Prose is the normal form of spoken or written language. It contrasts with verse. In other words, prose is not made up of lines with deliberate rhythmic pattern or rhyme.

Prose is usually written in paragraph form, and it does not rhyme or have a rhythmic pattern. Stories and articles (fictional and non-fictional) are written in prose. Songs and poems are written in verse.

Easy Example of Prose

  • I'm not lying when I say a dog is full of love. I know from experience that a wet dog loves you the most.
  • (This is prose.)
Here is the same message in non-prose (i.e., verse):
  • The truth I do not stretch or shove
    When I state the dog is full of love.
    I've also proved, by actual test,
    A wet dog is the lovingest.
    (US poet Ogden Nash)

More about Prose

The following quotations capture the difference between prose and poetry:
  • "Prose is when all the lines except the last go on to the end. Poetry is when some of them fall short of it." (British philosopher Jeremy Bentham)
  • "Marriage: a book of which the first chapter is written in poetry and the remaining chapters in prose." (British author John Beverley Nichols)
The second example suggests that prose is dull, but the word prose does not carry that connotation. (You should think of prose as meaning not verse, i.e., as having no connotation of the text being boring.)

Of note, however, the term prosaic writing (prosaic is the adjective from prose) is not necessarily synonymous with prose. The adjective carries the connotation of something being basic or simple. (In other words, prosaic is synonymous with adjectives like everyday, run-of-the-mill, normal, ordinary, routine and standard.)

A piece of writing described as prose might contain some imaginative figurative language (e.g., metaphors, similes, alliteration). However, a piece of writing described as prosaic writing wouldn't contain such artistic flair.

Why Should I Care about Prose?

Unless you're a lyricist or a poet, your business correspondence or your course work will be prose, but that does not mean it has to be prosaic (i.e., without some flair). There are numerous literary techniques you can employ when writing prose. Used sparingly and appropriately for your audience, techniques like those below can be used:

Anastrophe (deliberately using the wrong word order).
  • A stare long and threatening
Assonance (repeating vowel sounds in nearby words).
  • The concept of mothering more overtly
Consonance (repeating consonant sounds in nearby words)
  • Pick a lock and crack it.
Deliberate repetition (deliberately repeating ideas or words)
  • I shall tell you, and you shall listen, and we shall agree.
Euphemisms (using agreeable words to replace offensive ones)
  • He was so well oiled he lost his lunch.
  • (He was so drunk he was sick.)
Logosglyphs (using words that look like what they represent)
  • With eyes like pools
  • (The word eyes looks like two eyes and a nose, and oo looks like two eyes.)
Metaphors (saying something is something else)
  • The volcano spewed its flaming Earth sauce.
Onomatomania (using words that sound like what they represent)
  • Don't growl at customers.
Oxymoron (using contradictory terms)
  • Non-prosaic prose
Similes (describing something as being like something else).
  • The British accepted her absence like Americans accept the missing full stop in "Dr Pepper".
Using such literary devices in prose can make your writing (especially your message) more interesting, more impactful and more memorable. They can also portray you as confident.

Key Points

  • Use literary devices to create non-prosaic prose.
  • Flair in prose is like salt in soup. None is usually fine. A little is often an improvement. A lot is always a disaster.
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