What is literature?

What is Literature? The word ‘Literature’ is a modified form of a Latin word (literra, litteratura or litteratus) that means ‘writing formed with letters’. Let us look at what is literature in definition.

Literature generally can be any written work, but it especially is an artistic or intellectual work of writing. It is one of the Fine Arts, like Painting, Dance, Music, etc which provides aesthetic pleasure to the readers. It differs from other written works by only its one additional trait: that is aesthetic beauty. If a written work lacks aesthetic beauty and serves only utilitarian purpose it is not literature. The entire genre like poetry, drama, or prose is blend of intellectual work and aesthetic beauty of that work. When there is no any aesthetic beauty in any written work that is not literature.

Definition of literature according to different writers

 Throughout the history of Literature, many of the great writers have defined it and expressed its meaning in their own way. Here are the few famous definitions by timeless celebrated authors.

Virginia Woolf: “Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.”

Ezra Pound: “Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.”

Alfred North Whitehead: “It is in literature that the concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression.”

Salman Rushdie: “Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit, where I hope to find not absolute truth but the truth of the tale, of the imagination and of the heart.”

Henry James: “It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature.”

Lewis“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.”

Oscar Wilde: “Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it but moulds it to its purpose. The nineteenth century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac.”

Chesterton: “Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”

Forster“What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote.” (1)

All of these definitions of literature by great writers present different aspects of it, and shows that in how many ways it can be effective.

Literature: A depiction of society

It might sound strange that what is literature’s relation with a society could be. However, literature is an integral part of any society and has a profound effect on ways and thinking of people of that society. Actually, society is the only subject matter of literature. It literally shapes a society and its beliefs. Students, who study literature, grow up to be the future of a country. Hence, it has an impact on a society and it moulds it.

 Literature literally does the depiction of society; therefore, we call it ‘mirror of society’. Writers use it effectively to point out the ill aspects of society that improve them. They also use it to highlight the positive aspects of a society to promote more goodwill in society.

The essays in literature often call out on the problems in a country and suggest solutions for it. Producers make Films and write Novels to touch subjects like morals, mental illnesses, patriotism, etc. Through such writings, they relate all matters to society. Other genre can also present the picture of society. We should keep in mind that the picture illustrated by literature is not always true. Writers can present it to change the society in their own ways.

The effects of literature on a society:

 The effects of literature on a society can be both positive and negative. Because of this, the famous philosophers Aristotle and Plato have different opinions about its effect on society.

Plato was the one who started the idea of written dialogue. He was a moralist and he did not approve of poetry because he deemed it immoral. He considered poetry as based on false ideas whereas the basis of philosophy came from reality and truth. (4) Plato claims that, “poetry inspires undesirable emotions in society. According to him, poetry should be censored from adults and children for fear of lasting detrimental consequences” (Leitch & McGowan). He further explains it by saying, “Children have no ability to know what emotions should be tempered and which should be expressed as certain expressed emotions can have lasting consequences later in life”. He says, “Strong emotions of every kind must be avoided, in fear of them spiralling out of control and creating irreparable damage” (Leitch & McGowan).  However, he did not agree with the type of poetry and wanted that to be changed.

Now Aristotle considers literature of all kinds to be an important part of children’s upbringing. Aristotle claims that, “poetry takes us closer to reality. He also mentioned in his writings that it teaches, warns, and shows us the consequences of bad deeds”. (5) He was of the view that it is not necessary that poetry will arouse negative feelings.

Therefore, the relation of literature with society is of utter importance. It might have a few negative impacts, through guided studying which we can avoid. Overall, it is the best way of passing information to the next generation and integral to learning.

How To Answer a Literary Question?

Are you worried to answer a literary question? Here are the few tips in this article that can build confidence in students to write a well-structured answer for a question.  

how to answer a literary question

How to Answer a Literary question?

Theme is the key part of the question. When students are writing an answer, first they have to ponder on the main theme of the question. This is very important. Usually, students do not read the whole statement of the question and they just start writing whatever comes to their mind. It is all due to the lack of time. Students have so many questions to attempt so they cannot afford so much time. At that time, students need to draw the complete structure of the question. They must make an outline of the question before going to write down the answer directly. Students may have a lot of ideas about the asked question but it is necessary for them to figure out the most important content that they are supposed to write. Always divide your answer into three main parts.

  • Introduction
  • Main Body
  • Conclusion

Introduction and conclusion in any question are of vital importance. Because if students do not introduce any question at opening of answer or do not conclude it at closing end then it will create a bad impression for the examiner. They must follow the alpha and omega of asked question.

We know that all words have different meanings and they are used in various contexts in questions. Let us discuss those various words that would be asked in an exam and what their meanings could be.

Different Types of Question Asked in Exams


This is very common term. The word define means students are to provide a definition of asked term e.g., Renaissance in mentioned below question. When student are writing about definition they need to state a proper and a precise definition. It should be authentic one and clear in wording. This question is asked in three ways. Examiner can ask definition generally or in students own wording so student is free to put forward his ideas and can choose wording freely according to his choice. He may put other authors’ definitions for reference to strengthen his point of view. When an examiner asks a specific definition by any author, then students are bound to define it according to the author’s ideas. Students may use their own wording but they cannot put their own ideas into the definition.

Q: Define Renaissance in few lines.

Q: Define Renaissance in your own wording.

Q: How John defines Renaissance in his book; “The Medieval Literature”?


Some time an examiner asks students to describe something. It means students have to give complete information about something e.g., how it looks or how it happened. Students have to give a complete description in descriptive format. This question may be asked in this way.

Q: Describe the theme of above picture according to the plot.


The term ‘explain’ means students have to clarify topic detail as how and why. Students have to write the complete detail of the thing or term asked in a question. Things should be mentioned in proper layout and for this chronological order is the suitable form. This question needs thorough details and students should be careful for the proper order. They must make an outline for long answer; distribute it into short sections to avoid mixing of ideas. They should take start from introduction and then main boy and fininally they are to conclude their answer in proper way.


Another way of asking a question is to elaborate something or idea. It means a statement that students have to expand it to make it clearer. They have to explore all areas of it. They have to draw a complete picture and elaborating every segment of that picture. For example, if students are talking the Renaissance Period in England so they are to elaborate every aspect that is involved in the renaissance. Students have to take start from very beginning of the renaissance in Italy and then flourishing in England by university wits and how it got significance in that era.

𝗖𝗿𝗶𝘁𝗶𝗰𝗮𝗹𝗹𝘆 𝗔𝗻𝗮𝗹𝘆𝘇𝗲

Such questions are frequently asked in literature to critically analyze the idea, situation, or thing. Sometime students get confused and they start criticizing something asked in question but it never means to criticize anything. It generally means they have to talk about the positive and negative aspect of that thing according to their own thought. For good critical analysis, they should include references by authentic writers to strengthen their point of view. One thing should be kept in mind that do not criticize any author for his negative comments but students are to consider it as it could be true. If one author is praising poetry and second is against it so students should refer both but do not criticize any of them individually but they are to analyze it by comparing both.


Compare means students are to compare one thing with another. Students are to focus on the similarities and dissimilarities between two things. For example, in question, they are asked to compare fiction and drama.

𝗖𝗼𝗺𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗼𝗿 𝗢𝗽𝗶𝗻𝗶𝗼𝗻

This question is typically answered by the students to share his own point of view regarding anything asked in the question. It means that what is the opinion of the student regarding asked question. What are the views of the candidate? Students, in answer, can use the word ‘I’ or ‘according to me’ while giving their opinion.


Demonstrate is a practical term which show how with an example to illustrate. Students are to give a complete demonstration of anything explained by examples.

What is Literary English?

literary english

What is Literary English?

Literary English is a form of English language used for writing literary content, for analyzing a literary writing or for literary criticism. During Medieval Ages, literary English was often placed at an elevated position among Fine Arts. During that time it was very distinctive from the colloquial English, but with the passage of time this distinction was decreased. At current era, there is no much difference between literary and colloquial English. Still there is a distinction between Literary and conversational English.

English is one of the most broadly spoken languages across the globe. It has taken many shapes and registers. Those who want to learn English language as a second language they opt a suitable register for their appropriate domain. For example a learner want to learn English for business around the world he will chose Business English, one who in only migrating to some native country he will learn English for general purpose and those who want to practice their abilities in literary field they will chose literary English.

Some exceptionally well-documented forms of literary writings are the works of Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Sir Francis Bacon, and William Wordsworth. Shakespearean sonnets and plays are one of the classic examples of English literature and studied around the world in most of the universities. Sir Francis Bacon is also prominent classic prose write of his age. These literary works require supplementary effort to understand it. Literary language is rich with figurative language and literary devices such as metaphors, paradoxes, sarcasm, ironies, similes, and many more. On the other hand, Business English is the written and spoken English that is especially for business context and it is proper both in word choice and of the suitable tone for conducting business. In business, you may be required to speak, read, and write in a language that your co-workers, supervisors, and clients can understand quickly and effectively in business context.

Characteristics of Literary English

Structure of Literary English

Literary language is the form of a language used in its literary writing. It has complex sentence structure and lays meaning in its context in literature. Its structure varies according to the literary form. In poetic form, its style is different from prose writing. Further, in one form, like in poetry, it varies its structure according to different sub-form of poetry. In a sonnet its style and structure is different from a heroic couplet. Literary books also have divergent forms depending on sub genre of literature.

Function of Literary English

Literary English is generally used for literary writing or for criticism or analysis on literary work. Even though literary content also do have a function, e.g., to criticize a literary work, to educate general public, to mock a society for its wrong pursuits or even just to entertain a reader. During Medieval Age, Fine Arts was at an elevated position and that era created lot of writers who took English as a tool for literary writings. They used rich language full of literary devices such as similes, metaphors, paradoxes, ironies, sarcasm, and many more. These literary devices are some time called figures of speech.

Click here for Figurative language

An ironic language

Literary English is not clear and state forward like Business English or English for General Purpose. Business English or English for General Purpose are generally free from ironies as these are designed for clear and effective communication while literary English is quite rich with ironies.  For understanding a literary text, a reader has to ponder upon it with full wit and efforts.

An Ambiguous language

People generally accept the view that literary form of English is far more ambiguous and more complicated than non-literary form (Business English or English for General Purpose). In Literary content, a reader cannot rely on surface text only but he has to ponder into the context of writing while on other hand it is not the case in non-literary texts. For example, a market price-table has to be precise in order for people to be able to rely on it and many people using the same market price-table should reach around the same result with common understanding. While on other hand if these ten people read a novel, they will come up with rather different interpretations of what a specific literary text ‘means’ or what it tries to convey.

Descriptive and Indirect language

Literary English does not convey direct meaning but reader has to search for the hidden message in the text. If a literary piece of writing is handed over to various students and they are asked for the message written in that text. All the students will conclude different message from the text depending upon their way of extracting a message from the text.

High Grammar level and Rich Vocabulary

Literary content is rich in vocabulary and carry complex sentence structure. Borrowing is too much in literary writings that make it more complex and difficult to understand for a common reader. Some genres of literature are free from grammatical rules as poetry or drama written in poetic form.