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Forms of presentation: description

Description is a presentation of a static picture: the atmosphere, the scenery, the portrait, the interior and the like. It serves to depict the state of things in detail. It is characterized by the use of mostly compound nominal predicates. Emphasis is put on attributes, predicatives and other qualifying features.



One way in which writers make their descriptions vivid and exciting is by using emotionally coloured and evaluative words. Fiction as all other art-forms appeals to the reader through the senses and evokes responsive emotions. In fiction the representation of reality can never be entirely neutral; in every literary work the writer’s attitude to the characters and events is reflected in the tone, which is conveyed through emotive-coloured lexis.

Vocabulary, or lexis, employed by authors in their works, mean the choice of words. There are grammatical words (articles, demonstratives, pronouns, auxiliary words and coordinators) and semantic words, which we pay more attention while reading (verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc.). When you look them up in the dictionary the first meaning you find of these words is their denotation, or the most basic, literal meaning. Literature, however, communicates more than plain facts. It uses the connotations of words — ideas, associations and emotions they suggest — to influence our thoughts and feelings in more subtle ways. Connotations serve as bases for special language means of expressiveness — figures of speech, which interrelate language and thought, help to create an artistic literary work and the individual style of the author. The use of figures of speech involves the reader in the interpretation of the ideas which are not stated directly but implied. Below are some of the ways in which writers communicate their views indirectly.

Metaphor is a form of comparison in which an idea or opinion is expressed by comparing one thing with another to show a similarity. Words are used not in the true sense but in an imaginative way, transferring a quality from one object to another.

e. g. I am an island.

He is a bull when he is roused.


Simile is characterization of an object by comparing it with another object belonging to a different class of things and thus giving rise to a new understanding of it. Similes have formal elements in their structure: connective words such as like, as, seem, as if, such as, etc.

e. g. She sang like a kettle whistling as it boils.

He is as tall as a lamp-post.

The major difference between the metaphor and the simile is that the simile aims at finding some point of resemblance by keeping the objects apart (a is like b) while the metaphor aims at identifying the objects (a = b).

e. g. She was a feather in his arms. (a metaphor)

She was weightless like a feather in his arms. (a simile)


Epithet is characterization of a person, thing or phenomenon with the help of adjectives, nouns or attributive phrases. It serves to emphasize a certain property or feature and to express the author’s attitude toward what he describes.

e. g. She is really slim. — No, she isn’t. She is skinny.

The sick man gave a heart-breaking groan.


Irony is a figure of speech based on the simultaneous realization of two logical meanings — logical and contextual, which stand in opposition to each other. In fact, the writer says one thing but really means the opposite.

e. g. The food was so delicious that I took it home for my dog.

It must be delightful to find oneself in a foreign country without a penny in one’s pocket!


Hyperbole means deliberate exaggeration of an essential feature or property of an object, showing the author’s attitude to it (often humorous, ironic or overemotional).

e. g. I would give the world to make you happy.

He was so tall that I was not sure he had a face.


Personification takes place when an inanimate object or an animal is endowed with a quality typical of a human being for a definite emotional colouring.

e. g. The cold winter wind outside was crying and whining and cursing.

Zeugma is a stylistic device based on simultaneous realization of the literal and the transferred meanings of a word, when it is used in the same grammatical but different semantic relations to two adjacent words in the context. The zeugma often brings forth humorous connotations.

e. g. When he met Annette, who was to be his third wife, he gave her his heart and his wallet.


Pun is a humorous use of a word or a phrase which has two meanings or of two words or phrases which look or sound similar. Puns are used not only in jokes but also in ads, newspaper headlines, etc. because they are eye-catching and amusing.

e. g. You have to be rich to play golf. — Then why are there so many poor players?


Allusion is a reference to specific places, persons, literary or legendary characters or historical events. The most frequently resorted to sources are mythology and the Bible. The use of allusions presupposes knowledge of the fact, thing or person alluded to and calls forth associations from the reader’s thesaurus.

e.g. He says his mother-in-law is a perfect Gorgon.

Exercise 1.

What does the writer really think in each of the following sentences?

1. She danced as daintily as a cow.

2. He usually manages to bulldoze his way through the committee meetings.

3. Jasmine is so incredibly beautiful, dignified and intelligent as to be the eighth wonder of the world.

4. The new social centre is a tree growing naturally with strength and beauty to fit the environment in which it had been placed.

5. His unrivalled brilliance as a student of the physical sciences was aptly illustrated by his 10% in the physics examination.

6. I don’t want to be an island but a bridge.

7. His sarcasm often bites like an adder.

8. The furniture was about as comfortable as a cactus.


Exercise 2.

Sort out the sentences below into two groups tp indicate a positive or a negative opinion.

1. The car is incredibly, heartstoppingly beautiful.

2. My own life had been so respectable and sheltered in comparison.

3. Don’t be so childish!

4. It turned out the most ghastly place you can imagine.

5. You never saw such a barren, boring landscape in your life, like the surface of the moon in a heatwave.

6. Our wedding was particularly gruesome, with the two sets of totally incompatible relatives grinding and grating against each other.

7. Louise was small but shapely built.

8. He took it like a slap in the face.

9. Anne gave me a frosty look.

10. New York was certainly a disastrous choice.


Exercise 3.

What connotations do the following statements suggest?

1. But what can you expect from such a man? Do you find taste in the white of an egg?

2. I’ve managed to stop smoking; now I’m trying to stop nuclear power.

3. Last night I got back to my room wet with wine and good intentions.

4. One cannibal to another while eating a clown: “Does this taste funny to you?”

5. Happiness is like coke — something you get as by-product in the process of making something else.

6. I hate her hypocritical, pretentious, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth air.

7. Diana looks a million bucks today.

8. I wouldn’t trust Bill in your place — he is as treacherous as a snake.




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