What are the Types of Imagery

If you are a student of literature, at one time or another you must have wondered ‘what are the types of imagery’ as you have come across this technique in studying literary texts. First of all, let us see what imagery is. Imagery, as you know, is a literary technique that the writers use commonly in their creations. It is also one of the most effective techniques used to make the creations more attractive to the reader by helping the reader visualize what is going on in the story by creating mental pictures of the incidents that take place in the story.

Definition of Imagery

Imagery is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as follows. According to that, imagery is ‘the use of vivid or figurative language to represent objects, actions, or ideas.’ As we have discussed earlier, a writer uses his or her language to vividly describe the incidents of the story by addressing to our senses. The human body has five basic senses. They are vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. As there are five senses, there are five types of imagery as well. That is so that, each type of imagery can address to one of the five senses. Therefore, the five types of imagery are as follows.

• Visual imagery

• Auditory imagery

• Olfactory imagery

• Tactile imagery

• Gustatory imagery

Types of imagery

Visual imagery

Visual imagery is the use of figurative language to address our sense of vision. In that way, the reader can visualize what is happening in the story in her or his own mind. For example,

She ran through the dark, gloomy passage until she could see the exit.

Here, in this sentence, the two words ‘dark’ and ‘gloomy’ appeal to our sense of vision. These are two things that can only be experienced by seeing. So, when these words are used to describe the corridor in this sentence we imagine a corridor with dim light and somber atmosphere.

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‘She ran through the dark, gloomy passage’

















Auditory imagery

Auditory imagery is the use of figurative language to address to our sense of hearing. When we experience something happening in real life, we see what is happening as well as hear the sounds associated with what is happening. So, to create a complete mental picture in the minds of the reader about the incident in the story, the writer incorporates a description of the sounds too. For example,

The girl was kicking and screaming as she was dragged towards the altar.

In this sentence, the word screaming is used to address to our sense of hearing. Just as the word screaming is used, our mental picture of the girl who is dragged towards the altar comes to life as now we have sounds to make it more realistic.

Olfactory imagery

Olfactory imagery is the using figurative language to address to our sense of smell. Just imagine that an author is telling he saw some flowers in a field. They were beautiful yellow roses. As the wind was strong, some petals had been torn from the flowers. Up to this point, we can imagine how the flowers are there and how the wind is making the flower petals drop. Then, the author tells us with the wind, the aroma of the roses was carried to him. He was mesmerized by that wonderful, sweet smell.

A flower is always associated with its smell. So, our mental picture of these yellow roses becomes complete just as soon as the words ‘aroma, wonderful and sweet smell’ are used to describe the fragrance of the roses.

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Sweet smelling roses













Tactile imagery

Tactile imagery is addressing to our sense of touch. What we can feel from our hands, skin, is known as tactile imagery. For example,

She fell down on the soft mattress filled with swan feathers and exhaled happily.

As you can see, the word ‘soft’ describes what kind of touch this person could experience on the bed. With that we can feel the touch of a soft bed.

Gustatory Imagery

Gustatory imagery is using words to address to our taste buds. This way the writer is capable of making us taste the food he or she is describing in the story. For example,

The warm, sweet chocolate drink made her happy on that winter day.

With the words ‘warm and sweet’ we get to guess and recreate the taste of hot chocolate in our mind.


Imagery is one of the most commonly used technique in literature. Imagery is used to create a mental picture of the events that take place in the story. To make this mental picture complete, the authors use different types of imagery to address to our basic senses: vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. These different types of imagery are visual imagery, auditory imagery, olfactory imagery, tactile imagery and gustatory imagery. 


Images Courtesy:

  1. Dark corridor in Montacute House by IDS.photos (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  2. Yellow roses via Pixabay (Public Domain)

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