Diction, Imagery, Details, Language, and Syntax


Use diction to find tone.  Use imagery, details, language and syntax to support tone.


Author's attitude toward the subject, toward himself, or toward the audience.


Adjectives, nouns, verbs, adverbs, negative words, positive words, synonyms, contrast.

Look at the words that jump out at you - Evaluate only those words to find tone

Also look at:

Colloquial (Slang)


Informal (Conversational)

Formal (Literary)

Connotative (Suggestive meaning)

Denotative (Exact meaning)

Concrete (Specific)

Abstract (General or Conceptual)

Euphonious (Pleasant Sounding)

Cacophonous (Harsh sounding)

Monosyllabic (One syllable)

Polysyllabic (More than one syllable)


•  Describe diction (choice of words) by considering the following:

  1. Words can be monosyllabic (one syllable in length) or polysyllabic (more than one syllable in length).  The higher the ratio of polysyllabic words, the more difficult the content.

  2. Words can be mainly colloquial (slang), informal (conversational), formal (literary) or old-fashioned.

  3. Words can be mainly denotative (containing an exact meaning, e.g., dress) or connotative (containing suggested meaning, e.g., gown)

  4. Words can be concrete (specific) or abstract (general or conceptual).

  5. Words can euphonious (pleasant sounding, e.g., languid, murmur) or cacophonous (harsh sound, e.g., raucous, croak).


IMAGERY             Creates a vivid picture and appeals to the senses


repetition of consonant sounds at the start of a word

The giggling girl gave gum.


repetition of vowel sounds in the middle of a word

Moths cough and drop wings


repetition of consonant sounds in the middle of a word

The man has kin in Spain


writing sounds as words

The clock went tick tock


a direct comparison of unlike things using like or as

Her hair is like a rat’s nest


a direct comparison of unlike things

The man’s suit is a rainbow


a deliberate exaggeration for effect  

I’d die for a piece of candy


represents something as less than it is

A million dollars is okay


attributing human qualities to inhuman objects

The teapot cried for water


word exchanged for another closely associated with it

Uncle Sam wants you!


play on words – Uses words with multiple meanings

Shoes menders mend soles.


something that represents/stands for something else

the American Flag


comparing two things that have at least one thing in common

A similar thing happened…


Use or words seemingly in contradiction to each other

bittersweet chocolate


DETAILS              specifics the author includes about facts – his opinion



                • Words that describe the entire body of words in a text – not isolated bits of diction




apparent, word for word


pompous, ostentatious


puritanical, righteous






actual, specific, particular


dull-witted, undiscerning


alludes to; suggestive


everyday, common


cultivated, refined, finished


didactic, scholastic, bookish


cut-off, removed, separated


clear, obvious


expressive of emotions


lyric, melodious, romantic


understood by a chosen few


exact, accurate, decisive


insincere, affected


pompous, gaudy, inflated


verbatim, precise


rural, rustic, unpolished


serving as illustration


intellectual, academic


academic, conventional


passionate, luscious


hideous, deformed


clear, intelligible


folksy, homey, native, rustic


lingo, colloquialism


Peculiar, vernacular


representative, metaphorical


uninteresting, tame, dull


common, banal, stereotyped


vocabulary for a profession


casual, relaxed, unofficial


educated, experienced


coarse, indecent, tasteless



            •  Rhetorical Devices -- The use of language that creates a literary effect – enhance and support

Rhetorical Question           food for thought; create satire/sarcasm; pose dilemma

Euphemism                         substituting a milder or less offensive sounding word(s)

Aphorism                            universal commends, sayings, proverbs – convey major point

Repetition                           also called refrain; repeated word, sentence or phrase

Restatement                       main point said in another way

Irony                                   Either verbal or situational – good for revealing attitude

Allusion                               refers to something universally known

Paradox                               a statement that can be true and false at the same time



Consider the following patterns and structures:

                Does the sentence length fit the subject matter?

                Why is the sentence length effective?

                What variety of sentence lengths are present?

                Sentence beginnings – Variety or Pattern?

                Arrangement of ideas in sentences

                Arrangement of ideas in paragraph – Pattern?


                Construction of sentences to convey attitude

                Declarative                        assertive – A statement

                Imperative                         authoritative - Command

                Interrogative                     asks a question

                Simple Sentence               one subject and one verb

                Loose Sentence                details after the subject and verb – happening now

                Periodic Sentence             details before the subject and verb – reflection on a past event

                Juxtaposition                     normally unassociated ideas, words or phrases placed next together

                Parallelism                         show equal ideas; for emphasis; for rhythm

                Repetition                          words, sounds, and ideas used more than once – rhythm/emphasis

                Rhetorical Question          a question that expects no answer


                Punctuation is included in syntax

                                Ellipses                               a trailing off; equally etc.; going off into a dreamlike state

                                Dash                                   interruption of a thought; an interjection of a thought into another

                                Semicolon                           parallel ideas; equal ideas; a piling up of detail

                                Colon                                  a list; a definition or explanation; a result

 Italics                                  for emphasis

 Capitalization                     for emphasis

 Exclamation Point              for emphasis; for emotion


SHIFTS IN TONE        Attitude change about topic/Attitude about topic is different than the attitude toward subject


Key Words (but, nevertheless, however, although)

Changes in the line length

Paragraph Divisions

Punctuation (dashes, periods, colons)

Sharp contrasts in diction




Describe the sentence structure by considering the following:

  1. Examine the sentence length.  Are the sentences telegraphic (shorter than 5 words in length), short (approximately 5 words in length), medium (approximately 18 words in length), or long and involved (30 or more words in length)?  Does the sentence length fit the subject matter?  What variety of lengths is present? Why is the sentence length effective?

  2. Examine sentence beginnings.  Is there a good variety or does a patterning emerge?

  3. Examine the arrangement of ideas in a sentence.  Are they set out in a special way for a purpose?

  4. Examine the arrangement of ideas in a paragraph.  Is there evidence of any pattern or structure?

  5. Examine the sentence patterns.  Some elements to consider are listed below:

a.            A declarative (assertive) sentence makes a statement:  e.g., The king is sick. 

b.            An imperative sentence gives a command:  e.g., Stand up. 

c.            An interrogative sentence asks a question: e.g., Is the king sick? 

d.            An exclamatory sentence makes an exclamation:  e.g., The king is dead!

e.            A simple sentence contains one subject and one verb:  e.g., The singer bowed to her adoring audience. 

f.            A compound sentence contains two independent clauses joined by a coordinate conjunction (and, but, or) or by a semicolon:  e.g., The singer bowed to the audience, but she sang no encores. 

g.            A complex sentence contains an independent clause and one or more subordinate clauses:  e.g., You said that you would tell the truth. 

h.            A compound-complex sentence contains two or more principal clauses and one or more subordinate clauses:  e.g., The singer bowed while the audience applauded, but she sang no encores.

i.            A loose sentence makes complete sense if brought to a close before the actual ending:  e.g., We reached Edmonton/that morning/after a turbulent flight/and some exciting experiences.

j.            A  periodic sentence makes sense only when the end of the sentence is reached:  e.g., That morning, after a turbulent flight and some exciting experiences, we reached Edmonton.

k.            In a balanced sentence, the phrases or clauses balance each other by virtue or their likeness of structure, meaning, or length:  e.g., He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.

l.             Natural order of a sentence involves constructing a sentence so the subject comes before the predicate:  e.g., Oranges grow in California. 

m.          Inverted order of a sentence (sentence inversion) involves constructing a sentence so that the predicate comes before the subject:  e.g., In California grow oranges.  This is a device in which normal sentence patterns are reverse to create an emphatic or rhythmic effect. 

n.            Split order of a sentence divides the predicate into two parts with the subject coming in the middle:  e.g., In California oranges grow.

o.           Juxtaposition is a poetic and rhetorical device in which normally unassociated ideas, words, or phrases are placed next to one another creating an effect of surprise and wit:  e.g., “The apparition of these faces in the crowd:/ Petals on a wet, black bough” (“In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound)

p.            Parallel structure (parallelism) refers to a grammatical or structural similarity between sentences or parts of a sentence.  It involves an arrangement of words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs so that elements of equal importance are equally developed and similarly phrased:  e.g., He was walking, running, and jumping for joy.

q.            Repetition is a device in which words, sounds, and ideas are used more than once to enhance rhythm and create emphasis:  e.g., “…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” (“Address at Gettysburg” by Abraham Lincoln)

r.            A rhetorical question is a question that expects no answer.  It is used to draw attention to a point that is generally stronger than a direct statement:  e.g., If Mr. Ferchoff is always fair, as you have said, why did he refuse to listen to Mrs. Baldwin’s arguments?