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it.”
The choice of point of view can greatly impact the way a story is received by the reader, and different points of view can create different effects and meanings in a story.
In literature, a theme is a central idea or message that the author wants to convey to the reader. Themes can be expressed in various ways, such as through the characters, setting, plot, or symbolism of a work. A theme is often universal and can be applied to the human experience in general, rather than specific to a particular story or character.
Example: In William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet”, one of the main themes is the destructive power of hatred and the consequences of feuding. Throughout the play, the hatred between the Capulet and Montague families drives the actions of the characters, ultimately leading to the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet.
The theme of hatred and feuding is expressed through the actions of the characters, such as the street brawls, the harsh words exchanged between the families, and the way the characters treat each other. The theme is also reflected in the setting, which is a city torn apart by conflict and violence.
When a story is structured to provide the audience with an ‘inside scoop’ that characters do not know about. This is often shown through different phrasing to create tension.
Example: In Hamlet, revolving scenes allow the audience to see who is plotting to kill, without it being given away to characters. This creates suspense and betrayals of trust.
There you have it!
Now you have a complete guide to English language features, it’s time to put them into practice! Refer back to this list as you keep progressing in your studies.
On the hunt for other English resources, aside from language features?
Check out some of our other articles and guides below:
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- How to Elevate Your Essays in English Using the Thesis + 3 Technique
- How to Make Your Essay Stand Out in HSC English with a Strong Thesis Statement
- The Complete Guide to Writing an Analytical Essay for QCE English
- QCE English: The Ultimate Guide to Achieving an A
- The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Recount in Primary School
- How to Write an Extended Response in High School
- Band 6 Guide to Year 11 Advanced English Module B: Critical Study of Literature
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Lucinda Garbutt-Young hopes to one day be writing for a big-shot newspaper… or maybe just for a friendly magazine in the arts sector. Right now, she is enjoying studying a Bachelor of Public Communication (Public Relations and Journalism) at UTS while she writes on the side. She also loves making coffees for people in her job as a barista, and loves nothing more than a sun shower.