AP Literary Terms (Definitions)

Topic: ArtFrida Kahlo
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Last updated: April 28, 2019
allegory
story or poem in which characters, settings, and events stand for other people or for abstract ideas or qualities

alliteration
repetition of the same or similar consonant sounds in words that are close together

allusion
reference to someone or something that is known from history, literature, religion, politics, sports, science, or another branch of culture

ambiguity
deliberately suggesting two or more different, and sometimes conflicting, meanings in a work

analogy
comparison made between two things to show how they are alike

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

anastrophe
inversion of the usual, normal, or logical order of the parts of a sentence

anecdote
brief story, told to illustrate a point or serve as an example of something; often shows character of an individual

antagonist
opponent who struggles against or blocks the hero, or protagonist, in a story

antimetabole
repetition of words in successive clauses in reverse grammatical order

antithesis
balancing words, phrases, or ideas that are strongly contrasted, often by means of grammatical structure

antihero
central character who lacks all the qualities traditionally associated with heroes; may lack courage, grace, or moral scrupules

anthropomorphism
attributing human characteristics to an animal or inanimate object

aphorism
brief, cleverly worded statement that makes a wise observation about life, or of a principle or accepted general truth

maxim
another term for aphorism

epigraph
another term for aphorism

apostrophe
calling out to an imaginary, dead, or absent person, to a place or thing, or a personified abstract idea

invocation
a character asks a god or goddess for inspiration

apposition
placing in immediately succeeding order of two or more coordinate elements, the latter of which is an explanation, qualification, or modification of the first (often set off by a colon)

assonance
the repetition of similar vowel sounds followed by different consonant sounds especially in words that are together

asyndeton
commas used without conjunction to separate a series of words, thus emphasizing the parts equally

balance
constructing a sentence so that both halves are about the same length and importance

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

indirect characterization
the author reveals to the reader what the character is like by describing how the character looks and dresses, by letting the reader hear what the character says, by revealing the character’s private thoughts and feelings, by revealing the character’s effect on other people (showing how other characters feel or behave toward the character), or by showing the character in action

direct characterization
the author tells us directly what the character is like: sneaky, generous, mean to pets and so on

static character
character who does not change much in the course of a story

dynamic character
character who changes in some important way as a result of the story’s action

flat character
has only one or two personality traits; one dimensional, like a piece of cardboard

round character
has more dimensions to their personalities — they are complex, just like real people

chiasmus
in poetry, a type of rhetorical balance in which the second part is syntactically balance against the first, but with the parts reversed

cliché
word or phrase, often a figure of speech, that has become lifeless because of overuse

colloquialism
a word or phrase in everyday use in conversation and informal writing, but is inappropriate for formal situations

comedy
in general, a story that ends with a happy resolution of the conflicts faced by the main character or characters

conceit
an elaborate metaphor that compares two things that are startlingly different; often an extended metaphor

confessional poetry
a 20th century term used to describe poetry that uses intimate material from the poet’s life

conflict
the struggle between opposing forces or characters in a story

external conflict
conflicts can exist between two people, between a person and nature or a machine, or between a person and a whole society

internal conflict
a conflict can be internal, involving opposing forces within a person’s mind

connotation
the associations and emotional overtones that have become attached to a word or phrase, in addition to its strict dictionary definition

couplet
two consecutive lines of poetry

dialect
a way of speaking that is characteristic of a certain social group or of the inhabitants of a certain geographical area

diction
a speaker or writer’s choice of words

didactic
form of fiction or nonfiction that teaches a specific lesson or moral or provides a model of correct behavior or thinking

elegy
a poem of mourning, usually about someone who has died

eulogy
great praise or commendation, a laudatory speech, often about someone who has died

epanalepsis
device of repetition in which the same expression (single word or phrase) is repeated both at the beginning and at the end of the line, clause, or sentence

epic
a long narrative poem, written in heightened language, which recounts the deeds of a heroic character who embodies the values of a particular society

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

epistrophe
device of repetition in which the same expression (single word or phrase) is repeated at the end of two of more lines, clauses, or sentences

epithet
an adjective or adjective phrase applied to a person or thing that is frequently used to emphasize a characteristic quality

Homeric epithet
compound adjective used with a person or thing

essay
a short piece of nonfiction in which the writer discusses some aspect of a subject

argumentation
one of the four forms of discourse which uses logic, ethics, and emotional appeals to develop an effective means to convince the reader to think or act in a certain way

persuasion
relies more on emotional appeals than on facts

argument
form of persuasion that appeals to reason instead of emotion to convince an audience to think or act in a certain way

causal relationship
form a argumentation in which the writer claims that one thing results from another, often used as part of a logical argument

description
a form of discourse that uses language to create a mood or emotion

exposition
one of the four major forms of discourse, in which something is explained or “set forth”

narrative
the form of discourse that tells about a series of events

explication
act of interpreting or discovering the meaning of a text, usually involves close reading and special attention to figurative language

fable
a very short story told in prose or poetry that teaches a practical lesson about how to succeed in life

farce
a type of comedy in which ridiculous and often stereotyped characters are involved in silly, far-fetched situations

figurative language
words which are inaccurate if interpreted literally, but are used to describe

flashback
a scene that interrupts the normal chronological sequence of events in a story to depict something that has happened at an earlier time

foil
a character who acts as contrast to another character

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

free verse
poetry that does not conform to a regular meter or rhyme scheme

hyperbole
a figure of speech that uses an incredible exaggeration or overstatement for effect

hypotactic
sentence marked by the use of connecting words between clauses or sentences, explicitly showing the logical or other relationships between them

hypotaxis
syntactic subordination of just one clause to another

imagery
the use of language to evoke a picture or a concrete sensation of a person, a thing, a place, or an experience

inversion
the reversal of the normal word order in a sentence or phrase

irony
a discrepancy between appearances and reality

verbal irony
occurs when someone says one thing but really means something else

situational irony
takes place when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to happen, or what would be appropriate to happen, and what really does happen

dramatic irony
a character a play or story thinks one thing is true, but the audience or reader knows better

juxtaposition
poetic and rhetorical device in which normally unassociated ideas, words, or phrases are placed next to one another, creating an effect of surprise and wit — OR — a form of contrast by which writers call attention to dissimilar ideas or images or metaphors

litotes
form of understatement in which the positive form is emphasized through the negation of the negative form

local color
term applied to fiction or poetry which tends to place special emphasis on a particular setting, including its customs, clothing, dialect, and lanscape

loose sentence
sentence in which the main clause comes first, followed by further dependent grammatical units

lyric poem
poem that does not tell a story but expresses the personal feelings or thoughts of the speaker

ballad
poem that tells a story

metaphor
a figure of speech that make a comparison between two unlike things without the use of such specific words of comparison as: like, as, than, or resembles

implied metaphor
does not state explicitly the two terms of the comparison

extended metaphor
metaphor that is extended or developed as far as the writer wants to take it

dead metaphor
metaphor that has been used so often that the comparison is no longer vivid

mixed metaphor
metaphor that has gotten out of control and mixes its terms so that they are so visually or imaginatively incompatible

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

mood
an atmosphere created by a writer’s diction and the details selected

motif
a recurring image, word, phrase, action, idea, object, or situation used throughout a work (or in several works by one author), unifying the work by tying the current situation to previous ones, or new ideas to the theme

motivation
the reasons for a character’s behavior

onomatopoeia
the use of words whose sounds echo their sense

oxymoron
a figure of speech that combines opposite or contradictory terms in a brief phrase

parable
a relatively short story that teaches a moral or lesson about how to lead a good life

paradox
a statement that appears self-contradictory, but that reveals a kind of truth

koan
paradox used in Zen Buddhism to gain intuitive knowledge

parallel structure
the repetition of words or phrases that have similar grammatical structures

paratactic sentence
simply juxtaposes clauses or sentences

parody
a work that makes fun of another work by imitating some aspect of the writer’s style

periodic
sentence that places the main idea or central complete thought at the end of the sentence, after all introductory elements

personification
a figure of speech in which an object or animal is given human feelings, thoughts, or attitudes

plot
the series of related events in a story or play, sometimes call the storyline

exposition
introduces characters, situation, and setting

rising action
complications in conflict and situations (may introduce new ones as well)

climax
the point in a plot that creates the greatest intensity, suspense, or interest

resolution
the conclusion of a story, when all or most of the conflicts have been settled

point of view
the vantage point from which the writer tells the story

first person
one of the characters tells the story

third person
an unknown narrator tells the story, but this narrator zooms in to focus on the thoughts and feelings of only one character

omniscient
an omniscient or all-knowing narrator tells the story, also using the third person pronouns; this narrator, instead of focusing on one character only, often tells everything about many characters

objective point of view
a narrator who is totally impersonal and objective tells the story, with no comment on any characters or events

polysyndeton
sentence which uses a conjunction with no commas to separate the items of a series

protagonist
the central character in a story, the one who initiates or drives the action; usually the hero or anti-hero

tragic hero
there is always a hamartia, or tragic flaw in his character which will lead to his downfall

pun
a “play on words” based on the multiple meanings of a single word or on words that sound alike but mean different things

quatrain
a poem consisting of four lines, or four lines of a poem that can be considered as a unit

refrain
a word, phrase, line, or group of lines that is repeated, for effect, several times in a poem

rhythm
a rise and fall of the voice produce by the alteration of stressed and unstressed syllables in language

rhetoric
art of effective communication, especially persuasive discourse

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

romance
in general, a story in which an idealized hero or heroine undertakes a quest and is successful

satire
a type of writing that ridicules the shortcomings of people or institutions in an attempt to bring about a change

simile
a figure of speech that makes an explicit comparison between two unlike things, using words such as: like, as, then, or resemble

soliloquoy
a long speech made by a character in a play while no other characters are on stage

stereotype
a fixed idea or conception of a character or an idea which does not allow for any individuality, often based on religious, social, or racial prejudices

stream of consciousness
a style of writing that portrays the inner (often chaotic) workings of a character’s mind

style
the distinctive way in which a writer uses language; a writer’s distinctive use of diction, tone, and syntax

suspense
a feeling of uncertainty and curiosity about what will happen next in a story

symbol
a person, place, thing, or event that had meaning in itself and that also stands for something more than itself

synecdoche
a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole

syntactic fluency
ability to create a variety of sentence structures, appropriately complex and/or simple and varied in length

syntactic permutation
sentence structures that are extraordinarily complex and involved; often difficult for the reader to follow

tall tale
an outrageously exaggerated, humorous story that is obviously unbelievable

telegraphic sentence
a sentence shorter than five words in length

theme
the insight about human life that is revealed in a literary work

tone
the attitude a writer takes toward the subject of a work, the characters in it, or the audience, revealed through diction, figurative language, and organization

tragedy
in general, a story in which a heroic character either dies or comes to some other unhappy ending

tricolon
sentence of three parts of equal importance and length, usually three independent clauses

understatement
a statement that says less than what is meant

unity
unified parts of the writing are related to one central idea or organizing principle; dependent upon coherence

vernacular
the language spoken by the people who live in a particular locality

Impressionism
a 19th century movement in literature and art which advocated a recording of the artist’s personal impressions of the world, rather than a strict representation of reality

Modernism
a term for the bold new experimental styles and forms that swept the arts during the first third of the 20th century

Naturalism
a 19th century literary movement that was an extension of realism and that claimed to portray life exactly as is was

Plain style
writing style that stresses simplicity and clarity of expression (but will still utilize allusions and metaphors), and was the main form of the Puritan writers

Puritanism
writing style of America’s early English-speaking colonists, emphasizes obedience to God and consists mainly of journals, sermons, and poems

Rationalism
a movement that began in Europe in the 17th century, which held that we can arrive at truth by using our reason rather than relying on the authority of the past, on the authority of the Church, or an institution

Realism
a style of writing, developed in the 19th century, that attempts to depict life accurately without idealizing or romanticizing it

Regionalism
literature that emphasizes a specific geographic setting and that reproduces the speech, behavior, and attitudes of the people who live in that region

Romanticism
a revolt against Rationalism that affected literature and the other arts, beginning in the late 18th century and remaining strong throughout most of the 19th century

Surrealism
movement in art and literature that started in Europe during the 1920s; replaces conventional realism with the full expression of the unconscious mind, which is considered to be more real than the “real” world of appearances

Symbolism
a literary movement that originated in late 19th century France, in which writers rearranged the world of appearances in order to reveal a more truthful version of reality

Transcendentalism
a 19th century movement in the Romantic tradition, which held that every individual can reach ultimate truths through spiritual intuition, which transcends reasons and sensory experience

pathetic fallacy
emotions of story are reflected in setting/weather; ascribing human feelings to the inanimate

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