What Is Prose?

The Quick Answer

Prose is the normal form of language. Prose contrasts with poetry or verse because prose is not made up of lines with deliberate rhythmic pattern or rhyme.
Prose is a form of written or spoken language that is structured in sentences and paragraphs, without any specific rhythmic or metrical pattern. It is the standard mode of expression used in most written works, including novels, essays, articles, and non-fiction books. Prose aims to convey information, ideas, and emotions in a straightforward manner, allowing for a more natural and accessible communication of thoughts and narratives.

Unlike poetry, which often employs meter, rhyme, and other formal devices, prose utilizes a more flexible and fluid approach to convey meaning. It encompasses a wide range of styles, tones, and genres, enabling writers to adopt various narrative techniques, dialogues, descriptions, and character development to effectively engage readers in a coherent and narrative form of communication.

Table of Contents

  • The Difference between Prose and Poetry
  • The Difference between Prose and Prosaic Writing
  • Examples of Prose
  • Why Prose Is Important
  • Test Time!
prose meaning

The Difference between Prose and Poetry

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

The British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) explained the difference between prose and poetry like this:
"Prose is when all the lines except the last go on to the end. Poetry is when some of them fall short of it." (Jeremy Bentham)
The British author John Beverley Nichols (1898-1983) uses the difference between prose and poetry to present this idea:
"Marriage: a book of which the first chapter is written in poetry and the remaining chapters in prose." (Beverly Nichols)
Nichols' quotation 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.)

The Difference between Prose and Prosaic Writing

The adjective from prose is prosaic. However, the term prosaic writing is not necessarily synonymous with prose.

The adjective prosaic carries the connotation of something being basic or simple. (Prosaic is synonymous with adjectives like everyday, run-of-the-mill, normal, ordinary, routine, and standard.) In other words, a piece of writing described as prose might contain some imaginative figurative language. However, a piece of writing described as prosaic writing wouldn't contain such artistic flair (e.g., metaphors, similes, and hyperbole.)

Examples 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)

Why Prose Is Important

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 these 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.
Read about repetition in the form of anaphora, epiphora, and commoratio.

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.

Onomatopoeia (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

author logo

This page was written by Craig Shrives.