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Diction: Definition, How It Works & Examples In Writing

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The choice to swap ‘very’ with ‘quite’ in a draft is more than personal preference.

Selecting the right words to use at the right times for the right types of content is called diction.

Diction is a literary device that may look invisible to the untrained eye but works to inform the tone, style, and so many other subtle elements of a piece.

What Is Diction?

Diction is a literary device referring to the choice of words a writer makes.

Specifically, it refers to the word choices that edify clarity, efficiency, or accuracy.

Properly employed diction can transform a text from a colloquial pamphlet to an academic report.

Diction is a vital element of craft for those looking to develop voice and style.

Also Known As

  • Phraseology
  • Parlance
  • Idiom

Simple Definition: How to Explain Diction to a Child

Diction is choosing what words to use and when to use them.

Different words can mean something close but still be a little different.

Those differences can change the meaning entirely.

Why is Diction Used?

A ruby horse, a scarlet horse, and a fiery horse can all refer to a red horse.

A writer will choose a synonym of red to illustrate extra information about the horse.

The economy of words, that is, using the right number of words, benefits from packing information into words.

A writer could say that the horse is regal and red, but by referring to it as ruby the royal connotation and the color get wrapped up into a single word.

Types of Diction

Part of what can make learning to identify diction difficult is that there are many types of diction.

Check out the types and examples below to understand the versatility of diction.

1. Formal Diction

Formal Diction is often heard in courtrooms and official government reports.

These word choices are specific and usually professional.

For example, a lawyer may use formal diction to record, “The client swore at the jury”, rather than record what swear words were used.

2. Informal Diction

Informal diction is the inverse of formal diction. It is related to colloquial diction, as it uses looser, more friendly language.

The distinction is likely made by the author’s view of what constitutes the dominant culture.

Rick Riordan, the revered young adult fantasy author, is known for writing first-person point-of-view books where the speaker uses casual language, as though they are a teenager talking to another teenager.

His first book, the Lightning Thief, opens with a great example of informal diction; “Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.”

3. Concrete Diction

Concrete diction is the usage of firm, objective terms to describe something.

This technique is often used in sales, especially the sale of food.

While there is nothing less than objective in the phrase “The freshly-made pasta was served with a creamy vodka tomato sauce, with buttery garlic bread on the side”, the sentence is still highly evocative through its use of detail.

4. Abstract Diction

Abstract diction is used to refer to intangible nouns such as justice, love, and the economy.

Shakespeare’s 130th sonnet uses physical words to allude to the abstract feelings the speaker experiences toward the woman in question

5. Pedantic Diction

Pedantic diction is when authors utilize exceptionally convoluted terminology to manifest scenarios of great lugubriousness.

This pretentious style of using unnecessarily complex terminology can be used to indicate arrogance, class tensions, or overeducation.

6. Colloquial Diction

Colloquial diction uses the dialect of a region or culture to accurately portray a group of people.

This type of diction is also sometimes used to mock people.

Colloquial diction is also known as vernacular diction, as both types pull from the spoken dialect of a region over written language.

A popular version of colloquial diction is exaggerated British affectations, such as “Oy, guv! It’s Chewsday, innit?

Git me a woter bo’ole if ya pop down to the shops” meaning “Hello, sir.

I believe it is Tuesday.

Please purchase a bottle of water for me should you visit a store today.”

7. Poetic Diction

Poetic diction is most common in poetry, but it is found in all sorts of writings, from fiction to journalism.

8. Slang Diction

Slang diction is similar to colloquial diction but tends to indicate a time rather than a culture.

Writings from the American 1920s may use phrases like ‘the cat’s pajamas’ or ‘the bee’s knees.’

How Do You Identify Diction?

Diction is omnipresent in writing.

The best way to identify it is to look for places where words can be swapped out.

“I walked to the brick schoolhouse,” in the eyes of an exhausted student, becomes “I slugged my way into the red prison.”

Look for places where synonyms can be used to achieve the desired effect.

How Do You Use Diction in a Sentence?

When you’re learning how to write a blog post, you’ll want to get good at using diction in a sentence.

What Is the Most Popular Example of Diction?

One of the most well-known opening lines in all of literature comes from the first line in Charles Dickens’ book A Tale of Two Cities.

Dickens could’ve written, “The era this book is set in is defined by its paradoxical nature.” Instead, he crafted the following.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Other Famous Examples of Diction

Shakespeare’s Macbeth

“Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation, Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change.

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Other Modern Examples of Diction

Diction can be found anywhere words are strung together.

Examples of Diction for Kids

  • Clifford the Big Red Dog is direct in the inclusion of a dog in the program
  • Paw Patrol alludes to the main characters being dogs
  • Scooby-Doo names the dog, a famous character in his own right

Examples of Diction in Literature

Most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Neighbours bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between.

Boo was our neighbor.

He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good luck pennies, and our lives.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scoot Fitzgerald

Examples of Diction in Speech

  • “I’m chuffed.” can mean either being pleased or annoyed, depending on the context.
  • “It’s nice to see you,” is a much milder version of a greeting that still may mean “I missed you.”
  • “I’m rather hungry.” can be swapped for “I’m ravenous.”

Notable Writers Who Used Diction

All writers employ diction, even if they don’t know the term.

However, some authors use diction in a way that truly makes their work shine.

1. James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room 

James Baldwin was an essayist and an author who used diction to lace his writings with layers of meaning.

He would use precise, exact diction to link together sentences much more profound than the sum of their parts.

2. Madeline Miller, Song of Achilles

Song of Achilles is a retelling of ancient Greek myths.

Miller makes these myths come alive with a faithful retelling that carefully highlights the traits of the characters she has deemed protagonists.

3. Alice Walker, The Color Purple

The Color Purple is an epistolatory novel written from the point of view of a young Black girl living in the Reconstruction era, detailing her growth from child to woman.

Throughout the entirety of the book, the protagonist writes using language that makes sense for her time, culture, race, and age.

The excerpt below is an incredible example of blending flavors of diction.

What Is the Opposite of Diction?

The tone is the opposite of diction.

Choosing when to use diction and when to use tone comes down to the goal of any given piece.

Tone refers to the emotion evoked by a text.

Diction vs. Tone

Diction refers to word choice, working at the unit level of writing.

The tone is a much more zoomed-out way of crafting a piece.

The tone is created by diction, changing the length of sentences, choosing what information to present when, and countless other factors.

Lighthearted diction can serve a heavy tone when masterfully utilized.

Other Related Literary Devices to Know

Literary devices are never soloists.

Familiarizing yourself with these related literary devices will help you utilize diction to the fullest.

  • Allusion: An allusion is a reference that does not address the topic at hand directly. The fruit of Eden is a phrase that would allude to apples in much of modern parlance, though the word apple never appears in the Bible where the story of Eden originates from.
  • Foreshadowing: Foreshadowing is when elements of the story indicate events or revelations that are to come. The detective genre is founded on the principle of foreshadowing. Sherlock Holmes does not arrive at his conclusions without Watson catching glimpses of clues along the way.
  • Imagery: Imagery evokes the sense. Rich imagery in writing can often be seen in food blogs and cookbooks, where the author needs to convince the audience that their creations taste delicious without the reader ever encountering said food.
  • Metaphors: A metaphor is when a noun is directly compared or even stated to equivocate another noun.
    A common example is ‘Time is Money’. While that wouldn’t appear to be physically true, the metaphor holds up as both are societal constructs that dictate conduct.
  • Simile: A simile is similar to a metaphor, but includes words in between to indicate that a comparison is being made. Remarking that a colleague is as quiet as a mouse would be using a simile.

Writing Tools to Help You Out

Not all writing tools are created equal.

Many writers assume that the simple spelling check feature built into their word processor is sufficient to ensure that their work is of high quality.

Thankfully, long before your writing interacts with an editor, you can use digital tools developed to punch up your writing and smooth out any issues.

These tips for writing will save you time and money when writing, as you will need fewer hours from editors.

1. Writing Helpers

Writing helpers use powerful artificial intelligence to suggest style choices to writers.

They also may prompt writers with suggestions on ways to end a sentence or revise sentences to help them make sense.

Writing helpers need input from the writer, as they are a tool that works off of content that is being composed.

These are most useful during composition.

2. AI Writing Software

When it comes to saving time, there’s no option like someone else writing your content.

However, that gets expensive quickly.

The best way to produce content quickly and cheaply is entirely automated.

AI Writing Software is a new type of program where artificial intelligence builds an entire piece of content working off of as little as a single keyword.

While the upfront cost to use such services may seem daunting, they pay off quickly with efficiency and cost.

AI Writing Software is best for rapidly approaching deadlines.

3. Grammar Checkers

Once a piece is done, you’ll want to check it for grammar and spelling issues.

Use grammar checkers to make your piece feel professional and flow smoothly.

4. Content Creators

Use content creators to outsource work.

Even in the digital age, there’s a human touch that can’t be replicated.

Ghostwriters make a huge portion of the content on the internet and are often experienced and capable of producing high-quality content with a short turnaround time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you’re familiar with diction, it might be easy to identify it in a sentence.

But it’s okay if you’re not quite ready to deploy it for yourself.

Why is diction so important?

Diction is the vehicle that much of a piece runs on.

Writers use good diction to move the action along, reveal character traits, foreshadow events, and indicate their beliefs and point of view.

Diction is the difference between a piece being warm and friendly or clinical and cold.

How do you write good diction?

When searching for things to write about, incorporate diction as a way to be more specific and more colorful.

Read examples of work from your desired genre as well as other genres to broaden your vocabulary.

Wrapping Up

Diction is a vital tool in any writer’s toolbox, especially when shifting genres and assignments.

Many types of writers use diction to deepen sentences without lengthening them and provide additional information via implication.

Different varieties of diction can transform a piece into an entirely new style.

Employing diction will punch up your writing regardless of genre.

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