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English Writing Techniques: What Are They?

May 22, 2020
English Writing Techniques: What Are They?

English may be challenging due to many reasons:

  • The huge number of rules and, of course, exceptions
  • Specific word order
  • Many words are spelled and pronounced differently
  • Homophones (words with different meanings, different spelling but the same pronunciation)    
  • Not all synonyms are interchangeable
  • A large number of idioms (an expression or a phrase with figurative meaning)
  • A lot of regional dialects

Different literary techniques have been widely used for ages to enhance the writing process and make any piece of writing compelling for readers. Here are some of them.

1. Metaphor and simile

No real writer or poet can do without metaphors. A metaphor is a word or expression used in figurative meaning. Metaphorical writing is based on a comparison of an object or phenomenon with another object or phenomenon due to their common attribute. It may even draw a connection between contradictory things. This literary device allows you to make the text more vivid and emotional. A simile is an expression that uses words “like” or “as” to show the resemblance and can be found in our daily speech.


  • Her little sister’s hair was a golden river. This metaphor compares one’s hair to a river (two things that aren’t ordinarily connected). One could imagine that the hair was blond, long and curly, and those curls resembled river bends.
  • It looks like that selfish girl broke his heart into pieces. One’s heart can’t be literally broken; this only means are feeling sad and hurt as a result of an unhappy relationship.
  • I can’t believe that years go by so easily – the time is a thief! This metaphorical phrase compares time to a thief illustrating the point that our lives flash by really fast.
  • Her daughter’s smile was as bright as the morning sun. This is a typical simile, where a girl’s smile is compared to the morning sun. With its help, the author is able to verbalize an exceptionally cheerful smile.

2. Hyperbole

The word “hyperbole” comes from the Greek and means “excess“. Hyperbole is one of the means of enhancing an emotional assessment, which consists of the excessive exaggeration of any phenomena, quality, or property. This creates a more impressive image.


  • I’m so hungry I could eat a whole elephant. Obviously, “elephant” means a lot of food, not a literal animal.
  • I’ve told you a thousand times: I don’t want to be there! If we have to repeat something more than three times, it seems like a thousand, right?
  • Her parents are going to kill her when they find out about yesterday. In this case, the guilty person will only be punished, but using the word “kill” makes it clear that the punishment will be severe.
  • I am dying to meet my old friends from Canada! Such an expression is used when we really wait for something important or pleasant to happen.

Sometimes hyperbole gets confused with metaphor or simile. Though it also makes a comparison, it’s more of an overstatement that shouldn’t be taken seriously.

3. Alliterationconsonance, assonance

Alliteration is when you repeat one or more consonants at the beginning of each word to give the text more musicality and expressiveness. Tongue twisters may be a classic example of alliteration. Sometimes companies use alliteration in their names to make them catchy: PayPal, Coca-Cola, Chuckee Cheese’s. Consonance occurs when you repeat consonants within words (instead of the beginning). Here are some examples: pitter-patter, cheer, and beerborrow with sorrow. Assonance means the repetition of vowels within words: go slowbeneath the trees.  

These techniques, which are widely used in poetry, bring attention to specific words or sentences. Even ordinary writing becomes more appealing with the help of these literary devices.

4. Foreshadowing

This is the technique where a writer gives subtle or direct hints of what may happen further in the story. For instance, when a character sees black storm clouds gathering over his head, this is likely to foreshadow some dreadful events. A beautiful sunrise may foreshadow the beginning of something new, and ending to suffering. Simple words such as „You will regret it” may also be the case. Authors may use this technique to prepare the readers for a twist in the plot or some shocking event. Sometimes foreshadowing comes in the names. John Steinbeck used foreshadowing in his work “East of Eden” with his characters Caleb and Aron (their story was based on Cain and Abel).

5. Allusion

The allusion is a reference, often indirect or brief, to a person, thing, event, or place, which is historically or culturally significant. It may also refer to fictional characters or ideas. For example, by saying that “they were acting like Romeo and Juliet,” the author makes an allusion to Shakespeare’s characters. The allusion is quite a powerful technique, as it can simplify complex ideas. If you describe someone’s orchard as a “Garden of Eden”, readers will understand that it’s beautiful, filled with the aroma of ripe fruit, like the Biblical “garden of God”. Allusion deepens the writing and brings it to a whole new level.

6. Imagery

Imagery means using figurative language to represent objects or ideas while appealing to our physical senses. This technique may only associate with something visual, but it’s much more than this, as it engages sensory experience. Here are some examples to demonstrate the power of imagery:

  • Freshly cooked food, aromatic with spices, made her mouth water. This description appeals to the reader’s sense of smell.
  • The woman touched a soft silky fabric of her new dress. The words “soft” and “silky” appeal to our tactile sense.
  • Dogs were barking threateningly in the woods. This sentence evokes our sense of hearing.
  • This fresh and juicy peach is unbelievably sweet. Such a description has an effect on our gustatory sense.
  • The night forest was gloomy and pitch dark. “Gloomy” and “pitch dark” are visual images.

Imagery provides details that relate to smells, sounds, sights, and makes us feel like we’re in the same place as the characters.

7. Irony

The irony is the use of words where the intended meaning is the opposite of the actual meaning, so that “black” may actually be “white”. Look at these sentences that demonstrate verbal irony:

  • Your friends liked the party as much as cats like baths. My new worker is as friendly as a wolf.
  • That new guy forms the office is as sophisticated as a monkey.
  • What a great idea, genius! If someone says something foolish.

There is also situational irony, such as when you see someone walking a dog near the sign that says “No dogs allowed”.

8. Sarcasm

Sarcasm is an extreme, exaggerated form of irony. The word “sarcasm” comes from Greek and means “tear flesh”. This literary device is meant to mock and hurt someone using ironic or satiric comments, so it may be quite harsh. Here are some sarcastic expressions:

  • You don’t say! This phrase is used ironically when we aren’t really surprised.
  • Great, that’s just what I need right now! Used in case of some unfortunate or unexpected events. 
  • I absolutely love these ketchup stains on your shirt!  When we aren’t happy or even annoyed by someone’s appearance. 

Though these writing techniques are a wonderful tool, you must remember to use figurative language in moderation. Overcrowding your texts with these literary devices may lower the quality of your works. But when applied correctly, it will surely assist you in exploring the fascinating interactions between words.