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Rhetorical terms students need to know for AP English Language


refers to language that describes concepts rather than concrete images ( ideas and qualities rather than observable or specific things, people, or places). The observable or "physical" is usually described in concrete language.

Ad Hominem

In an argument, this is an attack on the person rather than on the opponent's ideas. It comes from the Latin meaning "against the man."


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


repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are close to one another: Mickey Mouse; Donald Duck; Daffy Duck; Suzy Sells Seashells ...


a reference to a well-known person, place, or thing from literature, history, etc. Example: Eden, Scrooge, Prodigal Son, Catch-22, Judas, Don Quixote, Mother Theresa


Comparison of two similar but different things, usually to clarify an action or a relationship, such as comparing the work of a heart to that of a pump. An analogy is a comparison to a directly parallel case. Ex: Shells were to ancient cultures as dollar bills are to modern American culture. Ex: Running a business is like managing an orchestra. Ex: The heart is like a pump.


Repetition of a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of two or more sentences in a row. This is a deliberate form of repetition and helps make the writer's point more coherent. Ex: "There was the delight I caught in seeing long straight rows. There was the faint, cool kiss of sensuality. There was the vague sense of the infinite...." Ex: "We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender. " Churchill.


a short, simple narrative of an incident; often used for humorous effect or to make a point.


Explanatory notes added to a text to explain, cite sources, or give bibliographical data.


the presentation of two contrasting images. The ideas are balanced by word, phrase, clause, or paragraphs. Examples: "To be or not to be..." Shakespeare's Hamlet "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country...." Kennedy "The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." Lincoln


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."


usually in poetry but sometimes in prose; the device of calling out to an imaginary, dead, or absent person or to a place, thing, or personified abstraction Ex: "For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar's angel. Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him." Shakespeare's Julius Caesar


writing that attempts to prove the validity of a point of view or an idea by presenting reasoned arguments; persuasive writing is a form of argumentation


repetition of vowel sounds between different consonants, such as in neigh/fade,


Commas used (with no conjunction) to separate a series of words. The parts are emphasized equally when the conjunction is omitted; in addition, the use of commas with no intervening conjunction speeds up the flow of the sentence. Asyndeton takes the form of X, Y, Z as opposed to X, Y, and Z. Ex: "Be one of the few, the proud, the Marines." Marine Corps Ex: "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardships, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." John F. Kennedy


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


descriptive writing that greatly exaggerates a specific feature of a person's appearance or a facet of personality.


a word or phrase (including slang) used in everyday conversation and informal writing but that is often inappropriate in formal writing (y'all, ain't)


quality of a piece of writing in which all the parts contribute to the development of the central idea, theme, or organizing principle

Concrete Language

Language that describes specific, observable things, people, or places, rather than ideas or qualities.


implied or suggested meaning of a word because of its association in the reader's mind.


repetition of identical consonant sounds within two or more words in close proximity, as in boost/best; it can also be seen within several compound words, such as fulfill and ping-pong


a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun; it may also be a paradox or difficult problem


the process of moving from a general rule to a specific example


literal meaning of a word as defined


the picturing in words of something or someone through detailed observation of color, motion, sound, taste, smell, and touch; one of the four modes of discourse


word choice, an element of style; it creates tone, attitude, and style, as well as meaning. Different types and arrangements of words have significant effects on meaning. An essay written in academic ______ would be much less colorful, but perhaps more precise than street slang.


writing whose purpose is to instruct or to teach. The work is usually formal and focuses on moral or ethical concerns. This type of writing may be fiction or nonfiction that teaches a specific lesson or moral or provides a model of correct behavior or thinking.


spoken or written language, including literary works; the four traditionally classified modes of ____________ are description, exposition, narration, and persuasion.


harsh or grating sounds that do not go together

Dramatic Irony

When the reader is aware of an inconsistency between a fictional or nonfictional character's perception of a situation and the truth of that situation.

Emotional Appeal

When a writer appeals to readers' emotions (often through pathos) to excite and involve them in the argument.


the use of a quotation at the beginning of a work that hints at its theme. Hemingway begins The Sun Also Rises with two quotations. One of them is "You are all a lost generation" by Gertrude Stein.


repetition of a word or expression at the end of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect (as Lincoln's "of the people, by the people, for the people") Compare to anaphora. Ex: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child." (Corinthians) Ex: I'll have my bond!/ Speak not against my bond!/ I have sworn an oath that I will have my bond.---The Merchant of Venice

Ethical Appeal

When a writer tries to persuade the audience to respect and believe him or her based on a presentation of image of self through the text. Reputation is sometimes a factor in this type of appeal, but in all cases the aim is to gain the audience's confidence. (Ethos)


a more acceptable and usually more pleasant way of saying something that might be inappropriate or uncomfortable. "He went to his final reward" is a common saying for "he died." These are also often used to obscure the reality of a situation. The military uses "collateral damage" to indicate civilian deaths in a military operation.


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


An individual instance taken to be representative of a general pattern. Arguing through this process is considered reliable if _______________ are demonstrable true or factual as well as relevant.


The art of interpreting or discovering the meaning of a text. It usually involves close reading and special attention to figurative language.


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 sustained comparison, often referred to as a conceit. The extended metaphor is developed throughout a piece of writing

False Analogy

When two cases are not sufficiently parallel to lead readers to accept a claim of connection between them.

Figurative Language

language that contains figures of speech, such as similes and metaphors, in order to create associations that are imaginative rather than literal.

Figures of Speech

expressions, such as similes, metaphors, and personifications, that make imaginative, rather than literal, comparisons or associations.


the use of a hint or clue to suggest a larger event that occurs late in the work


Sentence consisting of three or more very short independent clauses joined by conjunctions.


When a writer bases a claim upon an isolated example or asserts that a claim is certain rather than probable. Sweeping generalizations occur when a writer asserts that a claim applies to all instances instead of some.


a type of literary work, such as a novel or poem; there are also subgenres, such as science fiction or sonnet, within the larger genres


the excessive pride of ambition that leads a tragic hero to disregard warnings of impending doom, eventually causing his or her downfall.


anything that causes laughter or amusement; up until the end of the Renaissance, humor meant a person's temperament


deliberate exaggeration in order to create humor or emphasis (Example: He was so hungry he could have eaten a horse.)


A word or words, either figurative or literal, used to describe a sensory experience or an object perceived by the sense. An image is always a concrete representation.


words or phrases that use a collection of images to appeal to one or more of the five senses in order to create a mental picture


the process that moves from a given series of specifics to a generalization


a conclusion one can draw from the presented details

Interior Monologue

writing that records the conversation that occurs inside a character's head


a verbally abusive attack


reversing the customary (subject first, then verb, then complement) order of elements in a sentence or phrase; it is used effectively in many cases, such as posing a question: "Are you going to the store?" Usually, the element that appears first is emphasized more than the subject.


a situation or statement in which the actual outcome or meaning is opposite to what was expected.


The special language of a profession or group. The term usually has pejorative associations, with the implication that jargon is evasive, tedious, and unintelligible to outsiders. The writings of the lawyer and the literary critic are both susceptible to jargon.


the process of reasoning

Logical Fallacy

a mistake in reasoning


Songlike; characterized by emotions, subjectivity, and imagination.


a figure of speech in which one thing is referred to as another; for example, "my love is a fragile flower"


a figure of speech that uses the name of an object, person, or idea to represent something with which it is associated, such as using "the crown" to refer to a monarch ; Also, "The pen is mightier than the sword."


the method or form of a literary work; the manner in which a work of literature is written


similar to tone, it is the primary emotional attitude of a work (the feeling of the work; the atmosphere). Syntax is also a determiner of this term because sentence strength, length, and complexity affect pacing.


The lesson drawn from a fictional or nonfictional story. It can also mean a heavily didactic story.


main theme or subject of a work that is elaborated on in the development of the piece; a repeated pattern or idea


the telling of a story in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or drama; one of the four modes of discourse


Sentence that begins by stating what is NOT true, then ending by stating what is true.


Latin for "it does not follow." When one statement isn't logically connected to another


an impersonal presentation of events and characters. It is a writer's attempt to remove himself or herself from any subjective, personal involvement in a story. Hard news journalism is frequently prized for its objectivity, although even fictional stories can be told without a writer rendering personal judgment.


the use of words that sound like what they mean, such as "hiss," "buzz," "slam," and "boom"


When a writer obscures or denies the complexity of the issues in an argument


a figure of speech composed of contradictory words or phrases, such as "wise fool," bitter-sweet," "pretty ugly," "jumbo shrimp," "cold fire"


the movement of a literary piece from one point or one section to another


a short tale that teaches a moral; similar to but shorter than an allegory


a statement that seems to contradict itself but that turns out to have a rational meaning, as in this quotation from Henry David Thoreau; "I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude."


the technique of arranging words, phrases, clauses, or larger structures by placing them side by side and making them similar in form. Parallel structure may be as simple as listing two or three modifiers in a row to describe the same noun or verb; it may take the form of two or more of the same type of phrases (prepositional, participial, gerund, appositive) that modify the same noun or verb; it may also take the form of two or more subordinate clauses that modify the same noun or verb. Or, parallel structure may be a complex bend of singe-word, phrase, and clause parallelism all in the same sentence. Example (from Churchill): "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields."


a work that ridicules the style of another work by imitating and exaggerating its elements. . It can be utterly mocking or gently humorous. It depends on allusion and exaggerates and distorts the original style and content.


an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking pity or compassion. . Over-emotionalism can be the result of an excess of pathos.


a term used to describe writing that borders on lecturing. It is scholarly and academic and often overly difficult and distant


the attribution of human qualities to a nonhuman or an inanimate object


a form of argumentation, one of the four modes of discourse; language intended to convince through appeals to reason or emotion.

Point of View

the perspective from which a story is presented


Sentence which uses and or another conjunction (with no commas) to separate the items in a series. Polysyndeton appear in the form of X and Y and Z, stressing equally each member of a series. It makes the sentence slower and the items more emphatic than in the asyndeton.


the main character of a literary work

Red Herring

When a writer raises an irrelevant issue to draw attention away from the real issue

Reductio ad Absurdum

the Latin for "to reduce to the absurd." This is a technique useful in creating a comic effect and is also an argumentative technique. It is considered a rhetorical fallacy because it reduces an argument to an either/or choice


an element in literature that conveys a realistic portrayal of a specific geographical locale, using the locale and its influences as a major part of the plot


Word or phrase used two or more times in close proximity


the art of effective communication, especially persuasive discourse; Rhetoric focuses on the interrelationship of invention, arrangement, and style in order to create felicitous and appropriate discourse.

Rhetorical modes

exposition, description, narration, argumentation

Rhetorical Question

one that does not expect an explicit answer. It is used to pose an idea to be considered by the speaker or audience.


harsh, caustic personal remarks to or about someone; less subtle than irony


A work that reveals a critical attitude toward some element of human behavior by portraying it in an extreme way. It doesn't simply abuse (as in invective) or get personal (as in sarcasm). It targets groups or large concepts rather than individuals.


Time and place of a literary work


a figure of speech that uses like, as, or as if to make a direct comparison between two essentially different objects, actions, or qualities; for example, "The sky looked like an artist's canvas."


the voice of a work; an author may speak as himself or herself or as a fictitious persona


a character who represents a trait that is usually attributed to a particular social or racial group and who lacks individuality; a conventional patter, expression or idea.

Straw Man

When a writer argues against a claim that nobody actually holds or is universally considered weak. Setting up a straw man diverts attention from the real issues.


an author's characteristic manner of expression - his or her diction, syntax, imagery, structure, and content all contribute to style


a personal presentation of evens and characters, influenced by the author's feelings and opinions


A form of reasoning in which two statements are made and a conclusion is drawn from them. A syllogism is the format of a formal argument that consists of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. Example: Major Premise: All tragedies end unhappily. Minor Premise: Hamlet is a tragedy. Conclusion: Therefore, Hamlet ends unhappily.


the use of symbols or anything that is meant to be taken both literally and as representative of a higher and more complex significance


a figure of speech in which a part of something is used to represent a whole, such as using "boards" to mean a stage or "wheels" to mean a car - or "All hands on deck."

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. They are often difficult for a reader to follow.


the grammatical structure of a sentence; the arrangement of words in a sentence. It includes length of sentence, kinds of sentences (questions, exclamations, declarative sentences, rhetorical questions, simple, complex, or compound).


the central idea or "message" or a literary work


the main idea of a piece of writing. It presents the author's assertion or claim. The effectiveness of a presentation is often based on how well the writer presents, develops, and supports this.


the characteristic emotion or attitude of an author toward the characters, subject, and audience (anger, sarcastic, loving, didactic, emotional, etc.)


a word or phrase that links one idea to the next and carries the reader from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph.


Sentence consisting of three parts of equal importance and length, usually three independent clauses.


the opposite of exaggeration. It is a technique for developing irony and/or humor where one writes or says less than intended.


quality of a piece of writing (also see coherence)


refers to two different areas of writing. One refers to the relationship between a sentence's subject and verb (active and passive voice). The second refers to the total "sound" of a writer's style.

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