Martin Luther King standing in front of a waterfall and river.Martin Luther King's 1963 I Have a Dream speech

The purpose of King’s rhetorical speech was to end racism in America and persuade the audience that everyone should have equal rights.

How does he use language to deliver a strong message?

King uses similes “until justice rolls down like waters” and “righteousness like a mighty stream” to make the reader visualise “justice” and “righteousness” as rushing water – implying that they need to be forceful and unstoppable.

Exam questions may ask you to comment on how writers use language to make an impression on the reader.

You should select words and phrases for close analysis - to show that you understand how language features affect the reader.

Below are some of the features that writers select deliberately for effect:

Language features


Naming words. They may be:

  • concrete – naming objects, eg table, car
  • abstract – naming ideas and feelings, eg adventure, pride
  • proper – naming people, places, days, months etc, eg Marie, Sweden, Monday (always capital letters)


  • words that describe nouns, eg green, huge, sparkly


Words that describe actions and states of being:

  • action words (do/feel/be), eg run, hide, think
  • past tense, eg I played the recorder
  • present tense, eg he walks to the shops
  • future tense, eg she will go home later


  • words that describe verbs and adjectives, eg quickly, patiently


Someone or something, the subject of the sentence:

  • first person, eg I, we, me, my, our, us
  • second person, eg you, yours, yourself
  • third person, eg he, she, they, them, theirs


  • words used to show where something is in place or time, eg at, for, with, after, to, over, from, into

Literary language features

simileA comparison using 'like' or 'as' to create a vivid image.As big as a whale; float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
metaphorA comparison made without using 'like' or 'as'.'Sea of troubles' and 'drowning in debt'
personificationA type of imagery in which non-human objects, animals or ideas are given human characteristics.The jaws of the cave, the leaves danced in the breeze
pathetic fallacyThe environment (usually the weather) reflects the mood of the character or scene. The fog crept evilly through the streets as he stalked his victim.
onomatopoeiaThe sounds of words to express or underline their meaning, sensory imagery.Crunch, pop, screech
alliterationThe repetition of the same sounds usually at the beginning of words.Reuse, renew, recycle
assonanceThe repetition of vowel sounds in a series of words.Harsh bark, moonlit pool
rule of threeRepetition in a group of three to strengthen an idea or argument.Freedom, equality, and justice
connotationsImplied meanings suggested by a word rather than its literal meanings.Red is a colour - but can imply danger, anger and stop.
hyperboleOver-the-top exaggeration for effect.I have ten tonnes of homework to do.
repetitionWords, phrases or ideas that are repeated for effect.This is serious, incredibly serious.
rhetorical questionsA question asked for effect with no answer expected.Do you think that I’m made of money?
emotive languageWords chosen to bring an emotional response.Defenceless, hard-hearted

Also consider:

  • Is the text in the first person or third person? Is it personal or impersonal?
  • Which tense has the writer chosen, eg past or present? What effect does this have?
  • How sentences are structured, eg short and simple – to pack a punch - or is listing used to suggest boredom or to pick up the pace?

Avoid ‘feature spotting’ – you need to show that you understand the impact of writers’ language choices on the reader and not just list them.

You should always comment on the possible effects of language use on the reader – how it makes the reader respond eg, think, feel, imagine or visualise something.