If you’re familiar with prose, you’ve probably heard it defined as “not poetry.” In truth, its definition is more expansive. There are many types of prose; for example, prose fiction is writing that contains elements like character, setting, and theme. More broadly, prose is any writing that adheres to standard sentence and grammatical structure. In other words, prose is writing that lacks the hallmarks of poetry and song.
What is prose?
Prose, pronounced prōz, is defined as writing that does not follow a meter or rhyme scheme. It’s writing that follows standard grammatical rules and communicates ideas in a linear, logical order. Prose writing includes works of fiction and nonfiction.
Unless you’re a particularly prolific poet, most of the writing you do is prose. This blog post is prose. Most books are prose. Research papers are prose. In other words, prose is “regular” writing—the kind of writing that isn’t constrained by stanzas, meter, rhyme, or any other stylistic formatting. Its purposes vary and include entertaining the reader as well as informing and persuading them. Its style serves all of these purposes by relying on familiar language structures to communicate directly with the reader.
Prose is a mass noun, which means it does not have a plural form. As it’s a mass noun, you wouldn’t discuss prose as a singular piece of writing or as multiple pieces—when discussing a singular prose work, you would refer to the specific type of work, such as “a book” or “an article.” Similarly, to discuss multiple works of prose, you would say something like “the collection of prose” to refer to a library of books or an anthology of prose writing.
4 types of prose
As we mentioned earlier, prose includes both fictional and nonfictional writing. There are four defined types of prose. They are:
1 Fictional prose
As its name implies, prose fiction is prose that tells a story. Examples include:
- Short stories
- Flash fiction
Fictional prose contains the five features of fiction: mood, point of view, character, setting, and plot.
2 Nonfictional prose
Nonfictional prose is prose that tells a true story or otherwise communicates factual information. Guidebooks, memoirs, analytical essays, editorials, news stories, and textbooks are all examples of nonfictional prose. The language used in nonfictional prose can vary widely, from the formal language of academic papers to the more subjective writing found in opinion pieces. The uniting characteristic of nonfictional prose is that these pieces of writing do not tell fictional stories.
3 Heroic prose
Heroic prose is similar to fictional prose but has one crucial difference: Traditionally, it’s not written down. Instead, these stories are passed from generation to generation through oral tradition. This is often reflected in the story’s use of language, which is particularly suited to recitation.
A few examples of heroic prose include:
- The thirteenth-century Icelandic sagas Vǫlsunga saga and Thidriks saga
- The Fenian cycle, a collection of Irish tales recorded in the twelfth century telling the story of hero Finn McCool
4 Prose poetry
Kills bugs dead. Redundancy is syntactical overkill. A pin-prick of peace at the end of the tunnel of a nightmare night in a roach motel. Their noise infects the dream. In black kitchens they foul the food, walk on our bodies as we sleep over oceans of pirate flags. Skull and crossbones, they crunch like candy. When we die they will eat us, unless we kill them first. Invest in better mousetraps. Take no prisoners on board ship, to rock the boat, to violate our beds with pestilence. We dream the dream of extirpation. Wipe out a species, with God at our side. Annihilate the insects. Sterilize the filthy vermin.
Although this poem is certainly stylized and uses figurative language, it uses prose sentence structure. The use of prose language makes it a prose poem.
How do you write prose?
When you’re writing prose, stick to standard grammatical rules and structures. Deviate from these rules only when doing so will immerse the reader further into the text or help them understand it better, such as when writing:
- Sales copy
Follow natural speech patterns to help the reader understand your message, which is your goal with these types of writing.
Beyond these guidelines, follow the rules for the specific type of writing you’re doing. For example, if you’re writing a research paper or another kind of academic work, use academic language and format your writing according to the appropriate style guide. Similarly, format personal essays, articles, emails, and any other prose writing you do according to the generally accepted format for that type of writing.
Although prose may contain literary devices, such devices should not make up the bulk of the text. Rather, incorporate literary devices as a way to enhance the more linear text in your prose writing.
Prose vs. poetry
To understand the differences between prose and poetry, think about the things that make poetry unique:
- Deliberate line breaks
- Traditional poetic structures, like a sonnet or a ballad
- Rhyme scheme
- Metrical structure
- Significant use of figurative language and other literary devices
- Formatting that stands out visually on the page
Keep in mind that not every poem checks all of these boxes. Plenty of poems don’t rhyme, and not every poem fits a set metrical structure; in addition, as you saw in the prose poetry example above, a poem doesn’t necessarily have to contain line breaks or stylized formatting. However, when a piece of writing uses one or more of these elements to primarily communicate a theme or mood, rather than convey information, it’s generally considered a poem.
In contrast, prose:
- Primarily uses literal, everyday language
- Contains sentences that continue across lines
- Is formatted into paragraphs, lines, and lists
- Generally follows natural speech patterns
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- Crocodiles are the largest reptiles in the world. They coexisted with dinosaurs, making them one of the oldest living species today.
- After we stopped for gasoline, we had a renewed sense of purpose for the road trip.
- Thank you very much for your inquiry. Due to the volume of emails we receive, we cannot respond to each individually.
- “Yes, I would love to help you build a shed!” he exclaimed.
- There are seven continents on Earth.
What is prose?
The prose is writing that uses standard grammatical rules and structure. Prose writing is organized into sentences and paragraphs and generally communicates ideas in a linear narrative.
What are the types of prose?
- Fictional prose
- Nonfictional prose
- Heroic prose
- Prose poetry
What’s the difference between poetry and prose?
While poetry is characterized by having meter, rhyme schemes, stanzas, and other stylistic formatting, prose is characterized by the lack of these.