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AP Literary Terms, taken from Barron's 2008 edition of their AP English Lit and Comp study book. Some definitions may be modified to allow them to function better with Space Race.


An abbreviated synopsis of a longer work of scholarship or research


A saying or proverb containing a truth based on experience and often couched in metaphorical language


A story in which the narrative or characters carry an underlying symbolic, metaphorical, or possibly an ethical meaning


The repetition of one or more initial consonants in a group of words or lines of poetry or prose


A reference to a person, place, or event meant to create an effect or enhance the meaning of an idea


A vagueness of meaning; a conscious lack of clarity meant to evoke multiple meanings and interpretation


A person, scene, event, or other element in literature that fails to correspond with the time or era in which the work is set


A comparison that points out similarities between two dissimilar things


A brief explanation, summary, or evaluation of a text or work of literature


A character or force in a work of literature that, by opposing the protagonist produces tension or conflict


A rhetorical opposition or contrast of ideas by means of a grammatical arrangement of words, clauses, or sentences: "They promised freedom but provided slavery"


A short, pithy statement of a generally accepted truth or sentiment


In contrast to Dionysian, it refers to the most noble, godlike qualities of human nature and behavior


A locution that addresses a person or personified thing not present


An abstract or ideal conception of a type; a perfectly typical example; an original model or form


The repetition of two or more vowel sounds in a group of words or lines in poetry and prose


A simple narrative verse that tells a story that is sung or recited


A poet; in olden times, a performer who told heroic stories to musical accompaniment


The use of insincere or overdone sentimentality


French term for the world of books, criticism, and literature in general


A list of works cited or otherwise relevant to a subject or other work.


A German word referring to a novel structured as a series of events that take place as the hero travels in quest of a goal

blank verse

Poetry written in iambic pentameter, the primary meter used in English poetry and the works of Shakespeare and Milton


Inflated, pretentious language used for trivial subjects


A work of literature meant to ridicule a subject; a grotesque imitation


Grating, inharmonious sounds


A pause somewhere in the middle of a verse, often (but not always) marked by punctuation


The works considered most important in a national literature or period; works widely read and studied


A grotesque likeness of striking qualities in persons and things

carpe diem

Literally, "seize the day"; enjoy life while you can, a common theme in literature


A cleansing of the spirit brought about by the pity and terror of a dramatic tragedy


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


Deriving from the orderly qualities of ancient Greek and Roman culture; implies formality, objectivity, simplicity, and restraint


The high point, or turning point, of a story or play

coming-of-age story

A tale in which a young protagonist experiences an introduction to adulthood. The character may develop understanding via disillusionment, education, doses of reality, or any other experiences that alter his or her emotional or intellectual maturity


A witty or ingenious thought; a diverting or highly fanciful idea, often stated in figurative language


The suggested or implied meaning of a word or phrase


The repetition of two or more consonant sounds in a group of words or a line of poetry


A pair of rhyming lines in a poem


The dictionary definition of a word


The resolution that occurs at the end of a play or work of fiction

deus ex machina

In literature, the use of an artificial device or gimmick to solve a problem


The choice of words in oral and written discourse


As distinguished from Apollonian, the word refers to sensual, pleasure-seeking impulses

dramatic irony

A circumstance in which the audience or reader knows more about a situation than a character, ex. Oedipus Rex


A poem or prose selection that laments or mediates on the passing or death of something or someone of value


Three periods (. . .) indicating the omission of words in a thought or quotation

elliptical construction

A sentence containing a deliberate omission of words. In the sentence "May was hot and June the same," the verb "was" is omitted from the second clause


A feeling of association or identification with an object or person


A term that describes a line of poetry that ends with a natural pause often indicated by a mark of punctuation.


In poetry, the use of successive lines with no punctuation or pause between them


An extended narrative poem that tells of the adventures and exploits of a hero that is generally larger than life and is often considered a legendary figure, i.e. Odysseus, Beowulf, Homer's Iliad, Vergil's Aeneid.


A concise but ingenious, witty, and thoughtful statement


Pleasing, harmonious sounds


An adjective or phrase that expresses a striking quality of a person or thing, ex. sun-bright topaz, sun-lit lake, sun-bright lake


A term for the title character of a work of literature


A mild or less negative usage for a harsh or blunt term; i.e. "pass away" instead of "die"


A detailed analysis or interpretation of a work of literature


A piece of writing that reveals weaknesses, faults, frailties, or other shortcomings


The background and events that lead to the presentation of the main idea or purpose of a work of literature


The interpretation or analysis of a text.

extended metaphor

A series of comparisons between two unlike objects


A short tale often featuring nonhuman characters that act as people whose actions enable the author to make observations or draw useful lessons about human behavior

falling action

The action in a play or story that occurs after the climax and that leads to the conclusion and often to the resolution of the conflict


A story containing unreal, imaginary features


A comedy that contains an extravagant and nonsensical disregard of seriousness, although it may have a serious, scornful purpose.

figurative language

Also called figure of speech. In contrast to literal language, it implies meanings. Includes metaphors, similes, and personification, among others.

first-person narrative

A narrative told by a character involved in the story, using first-person pronouns such as I and we.


A return to an earlier time in a story or play in order to clarify present action or circumstances.


A unit of stressed and unstressed syllables used to determine the meter of a poetic line.


Providing hints of things to come in a story or play


A structure that provides premise or setting for a narrative

free verse

A kind of poetry without rhymed lines, rhythm, or fixed metrical feet


A term used to describe literary forms, such as novel, play, and essay

Gothic novel

A novel in which supernatural horrors and an atmosphere of unknown terrors pervades the action


A forceful sermon, lecture, or tirade

heroic couplet

Two rhymed lines written in iambic pentameter and used widely in eighteenth-century verse.


The excessive pride that often leads tragic heroes to their death


A belief that emphasizes faith and optimism in human potential and creativity


Overstatement; gross exaggeration for rhetorical effect


A lyric poem or passage that describes a kind of ideal life or place


A word or phrase representing that which can be seen, touched, tasted, smelled, or felt

in medias res

"In the middle of things"--a Latin term for a narrative that starts not at the beginning of events, but at some other critical point.

indirect quotation

A rendering of a quotation in which actual words are not stated but only approximated or paraphrased


A direct verbal assault; a denunciation


A mode of expression in which the intended meaning is the opposite of what is stated, often implying ridicule or light sarcasm; a state of affairs or events that is the reverse of what might have been expected


A device employed in Anglo-Saxon poetry in which the name of a thing is replaced by one of its functions or qualities, as in "ring-giver" for king and "whale-road" for ocean


A mocking, satirical assault on a person or situation

light verse

A variety of poetry meant to entertain or amuse, but sometimes with a satirical thrust


A form of understatement in which the negative of the contrary is used to achieve emphasis or intensity. Ex: He's not a bad dancer

loose sentence

A sentence that follows the customary word order of English sentences, i.e. subject-verb-object. The main idea of the sentence is presented first and is then followed by one or more subordinate clauses

lyric poetry

Personal, reflective poetry that reveals the speaker's thoughts and feelings about the subject


A saying or proverb expressing common wisdom or truth


A literary form in which events are exaggerated in order to create an extreme emotional response


A figure of speech that compares unlike objects

metaphysical poetry

The work of poets, particularly those of the seventeenth century, that uses elaborate conceits, is highly intellectual, and expresses the complexities of love and life


The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables found in poetry


A figure of speech that uses the name of one thing to represent something else with which it is associated. Ex: "The White House says..."

Middle English

The language spoken in England roughly between 1150 and 1500 A.D.

mock epic

A parody of traditional epic form. It usually treats a frivolous topic with extreme seriousness, using conventions such as invocations to the Muse, action-packed battle scenes, and accounts of heroic exploits.


The general form, pattern, and manner of expression of a work of literature


A quick succession of images or impressions used to express an idea


The emotional tone in a work of literature


A brief and often simplistic lesson that a reader may infer from a work of literature


A phrase, idea, or event that through repetition serves to unify or convey a theme in a work of literature


One of the ancient Greek goddesses presiding over the arts. The imaginary source of inspiration for an artist or writer


An imaginary story that has become an accepted part of the cultural or religious tradition of a group or society


A form of verse or prose that tells a story


A term often used as a synonym for realism, also a view of experience that is generally characterized as bleak and pessimistic.

non sequitur

A statement or idea that fails to follow logically from the one before


A work of fiction of roughly 20,000 to 50,000 words--longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel

novel of manners

A novel focusing on and describing the social customs and habits of a particular social group


A lyric poem usually marked by serious, respectful, and exalted feeling towards the subject

Old English

The Anglo-Saxon language spoken in what is now England from approximately 450 to 1150 A.D.

omniscient narrator

A narrator with unlimited awareness, understanding, and insight of characters, setting, background, and all other elements of the story


The use of words whose sounds suggest their meaning

ottava rima

An eight-line rhyming stanza of a poem


A term consisting of contradictory elements juxtaposed to create a paradoxical effect


A story consisting of events from which a moral or spiritual truth may be derived


A statement that seems self-contradictory but is nevertheless true


A version of a text put into simpler, everyday words


A work of literature dealing with rural life

pathetic fallacy

Faulty reasoning that inappropriately ascribes human feelings to nature or nonhuman objects


That element in literature that stimulates pity or sorrow


A verse with five poetic feet per line

periodic sentence

A sentence that departs from the usual word order of English sentences by expressing its main though only at the end. In other words, the particulars in the sentence are presented before the idea they support.


The role or facade that a character assumes or depicts to a reader, a viewer, or the world at large


A figure of speech in which objects and animals are given human characteristics


The interrelationship among the events in a story; the plot line is the pattern of events, including exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

picaresque novel

An episodic novel about a roguelike wanderer who lives off his wits. Ex: Don Quixote, Moll Flanders

point of view

The relation in which a narrator or speaker stands to the story or subject matter of a poem.


The grammar of meter and rhythm in poetry


The main character in a work of literature


Also called "pen name" or "nom de plume"; a false name or alias used by writers. Ex: Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)

pulp fiction

Novels written for mass consumption, often emphasizing exciting and titillating plots


A humorous play on words, using similar-sounding or identical words to suggest different meanings


A four-line poem or a four-line unit of a longer poem


The depiction of people, things, and events as they really are without idealization or exaggeration for effect.


The language of a work and its style; words, often highly emotional, used to convince or sway an audience

rhetorical stance

Language that conveys a speaker's attitude or opinion with regard to a particular subject


The repetition of similar sounds at regular intervals, used mostly in poetry.

rhyme scheme

The pattern of rhymes within a given poem


The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that make up a line of poetry

roman a clef

French for a novel in which hisotrical events and actual people appear under the guise of fiction


An extended narrative about improbable events and extraordinary people in exotic places


A sharp, caustic expression or remark; a bitter jibe or taunt; different from irony, which is more subtle


A literary style used to poke fun at, attack, or ridicule an idea, vice, or foible, often for the purpose of inducing change


The act of determining the meter of a poetic line.


A synonym for view or feeling; also a refined and tender emotion in literature

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