It seems like there is an infinite amount of genres in literature, but in reality, there are actually many sub-genres. These sub-genres stem from the three primary forms of literature: Poetry, Drama, and Prose. Students will typically encounter these forms of literature for most of what they read and write about in school, so it’s important for students to be able to recognize them and know their key characteristics.

Main Literary Genres


Poetry is the most intense form of writing. It allows a writer to express his or her deepest emotions and thoughts in a very personal way. It relies heavily on figurative language, rhythm, and imagery to relay its message to readers.

Primary Sub-Genres of Poetry

  • Songs and Ballads
  • Lyric
  • Epic
  • Dramatic
  • Narrative


Drama is a literary work written to be performed in front of an audience. It contains dialogue, and actors impersonate the characters. It is usually divided into acts or scenes, and relies on props or imaginative dialogue to create a visual experience for the audience.

Primary Sub-Genres of Drama

  • Tragedy
  • Comedy
  • History
  • Melodrama
  • Musical


Prose is the most common form of writing. It is not restricted by rhythm or dialogue, and it most closely resembles everyday speech. It is usually straightforward, and may utilize figurative language, dialogue, characters, and imagery.

Prose writing is often divided into two primary categories:


Fiction is narrative writing that originates from the author’s imagination. It is designed to entertain, but it can also inspire, inform, or persuade.

Primary Sub-Genres of Fiction

  • Novel
  • Novella
  • Short Story
  • Myths and Legends
  • Fables


Nonfiction is writing that is based on true events, people, places, and facts. It is designed to inform, and sometimes to entertain.

Primary Sub-Genres of Nonfiction

  • Autobiography
  • Biography
  • Essay
  • Diaries and Journals
  • Narrative Nonfiction

A Note About Speeches...

While not one of the primary genres of literature, speeches are important historical documents or moments and literature, and they don’t always fit neatly into one of the three primary genre categories. A speech is a formal address given to an audience. Speeches can be found in prose, drama, and poetry, and their primary goals are to persuade, inform, demonstrate, or entertain a reader, an audience, or other characters. They can also be used in nonfiction or fiction, depending on their purpose and use.

Primary Speech Forms

  • Persuasive
  • Informational
  • Demonstrative
  • Special Occasion
  • Debate

Image Attributions
  • Gold 1975 Chart.gif • Ethan Bloch • License Attribution (
  • Pie-Chart • tjroth87 • License Attribution (
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