To study the different types of diction is to understand a person’s choice of words. This gives the reader or listener an insight on the speaker or writer’s character. This is especially true in writing. Writers gain credibility by using the right words, style and tone of voice.
The different types of diction may differ by character, situation and settings. To evaluate diction, just identify the opposing types, i.e. formal vs. informal, abstract vs. concrete or colloquial vs. pedantic, etc.
Also called abstract imagery, abstract diction is using language – i.e., words and phrases – to describe things that cannot be perceived by the five senses, which are touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste. In other words, if you describe something as being pleasant or a person as being loved, these can be considered abstract diction. Abstract diction is subjective, as compared to concrete diction, because its meaning depends on people’s perceptions and their life experiences.
In other words, the exact definition of the item or emotion being talked about varies from one individual to another, so describing an object as attractive or pleasing may mean very different things to different people. You are, in essence, describing concepts rather than concrete images when using abstract diction.
Colloquial expressions include words and phrases that are unique to the local community. The language is directly influenced by how people speak in that particular area of the world. If you are a writer and wish to convey an idea or figure of speech that is only found in a particular state or county, your work can gain a tremendous amount of realism that will make readers connect more with what you’re writing.
Colloquial expressions also include idioms that are peculiar or even strange but which are regularly used by that particular culture. They are casual, everyday expressions that local people use without much thought, and they can even include slang language and language that is crude or profane.
Concrete diction is just what the name implies – a concrete idea or description of something. If you tell someone a lemon is yellow, they know exactly what you mean because they know what that color looks like, and they can then picture the item in their head. In fact, any time you use a noun or an adjective that is very specific in nature, that is an example of concrete diction.
Concrete words used in diction include dog, cat, computer, radio, ice cube, hat, tree, etc. They describe items that result in a specific image in people’s minds, so there is no confusion as to what the words mean. They also describe things that can be perceived by using the five senses – touch, smell, hearing, sight, and taste.
If a word or phrase has both a literal meaning and a certain feeling or emotion attached to it, this is what is meant by a connotation. The feeling or emotion doesn’t necessarily have to be realistic or true, but anything that is associated with a certain phrase or word is its connotation. If you mention Wall Street to someone, they usually associate that with power and wealth, even though the term is simply a way to describe a street in Manhattan, and this is a great example of a connotation of something.
If you use the terms “Mom” and “Dad” when describing your parents, it can result in people having the connotation that your parents are loving and devoted, instead of merely being a mother or father. Connotations can be either positive or negative, depending on their use, and every day thousands of words elicit certain connotations, which is why writers use this technique so often.
In contrast to a connotation, denotation refers to the literal meaning of a word or phrase and not the emotions or feelings that the words or phrases elicit. When you use a specific word, phrase, or symbol to portray the meaning of something, you’re using a denotation of the word.
Denotation diction is taking something literally, so if you hear that someone is drifting away from morals or from a certain location, you’ll know that the person speaking or writing is using a literal reference and not an implied one or one that may be ambiguous. You can take whatever is said and written at face value, as opposed to wondering exactly what the speaker or writer is trying to convey.
If a certain group of people use a unique language, pronunciation, or spelling of words, this is called a dialect. A perfect example is the story of Huckleberry Finn, which contains hundreds of examples of a dialect used by the people of that era and that location. Many famous poems have great examples of local dialect in them, and you can find unique dialect almost anywhere in the country, and even in other parts of the world.
In fact, many dialects are so unique that they are difficult to understand by people who do not live in that location, and in some instances a dialect can even sound like a foreign language to the speakers of the mother language. Dialect can include words, phrases, or even how a certain area spells a particular word, but it always refers to a one-of-a-kind way to describe, verbalize, or spell something in the end.
When people write an article or composition or speak to a live audience, they usually use formal diction, which is usually characterized by language that is sophisticated and often technical in nature. It is much more formal-sounding than the more casual language people use when speaking to friends or family members. Writing a college term paper or composing an article for a medical or other professional journal requires formal diction, but this isn’t a requirement every time.
Many novels, short stories, and poems sometimes use more casual or informal diction, but whenever the speaker or writer is addressing a more educated, sophisticated audience, formal diction is almost always used. There are many instances where speaking and writing using formal diction works best, and it is always preferred with certain audiences.
Contrasting with formal diction, informal diction is much more casual and relaxed, and it is what most of us use on a daily basis when talking to friends or colleagues. In fact, you can even use local dialect or phrases that are familiar only to a certain group of people when using informal diction. This type of diction is often used when writing an email, a personal letter to a family member, and in conversation.
It has a relaxed, easy-to-understand manner that anyone can relate to, and it works best with certain audiences, such as when you’re addressing a large audience and you are speaking about something that is non-technical in nature. Informal diction is very simple to understand and non-confrontational, not to mention not intimidating, which means everyone can feel comfortable with it.
Jargon is usually geared towards specific professions or careers, and it includes specialized terms, phrases, and words that are often not understood by people outside of the profession. A doctor, lawyer, or engineer may use jargon in papers or when speaking to other people in the same career field, and it is almost always technical in nature.
Jargon can include abbreviations that are commonly known within a certain profession, such as JT for joint and BP for blood pressure among medical doctors, as well as terms such as due diligence and sweat equity among business people. Jargon isn’t necessarily complicated or too difficult to learn, but it is always a type of speech that pertains only to a specific group of people, a manner of speaking that saves these people time and effort.
Neutral diction consists of writing or speaking that is free of any type of specialized language, including idioms, contractions, slang, and colloquialisms. It is language that is geared towards the general population, a population that can be both educated and uneducated, from small towns and big cities, and from all walks of life.
This is why neutral diction is so important, because many speakers and writers find themselves in situations where they need to address broad, general-interest audiences who may not understand what they’re trying to convey if their speech or paper is too complex or gender- or career-specific. Neutral writing and speaking serves a multitude of functions, and it is the most common form in most parts of the country and the world.
The word pedantic refers to speech, language, or even a person that uses very detailed and precise language in order to present to others a more formal, educated view of themselves/itself. When pedantic language is used in a poem, it has a very arrogant and ostentatious feel to it, almost as if it is trying to leave certain people behind.
A person who uses pedantic diction on a continuous basis may be constantly trying to impress others, and these people tend to pay attention to every minute detail of everything they say and write. Pedantic diction is not just formal diction, but an outright attempt to utilize words and phrases that are often above many people’s level of understanding and schooling.
In contrast to pedantic diction, pedestrian diction is a lot like talking down to people, because it includes language that is essentially dull and uninspiring. It is one thing to write or speak with words that everyone will understand, but it is quite another to make those words so basic and elementary that most of your audience is going to be bored and maybe even insulted.
This is what pedestrian writing and speaking are like, and they can sound like something that was written or spoken off the top of someone’s head, without putting too much thought into it or without polishing it off when it’s complete. Pedestrian language is extremely basic and simple, and it is often thought of as language for the “common people.”
Diction that is precise means speaking or writing in a style that everyone will understand completely as soon as they hear or read what you’re saying. It can be either formal or informal, but it is an exact and very thorough form of writing or speaking that leaves nothing to the imagination of the audience, because everyone will know exactly what the speaker or writer means. The wording is very distinct and definite, sometimes sounding quite rigid.
It utilizes specific words and phrases that help the audience see and understand what you’re trying to convey, and when they walk away from your speech or the item you’ve written, they will have gained a complete understanding of it. The language you use is never fuzzy, difficult to understand, or ambiguous, so the reader or listener always knows exactly what you mean by your work regardless of its content.
Slang usually includes words or phrases that may have meant something different in the past or which had no meaning before a specific time, but they are words and phrases that have become so frequently used and common that they are now considered official words and phrases. Slang words are not necessarily specific to a certain area of the country, because they can also be words that have become more accepted to the population in general. For example, using the word grass to mean marijuana is a perfect example of a slang word.
Nowadays everyone is familiar with this word and its meaning, and since slang words are often included in official dictionaries after they’ve been used long enough, many of them enjoy a certain amount of legitimacy after they’ve been used for a certain length of time. Whether included in the dictionary or not, however, slang words are here to stay, and as soon as you feel you’ve learned all the current ones, more slangs will come along to make your life a little more interesting.
Purposes of Diction Types
Speakers and writers who use abstract diction often do so because they want all readers and listeners to think for themselves and come up with the best conclusion in the end – a conclusion that makes them satisfied with the end results.
Colloquial expressions are used when writers or readers are aiming for an emotional connection with the audience, and colloquialisms are the perfect way to do this.
If you’re a teacher developing an exam or a speaker addressing an audience with the same profession, using concrete language is the best way to reach all of them and help them understand what it is you’re trying to convey to them.
Connotation is often used to shape a reader or listener’s thinking, and it can also be used to allow the reader to reflect upon your writing and remember it for a very long time.
Much like concrete diction, denotation is used when you’re aiming for a specific understanding of words or phrases, not a vague or ambiguous understanding.
If you’re a writer, using dialect is a powerful way to elaborate and emphasize the social or geographic background of a certain character.
Mostly used by people with education who wish to write for scholarly publications and journals, such as IT professionals, corporate managers, and project managers, among others.
Things that are written in informal diction are meant to ensure that everyone who reads the publication is able to understand what the writer is saying.
Using jargon when you’re speaking or writing for your colleagues is the best way to save some time and to get your point across, because you know that everyone will understand the words and phrases you’re using.
Neutral writing or speaking allows all of the audience members to know exactly what you’re talking about, without using any type of jargon or slang.
There are several reasons to use pedantic diction, but most people try to avoid this style when they’re speaking or writing to a group of people, because it can make you sound arrogant and conceited.
If you’re writing for individuals who live in a particular region or area, or even general audiences, pedestrian diction can be a big help.
The more technical your article or speech is, the more you’ll want to use a very precise language, as this is the best way to make sure your point comes across the right way.
If you’re a writer, using slang words can help you connect your characters to your readers, especially if you use slangs that are very well-known.
Examples of Diction Types
Abstract diction includes sentences such as:
“After the amount of time spent in his career, he felt he was a success.”
“She felt love for this small creature she’d just adopted.”
Colloquial expressions include expressions such as:
“I’m going to drink a pop now.”
“That bloke is gonna regret doing that.”
Some examples of concrete diction include:
“I bought my son a red-and-white ball.”
“My cat jumped up on my table while I was cleaning the floors.”
Connotation examples include the following:
“I compare being around her to a summer day.”
“He is nothing but a dog.” (The term dog refers to something other than a canine pet.)
Denotation can be exemplified in the following sentences:
“My parents have been conservationists for many years.”
“Sam returned to his home on Monday.”
Sentences that describe certain dialects are as follows:
“I caught a cold last month” versus “I took a cold last month.”
“I’m cooking snap beans tonight for supper” versus “I’m cooking string beans tonight for supper.”
Formal diction uses words and phrases that can be technical or even a bit complex, and some examples include:
“Would you be so kind as to pass the rolls, please?”
“I intend to peruse the book that I will be using in class.”
Examples of informal diction include:
“I am going to the beach today so I can work on my tan.”
“Where are you going on Thanksgiving Day?”
Below are some of the abbreviations, words, and phrases that are identified as jargon.
AWOL – absent without leave (military)
Chief cook and bottle-washer – the person in charge of everything important (business)
FX – bone fracture (medical)
IM – intramuscular (medical)
K – the symbol for potassium (medical)
SQDN – squadron (military)
TD – temporary duty (military)
The 9-to-5 – the standard work day (business)
There are literally millions of examples of neutral diction, but these are a few of them:
“Today’s teenagers love rock music just as much as their parents did.”
“Let’s take a look at some common recipes for quiche.”
“Today’s topic includes ways you can make extra money in your spare time.”
There are many examples of pedantic diction, including:
“At the beep, please leave your name and a brief reason why today’s man’s existential dilemma has ontological necessity.”
“I can recommend a restaurant as soon as you tell me if you are a connoisseur of Greek, French, or Italian food, or even another type entirely.”
“We are going to have precipitation that will accumulate quite high in the atmosphere and combine with jet streams, then hover over the New England states from a northeasterly direction.”
When you talk to a person who enjoys using pedantic diction, you usually feel like you need to have a dictionary close by in order to understand what they are saying; and let’s face it, that is something no one actually likes.
Some examples of pedestrian writing include:
“You can choose your friends, but not your family.”
“Hand me that cookie.”
“Wanna go to the store with me?”
Precise diction includes the following statements:
“Let’s go to the game room and play some video games.”
“Mr. Smith asked his boss for a 10-percent pay raise.”
“Today’s lesson will be about verbs.”
Using certain words helps a lot when you’re trying to be precise, including words such as specific, describe, identify, document, examine, and explain, to name a few. The important thing to remember is to provide as much detail as possible when you’re writing or speaking, and also to use very specific numbers and details the entire way.
There are dozens of examples of slang words, and below is just a small sample of them.
Bought the farm – died unexpectedly
Crash – to fall asleep suddenly
Creep – a weird or unusual person
For real – an expression that portrays honesty
Hyped up – an excited state, either physically or emotionally
Knock someone – to bad-mouth a person or say something negative about them
Piece of cake – effortless, easy
Pig out – to binge-eat
Spill the beans – tattle on someone
Zonked – utterly exhausted.