Literary devices that create humor
As you read, you will encounter many types of humor, and you will find some types funnier than others. If you want to learn to use humor in writing, it helps to identify some of the literary devices commonly used in humor.
- Exaggeration or overstatement: To represent as thing as greater than it is; to make a mountain out of a molehill.
- Understatement or litotes: Understatement is an expression of lesser emphasis than expected or called for. In rhetoric, litotes is a figure of speech in which understatement is used for emphasis and irony. Colloquially, to understate is to downplay a situation or reaction.
- One example of understatement is the Victorian reaction to Cleopatra’s scandalous conduct as portrayed in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra: “How different, how very different, from the home life of our own dear Queen!”
- Incongruity: The juxtaposition of two not-quite-related ideas; something that is out of harmony with expectations.
- Irony: A stylistic device or type of humor in which the real meaning of the words is different from (and opposite to) the literal meaning. Irony, unlike sarcasm, tends to be ambiguous, bringing two contrasting meanings into play.
- Wordplay: A type of humor and a literary technique focused on word usage, with the goal of creating humor. Examples of word play include puns, phonetic mix-ups such as spoonerisms, obscure words and meanings, oddly formed sentences, double entendres, Tom Swifties, shaggy dog jokes, and descriptive character names.
- “It wasn’t a good summer for Humpty Dumpty, but he had a great fall.”
Five ways to be funny with words
In this informal video by Jeff Roy you will get an overview of these five commonly used literary devices or types of humor.
Setup and Switcheroo humor
Novelist K.M. Weiland offers a brief look at another type of humor in which the writer or speaker foreshadows something, then does something different at the last minute.
Additional information on humor
Psychology Today defines 4 Styles of Humor: affiliative, aggressive, self-enhancing, or self-defeating.
You can learn more about which types of humor you prefer by taking the Humor Styles Questionnaire at PsychToolkit.