Diction — Definition, Types, and Examples

Daniel Bal
Written by
Daniel Bal
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Courtney Adamo
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Paul Mazzola

What is diction?

Diction is the choice of words writers use to communicate their ideas. They base their choice of diction on the content, type or piece of writing, and audience.

When writers are making this decision, they focus on the connotation of the words rather than the denotation. Connotation concerns the feeling the word invokes, whereas denotation is the word's dictionary definition.

Connotation vs. denotation
Connotation vs. denotation

Essentially, by incorporating certain types of diction, writers accomplish the following:

  • Tone: Different types of writing can warrant different tones. Diction allows writers to develop a tone appropriate for the subject matter (i.e., fiction vs. nonfiction). A short story, novel, or poem would contain different diction and writing style than a scientific report or persuasive essay.

  • Setting: In fictional works, a writer's choice of diction can help identify the text's setting through the use of words native to the time and place in which the story takes place. By using careful diction, authors can create more authentic work.

  • Characterization: The different words characters use in a literary work can help the author develop their identities. Diction can help identify characters’ education, age, profession, etc., making them more realistic.

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Types of diction

While there are multiple types of diction, the following categories are the most common:

  • Formal: Formal diction uses sophisticated language that follows grammar rules and avoids personal pronouns and contractions. Professional texts contain formal diction, such as research reports, legal documents, and scientific studies.

  • Informal: Informal diction consists of everyday language. It uses slang words, contractions, and personal pronouns. People use this type of diction in casual conversations and when communicating with friends and family.

  • Colloquial: Colloquial diction refers to words or expressions spoken in a specific time and place by a wide range of people. It incorporates informal diction and regional expressions (e.g., soda vs. pop).

Colloquial diction
Colloquial diction
  • Slang: Slang is extremely informal and is often restricted to a certain group of people or professions. These words and phrases are often generational, and words are often replaced as generations shift (e.g., groovy vs. cool). While similar to colloquial language, slang is not as widespread and is not solely dictated by region.

  • Concrete: Concrete diction is when a writer uses the literal definition (denotation). These words are not open to interpretation and do not create an emotional response.

  • Abstract: Abstract diction consists of words that cannot be described using any of the five senses. This language describes intangible qualities like love, disgust, and happiness.

  • Pedantic: Academic, technical, and highly detailed words are classified as pedantic. Pedantic characters often speak in a highly educated way, yet they sometimes correct even the smallest of errors, which irritates others.

Pedantic diction
Pedantic diction
  • Poetic: Poetic diction involves the type of language used in poetry that differs from typical conversational diction. These words create the rhythm and rhyme incorporated into poetic verse.

  • Jargon: Jargon is language dedicated to a specific field of study, which can include a profession, trade, or hobby.

Diction examples

The following chart identifies examples of the major types of diction:

Diction examples
Type Example Usage
Formal According to Dr. Smith, there is a 30% chance that the experiment’s results will not be accurate. research, scientific studies, technical writing
Informal Hank told us the test wouldn’t give us the right results. personal letters, emails, conversations with family and friends, fictional works
Colloquial Y’all are gonna wanna see the wicked test Hank is doing. fictional and poetic works
Slang Hank’s test is far out, but the results ain’t going to be groovy. conversations with family and friends, fictional and poetic works
Concrete Hank typed the results into the computer. all types of writing
Abstract Hank’s love for science does not impair his spiritual beliefs. all types of writing
Pedantic Hank’s results do not consider the ramifications of the atomic structure, which even a child could understand. fictional works, academic papers
Poetic “Reason and Newton, they are quite two things, / For so the swallow and the sparrow sings. / Reason says 'Miracle', Newton says 'Doubt'.” – William Black poetry
Jargon Hank’s hypothesis did not take into account the Doppler effect. professions, trades, hobbies

Diction in literature

The following examples showcase the use of diction from various literary works:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Lee incorporates different types of diction depending on who is speaking and under what circumstances. As a young boy, Jem utilizes colloquial language and informal diction, which helps to showcase his age. Atticus, Jem’s father, uses a combination of informal (“folks”) and formal (“entitled to full respect”) diction. By using multiple types of diction, Lee develops Atticus as multidimensional, as he is both a father and a lawyer:

King James Bible: Due to the nature of the material, stories in the King James Bible incorporate abstract and formal diction combined with informal diction (personal pronouns) that can help the reader relate to the information.

Diction in poetry

The following examples showcase the use of diction from various poems:

“Because I could not stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson: Dickinson incorporates abstract diction while maintaining a certain number of beats to each line (alternating between eight and six). The syllable pattern creates a musical effect, making her diction poetic:

Sonnet 30 by William Shakespeare: The sonnet form uses poetic diction through both its meter (beats per line) and rhyme scheme. With five sets of unstressed and stressed syllables and an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme, poets can use language to create a rhythmic pattern: