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Literary terms for AP Lit and Comp

absolute a word free from limitations or quali fications (“best,” “all,” “unique,” “perfect”)
adage a familiar proverb or wise saying
ad hominem argument n argument attacking an individual’s character rather than his or her position on an issue
allegory a literary work in which characters, object s, or actions represent abstractions
alliteration the repetition of initial sounds in successive or neighboring words
allusion a reference to something literary, mythol ogical, 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 repetition 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 succi nctly 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 univer sal way to the unconscious and to evoke a response
argument a statement of the meaning or ma in point of a literary work
asyndeton a construction in which elements ar e presented in a series without conjunctions
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 wa lked in, and out rushed Mary”)
cliché an expression that has been overused to the extent that its freshness has worn off
climax the point of highest intere st in a literary work
colloquialism informal words or expressions not usually acceptable in formal writing
complex sentence a sentence with one independent cl ause and at least one dependent clause
compound sentence a sentence with two or more coor dinate independent clauses, often joined by one or more conjunctions
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 inde pendent clause is elaborated by the successive addition of m odifying clauses or phrases
declarative sentence a sentence that makes a st atement 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 associ ated with a particul ar 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 d ecide 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 a 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 characterist ic of a person.
eulogy a formal speech praising a person who has died
euphemism an indirect, less offensive way of sa ying something that is considered unpleasant
exclamatory sentence a sentence expressing strong fee ling, 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 ch aracters; a fantasy may be merely whimsical, or it may present a serious point
figurative language anguage employing one or more figures of speech (simile, metaphor, imagery, etc.)
flashback the insertion of an earlier event in to 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 th e protagonist of a tragedy
hyperbole intentional exaggeration to create an effect
hypothetical question question that raises a hypothesi s, 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 vi vid 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 f our legs; cats are f our-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 particul ar 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 re gular rhythm in which the first, second, and fifth lines (each consisting of three f eet) 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 met hods 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 feelin gs 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 gramma tical or syntactical 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
parenthetical a comment that interrupts the immedi ate subject, often to qualify or explain
pathos he quality in a work that prom pts the reader to feel pity
pedantic characterized by an excessive disp lay of learning or scholarship
personification endowing non-human objects or crea tures with human qualities or characteristics
philippic a strong verbal denunciation. The te rm 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 he 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 th e use of words with similar sounds but different meanings
resolution the falling action of a narrative; the events following the climax
rhetoric the art of presenting ideas in a clear , effective, and persuasive manner
rhetorical question a question asked merely for rhetor ical effect and not requiring an answer
rhetorical devices iterary 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 18 th century that stressed emotion, imagin ation, 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 satire
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 he 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 indepe ndent clause and no dependent clause
solecism nonstandard grammatical usage; a violation of grammatical rules
structure the arrangement or framework of a se ntence, paragraph, or entire work
style the choices a writer makes; the combination of distinctive features of a literary work
surrealism an artistic movement emphasizing th e 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 three-part deductive argu ment 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 ob ject to represent the entire object (for example, referring to a car simply as “wheels”)
synesthesia describing one kind of sensati on in terms of another (“a loud color,” “a sweet sound”)
syntax the manner in which words are arranged into sentences
tautology needless repetition which adds no m eaning 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 whic h is a complete work in itself
trite overused and hackneyed
turning point the point in a work in which a ve ry significant change occurs
understatement the deliberate representation of some thing as lesser in magnitude than it actually is; a deliberate under-emphasis.
usage the customary way language or its elements are used
vernacular the everyday speech of a particular country or region, often involving nonstandard usage
Created by: albrighs



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