AP Language Terms

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Diction

Word choice — especially with regard to connotation, correctness, clearness, or effectiveness. Combined with syntax, literary devices, etc. to create style.

Mood

The emotional response that a piece of literature stimulates in the reader.

Theme

The main idea, or message, of a work. Themes often explore timeless and universal ideas and may be implied rather than stated explicitly.

Tone

The writer's or speaker's attitude toward the subject, the audience, or herself or himself; the emotional coloring, or emotional meaning, of a work.

Topic

The subject matter or area of a literary work. Not to be confused with theme.

Style

The manner in which an author uses words, shapes, ideas, forms, and sentences and creates a structure to convey ideas.

Voice

The distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or a character in a book

Argument

An assertion based on fact, statistics, or logical reasoning

Argumentation

Writing to prove validity of an idea or point of view

Assertion

a "for" or "against" stance taken by an author

Assumption

an inference or conclusion reached without definite proof, or without any proof at all

Claim

a primary point being made to support an argument

Deductive Reasoning

Sherlock Holmes's way of thinking, using general observations that lead to a specific conclusion

Dialogue

(1) Conversation between characters in a drama or narrative.

(2) A literary work written in the form of a conversation.

Ethos

A rhetorical appeal to an audience based on the speaker/writer's credibility. This is established by appealing to logic, avoiding a hostile tone, and demonstrating knowledge of subject.

Evidence

Information used to support a writer's thesis; proof

Imply

To suggest something without explicitly stating it ("Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a child?")

Infer

Draw a reasonable conclusion based on information presented

Pathos

From the Greek word for "feeling." The quality in a work of literature that evokes high emotion, most commonly sorrow, pity or compassion, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness

Persuasion

A type of argumentation having the aim of urging a particular form of action

Propaganda

A work that aims to influence the reader on a specific social or political issue, usually by appealing to the reader's emotions.

Bombast

Inflated language; the use of high-sounding language for a trivial subject.

Colloquialism

Informal, conversational language, slang or informality in speaking or writing. Includes local dialect.

Connotation

What a word suggests beyond its basic definition; a word's overtones of meaning — What we think of when we hear a word.

Denotation

The strict definition or dictionary meaning of a word

Dialect

Distinct variety of language spoken by members of an identifiable regional group, nation or social class.

High Diction

Sophisticated or educated language that uses abstract concepts or complex figures of speech and demands greater intellectual effort from the audience.

Low Diction

Simple, less cultivated language that uses literal concepts and less grammatical complexity than high diction.

Poetic Diction

The use of specific types of words, phrases, or literary structures that are not common in contemporary speech or prose.

Semantics

a branch of linguistics that studies meaning and development of words and their relationship.

Vernacular

Local language or dialect; common speech written in local language or dialect.

Adage

A saying or proverb embodying a piece of common wisdom based on experience and often couched in metaphorical language. (e.g. "It is always darkest before the dawn.")

Analogy

Similarity or comparison between two things or the relationship between them. Can explain something by pointing out its similarity or associating it with something more familiar.

Aphorism

A terse statement that expresses a general truth or moral principle

Apostrophe

A figure of speech in which someone absent or dead or something nonhuman is addressed as if it were alive and present and could reply

Cliché

An overused or trite expression.

Double Entendre

French phrase for double meaning, denotes a pun in which a word or phrase has a second meaning which tends to be sexual. The accidental downfall of many copy editors.

Epithet

A short, poetic nickname — often in the form of an adjective or adjectival phrase — attached to the normal name. Frequently, this technique allows a poet to extend a line by a few syllables in a poetic manner that characterizes an individual or a setting within an epic poem. ("Fleet-footed Achilles")

Euphemism

Greek for "good speech." Substituting a mild, indirect, or vague term for a harsh, blunt, or offensive one

Extended Metaphor

A metaphor developed at great length, appearing frequently throughout a piece.

Figure of Speech

Broadly, any way of saying something other that the ordinary way; more narrowly (and for the purposes of this class) a way of saying one thing and meaning another

Hyperbole

A figure of speech in which exaggeration or overstatement is used for effect

Idiom

A common expression that has acquired a meaning that differs from its literal meaning, such as "It's raining cats and dogs"

Imagery

The representation through language of sensory experience

Litotes

A form of understatement in which a statement is affirmed by negating its opposite. "He is not unfriendly."

Maxim

A saying or proverb expressing common wisdom or truth.

Metonymy

Greek meaning "changed label." A figure of speech in which the name of one object is substituted for that of another closely associated with it.

Oxymoron

Greek for "pointedly foolish." Two apparently contradictory terms grouped together to suggest a paradox. ("Deafening silence")

Paradox

A statement that appears self-contradictory or opposed to common sense but on closer inspection contains some degree of truth or validity. ("It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.")

Personification

A figure of speech in which human attributes are given to an animal, an object, or a concept

Pun

A play on words that exploits the similarity in sound between two words with distinctly different meanings.

Synecdoche

A form of metonymy in which a part of an entity is used to refer to the whole. ("My wheels" instead of "my car")

Abstract

(1) A very brief synopsis of longer work of scholarship or research. The abstract of an entire book may be reduced to a single page.

(2) something that does not exist in the real world; the opposite of "concrete."

Allegory

A narrative or description having a second or symbolic meaning beneath the surface one Usually deals with a moral truth or generalization about human existence. Examples in literature abound, such as Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm.

Burlesque

A humorous imitation of a serious work of literature. The humor often arises from the incongruity between the limitation and the work being imitated

Classic

A highly regarded work of literature or other art form that has withstood the test of time

Description

Writing intended to re-create, invent, or visually present a person, place, or event

Elegy

A song or poem of mourning or lamentation

Exposé

A piece of writing, often journalistic, meant to reveal or expose weakness, faults, frailties, or other shortcomings

Genre

The major category into which a literary work can be classified

Homily

Literally means "sermon," but can include any serious talk involving moral or spiritual advice

Lampoon

A satirical attack against a person or institution

Memoir

An autobiographical work. Rather than focusing on the author's life, it pays significant attention to the author's involvement in historical events and the characterization of individuals other than the author

Narrative

The telling of a story or an account of an event, usually first-person

Parody

A work that closely imitates the style or content of another for comic effect or ridicule.

Satire

A work that aims to ridicule the shortcomings of individuals, institutions, or society, often to make a political point

Active Verb (Voice)

A sentence in which the subject is doing something ("They carried the dead puppy out of the kitchen and laid it on the
sofa.")

Antecedent

The word, phrase, or clause referred to by a pronoun ("The critique of Plato's Republic was written from a contemporary point
of view. It was an in-depth analysis of Plato's opinions about possible governmental forms.")

Clause

A grammatical unit containing both a subject and a verb. Can be independent or dependent.

Complex Sentence

A sentence made up of an independent, or main, clause and any number of dependent or subordinate clauses

Compound Sentence

Consists of two or more simple sentences linked by a coordinating conjunction such as and or but

Dependent/Subordinate Clause

A group of words with subject and verb that cannot stand alone

Homonym

A word that is identical in form with another word either in sound or spelling but differs from it in meaning ["Days/daze, lead/lead (guide vs. metal), and pitch/pitch (throw vs. tar)"]

Homophone

A word that is pronounced in the same way as another word but differs in meaning and or spelling. Thus, a kind of homonym. ["Maid/made, left/left (opposite of right vs. abandon)"]

Loose Sentence

A type of sentence in which main idea comes first, followed by dependent grammatical units (phrases and clauses).

Parallelism

A grammatical or rhetorical framing of words, sentences, or paragraphs to give structural similarity. Attracts the reader's
attention, adds emphasis and organization, or rhythm. ("Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price,bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." — John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address)

Passive Verb (Voice)

A sentence in which something is being done to the subject of the sentence. ("The dead puppy was carried from the
kitchen and placed on the sofa.")

Periodic Sentence

A sentence that presents its central meaning in a main clause at the end; an independent clause preceded by a phrase or dependent clause. Adds emphasis and variety.

Predicate Adjective

An adjective that follows linking verb and compliments the subject

Predicate Nominative

A noun that follows linking verb and renames subject

Sentence Structure

The manner in which grammatical elements are arranged in a sentence. Although there are endless varieties of sentence, each is a variation on one of the three basic structures: simple, compound, or complex.

Simple Sentence

Contains a subject and a verb along with modifiers and perhaps an object

Subject Compliment

The word (with any accompanying phrases) or clauses that follow a linking verb and complements, or completes, the
subject of the sentence by either (1) remaining it or (2) describing it. The former is technically called a predicate nominative, the latter a predicate adjective.

Syntax

The way an author chooses to join words into phrases, clauses, and sentences

Aesthetic Distance

The degree of emotional engagement a work of art asks from its audience. A newspaper article maintains a lot of
distance; while a tear-jerker "chick-flick" will often close the aesthetic distance gap, until its audience becomes so involved that it (or at least the feelings it evokes) almost seems real.

Allusion

A direct or indirect reference to something commonly known such as a book, event, myth, place, person or work of art to convey tone, purpose, or effect (Ex. If you take his parking place, you can expect World War II all over again.)

Anachronism

The incorporation of an event, scene, or person who does not correspond with the time period portrayed in the work; as Shakespeare's use of a cannon in King John or a hat in Julius Caesar.

Anecdote

A short account of an interesting or humorous incident

Caricature

A grotesque, cartoonish, mocking likeness of striking characteristics in persons or things.

Irony

A situation, or a use of language, involving some kind of incongruity or discrepancy.

Verbal Irony

A discrepancy between the true meaning of a situation and the literal meaning of the written or spoken words.

Situational Irony

A situation that is the opposite of what the reader expects.

Dramatic Irony

A technique in which the author lets the audience or reader in on a character's situation while the character himself
remains in the dark.

Cosmic Irony

The perception of fate or the universe as malicious or indifferent to human suffering, which creates a painful contrast between our purposeful activity and its ultimate meaninglessness.

Motif

A recurring structure, contrast, or other device that develops or informs a work's major themes.

Point of View

The perspective from which a story is told

Symbol

An object, character, figure, or color that is used to represent an abstract idea or concept.

Theme

A fundamental and universal idea explored in a literary work.

Atmosphere

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

Ad Hominem

Instead of attacking an assertion, the argument attacks the person who made the assertion ("Mom, you shouldn't make me come home early tonight because SHUT UP. YOU ARE HIDEOUS AND YOUR DISGUSTING APPEARANCE HAS RUINED MY LIFE!")

Appeal to Authority

This occurs when an argument is considered true just on the basis of who is making the argument (rather than judging the evidence). This fallacy is committed when the person in question is not a legitimate authority on the subject. However, remember that even
experts are human and can make mistakes.

Bandwagon

(Also, "Appeal to Majority), a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or most people believe it; it alleges: "If many believe so, it is so." ("McDonald's has served over 2 billion; therefore, McDonald's must have the best food."; "Justin Beiber is a bestselling singer; therefore, Justin Beiber is a talented singer.")

False Analogy

An error in assuming that because two things are alike in some ways, they are alike in all ways. ("A school is not so different from a business. It needs a clear competitive strategy that will lead to profitable growth.")

False Cause

(also known as cum hoc ergo propter hoc, "With this, therefore because of this" or "Correlation is not Causation") A fallacy that assumes that since two variables occur together, one causes the other. ("Along with a decrease in the number of pirates in the last 300 years, there has been an increase in global warming over the same period. Therefore, global warming is caused by a lack of pirates."

False Dichotomy

also known as "Black or White," "False Dilemma") Presuming an either-or distinction. Suggesting that there are only twoalternatives, where in fact other alternatives exist or can exist. Instead of black or white, we can have shades of gray. ("America: Love it or leave it!")

Hasty Generalization

An argument that turns a specific case into a general rule. ("This one teenager is smelly and irresponsible, so all
teenagers are smelly and irresponsible.")

Non sequitur

A statement or idea that fails to follow logically from the one before. ("All humans eventually grow old and die. My pet velocihamster, Bitey, grew old and died; therefore Bitey was human.)

Post Hoc

(post hoc ergo propter hoc) A false belief that because one thing follows another, it is held to cause the other. ("I ate mayonnaise for the first time before I broke my arm; therefore, mayonnaise clearly weakens bone tissue, causing broken limbs soon after consumption"; "After Billy was vaccinated, he developed autism; therefore the vaccine caused his autism.")

Slippery Slope

(also known as "The Camel's Nose") An argument states that a relatively small first step leads to a chain of related events culminating in some significant effect, much like an object given a small push over the edge of a slope sliding all the way to the bottom. "If we make owning grenade launchers illegal, then it's just a matter of time before they come for our assault rifles, pistols, butter knives ..."

Straw Man

Misrepresenting an opponent's position, and then attacking that position without addressing the opponent's actual argument.
Straw man arguments often arise in public debates such as a (hypothetical) prohibition debate:
Person A: We should relax the restrictions on beer.
Person B: No, any society with unrestricted access to intoxicants loses its work ethic and goes only for immediate gratification.
(The proposal was to relax laws on beer. Person B has exaggerated this to a position harder to defend, i.e., "unrestricted access to
intoxicants". It is a logical fallacy because Person A never made that claim.)

Sweeping Generalization

Applying a general rule to special case. Basically, this is a generalization that disregards exceptions ("Cutting
people is a crime. Surgeons cut people. Therefore, surgeons are criminals.")

Coherence

A clear connection among all parts of an essay. This is achieved by utilizing a good organizational format and appropriate connecting devices (transition, parallel structures, bridging).

Explication

A close reading of a text that identifies and explains the figurative language and forms found within the work

Exposition

Explaining and analyzing information by presenting an idea, relevant evidence, and appropriate discussion

Intertextuality

The various relationships a text may have with other texts, through allusions, borrowing of formal or thematic elements, or simply by reference to traditional literary forms. The term is important to structuralist and post-structuralist critics, who argue that texts relate primarily to one another and not to an external reality.

Prose

Any language that is not poetry or drama

Rhetoric

Greek for "orator"; the principles governing the art of writing effectively, eloquently, and persuasively

Rhetorical Modes

The variety, conventions, and purposes of major kinds of writing

Thesis

The central argument that an author makes in a work. Although the term is primarily associated with nonfiction, it can apply to fiction as well.

Ambiguity

The multiple meanings - intentional or not - of a work, phrase, sentence, or passage Ex. "He ate the cookies on the couch," for example, could mean that he ate those cookies which were on the couch (as opposed to those that were on the table), or it could mean that he was sitting on the couch when he ate the cookies.

Anaphora

A rhetorical figure of repetition in which the same word or phrase is repeated in (and usually at the beginning of) successive lines, clauses or sentences.

Antithesis

The rhetorical opposition or contrast of words, clauses, or sentences, as in the following: JFK: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

Aposiopesis

(a-pe-si-e-pe-ses) A rhetorical device in which the speaker suddenly breaks off in the middle of a sentence, leaving the
sentence . . . .

Asyndeton

A form of verbal compression which consists of the omission of connecting words (usually conjunctions) between clauses. Ex. The most common form is the omission of "and" leaving only a sequence of phrases linked by commas. From Conrad's Heart of Darkness: "An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was thick, warm, heavy, sluggish." Often used in newspaper headlines: "Mayor a Complete Failure Since Election."

Cadence

The rising and falling rhythm of speech, especially in free verse or prose.

Circumlocution

The roundabout manner of referring to something at length rather than naming it briefly and directly.

Digression

A temporary departure from one subject to another more or less distantly related topic before the discussion of the first subject is resumed

Ellipsis

Three periods (...) indicating the omission of words in a quoted passage. Usually this is used to save space or emphasize points in an argument, but it can also be used to take someones words out of context to make it sound like they said something other than what they intended to say.

Malapropism

A confused, comically inaccurate use of a long word or words ("I'm not a pessimist, I'm an optometrist," "Hard Day's Night."

Periphrasis

(pe-rif-ra-sis) An elaborate and roundabout manner of speech that uses more words than necessary. "I appear to be entirely without financial resources," instead of "I'm broke." Frasier Crane often speaks in this manner.

Poetic License

The liberty that authors sometimes take with ordinary rules of grammar and syntax, employing unusual vocabulary, metrical devices, or figures of speech or committing factual errors in order to strengthen a passage of writing

Repitition

Duplication of any element of language - sound, word, phrase, clause, pattern, for effect

Rhetorical Question

A question asked for the sake of persuasive effect rather than a genuine request for information. The writer implies the answer is too obvious to require a reply.

Didactic

from Greek, literally means "teaching." Works have primary aim of teaching or instructing, especially moral or ethical principles.

Invective

emotionally violent, verbal denunciation or attack using strong, abusive language.

Pedantic

adjective that describes words, phrases, or general tone that is overly scholarly, academic, or bookish. Extreme of didactic.

Sarcasm

bitter or cutting speech; speech intended by its speaker to give pain to the person addressed

Sentiment

Refined and tender emotion in literature; sometimes used derisively to represent insincerity or mawkishness.

Versimilitude

Similar to truth; the quality of realism in a work that persuades the reader that he/she is getting a vision of life as it is.

Wit

A form of wordplay that displays cleverness or ingenuity with language. Often, but not always, wit displays humor.

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