Guide to Literary Terms Kenning

Start Your Free Trial

Download Guide to Literary Terms Study Guide

Subscribe Now


Kennings are compound phrases that can replace a noun. Kennings have to have a figurative or metaphorical component—in fact, they are sometimes referred to as compressed metaphors. They are most often found in Old English and Old Norse literary works.

Correct example:

  • “Battle-sweat”
  • This is a kenning from Beowulf that refers to blood.

Incorrect example:

  • “Son of Ecgtheow”
  • It’s important to avoid misidentifying simple epithets as kennings. When the Beowulf poet uses “Son of Ecgtheow” to refer to Beowulf, this is not a kenning, as there is no figurative or metaphorical component.


Explore all literary terms.