AP Literature – Key Terminology

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Last updated: May 3, 2019

allegory
a prose or poetic narrative in which the characters, behavior, or setting demonstrate multiple levels of meaning or significance

alliteration
the sequential repetition of a similar initial sound

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allusion
a reference to a literary or historical event, person, or place

anapestic
a metrical foot in poetry that consists of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one: “Twas the NIGHT before CHRISTmas”

anaphora
the regular repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases or clauses

anecdote
a brief story or tale told by a character in a piece of literature

antagonist
any character or force that is in opposition to the main character, or protagonist

antithesis
the juxtaposition of sharply contrasting ideas in balanced or parallel words

apostrophe
an address or invocation to something that is inanimate

archetypes
recurrent designs, patterns of action, character types, themes, or images which are identifiable in a wide range of literature

assonance
a repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds

asyndeton
a style in which conjunctions are omitted

attitude
the sense expressed by the tone of voice and/or mood of a piece of writing

ballad
a narrative poem that is, or originally was, meant to be sung

ballad stanza
a common stanza form, consisting of a quatrain (stanza of four lines) that alternates four-beat (iambic tetrameter) and three-beat (iambic trimeter) lines: “In SCARlet TOWN where I was BORN/ there LIVED a FAIR maid DWELLin'”

blank verse
the verse form that most resembles common speech, consisting of unrhymed lines in iambic pentameter

caesura
a pause in a line of verse, indicated by natural speech patterns rather than specific metrical patterns

caricature
a depiction in which a character’s characteristics or features are so deliberately exaggerated as to render them absurd

chiasmus
a figure of speech by which the order of the terms in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second: “Pleasure is a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure.

colloquial
ordinary language, the vernacular

conceit
a comparison of two unlikely things that is drawn out within a piece of literature, particularly a piece of extended metaphor within a poem

connotation
what is suggested by a word, apart from what it implicitly describes

consonance
the repetition of a sequence of two or more consonants, but with a change in the intervening vowels: “pitter-patter, pish-posh”

couplet
two rhyming lines of iambic pentameter that together present a single idea or connections: “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see/So long lives this and this gives life to thee.”

dactylic
a metrical foot in poetry consisting of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable: “Everywhere, everywhere, Christmas tonight.”

denotation
a direct or specific meaning, often referred to as the dictionary meaning of a word

dialect
the language and speech idiosyncrasies of a specific area, region, or group of people

diction
the specific word choice an author uses to persuade or convey tone

dramatic monologue
a monologue set in a specific situation and spoken to an imaginary audience; soliloquy

elegy
a poetic lament upon the death of a particular person, usually ending in consolation

enjambment
the continuation of a sentence from one line or couplet of a poem to the next

epic
a poem that celebrates, in a continuous narrative, the achievements of mighty heroes and heroines, often concerned with the founding of a nation or developing of a culture

exposition
that part of the structure that sets the scene, introduces or identifies characters, and establishes the situation at the beginning of a story or play

extended metaphor
a detailed or complex metaphor that extends over a long section of a work, also known as a conceit

fable
a legend or short story often using animals as characters

falling action
that part of plot structure in which the complications of the rising action are untangled; also known as the denouement

farce
a play or scene in a play or book that is characterized by broad humor, wild antics, and often slapstick or physical jokes

flashback
retrospection, where an earlier event is inserted into the normal chronology of the narrative

foreshadowing
to hint at or to present an indication of the future beforehand

formal diction
language that is lofty, dignified, and impersonal

free verse
poetry that is characterized by varying line lengths, lack of traditional meter, and non-rhyming lines

genre
a type or class of literature such as epic or narrative poetry or belles lettres

hyperbole
overstatement characterized by exaggerated language

iambic
a metrical foot in poetry that consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?/Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”

idyll
a short poem describing a country or pastoral scene, praising the simplicity of rustic life

imagery
any sensory detail or invocation in a work; also, the use of figurative language to evoke a feeling, call to mind an idea, or describe and object

informal diction
language that is not as lofty or impersonal as formal diction; similar to everyday speech

in medias res
“in the midst of things”; refers to opening a story in the middle of the action, necessitating filling in past details by exposition or flashback

irony
a situation or statement characterized by significant difference between what is expected or understood and what actually happens or is meant

jargon
specialized or technical language of a trade, profession, or similar group

juxtaposition
the location of one thing as being adjacent or juxtaposed with another, to create a certain effect

limited point of view
a perspective confined to a single character, whether a first person or a third person

litote
a figure of speech that emphasizes its subject by conscious understatement: “Last week I saw a woman flayed and you would hardly believe how it altered her appearance for the worse.”

loose sentence
a sentence grammatically complete and usually stating its main idea before the end

lyric
originally designated poems meant to be sung to the accompaniment of a lyre; now any short poem in which the speaker expresses intense personal emotion rather than describing a narrative or dramatic situation

message
a misleading term for theme; the central statement or idea of a story, misleading because it suggests a simple, packaged statement that pre-exists and for the simple communication of which the story was written

metaphor
one thing pictured as if it were something else, suggesting a likeness or analogy between them

meter
the more or less regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry

metonymy
a figure of speech in which an attribute or commonly associated feature is used to name or designate something: “The White House announced today,” “The pen is mightier than the sword.

mood
a feeling or ambiance resulting from the tone of the piece as well as the writer/narrator’s attitude and point of view

motif
a recurrent device, formula, or situation that often serves as a signal for the appearance of a character or event

narrative structure
a textual organization based on sequences of connected events, usually presented in a straightforward, chronological framework

narrator
the character who “tells” the story, or in poetry, the persona

occasional poem
a poem written about or for a specific occasion, public or private

ode
a lyric poem that is somewhat serious in subject and treatment, is elevated in style, and sometimes uses elaborate stanza structure, which is often patterned in sets of three; often written to praise or exalt a person, quality, characteristic, or object

omniscient point of view
also called unlimited focus; a perspective that can be seen from one character’s view, then another’s, then another’s and can be moved at any time

onomatopoeia
a word capturing or approximating the sound of what it describes: “buzz,” “clank”

overstatement
exaggerated language also called hyperbole

oxymoron
a figure of speech that combines to apparently contradictory elements: “jumbo shrimp,” “deafening silence”

parable
a short fictional story that illustrates an explicit moral lesson through the use of analogy

paradox
a statement that seems contradictory but may actually be true: “fight for peace”

parallel structure
the use of similar forms in writing for nouns, verbs, phrases, or thoughts: “Jane likes reading, writing, and skiing,” NOT “Martha takes notes quickly, thoroughly, and in a detailed manner.”

parody
a work that imitates another work for comic effect by exaggerating the style and changing the content of the original

pastoral
a work that describes the simple life of country folk, usually shepherds who live a timeless, painless life in a world full of beauty, music, and love; also called an eclogue, a bucolic, or and idyll

periodic sentence
a sentence that is not grammatically complete until the end: “The child, who looked as if she were being chased by demons, ran.”

personification
treating an abstraction or nonhuman object as if it were a person by endowing it with human qualities

persona
the voice or figure of the author who tells and structures the story and who may or may not share the values of the actual author (e.

g. adult Scout in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Watson in ‘Sherlock Holmes’)

Petrarchan sonnet
a sonnet form that divides the poem into one section of eight lines (octave) and a second section of six lines (sestet) usually following the abba abba cde cde rhyme scheme; also called an Italian sonnet

plot
the arrangement of the narration based on the cause-effect relationship of the events

protagonist
the main character in a work, who may or may not be heroic

quatrain
a poetic stanza of four lines

realism
the practice in literature of attempting to describe nature and life without idealism and with attention to detail

refrain
a repeated stanza or line(s) in a poem or song

rhetorical question
a question that is simply asked for stylistic effect and is not expected to be answered

rhyme
the repetition of the same or similar sounds, most often at the ends of lines

rhythm
the modulation of weak and strong elements in the flow of speech

rising action
the development of action in a work, usually at the beginning

sarcasm
a form of verbal irony in which apparent praise is actually harshly or bitterly critical

satire
a literary work that holds up human failings to ridicule and censure

scansion
the analysis of verse to show its meter

setting
the time and place of the action in a story, poem, or play

Shakespearean sonnet
a sonnet form that divides the poem into three units of four lines each and a final unit of two lines, usually abab cdcd efef gg; also called an English sonnet

shaped verse
another name for concrete poetry, poetry that is shaped to look like an object

simile
a direct, explicit comparison of one thing to another, using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’

soliloquy
a monologue in which the character in a play is alone and speaking only to himself or herself

speaker
the person, not necessarily the author, who is the voice of a poem

stanza
a section of a poem demarcated by extra line spacing

couplet
two-line stanza

tercet
three-line stanza

quatrain
four-line stanza

cinquain
five-line stanza

sestet
six-line stanza

heptatich
seven-line stanza

octave
eight-line stanza

stereotype
a characterization based on conscious or unconscious assumptions that some aspect, such as gender, age, ethnic or national identity, religion, occupation, marital status, and so on, are predictable accompanied by certain character traits, action, and even values

Everyman character
main character that actually represents all people

stock character
character who appears in a number of stories or plays such as the cruel stepmother, the femme fatale, etc.

structure
the organization or arrangement of the various elements in a work

style
a distinctive manner of expression

symbol
a person, place, thing, event, or pattern in a literary work that designates itself and at the same time figuratively represents or “stands for” something else

synecdoche
when a part is used to signify a whole: “All hands on deck,” “He stole five hundred head of longhorns.”

syntax
the way words are put together to form phrases, clauses, and sentences

terza rima
a verse form consisting of three-line stanzas in which the second line of each rhymes with the first and third of the next, in the form ababcb

theme
a generalized, abstract paraphrase of the inferred central or dominant idea or concern of a work

tone
the attitude a literary work takes toward its subject and theme

tragedy
a drama in which a character (usually good and noble and of high rank) is brought to a disastrous end in his or her confrontation with a superior force due to a fatal flaw in his or her character

trochaic
a metrical foot in poetry that is the opposite of iambic, with the first syllable stressed and the second not: “BY the SHORES of GITCHee GUMee,/BY the SHINing BIG-Sea-WATer”

turning point
the third part of plot structure, the point at which the action stops rising and begins falling or reversing; also called the climax

villanelle
a verse form consisting of 19 lines divided into six stanzas – five tercets and one quatrain; the first and third lines of the first tercet rhyme, and this rhyme is repeated through each of the next four tercets and in the last two lines of the concluding quatrain

voice
the acknowledged or unacknowledged source of the words of the story; the “person” telling the story or poem

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