Best Dictionaries of Literary Terms, Theories & Keywords – A List by Alok Mishra

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Dictionary of literary terms and theories best books English literature

Studying English literature is an absorbing thing. It is like a rabbit hole with unfathomable depth, many ways to wander, and many rabbits to enable a person to admire the creation of God. However, what is the best way to enjoy this journey? What steps make it easy for someone to study English literature? On this platform, I have written many articles featuring the best books covering different aspects of literature. Today, let’s discuss another important part – literary terms. Sound knowledge of literary terms makes it convenient for students to understand literature. It helps students understand, interpret, analyse and write about a work of literature. So, what are some helpful books to comprehend literary terms and their definitions? Go through the list below and get the ones of your choice. (I suggest getting more than one (or all if you want) if you are serious about your studies.)

Books covering general terms, ideal to begin the exploration in this field: 

The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms: Compiled by Chris Baldick, this book helps students learn the meanings of literary terms convincingly. There are terms, their definitions, and very little jargon unless it becomes necessary. Simple terms have shorter definitions with appropriate examples. Complex terms, concepts or theories, a school of authors or anything that requires explanation have detailed descriptions, timelines and notes. In short, this is a non-nonsense dictionary containing important literary terms with appropriate definitions. Get a copy from Amazon India – click here to buy it from Amazon’s book page.

A Glossary of Literary Terms by M H Abrams: A popular book among English literature students, it helps to understand the most important literary terms. M H Abrams has written many other books on various aspects of literature. This one, however, should be the first on anyone’s reading list who wants to start an adventure (in English literature). The descriptions of literary terms are simple and, therefore, easy to understand. You can get a copy of this book from Amazon India here – click here to go to Amazon and buy the book.

The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory: On this list of three books, the Penguin’s dictionary is the most advanced, detailed and versatile. It covers almost everything – literary terms, theories, concepts and ideas. Voluminous and comprehensive, it makes the lives of literature students comfortable. You can get this book from Amazon India – click here to get a copy now.

Books that cover specific aspects of literature (for those who have read any dictionary of literary terms before): 

A Dictionary of Literary and Thematic Terms by Edward Quinn: Though a little costlier in India, the ‘Facts on File’ series will enhance the intellectual circumference of any literary enthusiast’s library! This content-rich, precise, and advanced dictionary of literary and thematic terms by Edward Quinn will widen the horizon of understanding of any student who already knows general terms and their definitions. For example, you will seldom find details for cony-catcher, counterfactual fiction, determinism, and four levels of meaning (along with many others) in other dictionaries of literary terms. If you can spend a little more, this book will be helpful in many ways! Get a copy from Amazon India – click here to go to the Amazon book page.

Key Terms in Literary Theory by Mary Klages: This book is a must-have for those who want to master literary theory and criticism. No, it will not discuss any literary theory in detail! It’d rather discuss key terms that theorists, academicians, and scholars use while explaining complex ideas, discreet concepts, and perplexing discourse literary theorists propose. Words (and phrases) like hypertext, diachronic, logocentrism, langue and parole, monologia and many others feature in this book by Mary Klages. If you want to understand major literary theories, you should go through this dictionary during your studies for the best help! Get a copy from Amazon India today – click here to buy now from Amazon.

You can pick up any book from the list above. Always keep your requirements, budget, and usage pattern in mind before you make your decision. I can vouch for the titles on this list. I have read them, analysed and compared them with other publications of a similar nature. 

Enjoyed this article? You can read other book-recommendation articles on this platform by clicking the links below: 

Best books to study the history of English literature 

Best books on literary theory and criticism 


A list by Alok Mishra

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5 Comments. Leave new

  • Thanks for this amazing article… It was wonderful reading the details of different dictionaries of literary terms. I will go with Penguin and may be the one by Abrams.

  • Wonderfully written article… Just helped me find the best literary dictionary for me!

  • Sneha Tripathi
    November 4, 2022 2:35 am

    Very well managed list… I agree that the books on the second list are amazing. I checked them out on Amazon by following the given links. I will save money and buy at least one of the two books. Thanks for this article once again.


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