Guide to Literary Terms

Start Free Trial

What is the definition of genre?

The definition of genre is a categorization or grouping of created works, be they artistic, musical, or literary, that share certain characteristics such as form or content but also sometimes style, target audience, and mood.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated October 25, 2022.

A literary genre is a category of written composition that has a particular subject, form, or style. Poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction are all genres of literature, and all can be further divided into subcategories that are also called genres (e.g. fiction is subdivided into realism, science fiction, etc.). 

The word “genre” first appeared in Middle French, and was defined as “kind, style.”

Ancient Greek literature was categorized into rigidly defined genres. Dramatic works could be comedies, tragedies, or satyr plays (though few of the latter have survived). Poetic works were divided into lyric poems, which were shorter poems written in first person that convey an individual’s experiences, and epic poems, which were long narrative poems usually written in third person that feature legendary characters.

From the Renaissance through the late 18th century, literary critics frequently judged texts on “laws of kind,” evaluating the degree to which they adhered to the conventions of established genres. Genres themselves were often viewed hierarchically, with epics and tragedies seen as superior to lyric poetry and comedies. 

Modern literature places less of an emphasis on genre. While many modern texts can be easily classified into particular genres, there are also many popular works that are admired for their ability to transcend genre boundaries. For example, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a book-length work that combines poetry, prose, critical theory, and visual art. And Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, with its patterned series of imaginative vignettes, exists at the nexus of the novel, short fiction, and prose poetry.

see: comedy, black comedy, fantasy, science fiction, epic, essay, novel, short story, tragedy, satire

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access