Leo Tolstoy, a famous Russian author.

Russian MiniLessons: Литература – Literature (Part II – Literary Devices)

Published: January 21, 2019

The following bilingual Russian MiniLesson is meant to build your vocabulary by providing Russian phrases within English text. Hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation.

Part 2: Literary Devices

Knowing литературные приёмы that авторы use can help readers анализировать литературу. One of the most common литературные приёмы is a метафора (metaphor), a фигура речи that describes an object by stating that it is in some way the same as another otherwise unrelated object. For example: Мой дом — моя крепость, or весь мир — театр.

A метафора is slightly different from a сравнение, which is an уподобление that compares two objects by using a comparative word such as как or чем, or verbs such as напоминает. For example: Мужик глуп, как свинья, а хитёр, как чёрт.

A twist on a метафора or сравнение is персонифика́ция or олицетворение, which is representing a non-human entity as if it were human. For example: Плачёт дождь, ветер поёт песни.

When using метонимия the author refers to an object or concept not by its own name, but by something associated with that thing or concept. For example: Я три тарелки съел – here, food is implied, although the author never actually says “three plates of food.

One type of metonymy is синекдоха, which is a term for a part of something that refers to the whole of it, or vice versa. For example: Единственное число вместо множественного: Всё спит — и человек, и зверь, и птица (Gogol).

Аллегория is a риторический приём in which characters or events represent a different idea or concept. For example: (from the Bible) Иуда олицетворяет ложь и предательство, а Богородица – красоту и непорочность.

A эвфемизм is a generally harmless word or expression used in place of one that might be offensive or unpleasant. For example: более жёсткие методы допроса instead of пытки. The opposite of an эвфемизм is a дисфеми́зм, which, instead of using harmless words, uses phrases that are offensive either about the денотат or to the audience, or both. For example: сдохнуть instead of умереть.

An аллюзия is a reference to a famous historical or literary person or event. These are very common in Russian газетные заголовки. One recent headline read: Береги кисть смолоду is an allusion to the proverb Береги честь смолоду.

Гипербола involves using преувеличение as a rhetorical device or figure of speech, but should not be taken literally. It is used to evoke strong emotions or impressions. For example: Я говорил это тысячу раз or, looking at a large meal, saying that “нам еды на полгода хватит”.

On the other hand, литота is a form of преуменьшение that is always deliberate and with the intention of выразительность. For example: Лошадь величиной с кошку, жизнь человека — один миг.

Перифра́з refers to an ambiguous or roundabout figure of speech, in that the information can have multiple meanings. For example: Люди в белых халатах to mean doctors or царь зверей to refer to a lion.

Most people who watch modern TV shows are familiar with сарказм, which is also quite common in literature. It can involve using a bitter statement or feigning indifference. For example: Если больной очень хочет жить, врачи бессильны (Faina Ranevskaya).

Художественный образ is vivid and descriptive language that is used to add depth to a literary work. Authors use imagery to appeal to human senses and deepen the reader’s understanding of the work. Imagery sometimes uses metaphors, and strives to engage all the reader’s senses.

Иро́ния is a contrast or inconsistency between what the reader expects from a situation and what actually happens. Sometimes similes or metaphors are used to state the opposite of the truth, for example: Ну ты храбрец! to refer to a coward, or умён-умён for an idiot.

Антитеза is comparing two things that are not related to each other in order to show their differences. For example: Кто был ничем, тот станет всем.

About the author

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov has reported on political and social issues for the Russian press as well as American outlets such as Russian Life, Worldpress.org, and Triangle Free Press. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the "real Russia" which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and went on to study TESOL and teach Russian at West Virginia University. He is currently working on an PhD from West Virginia University in Political Science. Andrei contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS site, and is an overall linguistics and research resource.

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