Emotional Language in Literature
Whether it’s an advertisement, a play, or a novel, writers use emotive language to make us feel strong emotions and maybe even persuade us to do something. Today we’re going to discuss the best ways to incorporate emotive language in our writing and see what effects this can have on the reader.
So what exactly is “emotive language”? Emotive language is the use of descriptive words, often adjectives, that can show the reader how an author or character feels about something, evoke an emotional response from the reader, and persuade the reader of something. It’s important to remember that emotional language is biased – this means though the language is descriptive and may make the text easier to understand, the words are either subtly or overtly attempting to sway our opinion of something. Let’s look at an example of emotive language.
The defenseless wolf was violently attacked by the gruesome bear.
In this example, we can see a lot of descriptive words that evoke emotion. Defenseless wolf is a phrase that is emotional because it makes the reader sympathize with the wolf. Violently and gruesome are other words that are emotional because they paint the bear as an aggressive and scary predator. Now, what if this same story was told without emotional language?
The wolf was attacked by the bear.
Without the emotional language, the reader may not feel as bad for the wolf because they don’t see it as weak and “defenseless”. You may also not feel very afraid of the bear because it is not being described as gruesome or violent. That is the power of emotional language. Let’s look at another example of how emotive language can have different connotations.
He is very social and talkative.
He is always in people’s business.
In the first example, to be social and talkative can be seen as a positive thing. However, the second example uses the phrase always in peoples’ business, which has a more negative connotation.
She is meticulous.
She is a micromanager.
Again, here the word meticulous can be a positive trait for a person to have. You may want a meticulous partner in your group project – someone who is thorough and takes care of any loose ends. In contrast, most people don’t like having a micromanager looking over their shoulder all the time. That is why it is important for authors to be careful about the words they use to describe characters and settings; it can draw either a positive or negative impression on the reader without even trying.
Like I mentioned before, emotional language is used in all types of writing. Typically, however, emotional language is best used in texts where the author is giving a personal account of something. Narrators are ideal voices for using emotional language because they typically are speaking from their own perspective. Here is an example of a character from Tiffany McDaniel’s novel The Summer That Melted Everything, where she uses emotional language to convince the reader of her opinion of suffering.
“People always ask, Why does God allow suffering? Why does He allow a child to be beaten? A woman to cry? A holocaust to happen? A good dog to die painfully? Simple truth is, He wants to see for Himself what we’ll do. He’s stood up the candle, put the devil at the wick, and now He wants to see if we blow it out or let it burn down. God is suffering’s biggest spectator.”
In this excerpt, the author uses emotional language like beaten, cry, painfully, and other rhetorical devices like questions, parallels, and metaphors to paint a dark image in the readers’ heads about free will and God. The author ultimately is using emotional language to persuade the reader to share her beliefs about God allowing humans to suffer.
Poetry is arguably the most popular means of expressing emotions through descriptive words. Here’s an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Here, Shakespeare uses emotional language to compare his love interest to a summer day that will never fade away. From the second line of the sonnet he uses words like lovely and temperate to describe this person and argue that they are even better than the best day of summer you could experience.
Okay, before we go, let’s go over a quick review of what we’ve learned.
Which is not an example of emotional language?
- In a drunken stupor, she fell down a flight of stairs.
- She intentionally fell down a flight of stairs.
- She fell down a flight of stairs.
- The clumsy girl fell down a flight of stairs.
That’s all for this review! Thanks for watching, and happy studying!
- “What Is Emotive Language? Definition, Examples of Emotional Language.” n.d. Writing Explained
- “Emotive Language | What Is Emotive Language?” n.d.
- “The Summer That Melted Everything Quotes by Tiffany McDaniel.” n.d.
- Shakespeare, William . 2019. “Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” Poetry Foundation