What is Diction? Definition of Diction in Literature

Diction definition: Diction is a writer’s purposeful choice of words. Diction and imagery together are what convey the intended tone to the reader.

What Does Diction Mean?

What is the meaning of diction? Diction is a writer’s choice of words. Through diction, an author expresses a particular tone or attitude through his speaker. The choice of words is purposeful in order to convey a particular style or have an intended effect on the audience.

Let’s say your intended effect is to persuade someone. For this purpose, we would want to carefully choose words that are persuasive.

If you simply want someone to help you with a task, you may want to be direct but also include words that are encouraging.

For example,

  • I would greatly appreciate it if you could organize the files for tomorrow.


  • You need to organize these files by tomorrow.

Types of Literary Diction

what are diction wordsThe type of diction you employ will vary depending on the audience and occasion.

The speaker or writer must be aware of the situation and purpose of writing in order to convey an appropriate tone.

Common Types of Diction in Literature

Formal: Formal diction is appropriate when the speaker wants to convey a message and keep the situation impersonal. With formal diction, it is important to remember to be direct, speak in third person, and be sure to use proper grammar.

  • Examples: business letters, cover letters, financial analyses, research papers, etc.

Casual: Casual diction is appropriate when writing literature or speaking with friends. Because it is used in a more casual setting, it will more closely resemble everyday speech and does not always follow the rules of grammar strictly.

  • Examples: personal letters, non-business emails to friends or family, fiction writing when conveying dialogue, etc.

Slang: Slang diction will vary depending on the setting or context. Words will be ones that may only be familiar to people during a certain time period or setting and are constantly changing.

  • Example: many popular music artists’ lyrics or teenagers are known for speaking with these terms.

Diction (Word Choice) vs. Diction (Enunciation)

how to use dictionSo far in this article, we have discussed diction in these sense of word choice.

However, there is an additional type of diction that means the way in which someone says something, i.e., enunciation and pronunciation. If someone were to speak with an accent, his or her diction may affect the ability of the audience to understand the message.

For example, in some reality shows, such as A&E’s Duck Dynasty, they include subtitles due to the characters’ accents inhibiting the audience from understanding the dialogue.

The Importance and Function of Diction

Diction is important in order for a writer to convey authentically his message. Depending on the purpose of the writing and the intended audience, the author will want to pay close attention to the words chosen in order to accomplish this objective.

For instance, if a book or script is supposed to have taken place in the American South, the diction of the characters should not appear as a Northerner might speak. This might take the form of variant spellings or altered spellings to resemble Southern pronunciations more closely.

Examples of Diction in Literature

define dictionHere are some examples of diction in literature. The diction in literature will depend on such factors as the setting, intended audience, as well as the intended tone.

Example: In children’s books such as Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, the writer purposefully chooses simplistic, rhyming words to appeal to children.

Do you like green eggs and ham? I do not like them Sam-I-am. I do not like green eggs and ham.

Example: Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a common example of how diction is used in literature. In this book, Twain uses many colloquialism and idioms particular to a specific region and specific time period in the United States.

  • The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out.

This gives the character an authentic flair.

Another example of diction in a classic would be from Ayn Rand’s Anthem. In this novel, she had to be purposeful with her words because she had created a society in which the first person had been eliminated.

Therefore, she wrote in second person “we” instead of using “I.”

It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own. And we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone. We have broken the laws.

Summary: What is Diction?

Diction English definition: In summation, diction is the author’s purposeful choice of words. Paying close attention to the words used in writing is important in order to achieve in the intended effect of the writing.

Let’s take a look a one more example of a writer who had to pay close attention to his word choice, William Shakespeare.

This famous playwright often wrote in iambic pentameter. In other words, in each of his lines, he included ten syllables. He had to make sure that not only he chose words that conveyed his intended tone but also met the rhythm requirements of this meter.

From Romeo and Juliet:

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 hands unclean.