AP Literature Terms

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The Glossary of Literary Terms for the AP English Literature and Composition Test

Abstract

Complex, discusses intangible qualities like good and evil, seldom uses examples to support its points.

Academic

Dry and rhetorical writing; sucking all the life out of its subject with analysis.

Accent

In poetry, the stressed portion of a word.

Aesthetic

Appealing to the senses; a coherent sense of taste.

Allegory

A story in which each aspect of the story has a symbolic meaning outside the tale itself.

Alliteration

The repetition of initial consonant sounds.

Allusion

A reference to another work or famous figure.

Anachronism

"Misplaced in time." An aspect of a story that doesn't belong in its supposed time setting.

Analogy

A comparison, usually involving two or more symbolic parts, employed to clarify an action or a relationship.

Anecdote

A Short Narrative

Antecedent

The word, phrase, or clause that determines what a pronoun refers to.

Anthropomorphism

When inanimate objects are given human characteristics. Often confused with personification.

Anticlimax

Occurs when an action produces far smaller results than one had been led to expect.

Antihero

A protagonist who is markedly unheroic: morally weak, cowardly, dishonest, or any number of other unsavory qualities.

Aphorism

A short and usually witty saying.

Apostrophe

A figure of speech wherein the speaker talks directly to something that is nonhuman.

Archaism

The use of deliberately old-fashioned language.

Aside

A speech (usually just a short comment) made by an actor to the audience, as though momentarily stepping outside of the action on stage.

Aspect

A trait or characteristic

Assonance

The repeated use of vowel sounds: "Old king Cole was a merry old soul."

Atmosphere

The emotional tone or background that surrounds a scene

Ballad

A long, narrative poem, usually in meter and rhyme. Typically has a naive folksy quality.

Bathos

Writing strains for grandeur it can't support and tries too hard to be a tear jerker.

Pathos

Writing evokes feelings of dignified pity and sympathy.

Black humor

The use of disturbing themes in comedy.

Bombast

Pretentious, exaggeratedly learned language.

Burlesque

Broad parody, one that takes a style or form and exaggerates it into ridiculousness.

Cacophony

In poetry, using deliberately harsh, awkward sounds.

Cadence

The beat or rhythm or poetry in a general sense.

Canto

The name for a section division in a long work of poetry.

Caricature

A portrait (verbal or otherwise) that exaggerates a facet of personality.

Catharsis

Drawn from Aristotle's writings on tragedy. Refers to the "cleansing" of emotion an audience member experiences during a play

Chorus

In Greek drama, the group of citizens who stand outside the main action on stage and comment on it.

Classic

Typical, or an accepted masterpiece.

Coinage (neologism)

A new word, usually one invented on the spot.

Colloquialism

A word or phrase used in everyday conversational English that isn't a part of accepted "school-book" English.

Complex (Dense)

Suggesting that there is more than one possibility in the meaning of words; subtleties and variations; multiple layers of interpretation; meaning both explicit and implicit

Conceit (Controlling Image)

A startling or unusual metaphor, or to a metaphor developed and expanded upon several lines.

Denotation

A word's literal meaning.

Connotation

Everything other than the literal meaning that a word suggests or implies.

Consonance

The repetition of consonant sounds within words (rather than at their beginnings)

Couplet

A pair of lines that end in rhyme

Decorum

A character's speech must be styled according to her social station, and in accordance to the situation.

Diction

The words an author chooses to use.

Syntax

The ordering and structuring of words.

Dirge

A song for the dead. Its tone is typically slow, heavy, depressed, and melancholy

Dissonance

Refers to the grating of incompatible sounds.

Doggerel

Crude, simplistic verse, often in sing-song rhyme, like limericks.

Dramatic Irony

When the audience knows something that the characters in the drama do not

Dramatic Monologue

When a single speaker in literature says something to a silent audience.

Elegy

A type of poem that meditates on death or mortality in a serious, thoughtful manner.

Elements

Basic techniques of each genre of literature

Enjambment

The continuation of a syntactic unit from one line or couplet of a poem to the next with no pause.

Epic

A very long narrative poem on a serious theme in a dignified style; typically deal with glorious or profound subject matter.

Epitaph

Lines that commemorate the dead at their burial place.

Euphemism

A word or phrase that takes the place of a harsh, unpleasant, or impolite reality.

Euphony

When sounds blend harmoniously.

Explicit

To say or write something directly and clearly.

Farce

Extremely broad humor; in earlier times, a funny play or a comedy.

Feminine rhyme

Lines rhymed by their final two syllables. Properly, the penultimate syllables are stressed and the final syllables are unstressed.

Foil

A secondary character whose purpose is to highlight the characteristics of a main character, usually by contrast.

Foot

The basic rhythmic unit of a line of poetry, formed by a combination of two or three syllables, either stressed or unstressed.

Foreshadowing

An event of statement in a narrative that in miniature suggests a larger event that comes later.

Free verse

poetry written without a regular rhyme scheme or metrical pattern

Genre

A sub-category of literature.

Gothic

A sensibility that includes such features as dark, gloomy castles and weird screams from the attic each night.

Hubris

The excessive pride or ambition that leads to the main character's downfall

Hyperbole

Exaggeration or deliberate overstatement.

Implicit

To say or write something that suggests and implies but never says it directly or clearly.

In media res

Latin for "in the midst of things," i.e. beginning an epic poem in the middle of the action.

Interior Monologue

Refers to writing that records the mental talking that goes on inside a character's head; tends to be coherent.

Inversion

Switching the customary order of elements in a sentence or phrase.

Irony

A statement that means the opposite of what it seems to mean; uses an undertow of meaning, sliding against the literal a la Jane Austen.

Lament

A poem of sadness or grief over the death of a loved one or over some other intense loss.

Lampoon

A satire.

Loose sentence

A sentence that is complete before its end: Jack loved Barbara despite her irritating snorting laugh.

Periodic Sentence

A sentence that is not grammatically complete until it has reached it s final phrase: Despite Barbara's irritation at Jack, she loved him.

Lyric

A type of poetry that explores the poet's personal interpretation of and feelings about the world.

Masculine rhyme

A rhyme ending on the final stressed syllable (regular old rhyme)

Meaning

What makes sense, what's important.

Melodrama

A form of cheesy theater in which the hero is very, very good, the villain mean and rotten, and the heroine oh-so-pure.

Metaphor

A comparison or analogy that states one thing IS another.

Simile

A comparison or analogy that typically uses like or as.

Metonymy

A word that is used to stand for something else that it has attributes of or is associated with.

Nemesis

The protagonist's arch enemy or supreme and persistent difficulty.

Objectivity

Treatment of subject matter in an impersonal manner or from an outside view.

Subjectivity

A treatment of subject matter that uses the interior or personal view of a single observer and is typically colored with that observer's emotional responses.

Onomatopoeia

Words that sound like what they mean

Opposition

A pairing of images whereby each becomes more striking and informative because it's placed in contrast to the other one.

Oxymoron

A phrase composed of opposites; a contradiction.

Parable

A story that instructs.

Paradox

A situation or statement that seems to contradict itself, but on closer inspection, does not.

Parallelism

Repeated syntactical similarities used for effect.

Paraphrase

To restate phrases and sentences in your own words.

Parenthetical phrase

A phrase set off by commas that interrupts the flow of a sentence with some commentary or added detail.

Parody

The work that results when a specific work is exaggerated to ridiculousness.

Pastoral

A poem set in tranquil nature or even more specifically, one about shepherds.

Persona

The narrator in a non first-person novel.

Personification

When an inanimate object takes on human shape.

Plaint

A poem or speech expressing sorrow.

Point of View

The perspective from which the action of a novel is presented.

Omniscient

A third person narrator who sees into each character's mind and understands all the action going on.

Limited Omniscient

A Third person narrator who generally reports only what one character sees, and who only reports the thoughts of that one privileged character.

Objective

A thrid person narrator who only reports on what would be visible to a camera. Does not know what the character is thinking unless the character speaks it.

First person

A narrator who is a character in the story and tells the tale from his or her point of view.

Stream of Consciousness

Author places the reader inside the main character's head and makes the reader privy to all of the character's thoughts as they scroll through her consciousness.

Prelude

An introductory poem to a longer work of verse

Protagonist

The main character of a novel or play

Pun

The usually humorous use of a word in such a way to suggest two or more meanings

Refrain

A line or set of lines repeated several times over the course of a poem.

Requiem

A song of prayer for the dead.

Rhapsody

An intensely passionate verse or section of verse, usually of love or praise.

Rhetorical question

A question that suggests an answer.

Satire

Attempts to improve things by pointing out people's mistakes in the hope that once exposed, such behavior will become less common.

Soliloquy

A speech spoken by a character alone on stage, meant to convey the impression that the audience is listening to the character's thoughts.

Stanza

A group of lines roughly analogous in function in verse to the paragraphs function in prose.

Stock characters

Standard or cliched character types.

Subjunctive Mood

A grammatical situation involving the words "if" and "were," setting up a hypothetical situation.

Suggest

To imply, infer, indicate.

Summary

A simple retelling of what you've just read.

Suspension of disbelief

The demand made of a theater audience to accept the limitations of staging and supply the details with their imagination.

Symbolism

A device in literature where an object represents an idea.

Technique

The methods and tools of the author.

Theme

The main idea of the overall work; the central idea.

Thesis

The main position of an argument. The central contention that will be supported.

Tragic flaw

In a tragedy, this is the weakness of a character in an otherwise good (or even great) individual that ultimately leads to his demise.

Travesty

A grotesque parody

Truism

A way-too obvious truth

Unreliable narrator

When the first person narrator is crazy, a liar, very young, or for some reason not entirely credible

Utopia

An idealized place. Imaginary communities in which people are able to live in happiness, prosperity, and peace.

Zeugma

The use of a word to modify two or more words, but used for different meanings. He closed the door and his heart on his lost love.

Ode

A poem in praise of something divine or noble

Iamb

A poetic foot -- light, heavy

Trochee

A poetic foot -- heavy, light

Spondee

A poetic foot -- heavy, heavy

Pyrrhie

A poetic foot -- light, light

Anapest

A poetic foot -- light, light, heavy

Ambibranch

A poetic foot -- light, heavy, light

Dactyl

A poetic foot -- heavy, light, light

Imperfect

A poetic foot -- single light or single heavy

Pentameter

A poetic line with five feet.

Tetrameter

A poetic line with four feet

Trimeter

A poetic line with three feet

Blank Verse

unrhymed iambic pentameter.

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