What Is Literature?: The word ‘literature is an offshoot of the word ‘literate’ which means ‘able to read and write’. In this sense, literature can be used to describe all printed materials which give instruction, information, etc.


Distinction between Written and Oral Literature

The beginning of literature itself in all societies is basically oral where people chant songs, for instance, at the community gatherings, social occasions or even at work. This is usually done with some lyrical qualities which purely express themselves and pass from generation to generation in their oral forms. Stories and folklores were usually preserved in the memory of people through the generations.

Thus, the primitive level of literature was in the oral form before the advent of the art of writing.

With the development of writing came the preservation of literature in visible notational forms. The art of writing tends to make literary materials (otherwise having a tendency of getting lost early) to be long-lasting when preserved in black and white. Written Literature can therefore be seen as the embodiment of Literature in written form either handwritten or printed.


Functions and Advantages of Literature

1. Literature performs certain functions both for society

2. Literature performs the purpose of entertainment

3. A means of propagation of history, culture and politics.

4. It serves as a means of informing society.

5. Teaching of morality.

6. Improves audience’s use of language.



1. Simile: This is a direct comparison between two things of different nature or class but with a striking similarity in a particular aspect by the use of such words like “as” and “like”. The two things compared must be of different nature or class, e.g. shoe to a charcoal whereby we may say “My shoes are as black as charcoal.

2. Metaphor: This is a device which the poetic “turns” on a meaning are achieved. In this we compare two things by stating one thing as another though not physically but in quality, e.g. “Gbenga is a lion on the field”.

3. Personification This is the idea of representing an object or an idea with a person or an action only capable of being done by a human being. It thus means the endowment of non-living thing with human attributes. For example:

“The sun travelled gently from east to west”.

4. Apostrophe: Here, a person talks to another who is not physically present or even to an object which is incapable of listening e g talking to somebody dead as if he is present. For example, if I say ‘lfa! Why have you done this to me?”

5. Paradox: This is a statement of fact or truth which on the face of it may look contradictory, untrue or even absurd. e. “He, who must die shall live and he who must live shall die”.

6. Oxymoron: This is a contradictory expression whereby two words of opposite meanings are placed together. E.g: She kept on moaning in the “painful pleasure” of the act.

7. Antithesis: This is the figure of speech whereby a word in a statement may be used to contrast the whole statement or a clause contrasting another or sentences in a statement contrasting each other. For example, “poverty is the fruit of all goodness”, “money is the root of all evils”.

8. Epigram: Epigram is a short witty saying. It often embodies apparent contradiction and some bit of satire. It is used often to express ideas in a brief and memorable manner.

Example: Every poet is a fool, agreed,

But not every fool is a poet.

9. Synecdoche: In this literary figure, we try to represent a whole by using a part or at times a part to represent a whole. Example: “By the last headcount, Nigeria was said to be

eighty-eight million in population.

10. Metonymy: This literary device uses a name of an object commonly associated with a person to describe the person. This may be a staff of office or an instrument commonly associated with a person. E.g. The crown pursues nobody. “Crown” here stands for the king.

11. Antoriomasia: Here we use proper name in place of a general class or idea for which it is a representative. This means that the one and the other share certain qualities making them comparable to each other. For example, Wole Soyinka is often called William Shakespeare of our time.

12. Symbolism: This is the idea of using symbols to convey messages. When a symbol is used in Literature, the purpose is to give it a meaning which goes beyond the physical representation merely.

13. Alliteration: This is the repetitive use of the same consonant sound at the beginning of two or more words on the same line. Thus we may have “bouncing baby boy”.

14. Assonance: This is like a direct opposite of alliteration. Instead of the consonant sounds as we have in alliteration, the object of concern here is the use of recurring initial vowel sounds which are quite close to one another. Examples are: Shit on sheet of foul aloud. The bat is back in a bad basket.

15. Hyperbole: Here we use conscious exaggeration without the intent of literal persuasion. Hyperbole may be used to produce a heightened effect or to produce some comic effect. We may say: “The man is taller than the Cocoa House in Ibadan”.

16. Irony: This term refers to the recognition of a reality different from its masking appearance. Here, double meaning is put forward for appreciation. It could be verbal, dramatic situational or historical irony.

17. Sarcasm: As said above, this is seemingly an ‘ironical statement: It’s a form of verbal irony in which, under the guise of praise, a caustic, bitter expression of strong and personal disapproval is given. For example: ‘Yes, you are the voice of the people. When you die, wisdom will die with you”. Job 12 vs 1-2

18. Euphemism: This is a deliberate act of expressing horror or unpleasantness in a mild way. It uses an indirect statement in substitution for a direct one in an effort to avoid bluntness. It lessens the harshness and the shock it might give the ears and mind if spoken in its raw sense Example: “Olu has kicked the bucket”.

19. Climax: This is the arrangement of ideas, items in an ascending order. Here, one starts from the lowest to the highest. The effect is to arouse suspense in a listener or reader. For instance, if I say: Adeoye lost his pen, his money, two children and his beautiful wife, all in a single day”.

20. Pun: Pun simply means “playing upon words”. It may be used in a way repetitive of a particular word while its meaning may not be really apparent. Listen to this: “Ism to ism for ism is isms of isms and isms on absolute ism”_ Wole Soyinka – Kongi’s Harvest

21. Anti-Climax: This is the opposite of climax. It progresses from the highest to the lowest. It’s the arrangement of ideas, items or events in a descending order. If I say, “Olatunde lost his wife, his child, shoes and a Bic biro in an accident”.

22. Pathetic Fallacy: In this figure of speech, we credit nature with human qualities. Here, it could be a commiseration with human beings in a state of grief or nature celebrating with human beings in a state of happiness. It is used to heighten the effect of a particular event. For example: “The interment of Awolowo was a mystery. The rainbow gloomily sliced across the sky. The friendly sun refused to shine on earth. It was like the world was coming to an end. As followers proceeded towards the mausoleum”.

23. Innuendo: This is another ironical figure of speech. It is an insinuation or indirect suggestion, often with harmful or sinister connotation. It’s a clever way of passing unpleasant comments. For example, we may say Babatunde is a very honest man, especially with matters unconnected with money”.

24. Prolepsis: This is an anachronistic statement in which an event that had not taken place is treated as having taken place. It is a sort of anticipation in which events anticipated are taken as if they had already passed. A student anticipating the results of his WASC examinations may boastfully say to his mates:

“This is Mr. B. A. Jaguar, the man with Al” in English Language and seven other distinctions”.

25. Litotes or Meiosis: This is a form of understatement in which a thing is affirmed by stating the negative or its opposite. Here, a positive statement is put in a negative way. In most situations, we find words like “no” or “not” being employed in making a litotic statement. For instance; “I am a citizen of no mean city”.

26. Onomatopoeia: When a word is used to suggest its meaning, it is referred to as onomatopoeia. Thus, onomatopoeia in Literature means a word, which through its sound, its meaning can be directly inferred. At times, we refer to this literary term as echoic verse. For example, “I bobbed up belly-wise”.

27. Chiasmus: This figure of speech achieves a contrast by reversal of clauses, this is a reversal of words by corresponding phrases occurring in a sentence For example, “Do not think of what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.

28. Hendiadys: Here we present a figure whereby a single idea is represented by two words joined by a conjunction Usually, it is a single thing that is done but we say it in such a way as if two or more things are done. For instance, instead of simply saying “Olu took his leave”, we may rather say: “Olu took his hat and his leave”.

This makes it look as if it were two things that were taken, “He gave the man a present and a nod”.

29. Bathos: This literary figure seeks to present a declining impression from something impressive to a ridiculous one. For example “it is better to live in hell than to die in heaven’.

30. Repetition: This is a rhetorical device of reiterating a word or phrase to secure emphasis. For example:

(i) “Twinkle twinkle little star”. (ii) ‘Rain, rain, rain go away”. (iii) “Out, out brief candle”.

31. Rhetorical Question: This is a question asked for literary effect in one’s writing or speech. It doesn’t require an answer. For example:

(i) Who prefers to live in war than to live in peace.

(ii) Why am I here?

(iii) When gold rusts, what will iron do?

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