Sensory Language

Sensory language is the use of details from the five senses to add color and depth to writing. It helps readers visualize the scene a writer is setting.

Sight

Example 1

From Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

[Mrs. Flowers'] skin was a rich black that would have peeled like a plum if snagged, but then no one would have thought of getting close enough to Mrs. Flowers to ruffle her dress, let alone snag her skin.

Example 2

From Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

I looked around the room that I had never in my wildest fantasies imagined I would see. Browned photographs leered or threatened from the walls and the white, freshly done curtains pushed against themselves and against the wind.

Example 3

From Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

They were flat round wafers, slightly browned on the edges and butter-yellow in the center

Sound

Example 1

From Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

“It was the best of times and the worst of times . . .” [Mrs. Flowers'] voice slid in and curved down through and over the words. She was nearly singing. I wanted to look at the pages. Were they the same that I had read? Or were there notes, music, lined on the pages, as in a hymn book? Her sounds began cascading gently. I knew from listening to a thousand preachers that she was nearing the end of her reading, and I hadn’t really heard, heard to understand, a single word.

Smell

Example 1

From Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

The odors in the house surprised me. Somehow I had never connected Mrs. Flowers with food or eating or any other common experience of common people. [...] The sweet scent of vanilla had met us as she opened the door.

Taste

Example 1

From Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

The sweet vanilla flavor was still on my tongue and [Mrs. Flowers'] reading was a wonder in my ears. I had to speak.

Touch

Example 1

From Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

I jammed one whole cake in my mouth and the rough crumbs scratched the insides of my jaws, and if I hadn’t had to swallow, it would have been a dream come true.

This page was last modified on September 10, 2009.

27 Responses to “Sensory Language”

  1. ulises says:

    Can you recommend another website to get more examples?ulises

  2. wendy says:

    Great examples! Helped alot!!

  3. ..I.. says:

    you all suck

    • Mr. Scott says:

      Thank you for the well-thought-out, constructive feedback on the site. I especially appreciate the care you took to be grammatically correct and write in a proper, formal voice. In an age of short, grammatically atrocious, vitriolic nonsense that the anonymity of the Internet inspires, it’s good to see someone take the time to craft a thought-provoking analysis of what we’re doing here.

  4. languageclass says:

    this really helped me with my language work and my grade 5 class did a project on the subjet , so, this really helped and thanks a ton :)

  5. An eight grader says:

    Thanks I am a eight grader this helped me a lot

  6. yake says:

    i got an assignment and this help tanks.XD

  7. Mr. Scott says:

    Anti aircraft artillery!

  8. fer says:

    helped me very much:)

  9. jojo says:

    This sucks!! Make it to where a 5th grader can understand!! #this#sucks

    • Mr. Scott says:

      I appreciate the constructive criticism. The irony of your complaint says more than the complaint itself.

  10. isabel says:

    Thank u a ton????

  11. MEEEE says:

    Do you know what part of speech it is?!?

  12. Mr. Scott says:

    What?

  13. RM says:

    These comments are absolute gold on your part, Mr. Scott! Seriously though, thank you for taking the time to help us all out here! Great examples! :)

  14. Alison Orchard says:

    Mr. Scott,
    Wonderful examples! Thank you for using such a rich piece of literature to showcase sensory language. Even better than the actual document are your responses to the comments. Thanks for the humor.

  15. A little help? says:

    Mr scott is this the only sensory language because there is many which only one from here would be sensory language 1. Directions: Select the correct text in the passage.
    Which sentence from the passage uses sensory language?

    At the Starting Line

    Beads of sweat glistened across Miguel’s forehead as he marched to the starting line. Miguel tried to calm his nerves, but he inhaled and exhaled so deeply and expressively that everyone turned around to look at him. Miguel barely noticed all the stares. He was focused on the race; he had mapped out every movement that he was going to make. Those moves, he believed, were essential to his victory at the other end of the track. Okay, Miguel, you just need to do what you practiced every single day of the year, Miguel thought. He readied himself at the starting line and crouched down in the starting position. Then, he heard Pop! Miguel immediately lunged forward, bursting with energy. He pumped his legs and arms as quickly as he could, and before he knew it, the race was over. Miguel, drenched in sweat, breathed heavily and waited for the voice of the announcer. Then, he heard the standings and knew that he had accomplished what he had set out to do.

    • Mr. Scott says:

      Sensory language is anything that appeals to one of the five senses: anything we might hear, or see, or taste, or feel, or smell. It can also appeal to multiple senses. Beads of sweat, for example, might appeal to sight and feel, and if the author says that the sweat is forming on a character’s upper lip, we might also imagine the saltiness that might produce.

      Apply those principles to this passage, and I’m sure you’ll do fine.

Please let me know how I can help you.

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