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unable to be touched; not concrete


a concept or value that can not be seen (love, honor, courage, death, etc.) which the writer usually tries to illustrate by comparing it metaphorically to a known, concrete, object. Sometimes this knowledge is hidden or esoteric because it is only known by or meant for a select few. example - "I nod to death in passing, aware of the sound of my own feet upon my path." Peter Mathiesson

ad hominem

Latin for "to the man" - attacking the arguer and not the person; also known as mudslinging


something out of its place in time or history: Julius Caesar riding a motorcycle


the comparison of two things, which are alike in several respects, for the purpose of clarifying some unfamiliar or difficult idea or object by showing how the idea or object is similar to some familiar one.


meter have two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable (--/) cig-a-RETTE


the repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases for rhetorical or poetic effect, as in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: We cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow this ground And whisper to their souls, to go,


the character in a narrative or play who is in conflict with the main character; it may not even be a person -- or may be the same person as the main character


The intentional use of elevated language to describe the trivial or commonplace, or a sudden transition from a significant thought to a trivial one in order to achieve a humorous or satiric effect; it also occurs in a series in which the ideas ascend toward a climactic conclusion but terminate instead in a thought of lesser importance.


a protagonist who is the antithesis of the hero - graceless, inept, stupid, sometimes dishonest


a figure of speech in which a thought is balanced with a contrasting thought in parallel arrangements of words and phrases, such as "He promised wealth and provided poverty," or "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." or "Give me performance, not promises." Also, the second of two contrasting or opposing constituents, following the thesis.


brief statement which expresses an observation on life, usually intended as a wise observation. Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard's Almanac" contains numerous examples, one of which is "Drive thy business; let it not drive thee," which means that one should not allow the demands of business to take control of one's moral or worldly commitments.


refers to the noble qualities of human beings and nature as opposed to the savage and destructive forces


addressing someone or something, usually not present, as though present. EX: Death, be not Proud. A figure of speech wherein the speaker speaks directly to something non-human. Often, a personif the person isn't there, or if the speaker doesn't think the person is there.


a larger-than-life presence; a godlike paragon worthy of respect and reverence

appeal to ignorance

the claim that whatever has not been proved


a statement delivered by a actor in such a way that the other characters on stage are presumed not have heard him


assertions made based on facts, statistics, logical or objective reasoning, hard evidence, etc


similarity or repetition of a vowel sound in two or more words, especially in a line of verse. Edgar Allen Poe's "The Bells" contains numerous examples: short e in "Hear the mellow wedding bells..." and the long o in in "... the molten-golden notes"


the omission of conjunctions that ordinarily join coordinate words and phrases, as in "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

auditory imagery

word choices that appeal to the ear, that help you "hear" the words


a form of verse to be sung or recited and characterized by a dramatic or exciting episode in fairly short narrative; a poem written in a song-like stanza form

begging the question

also called assuming the answer: We must assume the death penalty to end violent crime or I don't like the death penalty because it's killing; circular reasoning. A persuasive fallacy in which the writer assumes the reader will automatically accept an assertion without proper support. example - "Lying is universal; we all do it; we all must do it. Therefore, the wise thing is for us to diligently train ourelves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously." Mark Twain

blank verse

unrhymed iambic pentameter; metrical verse with no ending rhyme (Shakespeare)


elevated language. often pompous and overdone


a combination of harsh, unpleasant sounds which create an effect of discordance. Its opposite is euphony.


a pause for effect in the middle of a line of poetry; (period, dash, semicolon, etc.) it may or may not affect the meter. In scansion, a caesura is usually indicated by the following symbol (//). Here's an example by Alexander Pope: The proper study of Mankind//is Man.


works generally considered by scholars, critics, and teachers to be the most important to study or read, which collectively constitute the "masterpieces" or "classics" of literature.

Carpe diem

(Latin -- "Seize the day") A theme, especially common in lyric poetry, that emphasizes that life is short, time is fleeting, and that one should make the most of present pleasures


Aristotle's word for the pity of and fear an audience experiences upon viewing the downfall of a hero

cause and effect relationships

a dominant technique (also called rhetorical device_ in which the author analyzes reasons for a chain of events. This casual analysis can also be the writer's main method of organization or it can be one paragraph used to support a point in an essay developed through another pattern.


the method of a writer uses to reveal the personality of a character in a literary work. Personality may be revealed (1) by what the character says about himself or herself; (2) by what others reveal about the character; and (3) by the character's own actions.


repetition in successive clauses which are usually parallel in syntax, as in Pope's "A fop their passion, but their prize a sot," or Goldsmith's "to stop too fearful, and too faint to go."


an approach to literature which emphasizes reason, harmony, balance, proportion, clarity, and the imitation of ancient writers and philosophers

colloquial expressions

infromal, not always grammatically correct expressions that find acceptance in certain geographical areas and within certain groups of people - ex: Southerners saying "Ya'll"

comic relief

something of humor interrupts an otherwise serious, often tragic, literary work; a humorous scene or incident that alleviates tension in an otherwise serious work. In many instances these moments enhance the thematic significance of the story in addition to providing laughter.


an extended metaphor - two unlike things are compared in several different ways

concrete poetry

where the actual typeset layout of the poem suggest the topic. For example, a poem about trees might be shaped like a tree on the page.


the emotional implications that a word may carry; implied or associated meaning for a particular word.


the repetition of consonant sounds with differing vowel sounds in words near each other in a line or lines of poetry. EX: But yet we trust


a pair of rhyming lines written in the same meter; may be a separate stanza


three syllable foot consisting of an accented syllable followed by the unaccented syllables. EN: MUR-mur-ing.


the specific, exact meaning of a word; a dictionary definition


the resolution of a plot after the climax

deus ex machina

an unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot


speech peculiar to a region; exhibits distinctions between two groups or even two persons.


An author's choice of words - i.e., simple, sophisticated, colloquial, formal, or informal.

didactic verse

a term for a poem that teaches, almost preaches. IT often discusses the "proper" way to behave. The lesson being taught is more important to the writer than the artistic quality of the work

dramatic irony

irony in which the character use words which mean one thing to them but another to those who understand the situation better


lyrical poem about death; a serious poem, usually meant to express grief or sorrow. The theme is serious, usually death


line of verse that carries over into next line without a pause of any kind


a long narrative, usually written in elevated language, which related the adventures of a hero upon whom rests the fate of a nation


a witty saying, usually at the end of a poem, about 2 lines long; a brief, witty observation about a person, institution, or experience


A brief quotation at the beginning of a book or chapter


an awakening; a sudden understanding or burst of insight; key moment in Greek plays


an engraving on a tombstone


nickname or appellation, i.e., "Helen of the white arms" in the Iliad


a quality of style marked by pleasing, harmonious sounds, the opposite of cacophony


a term applied to a group of attitudes which emphasize existence rather than the essence, and sees the inadequacy of human reason to explain the enigma of the universe


the introductory material which sets the tone, gives the setting, introduces the characters, and supplies necessary facts; may be the first section of the typical Plot, in which Characters are introduced, the setting is described, and any necessary background information is given.

eye rhyme

A form of rhyme wherein the look rather than the sound is important. "Cough" and "tough" do not sound enough alike to constitute a rhyme. However, if these two words appeared at the ends of successive lines of poetry, they would be considered this.


a story written to make a moral point, usually involving animals as characters

falling action

everything that happens in plot between the climax or crisis and the denouement


a totally ridiculous comedy

feminine rhyme

Double rhyme - two syllables rhyme. Ex. resenting/consenting triple rhyme - 3 syllables rhyme, Ex. pollution/solution

figurative language

writing or speech not meant to be taken literally

figure of speech

states something that is not literally true in order to create an effect

flat character

a character who is not fully developed by an author; character who has only one outstanding trait or feature, or at the most a few distinguishing marks.


character who provides a contrast to another character, thus emphasizing the other's traits; a character in a play who sets off the main character or other characters by comparison.

folk tale

a story which has been composed orally and then passed down by word of mouth


a unit of meter; it can have two or three syllables; the basic unit of measurement in a line of poetry. In scansion, it represents one instance of metrical pattern an is shown either between or to the right or left of vertical lines. Most common type: iamb.


A metrical foot consisting of one unaccented syllable followed by one accented syllable


A metrical foot consisting of one accented syllable followed by one unaccented syllable


A metrical foot consisting of two unaccented syllables followed by one accented syllable


A metrical foot consisting of one accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables


A metrical foot consisting of two unaccented syllables


The basic foot of this verse, consisting (when complete) of an unaccented syllable, a lightly accented syllable, an unaccented syllable, and a heavy accented syllable, in that succession. However, this verse accommodates a tremendous amount of variety


A metrical foot consisting of two syllables equally or almost equally accented (true-blue)


A line of one metrical foot


A line of two metrical feet


A line of three metrical feet


A line of four metrical feet


A line of five metrical feet


A line of six metrical feet


the structure, shape, pattern, organization, or style of a piece of literature


a narrative constructed so that one or more stories are embedded within another story

free verse

unrhymed poetry with lines of varying lengths, containing no specific metrical pattern


a form of novel in which magic, mystery, horros and chivalry abound


a tragic flaw or error in judgment. In literature, the tragic hero's error of judgment or inherent defect of character, usually less literally translated as "fatal flaw." This, combined with essential elements of chance and other external forces, brings about a catastrophe. Often the error or flaw results from nothing more than personal traits like probity, pride, and overconfidence, but can arise from any failure of the protagonist's action or knowledge ranging from a simple unwittingness to a moral deficiency.

heroic couplet

two successive lines of rhymed poetry in iambic pentameter


A long speech denouncing someone or something; a story or lecture on a religious or moral theme; a didactic lecture


the pride or overconfidence which often leads a hero to overlook divine warning or to break a moral law


exaggeration for effect and emphasis, overstatement; figure of speech in which an overstatement or exaggeration occurs

iambic pentameter

A metrical pattern in poetry which consists of five iambic feet per line


expressions that do not translate exactly into what a speaker means; they are culturally relevant; when a person uses one of these expressions, he or she truly "thinks" in the language


devices which appeal to the senses: visual, tactile, auditory, gustatory, olfactory, kinetic; a group of words that create a mental "picture" (ie., animal, water, death, plant, decay, war, etc.).

auditory imagery

sound imagery. It appeals to the sense of hearing.

gustatory imagery

imagery appealing to the sense of taste

kinetic imagery

imagery that appeals to movement

olfactory imagery

appeals to the sense of smell

tactile imagery

type of imagery pertaining to the sense of touch

visual imagery

type of imagery that appeals to the sense of sight

in medias res

the story that starts in the middle

internal rhyme

rhyming within lines of verse instead of at the ends of lines

inverted sentence

reversing the normal subject - verb - complement order. Poets do this sometimes to conform to normal rhyme and rhythm patterns. Prose writers sometimes do this for emphasis.


the positioning of ideas or images side by side for emphasis or to show contrast


a biting satire that makes its subject appear ludicrous


a widely told tale about the past, one that may have a foundation in fact


a type of meiosis (understatement) in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary, as in "not unhappy" or "a poet of no small stature"

loose or cumulative sentence

A sentence that has an independent clause first, followed by a series of phrases and clauses - ex. The family used to gather around the hearth, doing such chores as polishing shoes, mending ripped clothing, reading, chatting, always warmed by one another's presence as much as by the flames.


a play based upon a dramatic plot and developed sensationally; a type of drama related to tragedy but featuring sensational incidents, emphasizing plot at the expense of characterization, relying on cruder conflicts (virtuous protagonist versus villainous antagonist), and having a happy ending in which good triumphs over evil.


a figure of speech wherein a comparison between two unlike quantities without the use of the words "like" or "as."


of, from, or relating to forces or being outside the natural world

metaphysical poetry

although sometimes used in the broad sense of philosophical poetry, the term usually applies to the work of seventeenth-century poets, such as John Donne. It is characterized by the use of conceits, condensed metaphysical language, unusual comparisons between medicine, love, death, and religion, and complex imagery.


substituting a word naming an object for another word closely associated with it. Ex. Pay tribute to the crown; figure of speech in which a word represents something else which it suggests.


a small "world" that stands for the larger one.

mixed metaphor

a metaphor whose elements are either incongruent or contradictory by the use of incompatible identifications, such as "the dog pulled in its horns."


A written or oral composition presenting the discourse of one speaker only


a series of images that appear one after another


(leitmotiv) a recurring concept or story element in literature. It includes concepts such as types of incident or situation, as in parting of lovers at dawn; plot devices; patterns of imagery; or archetypes and character types, such as despairing lover, conquering hero, or wicked stepmother.


speaker or persona, the one who tells a story (see point of view).

reliable narrator

Everything this narrator says is true, and the narrator knows everything that is necessary to the story

unreliable narrator

Narrator who may or may not know all the relevant information; may be intoxicated or mentally ill; may lie to the audience


writing that demonstrates a deep interest in nature (often sees nature as indifferent to the plight of man); also used to describe any form of extreme realism


Restoration literacy movement in which writers turned to Greek/Roman models for inspiration


Latin for "It doesn't follow" e.g., "Our nation will prevail if we eat more eggs"


an eight-line stanza


a long, formal lyric poem with a serious theme; a form of lyric poetry using elaborate, sophisticated vocabulary in iambic pentameter. It usually focuses on a single object or person.


the use of a word to represent or to imitate natural sounds. EN: sizzle, buzz, pop, hiss;


technique used to produce an effect by a seeming self-contradiction. EX: cruel kindness


a short story to prove a point with a moral basis (New Testament stories by Christ)


a statement which contains seemingly contradictory elements or appears contrary to common sense, yet can be seen as perhaps true when view from another angle. (A statement that is seemingly impossible at first, but very logical once it is explained. Ex. The child is father to the man)

parallel structure

a repetition of sentences using the same structure


a repetition of syntactical similarities in passages closely connected for rhetorical effect.The repetitive structure lends wit or emphasis to the meanings of the separate clauses, thus being particularly effective in antithesis.


ludicrous imitation, usually for comic effect but sometimes for ridicule, of the style and content of another work. The humor depends upon the reader's familiarity with the original. A literary work that imitates the style of another literary work. It can be simply amusing or it can be mocking in tone, such as a poem which exaggerates the use of alliteration in order to show the ridiculous effect of overuse.


a literary work that has to do with shepherds and rustic settings. Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shephard to His Love" and Robert Burn's "Sweet Afton" are examples.

pathetic fallacy

overdone writing that sees the inadequacy of human reason to explain the enigma of the universe. Writing that uses clichés to show nature mirroring what happens in real life. Evil always happens on dark and stormy nights, while spring days are when new lovers meet.


Greek term for deep emotion, passion, or suffering. When applied to literature, its meaning is usually narrowed to refer to tragic emotions, describing the language and situations which deeply move the audience or reader by arousing sadness, sympathy, or pity. When it seems excessive or exaggerated it becomes melodramatic or sentimental.

periodic sentence

Saves the subject and verb of the independent clause until the end of the sentence.


Figure of speech in which inanimate objects are given qualities of speech and/or movement.

point of view

the narrator or speaker perspective from which the story is told - personal, objective, omniscient, partial or limited omniscient. It is the perspective from which a narrative is presented; it is analogous to the point from which the camera sees the action in cinema. The two main ones of these are those of third-person (omniscient) narrator, who stands outside the story itself, and the first-person narrator, who participates in the story. The first type always uses third-person pronouns, while the latter also uses the first-person.

post hoc, ergo propter hoc

Latin for "It happened after, so it was caused by." e.g., I know of a 26-year-old who looks 60 because she takes contraceptive pills," OR "Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons."


a play on words wherein a word is used to convey two meanings at the same time.


A four-line stanza


A five-line stanza


A phrase or line, usually pertinent to the central topic, which is repeated at regular intervals throughout a poem, usually at the end of a stanza.


The part of a story or drama which occurs after the climax and which establishes a new norm, or a new state of affairs - the way things are going to be from then on.


The art of speaking or writing effectively; skill in the eloquent use of language.


works having extravagant characters, remote or exotic settings, adventure, magic, chivalry, and love

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