AP English Literature: Literary Terms

Topics: ArtSymbolism

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Last updated: April 23, 2019

Accent
the stressed portion of a word

Allegory
a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one

Alliteration
the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words.

Allusion
an expression designed to bring something to mind without mentioning it plainly

Anachronism
a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists; something that is old-fashioned

Analogy
a comparison between two things, typically on the basis of their structure and for the purpose of explanation or clarification

Anecdote
a short and amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person

Aphorism
a witty observation that contains a general truth about life, such as, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Apostrophe
an exclamatory passage in a speech or poem addressed to a person or thing

Aside
a remark or passage by a character in a play that is intended to be heard by the audience but unheard by the other characters in the play.

Assonance
in poetry, the repetition of the sound of a vowel in non-rhyming stressed syllables near enough to each other for an echo effect

Ballad
a long narrative poem or song narrating a single story, which is often tragic or violent, in short stanzas.

Caesura
a break between words within a metrical foot; “To err is human forgive, divine”

Folk Ballad
Traditional ballads are typically of unknown authorship, having been passed on orally from one generation to the next as part of the folk culture.

Literary Ballad
also called an art ballad that imitates the form and spirit of the folk ballad, but is more polished and uses a higher level of poetic diction

Blank Verse
poetry written in unrhymed iambic pentameter; often found in Shakespeare’s works

Burlesque
an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something in a literary or dramatic work; a parody

Cacophony
a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds; opposite of euphony

Caricature
a picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect

Catharsis
the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

Chorus
a group of performers, in Greek drama, who comment on the main action, typically speaking and moving together.

Classicism
the following of ancient Greek or Roman principles and style in art and literature, generally associated with harmony, restraint, and adherence to recognized standards of form and craftsmanship

Colloquialism
a word or phrase that is not formal or literary, typically one used in ordinary or familiar conversation.

Conceit
a fanciful expression in writing or speech; an elaborate metaphor

Consonance
the recurrence of similar sounds, such as consonants, in close proximity

Conundrum
a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun; may also be a paradox or difficult problem

Description
the picturing in words of something or someone through detailed observation of color, motion, sound, taste, smell, and touch; one of the four modes of discourse

Diction
word choice; also called syntax

Discourse
written or spoken language and literary works

Dissonance
the grating of sounds that are harsh or do not go together

Elegy
a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead

End Rhyme
a rhyme that comes at the end of lines of poetry

Epic
a long poem, typically one derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic or legendary figures or the history of a nation

Epigram
a pithy saying or remark expressing an idea in a clever and amusing way; a short poem having a witty or ingenious ending

Euphony
the quality of being pleasing to the ear through a harmonious combination of words

Exemplum
a model moralizing or illustrative story

Exposition
the part of a play or work of fiction in which the background to the main conflict is introduced and revealed

Farce
a comic dramatic work using buffoonery and horseplay and typically including crude characterization and ludicrously improbable situations

Figurative Language
language that contains figures of speech such as similes and metaphors in order to create associations that are imaginative rather than literal

Figures of Speech
expressions such as similes, metaphors, and personifications that make imaginative, rather than literal, comparisons or asscociatons

Foil
a character who, by contrast, highlights the characteristics of another character

Folklore
the traditional beliefs, customs, stories, and songs of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth

Foot
the combination of stressed and unstressed syllables that makes up the basic rhythmic unit of a line of poetry

Anapest
a metrical foot consisting of two short or unstressed syllables followed by one long or stressed syllable; in-ter-rupt

Dactyl
a metrical foot consisting of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables or one long syllable followed by two short syllables; beau-ti-ful

Iamb
a metrical foot consisting of one short unstressed syllable followed by one long stressed syllable; dis-turb

Spondee
a foot consisting of two long or stressed syllables; hodge-podge

Trochee
a foot consisting of one long or stressed syllable followed by one short or unstressed syllable; in-jure and con-stant

Foreshadowing
be a warning or indication of a future event in a story

Free Verse
poetry that is written without a regular meter, usually without ryme

Genre
a category of literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter

Gothic
referring to a type of novel that emerged in the eighteenth century that uses mystery, suspense, and sensational and supernatural occurrences to evoke terror

Hubris
in Greek tragedies, excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis

Humor
anything that causes laughter or amusement

Hyperbole
exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally

Idyll
a short description in verse or prose of a picturesque scene or incident, esp.

in rustic life

Imagery
visually descriptive or figurative language in a literary work

Interior Monologue
writing that records the conversation that occurs inside a character’s head

Internal Rhyme
a rhyme occurring within a line of poetry

Inversion
reversal of the normal order of words, typically for rhetorical effect but also found in the regular formation of questions in English

Irony
the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect

Loose Sentence
a sentence that is grammatically complete before its end

Lyric
expressing the writer’s emotions, usually short and briefly and in stanzas or recognized form

Metaphor
a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable

Meter
the repetition of a regular rhythmic unit in a line of peotry

Monometer
One foot

Dimeter
Two feet

Trimeter
Three feet

Tetrameter
Four feet

Pentameter
Five feet

Hexameter
Six feet

Heptameter
Seven feet

Metonymy
the substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant

Mode
the method or form of a literary work: a manner in which a work of literature is written

Mood
similar to tone, it is the primary emotional attitude of a work

Myth
a traditional story, concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events

Narration
the action or process of narrating a story

Naturalism
19th-century artistic and literary movement, influenced by contemporary ideas of science and society, that rejected the idealization of experience and adopted an objective and often uncompromisingly realistic approach to art.

Objectivity
an impersonal presentation of events and characters

Ode
a lyric poem in the form of an address to a particular subject, often elevated in style or manner and written in varied or irregular meter

Onomatopoeia
the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named; cuckoo; sizzle

Oxymoron
a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction

Parable
a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels

Paradox
a statement or proposition that leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory

Parallelism
the use of successive verbal constructions in poetry or prose that correspond in grammatical structure, sound, meter, meaning

Parody
an imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect

Pastoral
a work of literature portraying or evoking country life, typically in a romanticized or idealized form

Periodic Sentence
a sentence that is not grammatically complete until it’s last phrase

Personification
the attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something nonhuman

Persuasion
a mode of discourse in which the action or fact of persuading someone or of being persuaded to do or believe something

Petrarchan Sonnet
one of the most important types of sonnets, composed of an octave with abba abba rhyme scheme and ending in a sestet with cde cde rhyme scheme; also called an Italian sonnet

Point of View
the perspective from which a story is presented

First Person Narrator
character in a story who relates their actions and thoughts through his or her perspective

Stream of Consciousness Narrator
similar to first person, but places the reader in the character’s head

Omniscient Narrator
a third person narrator who is able to see into other character’s minds and understand all their actions

Limited Omniscient Narrator
a third person narrator who only reports the thoughts of one character and generally only what the one character sees

Objective Narrator
a third person narrator who only reports what would be visible to a camera; thoughts and feelings are only revealed if the character speaks of them

Protagonist
the leading character or one of the major characters in a literary work

Realism
late 19th-century movement that meant to portray and focus on simple and unidealized treatment of contemporary life

Refrain
repeated line or number of lines in a poem or song, typically at the end of each verse

Regionalism
an element in literature that conveys a realistic portrayal of a specific geographical locale, using the locale and its influences as a major part of the plot

Rhyme
a similarity of accented sounds between two words

Masculine Ryhme
the rhyme sound is the last syllable of a line

Feminine Ryhme
the accented syllable is followed by an unaccented syllable

Romanticism
a movement in the arts and literature that originated in the late 18th century, emphasizing inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the individual

Sarcasm
the use of irony to mock or convey contempt

Simile
a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid

Soliloquy
an act of speaking one’s thoughts aloud when by oneself or regardless of any hearers, especially by a character in a play

Sonnet
a poem of fourteen lines using any of a number of formal rhyme schemes, in English typically having ten syllables per line

Speaker
the voice of a poem; an author may speak as himself or herself or as a fictional character

Stanza
a group of lines forming the basic recurring metrical unit in a poem; a verse

Couplet
the simplest stanza, consisting of two rhymed lines

Tercet
three lines, usually having the same rhyme

Quatrain
Four lines

Cinquain
Five lines

Sestet
Six lines

Octave
Eight lines

Stereotype
a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing

Stock Character
a standard character who may be stereotyped such as the miser or fool

Style
an author’s characteristic manner of expression

Subjectivity
based on or influenced by the authors personal feelings, tastes, or opinion

Suspension of Disbelief
the demand made of a theater audience to provide some details with their imagination and to accept the limitations of reality and staging; also the acceptance of the incident of the plot by the reader or audience

Symbolism
the use of symbols to represent both literal and representative ideas or qualities with a more complex significance

Synecdoche
a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa

Syntax
the word choice of diction

Theme
the central idea or message of a literary work

Tone
the characteristic emotion of attitude of an author toward the characters, subject, and audience

Tragic Flaw
the one weakness that causes the downfall of the hero in a tragedy

Villanelle
a lyric poem consisting of five tercets ad a final question

Voice
the way a written work conveys an author’s atittude

Rhythm
Four strong beats; “To err is human forgive, divine”

Kenning
Two word poetic renaming; sea-paths (rivers); Lord of life, Ruler of glory (God)

Epithets
Brief, descriptive phrases used to characterize people or things

Hamartia
Greek word for character flaws. (Often used instead of “character flaws” on AP Test)

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