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AP English Literary Terms
Terms in this set (70)
ad hominem argument
From the Latin meaning "to or against the man," this is an argument that appeals to EMOTION rather than reason, to FEELING rather than intellect. Basically, it's when an argument is directed against a person, rather than the position the person is taking
The device of using character and/or story elements symbolically to represent an abstraction in addition to the literal meaning. In some allegories, for example, an author intend the characters to personify an abstraction like hope or freedom. The allegorical meaning usually deals with moral truth or generalization about human existence.
The repetition of sounds, especially initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words (as in "she sells seas shells). Although the term is not used in the multiple-choice section of the AP exam, you can look for alliteration in any essay passage. The repetition can reinforce meaning, unify ideas, and/or supply a musical sound.
A direct or indirect reference to something that is presumably commonly known, such as an event, book, myth, place, or work of art. Allusions can be historical (like referring to Stalin), literary (like referring to Kurtz in Heart of Darkness), religious (like referring to Noah and the flood), or mythical (like referring to Atlas).
The multiple meanings, either intentional or unintentional, of a word, phrase, sentence, or passage.
A similarity or comparison between two different things or the relationship between them. An analogy can explain something unfamiliar by associating it with, or pointing out its similarity to, something more familiar. Analogies can also make writing more vivid, imaginative, and intellectually engaging.
The word, phrase, or clause referred to by a pronoun.
A figure of speech involving a seeming contradiction of ideas words, clauses, or sentences with a balanced grammatical structure. The resulting parallelism serves to emphasize opposition of ideas. The familiar phrase "Man proposes, God disposes" is an antithesis, as is in John Dryden's description in The Hind and the Panther: "Too black for heaven, and yet too white for hell.
A terse statement of known authorship that expresses a general truth or moral principle.
A figure of speech that directly an absent or imaginary person or personified abstraction, such as liberty or love. The effect may add familiarity or emotional intensity. William Wordsworth addresses John Milton as he writes: "Milton, thou shouldest be living in this house: England hath need of thee."
The emotional mood created by the entirely of a literary work, established partly by the setting and partly by the author's choice of object that are described. Even such elements as a description of the weather can contribute to the atmosphere.
A representation, especially pictorial or literary, in which the subject's distinctive features or peculiarities are deliberately exaggerated to produce a comic or grotesque effect. Synonymous words include burlesque, parody, travesty, satire, lampoon.
A figure of speech based on inverted parallelism. It is a rhetorical figure in which two clauses are related to each other through a reversal of terms. The purpose is usually to make a larger point or to provide balance or order. A commonly cited example comes from John F Kennedy's inaugural address: "...ask not what your country can do for you---ask what you can do for your country."
A grammatical unit that contains both a subject and a verb. An independent, or main, clause expresses a complete thought and can stand alone as a sentence. A dependent, or subordinate, clause cannot stand alone as a sentence.
Slang or informality in speech or writing. Not generally acceptable for formal writing, colloquialisms give works a conversational, familiar tone. Colloquial expressions in writing include local or regional dialects.
A fanciful expression, usually in the form of an extended metaphor or surprising analogy between seemingly dissimilar objects. A conceit displays intellectual cleverness due to the unusual comparison being made.
The nonliteral, associative meaning of a word; the implied, suggested meaning. Connotations may involve ideas, emotions, or attitudes.
The strict, literal dictionary definition of a word, devoid of any emotion, attitude, or color.
(remember D for Dictionary Definition goes with Denotation
Related to style, diction refers to the writer's word choices, especially with regard to their correctness, clearness, or effectiveness. For the AP Language and Composition Exam, you should be able to describe an authors diction (example: formal, informal, ornate, plain, etc.) and understand the ways in which diction can complement the author's purpose.
From the Greek, "didactic" literally means "instructive." Didactic works have the primary aim of teaching or instructing, especially the teaching of moral or ethical principles.
From the Greek for "good speech," euphemisms are a more agreeable or less offensive substitute for generally unpleasant words or concepts. Saying "earthly remains" rather than "corpse" is an example.
A metaphor developed at great length, occurring frequently in or throughout a work.
Writing or speech that is not intended to carry literal meaning and is usually meant to be imaginative and vivid.
figure of speech
A device used to produce figurative language. Many compare dissimilar things. Figures of speech include apostrophe, hyperbole, irony, metaphor, metonymy, oxymoron, paradox, personification, simile, synecdoche, and understatement.
This term describes traditions for each genre. These conventions help to define each genre; for example, they differentiate between an essay and journalistic writing or an autobiography and political writing.
The major category into which a literary work fits. The basic divisions of literature are prose, poetry, and drama. However, "genre" is a flexible term; within these broad boundaries exist many subdivisions that are often called genres themselves. For example, prose can be divided into fiction (novels and short stories) or nonfiction (essays, biographies, autobiographies, etc.). Poetry can be divided into such subcategories as lyric, dramatic, narrative, epic, etc. Drama can be divided into tragedy, comedy, melodrama, farce, and so on.
This term literally means "sermon," but more informally, it can include any serious talk, speech, or lecture involving moral or spiritual advice.
A figure of speech using deliberate exaggeration or overstatement. Hyperboles often have a comic effect; however, a serious effect is also possible. Often, hyperbole produces irony at the same time.
The sensory details or figurative language used to describe, arouse attention, or represent abstractions. On a physical level, imagery uses term related to the five sense; we refer to visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, or olfactory imagery. On a broader and deeper level, however, one image can represent more than one thing. For example, a rose may present visual imagery while also representing the color in someone's cheeks. On the AP Language and Composition Exam, pay attention to HOW an author creates imagery and the effect of that imagery.
To draw a reasonable conclusion from the information presented.
An emotionally violent, verbal denunciation or attack using strong, abusive language.
The contrast between what is stated explicitly and what is really meant; the difference between what appears to be and what is actually true. In general, three major types of irony are used in language:
1. VERBAL IRONY: the words literally state the opposite of the writer's (or speaker's) true meaning. Example: Saying something's as clear as mud.
2. SITUATIONAL IRONY: events turn out the opposite of what is expected. What the characters and readers think is going to happen does not actually happen. Example: A marriage counselor files for divorce.
3. DRAMATIC IRONY: facts or events are unknown to a character in a play or piece of fiction but known to the reader, audience, or other characters in the work. Example: In a scary movie, the character walks into a house and the audience knows the killer is in the house.
Placing dissimilar items, descriptions, or ideas close together or side by side, especially for comparison or contrast.
A type of sentence in which the main idea (independent clause) comes first, followed by dependent grammatical units such as phrases and clauses. If a period were placed at the end of the independent clause, the clause would be a complete sentence. A work containing many loose sentences often seems informal, relaxed, and conversational.
A figure of speech using implied comparison of seemingly unlike things or the substitute of one for the other, suggesting some similarity.
A term from the Greek meaning "changed label" or "substitute name," metonymy is a figure of speech in which the name of one object is for that of another closely associated with it. A news release that claims "the White House declared" rather than "the President declared" is using metonymy.
This term has two distinct technical meanings in English writing. The first meaning is grammatical and deals with verbal units and speaker's attitude. The INDICATIVE mood is used only for factual sentences. For example: "Joe eats too quickly." The SUBJUNCTIVE mood is used for doubtful or conditional attitude. For example: "If I were you, I'd get another job." The IMPERATIVE mood is used for commands. For example: "Shut the door." The second meaning of mood is literary, meaning the prevailing atmosphere or emotional aura of a work. Setting, tone, and events can affect the mood. In this usage, mood is similar to tone and atmosphere.
The telling of a story or an account of an event or series of events.
A figure of speech in which natural sounds are imitated in the sounds of words. Example: Bang!
From the Greek for "pointedly foolish," an oxymoron is a figure of speech wherein the author groups apparently contradictory terms to suggest a paradox. Example: Jumbo shrimp. Act natural.
A statement that appears to be self-contradictory or opposed to common sense, but upon closer inspection contains some degree of truth or validity. Example: "I know one thing; that I know nothing." "This is the beginning of the end."
Also referred to as parallel construction or parallel structure, it refers to the grammatical or rhetorical framing of words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs to give structural similarity. Famous examples include Dickens' "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." and Julius Caesar's "I came, I saw, I conquered."
A work that closely intimates the style or content of another with the specific aim of comic effect and/or ridicule.
An adjective that describes words, phrases, or general tone hat is overly scholarly, academic or bookish.
A sentence that presents its central meaning in a main clause at the end. This independent clause is preceded by a phrase or clause that cannot stand alone. For example: "Ecstatic with my AP scores, I let out a loud shout of joy."
A figure of speech in which the author presents or describes concepts, animals, or inanimate objects by endowing them with human attributes or emotions.
point of view
In literature, the perspective from which a story is told. There are 2 general divisions or point of view and any subdivisions within those.
1. FIRST-PERSON NARRATOR: tells the story with the first person pronoun "I" and is a character in the story. This narrator can be the protagonist, a participant, or an observer.
2. THIRD-PERSON NARRATOR: relates events with third-person pronouns "he," "she," and "it." Be aware of two main subdivisions. In third-person OMNISCIENT point of view, the narrator, with godlike knowledge, presents the thoughts and actions of any or all characters. The third-person LIMITED OMNISCIENT point of view, as its name implies, does not have this knowledge.
One type of subject complement---an adjective, group of adjectives, or adjective clause that follows a linking verb. It is in the predicate of the sentence, and modifies or describes the subject. For example, in the sentence "My boyfriend is tall, funny, and handsome," the group of predicate adjectives tall, funny, and handsome describe the boyfriend.
A second type of subject complement---a noun, a group of nouns, or noun clause that renames the subject. It, like the predicate adjective, follows a linking verb and is located in the predicate of the sentence. For example, "Abe Lincoln was a man of integrity," the predicate nominative is "man of integrity," as it renames Abe Lincoln.
One of the major divisions of genre, "prose" refers to fiction and nonfiction, including all its forms, because they are written in ordinary language and most closely resemble everyday speech.
The duplication, either exact or approximate, or any element of language, such as a sound, word, phrase, clause, sentence, or grammatical pattern.
From the Greek for "orator," this term describes the principles governing the art of writing effectively , eloquently, and persuasively.
The persuasive device by which a writer tries to sway the audience's attention and response to any given work. Three rhetorical appeals were defined by Aristotle:
1. LOGOS: employs logical reasoning, combining a clear idea (or multiple ideas) with well-thought-out and appropriate examples and details. These supports are logically presented and rationally reach the writer's conclusion.
2. ETHOS: establishes credibility in the speaker. Since by definition "ethos" means the common attitudes, beliefs, and characteristics of a group or time period, this appeal sets up believability in the writer. He or she is perceived as someone who can be trusted and is concerned about the reader's best interests.
3. PATHOS: plays on the reader's emotions and interests. A sympathetic audience is more likely to accept a writer's assertions, so this appeal draws upon that understanding and uses it to the writer's advantage
*4. NOMOS: not one of the classical appeals, but is arguably the most potent one. Best described as the use of shared cultural beliefs to persuade, nomos works like this: If I can find some common ground between us, I can use it to persuade you to do....whatever. Scholar and rhetorician Kenneth Burke called this "identification" and said it was the most powerful persuasive tool at our disposal.
This flexible term describes the variety, the conventions, and the purposes of the major kinds of writing. Sometimes referred to as modes of discourse, the four most common rhetorical modes and their purposes are as follows:
1. The purpose of EXPOSITION (or expository writing) is to explain and analyze information by presenting an idea, relevant evidence, and appropriate discussion.
2. The purpose of ARGUMENTATION is to prove the validity of an idea, or point of view, by presenting sound reasoning, thoughtful discussion, and insightful argument that thoroughly convince the reader. Persuasive writing is a type of argumentation having the additional aim of urging some form of action.
3. The purpose of DESCRIPTION is to recreate, invent, or visually present a person, place, event, or action so that the reader can picture being that described.
4. the purpose of NARRATION is to tell a story or narrate an event or series of events.
A question that is asked merely for effect and does not expect a reply.
From the Greek meaning "to tear flesh," sarcasm involves bitter, caustic language that is meant to hurt or ridicule someone or something.
A work that targets human vices and follies, or social institutions and conventions, for reform or ridicule. Regardless of whether or not the work aims to reform humans or their society, satire is best seen as a style of writing rather than a purpose of writing. It can be recognized by the many devices used effectively by the satirist, such as irony, wit, parody, caricature, hyperbole, understatement, and sarcasm. The effects of satire are varied, depending on the writer's goal, but good satire---often humorous---is thought provoking and insightful about the human condition.
A comparison using "like," "as," or "if."
The consideration of style has two purposes:
1. An evaluation of the sum of the choices an author makes in blending diction, syntax, figurative language, and other literary devices. Some authors' styles are so idiosyncratic that we can quickly recognize works by the same author.
2. Classification of authors to a group and comparison of an author to similar authors.
By means of such classification and comparison, one can see how an author's style reflects and helps to define a historical period, such as the Renaissance or the Victorian period, or a literary movement, such as the Romance, Transcendental, or Realist movements.
The word (with any accompanying phases) or clause that follows a linking verb and complements, or completes, the subject of the sentence by either (1)renaming it or (2)describing it.
Like all clauses, this word group contains both a subject and a verb (plus any accompanying phrases or modifiers), but unlike the independent clause, the subordinate clause cannot stand alone; it does not express a complete thought. Also called a dependent clause, the subordinate clause depends on a main clause, sometimes called an independent clause, to complete its meaning. Easily recognized key words and phrases usually begin these clauses---for example: although, because, unless, if, even though, since, as soon as, while, who, when, where, how, that.
A syllogism is a deductive system of formal logic that presents two premises---the first one called "major" and the second "minor"---that inevitably lead to a sound conclusion. A frequently cited example follows:
1. Major premise: All men are mortal.
2. Minor premise: Socrates is a man.
3. Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
Generally, anything that represents or stands for something else. Usually, a symbol is something concrete---such as an object, action, character, or scene---that represents something more abstract. However, symbols and symbolism can be much more complex. One system classifies symbols in three categories:
1. NATURAL symbols use objects and occurrences from nature to represent ideas commonly associated with them (dawn=hope or new beginnings, rose=love, tree=knowledge).
2. CONVENTIONAL symbols are those that have been invested with meaning by a group (religious symbols like a cross or the Star of David; national symbols, such as a flag or eagle; or group symbols, such as skull and crossbones for pirates or the scales of justice for lawyers).
3. LITERARY symbols are sometimes also conventional in the sense that they are found in a variety of works and are generally recognized. However, a work's symbols may be more complicated, such as the whale in Moby Dick and the jungle in Heart of Darkness.
The central idea or message of a work, the insight it offers into life. Usually, theme is unstated in fictional works,but in nonfiction, the theme may be directly stated, especially in expository or argumentative writing. Frequently a theme can be stated as a "universal truth," that is, a general statement about the human condition, about society, or about a person's relation to the natural world.
Similar to mood, tone describes the author's attitude towards his or her material, the audience, or both. Tone is easier to determine in spoken language than in written language. Considering how a work would sound if it were read aloud can help in identifying an author's tone. Some words describing tone are playful, businesslike, sarcastic, humorous, ornate, and somber.
A word or phrase that links different ideas. Used especially, although not exclusively, in expository and argumentative writing, transitions effectively signal a shift from one idea to another. A few commonly used transition words or phrases are furthermore, consequently, nevertheless, for example, in addition, likewise, similarly, and on the contrary
The way an author chooses in join into phrases, clauses, and sentences. Syntax is similar to diction, but you can differentiate the two by thinking of syntax as referring to GROUPS of words, while diction refers to individual words. When analyzing syntax, consider such elements as the length or brevity of sentences, unusual sentence constructions, the sentence patterns used, and the kinds of sentences the author uses. The writer may use questions, declarations, exclamations, or rhetorical questions; sentences are also classified as periodic or loose, simple, compound, or complex sentences. Try to classify WHAT KIND of sentences the author uses, and then try to determine HOW the author's choices amplify meaning, in other words WHY THEY WORK well for the author's purpose.
In expository writing, the thesis statement is the sentence or group of sentences that directly express the author's opinion, purpose, meaning, or proposition. Expository writing is usually judged by analyzing how accurately, effectively, and thoroughly a writer has proven the thesis.
The ironic minimizing of a fact, understatement presents something a less significant that it is. The effect can frequently be humorous and emphatic. Understatement is the opposite of hyperbole. Two specific types of understatement exist:
1. litotes: a figure of speech by which an affirmation is made indirectly by denying its opposite. It uses understatement for emphasis, frequently with a negative assertion. Example: "He was not averse to a drink" means he drank a lot. "It was no mean feat" means it was quite hard.
2. meiosis: The Greek term for understatement or belittling; a rhetorical figure by which something is referred to in terms less important than it really deserves. It describes something that is very impressive with simplicity. Example: When the Black Knight says his arm being cut off is "just a flesh wound" and is "but a scratch" in Monty Python's The Holy Grail.
In modern usage, wit is intellectually amusing language that surprises and delights. A witty statement, is humorous, suggests the speaker's verbal power in creating ingenious and perceptive remarks. Wit often uses terse language that makes a pointed statement.
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