Diction refers to the style in which someone writes, speaks, sings, or communicates in general. You may not realize it, but the people around you all display different types of diction. Diction is the word choice and style that sets a writer apart from other writers or speakers apart from other speakers.
The way that we choose words and how different ideas can be expressed in speech and in writing is called diction. Examples of diction exist everywhere, in every movie or television show you watch and in every book you read. Even in every conversation, you have with someone.
When you read it, it’s called literature diction. When you speak it in everyday situations, it’s called speaking diction. Either way, it exists everywhere.
Why is Diction Important?
The different types of diction exist for many reasons. Specific words are used to drive home the message of the writing or speaking. Proper use of diction can make for more realistic characters, more professional business documents, and more success in connecting with your readers through your writing.
This article will cover the many types of diction and will provide diction examples to give you an idea of why diction matters in your writing.
Also known as elevated language, formal diction uses sophisticated language that abides by all grammatical rules and is formal. This type of diction is used in legal papers, academic writing, and professional texts. Formal diction is professional and grammatically correct.
Formal diction is not meant to entertain the reader. Its purpose is often to inform the reader of something. There are no slang words or colloquial expressions used in this form of diction. Everything is stated in a very matter-of-fact tone, and the point is made as quickly and in a manner as sophisticated as possible.
Examples of formal diction include:
- A research paper
- A court document
- A cover letter you would attach to a resume
- A business letter
Informal diction is more realistic than formal diction. It’s casual, and it reflects the way people speak conversationally. There are informal diction examples aplenty in fiction writing. Most short stories and novels use informal diction.
Colloquial words and slang words are often used to describe diction of this type. Informal language is also used in this style. It mimics the way that people really talk to each other in everyday speech. Narrative literature, personal letters, and stories that take place in informal settings often use this type of diction.
Example of informal diction:
Chuck stood in the doorway, looking at his guests, and asked, “Y’all comin in the house, or are ya gonna stand there on the porch and freeze to death? You’ll catch your death of cold out there, if ya don’t come in, I reckon.”
In the above example, there are slang terms, proper grammar has been thrown right out the window, and popular sayings and idioms are often used to get the speaker’s point across.
While the people on the porch won’t literally die from the cold if they don’t come in immediately, it’s a more realistic way of speaking that most readers are familiar with. In a novel or in short stories, the speakers aren’t often overly proper because people don’t speak properly in everyday, informal speech.
Informal examples of diction exist anytime you hear or have a conversation that isn’t focused on correct grammar or sounding professional. It’s normal speech. Most speech that isn’t business-related or academic in nature is informal.
Colloquial diction includes slang terms and informal words, but this sort of diction refers to how people talk in certain regions, areas, or times. This particular writing style makes use of how a specific group of people talks within a specific culture.
Mark Twain used informal diction and colloquial diction when he wrote his Tom Sawyer books. The particular culture of people described and included in Twain’s work were all Midwest Americans in a small town.
Including this sort of language that is specific to a certain group of people inhabiting a specific area makes the story more realistic to the reader. For example, Stephen King writes almost exclusively about characters who live in Maine and New England.
Due to the fact that he is a native speaker of this region, he includes the colloquial expressions unique to the area in his work. Expressions such as: gorry, ayah, nor’easter, and dooryard are used often in his books.
Western books and historical fiction also make use of this sort of diction. Western stories are full of: y’all, ain’t, nope, and many other informal expressions that are specific to the time and place that the story is taking place. Historical fiction has terminology that was commonly used in the past (think thou, alas, hither, thither, etc.) to connect the reader to the story’s time frame.
Writers who employ this sort of diction can be inclusive and isolating at the same time. Think about a time when you’ve traveled to a different area than where you’re from. Even though the people there all speak the same language, the phrasing and the popular and common sayings may be different and may make you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb.
For example, someone from New York might feel somewhat isolated and out of place trying to hold a conversation with someone in Louisiana. In Lousiana, things are known by different terms, and there are sayings and rituals to speech that are much different from those in New York.
A shopping cart and a buggy are the same things, but would both people know that? An adult being called “Baby” in a restaurant by a server may seem like harassment to someone from a New England state, but in the Southern US, it’s a normal way of speaking and is meant as a term of endearment and respect.
Pedantic diction is a step above formal diction. It uses highly sophisticated language to appear as intelligent and educated as possible. The exact meaning of the words are to be taken. In pedantic diction, the reader is meant to get the literal meaning of the speech used.
Often not exactly the way human beings converse, pedantic diction takes on a superior tone. The speaker’s attitude is one of privilege and entitlement. Each word is perfectly executed to give it an air of superiority.
Examples of diction of this type include Sherlock Holmes, who prides himself on being smarter than everyone else and speaks in terminology that the “common” person wouldn’t understand. In television, a perfect example exists in the form of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. He prides himself on being the smartest in the room, even when he isn’t.
Most of the dialogue in that sitcom uses terminology that most people don’t understand. The choice of words of these sorts of characters is what gives this diction such a unique and somewhat pompous style.
When classifying diction, pedantic also includes jargon. Medical jargon, for example, has many abbreviations and shortened forms or shorthand writing and speaking that is specific to the medical world. One example of this is “bp,” which is the abbreviated term for blood pressure. When a nurse, doctor, or paramedic speaks, they understand each other, but not everyone else outside of the medical community would. These are specialized terms that are exclusive to the world in which they belong.
Police jargon is another field of work in which words are shortened and abbreviated to the point that some people or even most people outside of the industry would be confused listening to people inside of this profession speak to one another. Terms like: 187 (homicide), perp (perpetrator), and other such jargon are used regularly.
Medicine and law enforcement are fast-paced industries that often require their professionals to speak quickly as a matter of someone’s life or death. Therefore, jargon is a useful and effective way to do that. Many other professions use jargon, such as law, journalism, trucking, and the military.
Slang diction is words and phrases that come from specific cultural groups and frequently changes, especially in today’s fast-paced world on social media and the internet. Often a generational trend, shortened words, and slang terms go in and out of fashion.
For example, if you were writing a teenage character and you wanted the teenager to be impressed by something they saw or learned, you could have that character say, “Wow! That’s impressive!” While this phrase would get the point across adequately, it’s not really something that today’s teens would say. Instead, you could substitute the word “impressive” with a slang word. You could use more than one slang word in this instance, but to provide one example, you could make the character say, “Wow, that’s sick!”
Will the term “sick” make much sense in ten years? Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t. However, it is a term nearly every young person is familiar with, meaning “cool” or “impressive.” It’s more believable than a teenager would use slang than the literal thing he means to say.
Currently, one of the more popular examples of slang diction is, “Not me…” This refers to when you make fun of yourself for doing something silly or embarrassing. Such as posting a picture of yourself on social media outside a building with the caption, “Not me, pushing the door when it clearly says pull.”
Poetic diction refers to the descriptive language often used to create poetry and songs. Lyrical words are often used, as well as rhyme and melody, and harmony. The right words often rhyme and have a melodious tone to them. This unique style is used in nearly all forms of poetry and songwriting.
Neutral diction is used in cases in which people from many different cultures will need to understand what is being said. There are many different diction types, and you’ll notice as you study them that the many types of diction impact different groups in different ways. In neutral diction, you don’t want that.
For example, the emergency broadcast system needs to be neutral so that everyone who hears it can understand the message. It doesn’t cater to any one region with its speech. It doesn’t use words and phrases that are specific to any generation or a specific group. The language is very general and easy to comprehend. The choice of words helps those who need to act quickly in the instance of an emergency and don’t have time to decipher what was said.
What is Concrete Diction?
Concrete diction doesn’t deal with symbolism, metaphor, or simile. Instead, it’s somewhat similar to formal diction in that it gets straight to the point. Of the types of diction, this is the one with the most literal meaning to the words. Often dealing with the senses, there is no abstract thought or feeling involved. It’s as simple as, “I heard a shot,” or “I saw a yellow car.”
In this sort of diction, the words mean exactly what they are supposed to mean. Concrete words are things that we understand the meaning of, such as: door, window, car, tree. They are things we don’t have to struggle to imagine. We immediately get a mental image of the thing being described or mentioned.
What is Abstract Diction?
Abstract diction deals with ideas and feelings rather than literal things, like concrete diction. Abstract diction may use such words as “beautiful” or “mystifying.” These are things that are more states of being or experiences that we can’t really describe using our senses.
Abstract diction sometimes chooses phrases depending upon how they make the writer or character feel. Other words that are examples of this sort of diction in literature are: lonely, terrifying, numb, and depressed. They aren’t things that you can see but are usually tied to a feeling that we can understand. Abstract diction often helps a person connect emotionally to a situation, story, or character.