AP Lit Literary Terms

Topics: ArtComedy

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Last updated: December 1, 2019

Accent
A way of pronouncing words that indicates the place of origin or social background of the speaker.

Allegory
a narrative that serves as an extended metaphor.Main purpose is to tell a story that has characters, a setting, as well as other types of symbols, that have literal and figurative meanings, an extended narrative in prose or verse in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities and in which the writer intends a second meaning to be read beneath the surface of the story; the underlying meaning may be moral, religious, political, social, or satiric.

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Examples: John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (Temptations of Christians) , Orwell’s Animal Farm (Russian Revolution), and Arthur Miller’s Crucible (“Red Scare”)

alliteration
the repetition of the same consonant, or beginning several words with the same vowel sound

allusion
a reference in a literary work to a person, place, or thing in history or another work of literature.

ambiguity
a technique by which a writer deliberately suggests two or more different, and sometimes conflicting, meanings in a work.

ambivalence
the simultaneous existence of conflicting feelings or thoughts, such as love and hate, about a person, an object, or an idea; uncertainty or indecisiveness as to what course to follow; fluctuation

anachronism
something out of its proper historical time; error of putting something in the wrong historical time

anadiplosis
repeating last word of clause at beginning of next clause

anaphora
the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of consecutive lines or sentences

angst
strong anxiety and unhappiness; a feeling of dread

annotation
a critical or explanatory note or comment, especially for a literary work

antagonist
The thing that opposes the protagonist in a narrative or drama. The antagonist may be another character, society itself, a force of nature, or even a conflicting impulse within the protagonist.

anticlimax
An unsatisfying and trivial turn of events in a literary work that occurs in place of a genuine climax. An anticlimax often involves a surprising shift in tone from the lofty or serious to the petty or ridiculous.

antithesis
A statement in which two opposing ideas are balanced.

Words, phrases, clauses, or sentences set in deliberate contrast to one another. A species of parallelism, antithesis balances opposing ideas, feelings, tones, or structures, giving crisp expression to their pairing and heightening its effect.

aphorism
a short, often witty statement of a principle or a truth about life. Examples: “Early bird gets the worm.” “What goes around, comes around.

.” “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

apostrophe
Addressing something nonhuman as if it were human

archaism
the use of deliberately old-fashioned language

archetype
An original model or type after which other similar things are patterned; a prototype

aside
a short speech, delivered to the audience or to another character, that others onstage are not supposed to hear.

assonance
Repetition of a vowel sound within two or more words in close proximity

asyndeton
When the conjunctions (such as “and” or “but”) that would normally connect a string of words, phrases, or clauses are omitted from a sentence

atmosphere
The emotional tone or background that surrounds a scene

ballad
Any popular narrative poem, often with epic subject and usually in lyric form.

baroque
extravagantly ornate; flamboyant in style

bathos
n. excessive or trivial sentimentality; and abrupt transition in style from the elevated to the commonplace, producing a laughable effect

blank verse
unrhymed poetry that has a regular rhythm and line length, especially iambic pentameter

cacophony
harsh, awkward, or dissonant sounds used deliberately in poetry or prose; the opposite of euphony.

caesura
a pause, usually near the middle of a line of verse, usually indicated by the sense of the line, and often greater than the normal pause.

catharsis
an emotional release which brings about renewal of the self or welcome relief from anxiety, tension, etc.

characterization
the process by which the writer reveals the personality of a character

chiasmus
A figure of speech that reverses the order of words in phrases that would otherwise be structured the same. (e.g. Heaven is too great of humanity; humanity is too great for heaven)

cinquain
a short poem consisting of five, usually unrhymed lines containing, respectively, two, four, six, eight, and two syllables.

climax
Most exciting moment of the story; turning point

colloquial
conversational; informal in language

comic relief
A humorous scene or speech intended to lighten the mood.

conceit
a fanciful expression, usually in the form of an extended metaphor or surprising analogy between seemingly dissimilar objects

connotation
what a word suggests beyond its surface definition

consonance
repetition of consonant sounds within words

couplet
two lines of verse that form a unit alone or as part of a poem, especially two that rhyme and have the same meter

denotation
the exact/literal meaning of a word, as found in the dictionary

denouement
an outcome or solution; the unraveling of a plot

dialect
a form of language spoken by people in a particular region or group

diction
A writer’s or speaker’s choice of words

didactic
intended to teach; inclined to teach excessively

digression
straying from the main point

dramatic irony
This occurs when the audience or reader knows more than the characters know.

elegy
poem or song expressing lamentation

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

enjambment
describes a line of poetry in which the sense and grammatical construction continues on to the next line

ennui
a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom

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

epigraph
The use of a quotation at the beginning of a work that hints at its theme.

epiphany
a moment of sudden revelation or insight

euphemism
a mild, indirect, or vague term substituting for a harsh, blunt, or offensive term

euphony
a succession of harmonious sounds used in poetry or prose; the opposite of cacophony

exposition
the immediate revelation to the audience of the setting and other background information necessary for understanding the plot; also, explanation; one of the four modes of discourse

extended metaphor
A metaphor developed at great length, occurring frequently in or throughout a work.

farce
ridiculous, light comedy; slapstick comedy; absurd thing; mockery

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

flat character
a character who is not very well developed; has few identifiable characteristics

foil
a character whose personality and attitude contrast sharply with those of another

foot
two or more syllables that together make up the smallest unit of rhythm in a poem

foreshadowing
the use of hints and clues to suggest what will happen later in a plot

free verse
Poetry that does not have a regular meter or rhyme scheme

genre
type or category of literary work (e.

g., poetry, essay, short story, novel, drama)

grotesque
fantastic; comically hideous; strange and unnatural (causing fear or amusement)

hamartia
In tragedy, the event or act that leads to the hero’s or heroine’s downfall

heroic couplet
two lines of rhyming iambic pentameter

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

hyperbole
extreme exaggeration

ideology
a set of basic beliefs about life, culture, government, and society

iamb
a poetic foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable

iambic pentameter
a line of poetry that contains five iambs (units which consist of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one, as in the word, arise). (Shakespeare)

internal rhyme
A word inside a line rhymes with another word on the same line

imagery
description that appeals to the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste)

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

literal
based upon the actual meaning, as it meets the eye

lyric verse
a shorter poem expressing an emotional state in a single, unified impression

malapropism
the mistaken substitution of one word for another word that sounds similar

metaphysical
a term describing poetry that uses elaborate conceits, expresses the complexities of love and life, and is highly intellectual

metaphor
a comparison without using like or as

meter
a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry

metonymy
A figure of speech in which something is referred to by using the name of something that is associated with it

monologue
a speech given by one character

mood
the feeling created in the reader by a literary work or passage

moral
a lesson taught by a literary work

motif
a principal idea, feature, theme, or element; a repeated or dominant figure in a design

octave
An eight-line stanza.

Most commonly, octave refers to the first division of an Italian sonnet.

ode
a long, lyrical poem, usually serious or meditative in nature

onomatopoeia
the formation of a word, as cuckoo or boom, by imitation of a sound made by or associated with its referent.

oxymoron
a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in “cruel kindness” or “to make haste slowly.”

paradox
a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.

parallelism
the repetition of words or phrases that have similar grammatical structure

parody
a humorous imitation of a serious work

pathos
quality in drama, speech, literature, music, or events that arouses a feeling of pity or sadness

pentameter
a metrical line containing five feet

persona
The role or facade that a character assumes or depicts to a reader or other audience

personification
giving human qualities to animals or objects

petrarchan sonnet
Italian 14 line poem comprised of an octave and sestet; a, b, b, a, a, b, b, a, c, d, e, c, d, e

point of view
the perspective from which a story is told

polysyndeton
using many conjunctions to achieve an overwhelming effect

protagonist
the main character

pun
play on words

quatrain
a stanza or poem of four lines, usually with alternate rhymes.

realism
literature that attempts to represent life as it really is

refrain
a regularly repeated line or group of lines in a poem or song

rhetoric
the art of presenting ideas in a clear, effective, and persuasive manner

rhetorical question
a question asked for an effect, not actually requiring an answer

romanticism
a literary movement with an emphasis on the imagination and emotions

round character
A character who demonstrates some complexity and who develops or changes in the course of a work

sarcasm
sneering and often ironic language intended to hurt a person’s feelings

satire
language or writing that exposes follies or abuses by holding them up to ridicule

sestet
a six-line stanza. Most commonly, sestet refers to the second division of an Italian sonnet.

setting
The time and place of a story

simile
comparison using like or as

situational irony
a type of irony in which events turn out the opposite of what was expected.

soliloquy
a speech given by a character alone on stage

sonnet
a fourteen-line poem in iambic pentameter

stereotype
a generalized (sometimes accurate but often overgeneralized) belief about a group of people

stream of consciousness
A literary technique that presents the thoughts and feelings of a character as they occur.

style
the arrangement of words in a way that best expresses the author’s individuality, idea, intent

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
something that stands for something else

syntax
sentence structure

theme
the main idea of the story

thesis
the primary position taken by a writer or speaker

third person limited
told using third person language, but author may know only what the main character is thinking or feeling

third person omniscient
the narrator knows everything about the characters and various situations

tone
The attitude of the author toward the audience and characters (e.g., serious or humorous).

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

tragic flaw
The character defect that causes the downfall of the protagonist of a tragedy

verbal irony
A figure of speech that occurs when a person says one thing but means another.

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