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IB English Literary Terms

Allegory
a story or narrative, often told at some length, which has a deeper meaning below the surface

Alliteration
the repetition of the same consonant sound, especially at the beginning of words

Allusion
a reference to another event, person, place, or work of literature – usually implied rather than explicit and often provides another layer of meaning to what is being said

Ambiguity
use of language where the meaning is unclear or has two or more possible interpretations or meanings

Ambivalence
indicates more than one possible attitude is being displayed by the writer towards a character, theme, or idea, etc

Anachronism
something that is historically inaccurate

Anthropomorphism
the endowment of something that is not human with human characteristics

Antithesis
contrasting ideas or words that are balanced against each other

Apostrophe
an interruption in a poem or narrative so that the speaker or writer can address a dead or absent person or particular audience directly

Archaic
language that is old-fashioned – not completely obsolete but no longer in current use

Assonance
the repetition of similar vowel sounds

Atmosphere
the prevailing mood created by a piece of writing

Ballad
a narrative poem that tells a story usually in a straightforward way. The theme is often tragic or contains a whimsical, supernatural, or fantastical element.

Blank verse
unrhymed poetry that adheres to a strict pattern in that each line is an iambic pentameter (a ten-syllable line with five stresses)

Caricature
a character described through the exaggeration of a small number of features that he or she possesses

Catharsis
a purging of the emotions which takes place at the end of a tragedy

Cliché
a phrase, idea, or image that has been used so much that it has lost much of its original meaning, impact, and freshness

Colloquial
ordinary, everyday speech and language

Comedy
originally simply a play or other work which ended happily. Now we use this term to describe something that is funny and which makes us laugh.

Connotation
an implication or association attached to a word or phrase

Consonance
the repetition of the same consonant sounds in two or more words in which the vowel sounds are different

Couplet
two consecutive lines of verse that rhyme

Dénouement
the ending of a play, novel, or drama where ‘all is revealed’ and the plot is unraveled

Diction
the choice of words that a writer makes

Didactic
a work that is intended to preach or teach, often containing a particular moral or political point

Dramatic monologue
a poem or prose piece in which a character addresses an audience

Elegy
a meditative poem, usually sad and reflective in nature

Empathy
a feeling on the part of the reader of sharing the particular experience being described by the character or writer

End Stopping
a verse line with a pause or a stop at the end of it

Epic
a long narrative poem, written in an elevated style and usually dealing with a heroic theme or story

Euphemism
expressing an unpleasant or unsavory idea in a less blunt and more pleasant way

Euphony
use of pleasant or melodious sounds

Fable
a short story that presents a clear moral lesson

Farce
a play that aims to entertain the audience through absurd and ridiculous characters and action

Figurative language
language that is symbolic or metaphorical and not meant to be taken literally

Foot
a group of syllables forming a unit of verse – the basic unit of ‘meter’

Free verse
verse written without any fixed structure

Genre
a particular type of writing

Heptameter
a verse line containing seven feet

Hexameter
a verse line containing six feet

Hyperbole
deliberate and extravagant exaggeration

Iamb
the most common metrical foot in English poetry, consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable

Imagery
the use of words to create a picture or ‘image’ in the mind of the reader

Internal rhyme
rhyming words within a line rather than at the end of lines

Irony
at its simplest level, it means saying one thing while meaning another

Lament
a poem expressing intense grief

Metaphor
a comparison of one thing to another in order to make description more vivid; it actually states that one thing is the other

Motif
a dominant theme, subject, or idea which runs through a piece of literature

Narrative
a piece of writing that tells a story

Onomatopoeia
the use of words whose sound copies the sound of the thing or process that they describe

Oxymoron
a figure of speech which joins together words of opposite meanings

Paradox
a statement that appears contradictory, but when considered more closely is seen to contain a good deal of truth

Parody
a work that is written in imitation of another work, very often with the intention of making fun of the original

Pastoral
generally, literature concerning rural life with idealizes settings and rustic characters

Pathos
the effect in literature which makes the reader feel sadness or pity

Pentameter
a line of verse containing five feet

Personification
the attribution of human feelings, emotions, or sensations to an inanimate object

Plot
the sequence of events in a poem, play, novel, or short story that make up the main story line

Prose
any kind of writing which is not verse – usually divided into fiction and non-fiction

Protagonist
the main character or speaker in a poem, monologue, play, or story

Pun
a play on words that have similar sounds but quite different meanings

Quatrain
a stanza of four lines which can have various rhyme schemes

Refrain
repetition throughout a poem of a phrase, line, or series of lines, as in the ‘chorus’ of a song

Rhetoric
originally, the art of speaking and writing in such a way as to persuade an audience to a particular point of view. Now this term is often used to imply grand words that have no substance to them

Rhyme
corresponding sounds in words, usually at the end of each line but not always

Rhyme scheme
the pattern of the rhymes in a poem

Rhythm
the ‘movement’ of the poem as created through the meter and the way that language is stressed within the poem

Satire
the highlighting or exposing of human failings or foolishness within a society through ridiculing them

Scansion
the analysis of metrical patterns in poetry

Sestet
the last six lines of a sonnet

Simile
a comparison of one thing to another in order to make description more vivid; uses the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ in this comparison

Soliloquy
a speech in which a character, alone on stage, expresses his or her thoughts and feelings aloud for the benefit of the audience, often in a revealing way

Sonnet
a fourteen-line poem, usually with ten syllables in each line

Stanza
the blocks of lines into which a poem is divided

Stream of Consciousness
a technique in which the writer records thoughts and emotions in a ‘stream’ as they come to mind, without giving order or structure

Structure
the way that a poem or play or other piece of writing has been put together

Style
the individual way in which a writer has used language to express his or her ideas

Sub-plot
a secondary storyline in a story or play

Symbol
like images, these represent something else

Syntax
the way in which sentences are structured

Theme
the central idea or ideas that the writer explores through a text

Tone
a literary technique created through the combined effects of a number of features, such as diction, syntax, rhythm, etc

Sophie
a crazy awesome chica who rocks my socks!

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