AP English Language Literary Terms

abstract
Not attached to anything specific or concrete; for this reason, terms or ideas are sometimes difficult to understand

active voice
In this verb form, the subject of the sentence performs the action denoted by the verb

aesthetic
Relating to beauty or to a branch of philosophy concerned with art, beauty, and taste

allegory
A narrative in which literal meaning corresponds directly with symbolic meaning

ambiguity
A word or idea that can be understood in multiple ways; frequently refers to the condition of being obscure or difficult to understand

anachronism
The misplacement of a person, occurrence, custom, or idea in time; also may refer to an individual or thing that is incorrectly placed in time

analysis
Analysis

anecdote
A brief narrative of a single event or incident

antecedent
The word, phrase, or clause to which a pronoun refers; a preceding occurrence, cause, event, or word

antihero/antiheroine
Protagonist who is not admirable or challenges our notions of what should be considered admirable–typically morally weak, cowardly, dishonest, or any number of any other unsavory qualities

apology
A formal attempt to justify or defend one’s actions while implying regret for them

appeal to emotion
In a written work, the attempt to arouse the audience’s feelings and sympathies

appeal to character
The author’s attempt to sway readers by creating a positive impression of his or own character

appeal to reason
The author’s attempt to influence readers by means of logic, argument, and evidence

appeal through style
A writer’s attempt to influence readers by choosing words and expressions that create a certain tone or make the writing vivid and memorable

archetype
A theme, motif, symbol or stock character holding a familiar place in a culture’s consciousness OR an original model on which copies are made

argument
The expression of a position or claim supported by reason; also a discourse intended to persuade or convince

argument by definition
Argument in which the writer defines a term by placing it in a particular category; thereby, claiming that what is true for the whole category is true for the particular term

assumption
A fact or statement that is taken for granted rather than tested or proved

audience
In the context of writing and literature, this term refers to the reading public or to a specific group of intended readers

authority
In an argument, a person cited because his/her opinion carries special weight or credibility

begging the question
The act of ignoring a problem or issue by assuming that it is already settled

bildungsroman
A novel about the education or psychological growth of the protagonist

black comedy
Disturbing or absurd material presented in a humorous manner, usually with the intention of confronting uncomfortable truths

caricature
In writing and literature, an author’s exaggeration or distortion of certain traits or characteristics of an individual

case structure
The logical outline of an argument, consisting of a claim supported by reason and evidence

catharis
A cleansing or purification of one’s emotions through art

claim
A statement or assertion that is open to challenge and that requires support

colloquialism
Informal expression, or slang term–acceptable in conversation by not usually in formal writing

conceit
A fanciful, particularly clever extended metaphor

connotation
The association or implied meaning that a word carries along with its literal meaning

conclusion
The end of an argument, the function which is two summarize or draw together what has come before and/or to draw final inferences from what has already been stated

consequence
An inference or conclusion derived through logic, or the result following from a cause.

convention
In writing, a practice or principle (such as a rule of spelling, grammer, or usage), that is accepted as true or correct.

convincing
The process of making an audience believe or agree with something.

denotation
The explicit literal meaning of a word.

device
A technique, such as a figure of speech, an author employs to achieve a certain literary or artistic effect.

dialectic
A form of reasoning that proceeds by juxtaposing contradictory ideas and synthesizing or finding areas of agreement between them.

dialogue
A conversation between two or more speakers; also an exchange of ideas

diction
Specific word choice used in a piece of writing, often chosen for effect, but also for correctness and clarity.

didactic
Intended to instruct or educate.

digression
to turn or move away from the main subject of discussion or the main argument in a piece of writing.

discourse
the wider social and intellectual context in which communication takes place. The implication is that the meaning of works depends on their context, not just their content.

dramatic/tragic irony
a technique in which the author lets the audience in on a characters situation while the character remains uninformed.

ellipsis
a figure of speech in which a word or short phrase is omitted but easily understood from the context; also the marks (. . .) that indicate the omission of a word or phrase

emblem
A concrete object that represents something abstract; unlike a symbol, an emblem has a fixed meaning that does not vary in different contexts.

emphasis
Force or intensity of expression brought to bear on a particular part of a text or speech

enthymeme
an informal method of argument in which one of the major premises is implied or assumed rather than stated

epigraph
A quotation placed at the beginning of a piece of literature or at the beginning of one of its chapters or scenes to provide the reader with some ideas about the content or meaning to follow.

epiphany
A sudden, powerful, and often spiritual or life changing realization that a character reaches in an otherwise ordinary or everyday moment.

epitaph
A brief statement to memorialize a deceased person or a thing, time, or event that has ended

ethos
The overall character, moral makeup, or guiding beliefs of an individual, group, or institution

euphony
a pleasing arrangement of sounds

evidence
Specific facts or examples used to support a claim in a piece of writing

explication
The detailed analysis of a literary work

exposition
an explanation of the meaning or purpose of a piece of writing, especially one that is difficult to understand.

eulogy
a formal statement of praise

expletive
A syllable, word, or group of words added to fill a void. (perhaps to make a metrical scheme work), but which do not add to the meaning of a piece of writing; also and exclamatory word or group of words, especially in obscenity.

first-person narration
Literary style in which the narrator tells the story from his/her point of view and refers to him/herself as “I”

foil
a character who illuminates the qualities of another character by means of contrast

foreshadow
To present ideas, images, events, or comments that hint at events to come in a story.

formal
Following established rules or conventions of writing

3rd-person narration (limited omniscient narration)
A literary style in which the narrator conveys the actions, feelings, and motivations of only one or a handful of characters and discusses these using proper names and the third person pronouns, he, she, it, and they.

genre
One of the types of literature, such as short stories, poetry, drama and novels, or one of the categories within those types, such as romance, science fiction, mystery, and melodrama

hamartia (tragic flaw)
A “tragic” or “fatal” character flaw that causes the downfall of a person of high status.

hypothetical
Involving a hypothesis(an assumption granted for the sake of argument.)

idiom
A way of speaking that is peculiar to a region, group, or class, or the conventional forms peculiar to language. Also an expression that is odd or incorrect and yet accepted, or one that has a meaning that does not clearly derive from the words that combine to form it

imagery
language that brings to mind sense impressions especially via figures of speech

informal
refers to language appropriate for everyday, casual, of familiar conversation or writing.

in media res
Latin for “In the middle of things”; refers to the techique of starting a narrative in the middle of the action.

irony
A technique of detachment that draws awareness to the discrepancy between words and their meanings, between expectation and fulfillment, or, most commonly, between what is and what seems to be.
five types of irony: verbal irony, situational irony, romantic irony, dramatic irony, and cosmic irony

3rd-person narration
A literary style in which the narrator conveys a characters inner thoughts while discussing these thoughts in the third person, using proper names and the third person pronouns he, she, it, they.

literal
Focusing on the explicite meaning of words only, and not dealing with the context, connotation, figurative language, or other elements that add deeper shades of meaning to a text.

logic
the mode of reasoning by which we determine whether something is valid or invalid, according to which any claim should in principle be able to be justified by reason and evidence.

logos
Greek for “wisdom” or “reason”; In the context of rhetoric, refers to the process of persuading by means of logic and reason, as opposed to style, authority, or emotion.

main idea
The central meaning, purpose, or concept around which a piece of writing is organized.

mediation
The process of bringing opposing parties or positions into a state of accord or compromise; also refers to negotiations.

mood
the atmosphere of a work of literature; the emotion created by the work (most notably by its setting).

motif
a recurring idea, structure, contrast, or device that develops or informs the major theme of literature.

myth
a story about the origins of a cultures beliefs and practices or of supernatural phenomena, usually derived from oral tradition and set in imagined supernatural past

narrative
a story

narrative device
a design or pattern in a literary work used to achieve a particular effect.

narrator
the person(sometimes a character) who tells a story, the voice assumed by the writer

negotiation
The process of discussion and compromise between conflicting positions.

neologism
A new or invented word, expression or usage.

nostalgia
A yearning for the past or for some condition or state of existence that cannot be recovered.

objective narration (third person objective point of view)
A style in which the narrator reports neutrally on the outward behavior of the characters but offers no interpretation of their actions or their inner states

wit
A form of wordplay that displays cleverness or ingenuity with language. Often, but not always, wit displays humor

voice
an author’s individual way of using language to reflect his or her own personality and attitudes. an author communicates this through tone, word choice (diction), and sentence structure (syntax)

verbal irony
The use of a statement that, because of its context, means its opposite

values
Principles or qualities that people hold to be intrinsically good, such as justice, fairness, and equality

utopia
an imaginary, idealized world presented in literature

unreliable narration
A process of narrating in which the narrator is revealed over time to be an untrustworthy source of information

tone
the author’s attitude toward the subject or characters of a story of poem, or toward the reader

third-person narration
A literary style in which the narrator conveys a characters inner thoughts while discussing these thoughts in the third person, using proper names and the third person pronouns he, she, it, they.

thesis statement
the main idea, or principal claim, that is supported in a work of nonfiction

theme
a fundamental and universal idea explored in a literary work

syntax
the way the words in a piece of writing are put together to form lines, phrases, or clauses; the basic structure of a piece of writing

symbolism
The use of objects, characters, figures, or colors to represent abstract ideas or concepts

syllepsis
A stylistic device in which a single word governs or modifies two or more other words in different ways

stream-of-consciousness narration
form of narration in which the narrator conveys a subjects’s thoughts impressions, and perceptions exactly as they occur, often in a disjointed fashion and without the logic and grammer of typical speech and writing; usually written in first-person narration, but sometimes written in the third person as free indirect discourse

speaker
The narrator of a poem; also the voice assumed by the writer. The speaker and the author of the poem are not the same person.

situational irony
Technique in which one understanding of a situation stands in sharp contrast to another, usually more prevalent, understanding of the same situation

setting
the location of a narrative in time and space. Setting creates creates mood or atmosphere.

satire
a work that exposes to ridicule the shortcomings of individuals, institutions, or society, often to make a political point

rhetorical device
an extraordinary use of language to achieve a certain effect on an audience. examples are chiasmus, parallelism, rhetorical question, and synecdoche

rhetorical context
the circumstances in which a text is written, including the intended audience, the author’s aim or purpose in writing, and the audience’s preexisting ideas and opinions

rhetoric
the art of persuasion, or the art of speaking or writing well. Rhetoric involves the study of how words influence audiences

retrospection
A narrative technique in which some of the events of a story are described after events that occur later in time have already been narrated; also called analepsis and flashback

register
One of the varieties of language appropriate to particular social situations

refutation
the process of proving something wrong by argument and evidence

reflective
thoughtful, deliberative

red herring
diverting attention from the issue by introducing a new point

reason
a statement offered as an explanation or justification for something; also a sufficient basis for believing something or a logical defense

realism
A loose term that can refer to any work that aims at honest portrayal over sensationalism, exaggeration, or melodrama. Technically, refers to a late 19th-century literary movement that aimed at accurate, detailed portrayals of ordinary, contemporary life.

qualification
a statement that modifies or limits the meaning of a claim

protagonist
the main character around whom the story revolves

prose
any composition not written in verse. The basic unit of prose is the sentence, whereas the basic unit of poetry is a line of verse. Prose writing can be rhythmic but is generally less musical than verse

propaganda
Ideas, facts, or allegations spread to persuade others to support one’s cause or to go against the opposing cause

prior knowledge
Ideas, facts, or awareness that an audience already possesses about a topic

position
a point of view or opinion on an issue

point of view
the perspective that a narrative takes toward the events it describes

poetic license
the liberty that authors sometimes take with ordinary rules of syntax and grammar, employing unusual vocabulary, metrical devices, or figures of speech, or by committing factual errors, in order to strengthen a passage of writing

persuasion
the process of influencing an audience to alter its actions and attitudes

perspective
the point of view through which a subject or its parts are mentally perceived

persona
the character an author assumes in a written work

pathos
from the Greek word for “feeling”; the quality in a work of literature that evokes high emotion, most commonly sorrow, pity, or compassion

passive voice
In this verb form, the subject of the sentence receives the action denoted by the verb. Always consists of a form of “to be” plus the past participle of the verb.

parody
a humorous and often satirical imitation of the style or particular work of another author

parable
a short narrative that illustrates a moral by means of allegory (in which literal meaning and symbolic meaning correspond clearly and directly

overstatement
an exaggeration of fact; also called hyperbole

omniscient narration
A literary style in which the narrator knows all the actions, feelings, and motivations of all the characters and discusses these using proper names and the third-person pronouns he, she, it, and they.