Descriptive Language Vocabulary Notes

for the Stylized Narrative Writing Unit

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vivid adjectives/language—good writers use VIVID language!

Generic Language

Vivid Language

The shell was interesting.

The shell had a swirl to it that looked like a fun-house slide that makes your stomach drop as you plunge down it.

The smell was nasty.

The dumpster smelled as though someone had bombed it with rotten eggs and rancid bacon.

The sky was blue.

The sky was sapphire.


literal versus figurative language:

          Literal:  language that means exactly what is said OR the obvious meaning of something


                        “I went to the store yesterday.” literally means “I went to the store.”

                        “It’s raining cats and dogs.” While this expression is figurative (cats and dogs aren’t

                        literally falling from the sky), one might say, “What does it literally mean?”  It’s literal

meaning is:  “It’s raining really hard.”



          Figurative: language that means more (or something other) than what is actually said; language that deepens meaning often by connecting one thing to another that the audience is familiar with and has associations with (figure of speech)


                        When your brother/sister says after you break a lamp while horsing around,

                        “Oooooooooooh, Mom’s gonna kill you!”  Here, (hopefully) your sibling doesn’t really

                        think that your mother is actually going to kill you; instead, “kill” is used figuratively to

                        mean, “You’re in a whole lot of trouble.”  The associations we have with “kill”

                        communicate that idea.


“The mosquito bite on my ankle looked like a giant’s pimple, and it felt like a

thousand needles pricking and scratching my tender skin.”  Here, the look and feel of

the mosquito bite is compared to other concepts the audience should already have a clear

understanding of and distinct associations with.


Types of Figurative Language


          simile:  a comparison of two different things using “like” or “as”


                   ex.     “Her hair was as soft as a cloud.

                             “I ran as fast as a train.”

                             “His shirt was bright like the sun.”


          metaphor:  a comparison of two different things NOT using “like” or “as;”

                             often metaphors use “to be” verbs:  is, are, was, were, am


                   ex.     “The boy was a high-flying bird.”

                             “The board is a green field for chalk to play in.”

                             “The garden-hose snake wound through my lawn furniture.”


          personification:  giving human qualities to a non-human thing


                   ex.     “The homework laughed at me.”

                             “The moon stared at me.”

                             “While the wind whistled, the trees started talking.”


          hyperbole:  over-exaggerated description


                   ex.     “I felt like my bag weighed a million tons.”

                             “That kid was taller than the Sears tower!”


          onomatopoeia:  writing a sound to sound the way the sound sounds (in other

                             words:  writing a word that sounds like a noise you’re trying to

                             describe); these can be real words or nonsense words


                   ex.     “Boom!”                         “Thump!”

                             “Crash!”                         “Swoosh!”

                             “fpbtht!”                         “Bam!”


          alliteration:  repetition of the same sound at the beginning of words; the same-

sound words need to be close enough together for someone to hear

the repetition


                   ex.     “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

                             “One Wednesday after winning the World Cup…” (yes, that’s an “o,”

                             in “one,” but it sounds like a “w”)

                             “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could

                             chuck wood?”


          allusion:  a reference to something known from literature, religion, history,

                             TV/movies, music, etc.


                   ex.     “The boy’s face, freckled and impish, had the aura of Huckleberrry

                             hatching a plan.”  (The reference here is to the character of Huckleberry





          Imagery is descriptions that appeal to your senses and help you create a picture or imagine an experience in your head

          (sight, sound, taste, smell, touch/feel)



Tone and Mood

          Both tone and mood rely on associations that the audience has with what is being described.  These associations give descriptions an emotional quality.


          Tone:  the speaker’s attitude toward the topic s/he’s describing


          Mood:  the emotional atmosphere created for the audience by a text



Good writers create detailed descriptions full of figurative language, vivid adjectives, and imagery to make their writing an emotional, experiential, and exciting experience for their audiences.