Language and Linguistics

Types of literary language elements and examples

Literary language

Literary language or poetic language is called the mode of use of the common and everyday language that is made in works of literature: poetry, narrative, and dramaturgy, as well as in other forms of discourse such as oratory. This use of the language is characterized by emphasizing how things are said, rather than what is said. In this article we will explain the types of literary language.

Literary language is governed by different rules from ordinary and everyday language, since in the latter the economy of language (how to say more by saying less) and the clarity of the message is always privileged, while literary language pursues, among other things, a standard of artistic beauty.

The latter can be achieved through various techniques and modifications, such as rhyme and musicality, metaphor, repetition, or even forms of the syntax that are not usual in everyday language. In that sense, literary language is much more free and creative in some things, but more controlled and traditional in others.

As said, literary language is a particular formulation of ordinary language, taking into account aspects of artistic, philosophical, and aesthetic value, rather than simply communicative ones. It is a special mode of use, whose objective is to produce artistic works with the word, which are known as literary texts.

A poem, a novel, even a speech delivered before a rostrum or a prayer, are examples of the use of language for purposes other than those pursued by a note on the refrigerator or a phone call to the cable company.

In them, language alters its usual rules and explores the limits of what can be said and how to find new forms of expression of the deep contents of the human spirit.

The poetic function of language

Language scholars such as the Russian linguist Roman Jakobson, propose that verbal language be handled through different functions such as the appellate function (reprimand the other to do something that one wishes), the expressive function (communicate to whoever listens to the state of mind of the issuer) and the poetic function of language.

This poetic function is distinguished from the others in that it is concerned with the communicated message, its forms, its codes, its references, and its beauty, instead of focusing on the “useful” result obtained. It is the characteristic function of literary language.

Literary genres

Literary language, common to all written and oral arts, should not be confused with literary genres. Although the literary language is always found in action in the latter, they are different things.

Literary genres are the categories into which literature is divided, such as poetry, narrative, dramaturgy, and essays. The poetic language is present in each and every one of them.

Types of literary language

Texts written with literary language are classified into genres. The main genres are:


He is the one who tells a story. There are many kinds of narrative texts, according to the length of the story and the number of characters involved in it. Thus, we have short stories, such as stories, fables and legends; and other more extensive and complex ones, such as novels.

A classic example is the novel The Ingenious Knight Don Quixote de la Mancha , by Miguel de Cervantes.


Poetic language expresses the feelings and thoughts of the author, almost always in verse. It may or may not have rhyme and meter; in the latter case we speak of blank or free verse.


It is the text of the scripts of the plays. It is narrative and also poetic, because it not only tells a story, but also the speeches of the characters can achieve great poetic beauty, as occurs in the dramas of Shakespeare, Pedro Calderón de La Barca or in Greek tragedies.


In an essay the author reflects or gives an opinion on any topic from a personal point of view. The essay can include narrative passages, and his writing, which uses all the rhetorical figures that he considers appropriate, reaches a high aesthetic quality with some authors.

Elements of literary language

Broadly speaking, literary language tends to:

  • Use cultisms and infrequent or old words.
  • Use figures of speech to embellish the text.
  • Contradict the norms of a common language.
  • Make room for large forms of subjectivity (fiction).
  • Use the connotation above the denotation (secondary meanings of the words, which refer not only to the direct and real referent).

Difference between literary language and everyday language

In principle, there is no difference between the two and they tend to feed on each other. There are no words more literary than others, nor specific rules about it.

In general, this difference is understood as a matter of use: no one speaks in the street in verse, or with rhetorical figures that complicate or hinder communication, except when reciting a poem, singing a song, or giving a speech with the purpose of moving, causing an impression

Examples of literary language

Some simple examples of literary language are:

  • “Walker there is no path / the path is made by walking” – Poem by Antonio Machado ( Spain ).
  • “When Gregorio Samsa woke up one morning after a restless sleep, he found himself on his bed turned into a monstrous insect” – Phrase from a story by Franz Kafka (Czechoslovakia).
  • “You, who make the great weapons / You, who build the planes of death / You, who build all the bombs / You, who hide behind walls / You, who hide behind desks / I just want you to know / That I can see them through their masks ”- Verses from a song by Bob Dylan (USA).

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