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AP Literary Terms (Expanded)

abstract
An abbreviated synopsis of a longer work of scholarship or research

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

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

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

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

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

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

analogy
A comparison that points out similarities between two dissimilar things

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

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

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

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

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

apostrophe
A locution that addresses a person or personified thing not present

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

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

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

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

bathos
The use of insincere or overdone sentimentality

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

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

Bildungsroman
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

bombast
Inflated, pretentious language used for trivial subjects

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

cacophony
Grating, inharmonious sounds

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

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

caricature
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

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

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

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

climax
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

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

connotation
The suggested or implied meaning of a word or phrase

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

couplet
A pair of rhyming lines in a poem

denotation
The dictionary definition of a word

denouement
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

diction
The choice of words in oral and written discourse

Dionysian
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

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

ellipsis
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

empathy
A feeling of association or identification with an object or person

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

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

epic
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.

epigram
A concise but ingenious, witty, and thoughtful statement

euphony
Pleasing, harmonious sounds

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

eponymous
A term for the title character of a work of literature

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

exegesis
A detailed analysis or interpretation of a work of literature

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

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

explication
The interpretation or analysis of a text.

extended metaphor
A series of comparisons between two unlike objects

fable
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

fantasy
A story containing unreal, imaginary features

farce
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.

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

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

foreshadowing
Providing hints of things to come in a story or play

frame
A structure that provides premise or setting for a narrative

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

genre
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

harangue
A forceful sermon, lecture, or tirade

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

hubris
The excessive pride that often leads tragic heroes to their death

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

hyperbole
Overstatement; gross exaggeration for rhetorical effect

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

image
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

invective
A direct verbal assault; a denunciation

irony
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

kenning
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

lampoon
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

litotes
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

maxim
A saying or proverb expressing common wisdom or truth

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

metaphor
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

meter
The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables found in poetry

metonymy
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.

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

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

mood
The emotional tone in a work of literature

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

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

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

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

narrative
A form of verse or prose that tells a story

naturalism
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

novella
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

ode
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

onomatopoeia
The use of words whose sounds suggest their meaning

ottava rima
An eight-line rhyming stanza of a poem

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

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

paradox
A statement that seems self-contradictory but is nevertheless true

paraphrase
A version of a text put into simpler, everyday words

pastoral
A work of literature dealing with rural life

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

pathos
That element in literature that stimulates pity or sorrow

pentameter
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.

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

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

plot
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.

prosody
The grammar of meter and rhythm in poetry

protagonist
The main character in a work of literature

pseudonym
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

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

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

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

rhetoric
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

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

rhyme scheme
The pattern of rhymes within a given poem

rhythm
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

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

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

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

scan
The act of determining the meter of a poetic line.

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

sentimental
A term that describes characters’ excessive emotional response to experience; also nauseatingly nostalgic and mawkish

setting
The total environment for the action in a novel or play. It includes time, place, historical milieu, and social, political, and even spiritual circumstances

simile
A figurative comparison using the words like or as

sonnet
A popular form of verse consisting of fourteen lines and a prescribed rhyme scheme.

stanza
A group of two or more lines in poetry combined according to subject matter, rhyme, or some other plan

stream of consciousness
A style of writing in which the author tries to reproduce the random flow of thoughts in the human mind

style
The manner in which an author uses and arranges words,

subplot
A subordinate or minor collection of events in a novel or play, usually connected to the main plot

subtext
The implied meaning that underlies the main meaning of a work of literature

symbolism
The use of one object to evoke ideas and associations not literally part of the original object

synecdoche
A figure of speech in which a part signifies the whole (“fifty masts” for fifty ships) or the whole signifies the part (“days” for life, as in “He lived his days in Canada”). Also when the name of the material stands for the thing itself (“pigskin” for football)

syntax
The organization of language into meaningful structure; every sentence has a particular pattern of words

theme
The main idea or meaning, often an abstract idea upon which a work of literature is built

title character
A character whose name appears in the title of the novel or play; also known as the eponymous character

tone
The author’s attitude toward the subject being written about. The spirit or quality that is the work’s emotional essence

tragedy
A form of literature in which the hero is destroyed by some character flaw and a set of forces that cause the hero considerable anguish

trope
The generic name for a figure of speech such as image, symbol, simile, and metaphor

verbal irony
A discrepancy between the true meaning of a situation and the literal meaning of the written or spoken words

verse
A synonym for poetry. Also a group of lines in a song or poem; also a single line of poetry

verisimilitude
Similar to the truth; the quality of realism in a work that persuades readers that they are getting a vision of life as it is.

versification
The structural form of a line of verse as revealed by the number of feet it contains. For example: monometer = 1foot; tetrameter = 4 feet; pentameter = 5 feet, and so forth

villanelle
A French verse form calculated to appear simple and spontaneous but consisting of nineteen lines and a prescribed pattern of rhymes

voice
The real or assumed personality used by a writer or speaker

wit
The quickness of intellect and the power and talent for saying brilliant things that suprise and delight by their unexpectedness; the power to comment subtly and pointedly on the foibles of the passing scene

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