AP English Literature and Composition Literary Terms

Absolute
a word free from limitations or qualifications (“best”, “all”, “unique”, “perfect”)

Adage
a familiar proverb or wise saying

Ad Hominem Argument
an argument attacking an individual’s character rather than his or her position on an issue

Allegory
a literary work in which characters, objects, or actions represent abstractions

Alliteration
the repitition of initial sounds in successive or neighboring words

Allusion
a reference to something literary, mythological, or historical that the author assumes the reader will recognize

Analogy
a comparison of two different things that are similar in some way

Anaphora
the repitition of words or phrases at the beginning of consecutive lines or sentences

Anecdote
a brief narrative that focuses on a particular incident or event

Antecedent
the word, phrase, or clause to which a pronoun refers

Antithesis
a statement in which two opposing ideas are balanced

Aphorism
a concise statement that expresses succinctly a general truth or idea, often using rhyme or balance

Apostrophe
a figure of speech in which one directly addresses an absent or imaginary person, or some abstraction

Archetype
a detail, image, or character type that occurs frequently in literature and myth and is thought to appeal in a universal way to the unconscious and to evoke a response

Argument
a statement of the meaning or main point of a literary work

Asyndeton
a construction in which elements are presented in a series without conjuctions

Balanced Sentence
a sentence in which words, phrases, or clauses are set off against each other to emphasize a contrast

Bathos
insincere or overly sentimental quality of writing/speech intended to evoke pity

Chiasmus
a statement consisting of two parallel parts in which the second part is structurally reversed (“Susan walked in, and out rushed Mary”)

Cliche
an expression that has been overused to the extent that its freshness has worn off

Colloquialism
informal words or expressions not usually acceptable in formal writing

Complex Sentence
a sentence with one independent clause and at least one dependent clause

Compound Sentence
a sentence with two or more coordinate independent clauses, often joined by one or more conjuctions

Conceit
a fanciful, particularly clever extended metaphor

Concrete Details
details that relate to or describe actual, specific things or events

Connotation
the implied or associative meaning of a word

Cumulative Sentence
a sentence in which the main independent clause is elaborated by the successive addition of modifing clauses or phrases

Declarative Sentence
a sentenece that makes a statement or declaration

Deductive Reasoning
reasoning in which a conclusion is reached by stating a general principle and then applying that principle to a specific case (The sun rises every morning; therefore, the sun will rise on Tuesday morning.)

Denotation
the literal meaning of a word

Dialect
a variety of speech characterized by its own particular grammar or pronunciation, often associated with a particular geographical region

Dialogue
conversation between two or more people

Diction
the word choices made by a writer

Didactic
having the primary purpose of teaching or instructing

Dilemma
a situation that requires a person to decide between two equally attractive or equally unattractive alternatives

Dissonance
harsh, inharmonious, or discordant sounds

Elegy
a formal poem presenting a meditation on death or another solemn theme

Ellipsis
the omission of a word or phrase which is grammatically necessary but can be deduced from the context (“Some people prefer cats; others, dogs”)

Epic
a long narrative poem written in elevated style which presents the adventures of characters of high position and episodes that are important to the history of a race or nation

Epigram
a brief, pithy, and often paradoxical saying

Epigraph
a saying or statement on the title page of work, or used as a heading for a chapter or other section of a work

Epiphany
a moment of sudden revelation or insight

Epitaph
an inscription on a tombstone or burial place

Epithet
a term used to point out a characteristic of a person. Homeric epithets are often compound adjectives (“swift-footed Achilles”) that become an almost formulaic part of a name. Epithets can be abusive or offensive but are not so by definition. For example, athletes may be proud of their given epithets (“The Rocket”)

Eulogy
a formal speech praising a person who has died

Euphemism
an indirect, less offensive way of saying something that is considered unpleasant

Exclamatory Sentence
a sentence expressing strong feeling, usually punctuated with an exclamation mark

Expletive
an interjection to lend emphasis; sometimes, a profanity

Fable
a brief story that leads to a moral, often using animals as characters

Fantasy
a story that concerns an unreal world or contains unreal characters; a fantasy may be merely whimsical, or it may present a serious point

Figurative Language
language employing one or more figures of speech (simile, metaphor, imagery, etc.)

Flashback
the insertion of an earlier event into the normal chronological order of a narrative

Flat Character
a character who embodies a single quality and who does not develop in the course of a story

Foreshadowing
the presentation of material in such a way that the reader is prepared for what is to come later in the work

Frame Device
a story within a story. An example is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in which the primary tales are told within the “frame story” of the pilgrimage to Canterbury

Genre
a major category or type of literature

Homily
a sermon, or a moralistic lecture

Hubris
excessive pride or arrogance that results in the downfall of the protagonist of a tragedy

Hyperbole
intentional exaggeration to create an effect

Hypothetical Question
a question that raises a hypothesis, conjecture, or supposition

Idiom
an expression in a given language that cannot be understood from the literal meaning of the words in the expression; or, a regional speech or dialect

Imagery
the use of figures of speech to create vivid images that appeal to one of the senses

Implication
a suggestion an author or speaker makes (implies) without stating it directly. Note: the author/sender implies; the reader/audience infers

Inductive Reasoning
deriving general principles from particular facts or instances (Every cat I have ever seen has four legs; cats are four-legged animals”)

Inference
a conclusion one draws (infers) based on premises or evidence

Invective
an intensely vehement, highly emotional verbal attack

Irony
the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning; or, incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs

Jargon
the specialized language or vocabulary of a particular group or profession

Juxtaposition
placing two elements side by side to present a comparison or contrast

Legend
a narrative handed down from the past, containing historical elements and usually supernatural elements

Limerick
light verse consisting of five lines of regular rhythm in which the first, second, and fifth lines (each consisting of three feet) rhyme, and the second and third lines (each consisting of two feet) rhyme

Limited Narrator
a narrator who presents the story as it is seen and understood by a single character and restricts information to what is seen, heard, thought, or felt by that one character

Literary License
deviating from normal rules or methods in order to achieve a certain effect (intentional sentence fragments, for example)

Litotes
a type of understatement in which an idea is expressed by negating its opposite (describing a particularly horrific scene by saying, “It was not a pretty picture.”)

Malapropism
the mistaken substitution of one word for another word that sounds similar (“The doctor wrote a subscription”)

Maxim
a concise statement, often offering advice; an adage

Metaphor
a direct comparison of two different things

Metonymy
substituting the name of one object for another object closely associated with it (“The pen [writing] is mightier than the sword [war/fighting]”)

Mood
the emotional atmosphere of a work

Motif
a standard theme, element, or dramatic situation that recurs in various works

Motivation
a character’s incentive or reason for behaving in a certain manner; that which impels a character to act

Myth
a traditional story presenting supernatural characters and episodes that help explain natural events

Narrative
a story or narrated account

Narrator
the one who tells the story; may be first- or third-person, limited or omniscient

Non Sequitur
an inference that does not follow logically from the premises (literally, “does not follow”)

Omniscient Narrator
a narrator who is able to know, see, and tell all, including the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters

Onomatopoeia
a word formed from the imitation of natural sounds

Oxymoron
an expression in which two words that contradict each other are joined

Parable
a simple story that illustrates a moral or religious lesson

Paradox
an apparently contradictory statement that actually contains some truth

Parallelism
the use of corresponding grammatical or synitactical forms

Paraphrase
a restatement of a text in a different form or in different words, often for the purpose of clarity

Parody
a humorous imitation of a serious work

Parethetical
a comment that interrupts the immediate subject, often to qualify or explain

Pathos
the quality in a work that prompts the reader to feel pity

Pedantic
characterized by an excessive display of learning or scholarship

Personification
endowing non-human objects or creatures with human qualities or characteristics

Philippic
a strong verbal denunciation. The term comes from the orations of Demosthenes against Philip of Macedonia in the fourth century

Plot
the action of a narrative or drama

Point of View
the vantage point from which a story is told

Polysyndeton
the use, for rhetorical effect, of more conjunctions than is necessary or natural

Pun
a play on words, often achieved through the use of words with similar sounds bu different meanings

Resolution
the falling action of a narrative; the events following the climax

Rhetoric
the art of presenting ideas in a clar, effective, and persuasive manner

Rhetorical Question
a question asked merely for rhetorical effect and not requiring an answer

Rhetorical Devices
literary techniques used to heighten the effectiveness of expression

Riddle
a question requiring thought to answer or understand; a puzzle or conundrum

Romantic
a term describing a character or literary work that reflects the characteristics of Romanticism, the literary movement beginning in the late 18th century that stressed emotion, imagination, and individualism

Round Character
a character who demonstrates some complexity and who develops or changes in the course of a work

Sarcasm
harsh, cutting language or tone intended to ridicule

Satire
the use of humor to emphasize human weaknesses or imperfections in social institutions

Scapegoat
a person or group that bears the blame for another

Scene
a real or fictional episode; a division of an act in a play

Setting
the time, place, and environment in which action takes place

Simile
a comparison of two things using “like,” “as,” or other specifically comparative words

Simple Sentence
a sentence consisting of one independent clause and no dependent clause

Solecism
nonstandard grammatical usage; a violation of grammatical rules

Structure
the arrangement or framework of a sentence, paragraph, or entire work

Style
the choices a writer makes; the combination of distinctive features of a literary work

Surrealism
an artistic movement emphasizing the imagination and characterized by incongruous juxtapositions and lack of conscious control

Syllepsis
a construction in which one word is used in two different senses (“After he threw the ball, he threw a fit.”)

Syllogism
a three-part deductive argument in which a conclusion is based on a major premise and a minor premise (“All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal”)

Symbol
an object that is used to represent something else

Synecdoche
using one part of an object to represent the entire object (for example, referring to a car simply as “wheels”)

Synesthesia (or Synaesthesia)
describing one kind of sensation in terms of another (“a loud color,” “a sweet sound”)

Syntax
the manner in which words are arranged into sentences

Tautology
needless repitition which adds no meaning or understanding (“widow woman,” “free gift”)

Theme
a central idea of a work

Thesis
the primary position taken by a writer or speaker

Tone
the attitude of a writer, usually implied, toward the subject or audience

Topic
the subject treated in a paragraph or work

Tragedy
a work in which the protagonist, a person of high degree, is engaged in a significant struggle and which ends in ruin or destruction

Trilogy
a work in three parts, each of which is a complete work in itself

Trite
overused and hackneyed

Turning Point
the point in a work in which a very significant change occurs

Understatement
the deliberate representation of something as lesser in magnitude than it actually is; a deliberate under-emphasis

Usage
the customary way language or its elements are used

Vernacular
the veryday speech of a particular country or region, often involving nonstandard usage

Anapest
two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable

Approximate Rhyme
(slant rhyme) the sounds are similar but not exactly the same

Assonance
the repition of similar vowel sounds in a sequence of nearby words

Ballad
a narrative folk song – oral stories passed on through generations alternating tetrameter and trimeter, usually iambic and rhyming

Blank Verse
unrhymed iambic pentameter; bears a close resemblance to the rhythms of ordinary speech, giving poetry a natural feel

Cacophony
the clash of discordant or harsh sounds within a sentence or phrase -for tongue twisters or poetic effect

Consonance
the repitition of consonant sounds anywhere within words

Continuous Form
form of poem in the lines follow one another without formal grouping; the only breaks being dictated by the units of meaning

Couplet
a style of poetry defined as a complete thought written in two lines with rhyming ends (for example, heroic couplet is a pair of rhyming lines in iambic pentameter)

Dactyl
a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables

Dactylic
the form of classical epic poetry – Homer, Virgil dactyl lines made from hexameters (6 feet)

Didactic Poetry
poetry that is instructional or informative – main purpose is in conveying a message, not artistic technique

Dimeter
two feet

Dramatic Irony
a technique in which the author lets the audience or reader in on a character’s situation while the character himself remains in the dark. In tragic plays – called tragic irony

Feminine Rhyme
a rhyme consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable

Foot
basic rhythmic unit into which a line of verse can be divided – when reciting verse, there usually is a slight pause between feet

Free Verse
verse that does not conform to any fixed meter or rhyme scheme

Haiku
a compact form of Japanese poetry written in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively

Heptameter
seven feet

Hexameter
six feet

Iamb
an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable

Iambic Pentameter
each line of verse has five feet, each of which consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable – most popular metrical schemes in English poetry

Internal Rhyme
a rhyme between two or more words within a single line of verse

Masculine Rhyme
a rhyme consisting of a single stressed syllable

Meter
the rythmic pattern created in a line of verse – four basic types: accentual, syllabic, accentual-syllabic, and quatitive

Monometer
one foot

Octameter
eight feet

Pentameter
five feet

Petrarchan/Italian Sonnet
poetic form with an octave ABBAABBA/ABBACDDC and then a sestet CDECDE/CDCCDC

Quatrain
a four line stanza, has many variants such as the heroic quatrain (ABAB rhyme scheme)

Refrain
group of words repeated at key intervals in a poem

Rhythm
the pattern of sound created by the varying length and emphasis given to different syllables. Rise and fall of spoken language – candace

Rhyme
creating a sense of musicality between lines of verse

Scansion
the process of analyzing the number and type of feet in a line

Sentimentality
a term used to describe the effort by an author to induce emotional responses in the reader that exceed the situation, especially pertains to such emotions as pathos and sympathy

Sestet
a six line stanza

Shakespearean Sonnet
a poetic form with three quatrains and a final couplet – ABAB CDCD EFEF GG

Situational Irony
a technique in which one understanding of a situation stands in sharp contrast to another, usually more prevalent, understanding of the same situation

Sonnet
a distinctive poetic style that uses system or pattern of metrical structure and verse composition usually consisting of 14 lines written in iambic pentameter

Spondee
two successive syllables with light stresses

Stanza
a division in poetry often named for the number of lines it contains, comparable to a paragraph in prose

Stress
the emphasize or accent given to a syllable in pronunciation

Symbol
something that represents something else

Terza Ryme
a system of interlaced tercets linked by a common rhyme: ABA BCB CDC (hard to remain in English)

Tetrameter
four feet in a line

Trimeter
three feet in a line

Trochaic/Trochee
a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable

Verbal Irony
the use of a statement that, by its context, implies the opposite; sarcasm

Villanelle
a nineteen-line poem made up of five tercets and a final quatrain in which all nineteen lines carry one of only two rhymes. There are two refrains. alternating between the ends of each tercet and then forming the two last lines of the quatrain