AP Language literary terms

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Last updated: May 12, 2019
Appeals to an audience’s sense of morality/trust; Achieved by projecting an image of credibility which supports the speaker’s position

Appeals to an audience’s sense of emotion; Achieved by evoking a passionate response which supports the speaker’s position

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Appeals to an audience’s sense of intellect; Achieved by providing valid and relevant facts which support the speaker’s position

Art or literature characterized by a realistic view of people and the world; sticks to traditional themes and structures

The word, phrase, or clause referred to by a pronoun.

Active Voice
The subject of the sentence performs the action

The literal, explicit meaning of a word, without its connotations

Implied meaning rather than literal meaning

Word choice, particularly as an element of style

Abstract Language
Language describing ideas and qualities rather than observable or specific things, people or places.

A comparison to a directly parallel case

A terse statement which expresses a general truth or moral principle

An indirect reference to something with which the reader is supposed to be familiar

An event or situation that may be interpreted in more than one way

Concrete Language
Language that describes specific, observable things, peoples or places, rather than ideas or qualities

Ordinary or familiar type of conversation; vernacular

A story, fictional or non fictional, in which characters, things, and events represent qualities or concepts

A figure of speech that directly addresses an absent or imaginary person or personified abstraction, such as liberty or love. The effect may add familiarity or emotional intensity.

A brief recounting of a relevant episode

A folk saying with a lesson

Revealed through diction, figurative language, and organization

Explanatory notes added to a text to explain, clarify, or prompt further thought.

A word or group or words placed beside a noun or noun substitute to supplement its meaning

A term used to describe fiction, nonfiction or poetry that teaches a specific lesson or moral or provides a model of correct behavior or thinking


A short poem with a clever twist at the end, or a concise and witty statement

Figurative Language
The opposite of “literal language”; writing that is not meant to be taken literally

A quotation or aphorism at the beginning of a literary work suggestive of theme.

This term literally means “sermon,” but more informally, it can include any serious talk, speech, or lecture involving moral or spiritual advice.

The major category into which a literary work fits.

Word or words that create a picture in the reader’s mind.

Verbal Irony
When you say something and mean the opposite/something different

The diction used by a group which practices a similar profession or activity

Language or dialect of a particular country, language or dialect of a regional clan or group, plain everyday speech.

Using words such as “like” or “as” to make a direct comparison between two very different things.

When the opposite of what you expect to happen does

A common, often used expression that doesn’t make sense if you take it literally.

The act of interpreting or discovering the meaning of a text.

The deliberate omission of a word or phrase from prose done for effect by the author.

A more agreeable or less offensive substitute for generally unpleasant words or concepts.

Making an implied comparison, not using “like,” “as,” or other such words.

Writing characterized by gloom, mystery, fear and/or death.

An emotional violent, verbal denunciation or attack using strong, abusive language.

Situational Irony
Found in the plot of a book, story, or movie

Suspension of disbelief
The demand made that the reader accept the incidents recounted in the literary work

An author’s stance that distances himself from personal involvement.

When apparently contradictory terms are grouped together and suggest a paradox.

A seemingly contradictory statement which is actually true.

The art of effective communication.

Two opposite or contrasting words, phrases, or clauses, or even ideas, with parallel structure.

An exaggerated imitation of a serious work for humorous purposes.

Passive Voice
The subject of the sentence receives the action.

Observing strict adherence to formal rules or literal meaning at the expense of a wider view.

A generally bitter comment that is ironically worded

The fictional mask or narrator that tells a story.

Placing things side by side for the purposes of comparison.

Art or literature characterized by an idealistic, perhaps unrealistic view of people and the world, and an emphasis on nature.

Sentence construction which places equal grammatical construction near each other, or repeats identical grammatical patterns.

The atmosphere created by the literature and accomplished through word choice.

Repetition or a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of two or more sentences in a row

The study of actual meaning in languages–especially the meanings of individual words and word combinations in phrases and sentences

Rhetorical Question
A question not asked for information but for effect.

A work that reveals a critical attitude toward some element of life to a humorous effect.

A grammatical unit that contains both a subject and a verb.

Compound Sentence
Contains at least two independent clauses but no dependent clauses.

Complex Sentence
Contains only one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

Balanced Sentence
One in which two parallel elements are set off against each other like equal weights on a scale.

Interrogative Sentence
Sentences incorporating interrogative pronouns.

The central idea or message of a work.

A group of words (including subject and verb) that expresses a complete thought.

Simple Sentence
Contains one independent clause.

Loose Sentence
A complex sentence in which the main clause comes first and the subordinate clause follows.

Compound – Complex Sentence
Contains two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.

Declarative Sentence
States an idea

Periodic Sentence
When the main idea is not completed until the end of the sentence.

Imperative Sentence
Issues a command

A particular form of understatement, generated by denying the opposite of the statement which otherwise would be used.

Smooth movement from one paragraph (or idea) to another.

The ironic minimizing of fact, presents something as less significant than it is.

Grammatical arrangement of words.

The sentence or groups of sentences that directly expresses the author’s opinion, purpose, meaning, or proposition.

The choices in diction, tone, and syntax that a writer makes

Anything that represents or stands for something else.

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

Parenthetical phrase/idea
Interrupts the flow of a sentence with some commentary or added detail.

Rhetorical modes
Describe the variety, conventions, and purposes of the major kinds of writing. Four of the most common are exposition, argumentation, description, and narration.

The opportune time and/or place, the right or appropriate time to say or do the right or appropriate thing.

The interdisciplinary study of how conclusions can be reached through logical reasoning; that is, claims based, soundly or not, on premises. It includes the arts and sciences of civil debate, dialogue, conversation, and persuasion.

The exaggeration of specific features of appearance or personality

A comparison of two unlikely things that is drawn out within a piece of literature, in particular an extended metaphor within a piece of literature.

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.

A figure of speech in which a person, place, or thing, is referred to by something closely associated with it.

The act of telling a story, whether in prose or in verse, and the means by which that telling is accomplished.

The ordinary form of spoken and written language whose unit is the sentence, rather than the line as it is in poetry.

The term applies to all expressions in language that do not have a regular rhythmic pattern.

Interpreting or drawing a conclusion.

Generic conventions
Traditions for each genre. These help to define each genre; they differentiate an essay and journalistic writing or an autobiography and political writing; the unique feature of a writer’s work from those dictated by convention.

Extended metaphor
A sustained comparison, often referred to as a conceit, developed throughout a piece of writing.

An explanation; one of the four modes of discourse.

Independent clause
A clause that can stand by itself, also known as a simple sentence; contains a subject and a predicate; it makes sense by itself.

Subordinate clause
Also called a dependent clause—will begin with a subordinate conjunction or a relative pronoun and will contain both a subject and a verb.

This combination of words will not form a complete sentence. It will instead make a reader want additional information to finish the thought.

A figure of speech in which one or several conjunctions are omitted from a series of related clauses.

Sequential repetition of similar sounds

Repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds

Begging the question
Ploy where the arguer sidesteps questions or conflicts, evading or ignoring the question

That which has been accepted as authentic

Repetition of two or more consonants

Accepted manner, model, or tradition

Deductive reasoning
Argument in which specific statements/conclusions are drawn from general principles: movement from general to specific

Language and speech idiosyncrasies of a specific area, region, or group of people

Poetic lamentation upon a death of a particular person

Repetition of a phrase at the end of a sentence

Speech in prose in praise of a deceased person

Inductive reasoning
Argument in which general conclusions are drawn from specific facts

Words that sound like what it desscribes

Giving human qualities to abstract idea/nonhuman object

Point of view
Relation of narrator/author to the subject

Describing nature/life without idealization

Countering of anticipated arguments

When part is used to signify a whole

An event, object, custom, person, or thing that is out of order in time

Support for an argument that is based on recognized experts in the field

Broad parody; whereas parody will imitate and exaggerate a specific work, this will take an entire style or form (such as myth) and exaggerate it into ridiculousness

Harsh, awkward, or dissonant sounds used deliberately in poetry or prose

Quality of a piece of writing in which all the parts contribute to the development of the central idea, theme, or organizing principle

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

Spoken or written language, including literary works; the four traditionally classified modes are description, exposition, narration, and persuasion

Harsh or grating sounds that do not go together

A succession of harmonious sounds used in poetry or prose

A brief tale used in medieval times to illustrate a sermon or teach a lesson

Figures of speech
Expressions, such as similes, metaphors, and personification, that make imaginative, rather than literal, comparisons or associations

Traditional stories, songs, dances, and customs that are preserved among a people; usually precedes literature, being passed down orally from generation to generation until recorded by scholars

Ad hominem argument/ad hominem fallacy
From the Latin meaning “to or against the man,” this appeals to emotion rather than reason, to feeling rather than intellect; when a person’s character or motive is attacked rather than the argument itself

The excessive pride or ambition that leads a tragic hero to disregard warnings of impending doom, eventually causing his or her downfall

Main theme or subject of a work that is elaborated on in the development of the piece; a repeated pattern or idea

A short tale that teaches a moral; similar to but shorter than an allegory

A form of argumentation, one of the four modes of discourse; language intended to convince through appeals to reason or emotion

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

A character who represents a trait that is usually attributed to a particular social or racial group and who lacks individuality

A personal presentation of events and characters, influenced by the author’s feelings and opinions

Using a single verb to refer to two different objects in an ungrammatical but striking way, or artfully using an adjective to refer to two separate nouns, even though the adjective would logically only be appropriate for one of the two.

ad populum fallacy
(Latin for “to the crowd”)a fallacy of logic in which the widespread occurrence of something is assumed to make it true or right

appeal to authority
citation of information from people recognized for their special knowledge of a subject for the purpose of strengthening a speaker or writer’s arguments.

cause and effect
examination of the causesand/or effects of a situation or phenomenon

chronological ordering
arrangement in theorder in which things occur; may move from past to present or in reverse chronological order, from present to past

classification as a means of ordering
arrangement of objects according to class

damning with faint praise
intentional use ofa positive statement that has a negative implication

a temporary departure from the main subject in speaking or writing

false dilemma/false dichotomy
a type of informal fallacy in which something is falsely claimed to be an either/or situation, when in fact there is at least one additional option

inverted syntax or inversion
an interchange of position of adjacent objects in a sequence, especially a change in normal word order, such as the placement of a verb before its subject

non sequitur
a statement that does not follow logically from what preceded it

order of importance
a method of organizing a paper according to the relative significance of the subtopics

post hoc fallacy
occurs when the writer assume thatan incident that precedes another is thecause of the second incident.

spatial ordering
organization of informationusing spatial cues such as top to bottom,left to right, etc.

a form of reasoning in which twostatements or premises are made and alogical conclusion is drawn from them; aform of deductive reasoning.

hasty generalization
occurs when the proponent uses too small of a sample size to support a sweeping generalization.

missing the point
the premise of the argument supports a specific conclusion but not the one the author draws.

spotlight fallacy
occurs when the author assumes that the cases that receive the most publicity are the most common cases

straw man fallacy
the author puts forth one of his opponent’s weaker, less central arguments forward and destroys it, while acting like this argument is the crux of the issue

Using an ambiguous term in more than one sense, thus making an argument misleading.

the emotional mood created by the entirety of a literary work, established partly by the setting and partly by the author’s choice of objects that are described.

inverted parallelism; two clauses are related to each other through a reversal of terms (i.e. “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”_

predicate adjective
an adjective or group of adjectives that follows a linking verb; it is in the predicate of the sentence and modifies or describes the subject

predicate nominative
a noun or group of nouns that renames the subject that follows a linking verb; it is in the predicate of the sentence

the duplication, either exact or approximate, of any element of language such as sound, word, phrase, clause, sentence, or grammatical pattern

rhetorical appeal
the persuasive device by which a writer tries to sway the audience’s attention and response to any given work

subject compliment
the word with any accompanying phrases or clause that follows a linking verb and completes the sentence

Greek term for understatement or belittling; referring to something as less important than it really deserves

intellectually amusing language that surprises and delights usually in terse language

a short, descriptive narrative, usually a poem, about an idealized country life (also called a pastoral)

interior monologue
writing that records the conversation that occurs inside a character’s head

portrays humans as having no free will, being driven by the natural forces of heredity, environment, and animalistic urges over which they have no control

quality of a piece of writing (also coherence)

the way a written work conveys the author’s attitude

to describe by specifying the characteristics or qualities of; characterize

parallel structure
using the same pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance

prepositional phrase
a phrase that consists of a preposition and its object and has adjectival or adverbial value

A word that can function by itself as a noun phrase and that refers either to the participants in the discourse or to someone or something mentioned elsewhere in the discourse

Ad Hoc
used for the particular end or case at hand without consideration of wider application

participial phrase
includes the participle and the object of the participle or any words modified by or related to the participle.

circular reasoning or circular logic
a use of reason in which the premises depends on or is equivalent to the conclusion, a method of false logic by which “this is used to prove that, and that is used to prove this”

a form that is derived from a verb but that functions as a noun, in English ending in -ing,

a word formed from a verb (e.g., going, gone, being, been ) and used as an adjective (e.g., working woman, burned toast ) or a noun (e.g., good breeding ).

Any member of a class of words found in many languages that are used before nouns, pronouns, or other substantives to form phrases functioning as modifiers of verbs, nouns, or adjectives, and that typically express a spatial, temporal, or other relationship, as in, on, by, to, since.

A word or phrase naming an attribute, added to or grammatically related to a noun to modify or describe it.

a word that can be common or proper and is used to identify any of a class of people, places, ideas or things

a word that characteristically is the grammatical center of a predicate and expresses an act, occurrence, or mode of being, that in various languages is inflected for agreement with the subject, for tense, for voice, for mood, or for aspect, and that typically has rather full descriptive meaning and characterizing quality but is sometimes nearly devoid of these especially when used as an auxiliary or linking

A word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or adverb or a word group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc.

Defines a noun as specific or unspecific

A word used to connect clauses or sentences or to coordinate words in the same clause

Shows excitement or emotion; usually come at the start of a sentence followed by an exclamation point (or by a comma if the feeling’s not as strong)

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