Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of diction?

The definition of diction is an author or speaker’s choice of words.


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Diction refers to an author or speaker’s choice of words. The diction used in a text often changes based on context or setting and helps to convey the writer’s tone and meaning while setting the mood. Diction can be divided into two main categories: formal and informal.

Formal diction typically involves elevated language, a lofty tone, complex words, an adherence to the traditional rules of syntax and grammar, and an absence of contractions.

Correct example:

  • “That is no country for old men. The young In one another’s arms, birds in the trees —Those dying generations—at their song, The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies. Caught in that sensual music all neglect Monuments of unageing intellect.” (William Butler Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”)

Informal diction has a more conversational tone and includes the kinds of words, phrases, and syntax used in everyday speech, including contractions, colloquial language, and slang.

Correct example:

  • “I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy. I mean, that's all I told D.B. about, and he's my brother and all. He's in Hollywood. That isn't too far from this crumby place.” (J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye)

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