Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

The literary definition of foreshadowing is a moment in a story that hints to the reader about a notable event later in the tale, usually a tragic moment. While the reader is given a hint of what is to come, the characters are generally kept in the dark. 

Illustration of PDF document

Download Guide to Literary Terms Study Guide

Subscribe Now

A common literary device, foreshadowing hints at what will come later in the story and is often used to create suspense. It is achieved through the author’s use of clues and/or subtle suggestions, sometimes a quote with which a character accidentally predicts their demise, sometimes the appearance of an object that will play a part in an unforeseen tragedy, or even a word of warning directly from the narrator to the reader. Foreshadowing is usually quite subtle and is often only fully noticed or understood after a second reading of the work. Please keep in mind foreshadowing occurs when there has been a significant interval of time between the clue and the event that it foreshadows.

Correct example:

“I fear too early, for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night’s revels, and expire the term
Of a despisèd life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
But he that hath the steerage of my course,
Direct my sail. On, lusty gentlemen.” (Act I, Scene IV)

In this excerpt from Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s feelings of trepidation quite clearly foreshadow his eventual demise.

Incorrect examples:

“Two households, both alike in dignity
(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil...

(The entire section contains 420 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Guide to Literary Terms study guide. You'll get access to all of the Guide to Literary Terms content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Introduction
  • Complete Index
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Free Verse


Literary Genre