Learn English Literature Online

Learn English Literature Online

Literature can be defined as the sum of written and sometimes spoken material. As a subject, it can be simply defined as the study of written work. Throughout the history, various definitions have been used to interpret literature. Literature can be also defined as artistic works with a high and lasting artistic value.

Literature is categorized according to various forms; it can be classified as fiction and nonfiction. It can be categorized as verse and prose as well. It can be further divided into major literary formats such as poems, drama, novel, and short story. Literature can be studied under various classifications such as time period, geographical locations, theme, etc. (Classical literature, French literature, Colonial literature, medieval literature, Modern literature, Romantic period, etc.) In this article, we hope to discuss these various categories of classifications.

Major Forms of Literature

Literature can be principally categorized into various forms based on their structure. Prose and verse are a major classification of literature. These two categories can be further classified.

  • Prose

Prose can be defined as written or spoken language in its ordinary form, as opposed to verse or poetry. Novels, novellas, and short stories can be identified as the main three categories of prose.

  • Novel

Novel is the longest genre of narrative prose fiction in modern literature. It is a long narrative in prose that describes fictional characters and events.

  • Short story

A short story is a brief narrative in prose that describes fictional characters and events.

  • Novella

A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative that is shorter than a novel and longer than a short story

These forms can be of different genres and styles; some works fall under more than one type. It is important to note that most of these genres are relevant to novels and novellas.

Different Types or Genres of Literature

  • Historical

Historical fiction, as the name itself suggests, is a literary genre wherein the plot takes place in a setting or backdrop located in the past. Historical fiction can take various forms. They can depict real historical figures in imagined situations, fictional characters in real historical situations or depict fictional characters in a fictional situation while portraying a real historical period. There can be other variations as well.

  • Picaresque

Picaresque is a genre of fiction where the hero – typically a rough character from low social class who lives by his wits – goes through a series of adventures.  The Adventures of Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett, Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding, the Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow are some examples of picaresque novels.

  • Sentimental

Also known as the novel of sensibility, this is a literary genre from the 18th century. It focuses on the emotional and intellectual concepts of sentiment, sensibility and sentimentalism.

  • Gothic

Gothic fiction is a style of writing that is characterized by elements such as horror, death, fear, and gloom, and  romantic elements like nature, individuality, and very high emotion. The setting of the story is generally an old, decrepit houses or castles in depressing, lifeless, fear-inducing landscapes.

  • Psychological

Psychological is a genre that focuses on the complex mental and emotional status of the characters. It analyzes the thoughts, motivations, and feelings and emphasizes on the interior characterization.

  • Bildungsroman

Bildungsroman is a novel of education or a coming age of story which plots the moral and psychological growth of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood.

  • Epistolary

Epistolary is a genre that is written as a series of documents. An epistolary novel is usually in the form of letters (more common), diary entries, newspaper clippings, etc.

  • Detective, mystery, thriller

These genres deal with mystery, crime, and suspense. The works that belong to these genres are characterized by suspense, excitement, anticipation, surprise, and anxiety.

  • Western

Western fiction is a genre that features American old West frontier as the settings. The stories are typically set from late eighteenth century to late nineteenth century.

  • Science fiction

Science fiction is a genre based on imagined future scientific or technological advances and major social or environmental changes. 

  • Social Novel

Social novel is a work of fiction where an existing social problem, such as race, class prejudice or gender, is dramatized through its effect on the characters of a novel.

  • Fantasy

Fantasy is a literary genre that uses supernatural elements as the main plot element, theme, or setting.Verse


Poems are the main literary compositions that are written in can verse form. They can be further classified into different categories based on their structure and content.


  • Elegy

An elegy is a special type of lyric which expresses sorrow, woe and despair. It is a lament of personal bereavement and sorrow, characterized by the sincerity of emotion and expression. Read more about elegy.

  • Ballad

A ballad is a narrative poem that was traditionally set to music. It is characterized by it’s narrative nature. Read more about ballad.

  • Blank Verse

Blank verse is poetry written in regular metrical but unrhymed lines. Read more about blank verse.

  • Cinquain

 A Cinquain poem is a classic poetic form that uses a five-line pattern. Read more about cinquain poems.

  • Diamante

Diamante poem is a style of poetry that is composed of seven lines. Read more about diamante poems.

  • Sonnet

Sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines using any of a number of formal rhyme schemes. Read more about sonnets.

  • Free Verse

Free verse is a form of poetry that does not use a consistent meter, rhyme or any other pattern. Read more about free verse.

  • Ode

An ode is an elaborately structured poem that celebrates or praises people, nature or abstract ideas. Read more about odes.


Drama can be either a prose composition or verse composition. It can be categorized into three major types based on the content and nature of the drama.

In addition to this major classification, literature can be further categorized according to different styles,  periods, movements and even according to geographical locations.

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Literary Periods

Literary work or authors can be also classified according to different movements and periods. Literature created in the same era generally portray common themes and styles; therefore, literary pieces can be classified according to the time period it was created.

  • Medieval Literature

Medieval literature studies the that belongs to the middle ages. (5th – 15th century). It is characterized by concepts such as chivalry, courtly love and religion. Read more about medieval literature.

  • Renaissance Literature

Renaissance Literature is the literature from 15th to the early 17th century. The introduction of the printing press had a huge impact on this period. Read more about renaissance literature.

  • Romanticism

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century. Read more about romanticism.

  • Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism was an idealistic philosophical and literary movement that took place in the mid-19th century.

  • Victorian Literature

Victorian literature is the literature produced during the reign of Queen Victoria. The novel played an important role in this era.

  • Realism

Realism is a literary movement that began in the middle of the nineteenth century in France and spread across Europe. It was characterized by the representation of real life. Read more about realism.

  • Naturalism

Naturalism proceeded from realism is often referred to as a logical outgrowth of literary Realism. Read more about naturalism.

  • Modernism

Modernism is a late 19th century and early 20th-century style, or movement that aims to depart significantly from classical and traditional forms. Read more about modernism.

  • The Beat Generation

The beat generation refers to a group of authors who explored and influenced the American culture in the post second war era.

  • Existentialism

Existentialism is a literary movement of the mid-twentieth century. Existentialist writers believed the fact that man has the freedom to choose his own fate.

  • Post Modernism

Postmodernism is a  late 20th-century style and concept which represents a departure from modernism and is characterized by the deliberate use of earlier styles and conventions, a mixing of different styles and forms, and a general distrust of theories. Read more about postmodernism.

Main Components of a Literary Work

A literary work is generally appreciated, criticized based on its main components. Main components of a literary work include:

  • Tone

Tone is the attitude of the author towards a subject, which can be determined by the author’s use of words and detail. Read more about Tone.

  • Characterization

The setting in a literary work refers to the place and time the story takes place. Read more about the setting.

  • Plot

The plot is the sequence of events and happenings that make up of a story. A plot consists of five main elements.

  • Exposition
  • Rising Action
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Resolution

Read more about the plot.

  • Conflict

Conflict is the struggle between two forces, which gives the story a direct. Read more about conflict.

  • Diction

Diction refers to the specific choice of words by a speaker or a writer. Read more about diction.

  • Mood

The mood is the atmosphere or the emotional setting created by a piece of literary work. Read more about mood.

  • Theme

Theme is the central concept or the underlying message that is conveyed through a piece of writing. Read more about theme in a fiction.

 Literary Devices

A literary device, also known as a figure of speech, is a specific language technique used by writers create interesting, and unforgettable quality work.

  • Allegory: a story or poem which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. Read more about allegory.
  • Alliteration: the occurrence of the same consonant sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. Read more about alliteration.
  • Allusion: a brief reference to a famous historical or literary figure or event or work of literature. Read more about allusion.
  • Amplification: refers to a rhetorical device that involves extending a sentence in order to elaborate, exaggerate and emphasize certain points in a description, definition or argument. Read more about amplification.
  • Anagram: a type of word play that creates a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another word or phrase. Read more about anagram here.
  • Analogy:  a comparison between two things that quite different and unrelated. Read more about analogy.
  • Anastrophe
  • Anecdote: a short, amusing or interesting story that concerns real people and incidents. Read more about anecdote
  • Anthropomorphism: the attribution of human characteristics and qualities to animals or other non-human beings. Read more about anthropomorphism
  • Antithesis: the contradiction of ideas, words, clauses, or sentences within a balanced grammatical structure. Read more about antithesis.
  • Aphorism: a brief statement that employs a matter of fact tone to state a truth or an opinion in a witty manner. Read more about aphorism.
  • Archetype: a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature that represents universal patterns of human nature. Read more about archtype.
  • Assonance: the repetition of a vowel sound in a phrase or a sentence. Read more about assonance
  • Asyndeton: the deliberate omission of conjunctions. Read more about asyndeton.
  • Authorial Intrusion:  a literary technique where the author directly addresses the readers. Read more about authorial intrusion.
  • Cacophony: the deliberate use of unmelodious, harsh, dissonant sounds in a line or sentence. Read more about cacophony.
  • Caesura: a short rhythmic pause found within a line. Read more about caesura.
  • Chiasmus: a rhetorical device where the second half of an expression is balanced against the first with the parts reversed, in order to make a larger point. Read more about chiasmus.
  • Circumlocution: a rhetorical device where the writer uses exaggeratedly long and complex sentences with the intention of expressing a meaning that could have otherwise been conveyed through a shorter, much simpler sentence. Read more about circumlocution.
  • Connotation: the meaning that is implied by the word, rather than its literal meaning. Read more about connotation.
  • Consonance: the repetition of consonant sounds in words that are in close proximity. Read more about consonance.
  • Denotation: the primary, literal meaning or the dictionary meaning of a word. Read more about denotation
  • Deus ex Machina: an unexpected character, object, or situation which appears unexpectedly to help the protagonist. Read more about deus ex machina.
  • Doppelganger:  a character that is the look-alike who acts as a foil to another character. Read more about doppelganger
  • Double entendre:  a word or phrase open to two interpretations, one of which is usually indecent or sexually suggestive. Read more about double entendre.
  • Ekphrastic: a response to another visual work of art such as a sculpt, painting or performance. Read more about ekphrastic.
  • Enjambment: the continuation of a sentence from one line to another, without terminal punctuation. Read more about enjambment.
  • Epilogue: a short section found at the end of the book. Read more about epilogue.
  • Epigram: a pithy saying or remark expressing an idea in a clever and amusing way. Read more about epigram.
  • Epithet: a descriptive term for a person, place, or a thing that have come into common usage. Read more about epithet.
  • Euphemism
  • Euphony:  a literary device which refers to the harmonious fusion of words and sounds. Read more about euphony.
  • Faulty Parallelism
  • Flashback: a literary device that interrupts the chronological sequence of the plot in order to recall an earlier happening. Read more about flashback.
  • Foil: a character that has opposing characteristics to another character. Read more about foil.
  • Foreshadowing: a literary device in which the author hints what is to come. Read more about foreshadowing.
  • Hamartia:  a flaw or error in the protagonist that leads to a chain of events that culminates in the downfall of the protagonist. Read more about hamartia.
  • Hubris: the extreme pride and arrogance of a character that brings about his downfall. Read more about hubris.
  • Hyperbole: a literary device that deliberately uses exaggeration for the sake of emphasis. Read more about hyperbole.
  • Imagery: refers to the effect of an author’s use of vivid and descriptive language to add depth to his writing. Read more about imagery.
  • Internal Rhyme: a poetic device which refers to the use of rhyming words within a single line or between phrases across multiple lines. Read more about internal rhyme.
  • Irony: a literary device where the intended meaning of words is different from the actual meaning of the words. Read more about irony.
  • Juxtaposition: a figure of speech in which two contrasting concepts, objects, places, characters or their qualities are placed side by side in order to highlight their differences and similarities. Read more about juxtaposition.
  • Litotes: a special form of understatement where a positive statement is expressed by a negative statement. Read more about litotes.
  • Malapropism: the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance. Read more about malapropism.
  • Metaphor: a rhetorical figure of speech that makes an implicit comparison between two unrelated things. Read more about metaphor.
  • Metonymy: a figure of speech in which the name of an idea or thing is substituted for another name that the original name is closely associated with. Read more about metonymy.
  • Motif:  a recurring element, idea or concept that has a symbolic value in a text. Read more about motif.
  • Nemesis: the agent or deliverer of justice who punishes the evil characters. Read more about nemesis.
  • Onomatopoeia: a word that phonetically imitates, resembles or suggests the source of the sound that it describes. Read more about onomatopoeia
  • Oxymoron: the use of two contradictory words together. Read more about oxymoron.
  • Paradox: a literary device where some seemingly contrasting ideas are juxtaposed, in order to reveal a hidden or unexpected truth. Read more about paradox.
  • Pathetic Fallacy: a literary device that involves the attribution of human qualities and characteristics to inanimate objects of nature. Read more about pathetic fallacy.
  • Periphrasis
  • Personification: the attribution of human characteristics to something nonhuman, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form. Read more about personification.
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton: a figure of speech which refers to the use of several conjunctions, especially the same conjunction, in quick succession. Read more about polysyndeton.
  • Portmanteau: the linguistic blend of words in which multiple words and their meanings are combined together to form a new word. Read more about portmanteau.
  • Prologue: a separate, introductory section that appears as the beginning of a literary work. Read more about prologue.
  • Puns: a word play which exploits different possible meanings of a word or similarity in appearance and sound between two words. Read more about puns.
  • Rhythm: the measured flow of words and phrases as measured by the relation of long and short or stressed and unstressed syllables. Read more about rhythm.
  • Rhyme: the correspondence of sound between words, especially when these are used at the ends of lines of poetry. Read more about rhyme.
  • Satire: the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize the failings and limitations of the society and its individuals. Read more about satire.
  • Simile: a literary device that makes a direct comparison between two things. Read more about Simile.
  • Spoonerism: the practice of interchanging the corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes between two words in a phrase. Read more about spoonerism
  • Stanza: a group of lines in a poem. Read more about stanza.
  • Stream of consciousness: a method of narration that depicts countless thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind. Read more about stream of consciousness.
  • Suspense: a state, feeling of anxiety, nervousness or excitement caused by uncertainty about what may happen. Read more about suspense.
  • Symbolism: the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities. Read more about symbolism.
  • Synecdoche:  a figure of speech where a word or phrase that refers to a part of something is used to represent the whole or vice versa. Read more about synecdoche.
  • Synesthesia:  a literary device where one sense is described in terms of another. Read more about synesthesia.
  • Tragic Flow: a trait in a character which leads to his or her demise. Read more about tragic flaw.
  • Understatement: a form of speech that minimizes the significance of something. Read more about understatement.
  • Verisimilitude: the quality of seeming true or of having the appearance of being real. Read more about verisimilitude.

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