AP L&C Lit Terms Combo Alpha
AP Language and Composition
absolute statement—Free from limitations or qualifications (e.g., “best,” “all”, “unique,” “perfect”).
action—The physical and psychological events, external words and deeds, silent expressions and actions,
and characters' expressed inner thoughts.
adage—a familiar proverb or wise saying.
ad hominem argument—an argument attacking an individual’s character rather than his or her position on
allegory—A literary work in which a symbolic meaning exists beneath the literal, surface meaning. It
expresses truths about the human condition by using the actions and attitudes of fictional characters to
symbolize virtues, vices, or other abstract ideas and issues. The blindfolded figure with scales is an allegory
of justice. George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is an allegory of Russian communism around W.W. II.
alliteration—the repetition of initial sounds in successive or neighboring words (e.g., "on scrolls of silver
snowy sentences" [Hart Crane]; “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers”).
allusion—A reference to a well-known real or fictional person, place, song, movie, or event; A reference,
explicit or implicit, to something in previous literature or history.
alter-ego—A character’s second self and a type of double, usually a character who is the protagonist’s close
friend or relative and who is similar to the protagonist in age, sex, appearance, and interests.
ambiguity—the double or multiple meanings, either intentional or unintentional, of word, phrase, sentence,
analogy--a similarity or comparison between two different things or the relationship between them.
anaphora—repetition of word or words at beginning of two or more lines (e.g., Jesus’ Beatitudes).
anecdote—a brief narrative that focuses on a particular incident or event.
antagonist—Any force in a story that is in conflict with the protagonist. An antagonist may be another
person, an aspect of the physical or social environment, or a destructive element in the protagonist's own
antihero—A protagonist who is the opposite of the traditional heroic qualities of courage, determination,
skill, and creative intelligence.
antithesis—The contrast of opposites for emphasis. (not contrast); contradictory ideas expressed in a
balanced sentence: “Man proposes; God disposes.” “Give me liberty or give me death.”
aphorism—a concise statement that expresses succinctly a general truth or idea, often using rhyme or
balance (e.g., “spare the rod and spoil the child”).
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AP L&C Lit Terms Combo Alpha
apostrophe—The speaker in a literary work addresses an absent or imaginary person, or personified place,
quality, or abstract idea, as if it were present and listening or could reply.
archetype—a detail, image, or character type that occurs frequently in literature and myth and is thought to
appeal in a universal way to the unconscious and to evoke a response.
assonance—the repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds, usually in successive or proximate words
(e.g., “hat-ran-amber, vein-made; child, girl”). Assonance and Allit.: “She sells sea shells by the sea shore."
*a·syn·de·ton–The omission of conjunctions, as in “He has provided the poor with jobs, with opportunity,
with self-respect.” Words, phrases presented in a series without conjunctions: Veni, Vidi, Vici. Per Library
Science, the omission of cross references, esp. from a catalog. The omission of conjunctions from
constructions in which they would normally be used, as in "Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, /
Shrunk to this little measure?" (Shakespeare).
+pol·y·syn·de·ton–The repetition of conjunctions in close succession for rhetorical effect, as in the phrase
“here and there and everywhere,” when some may be omitted.
atmosphere—the emotional mood created by the entirety of a literary work, established partly by the setting
and partly by the author's choice of objects that are described.
avant-garde—A term used to describe a literary work that is creative, innovative, and experimental, rather
than traditional in content and form.
bathos—insincere or overly sentimental quality of writing/speech intended to evoke pity.
characterization—Presenting a character so as to reveal his or her personal qualities, such as traits, attitudes,
chiasmus—a statement consisting of two parallel parts in which the second part is structurally reversed
(“Susan walked in, and out rushed Mary” and “He thinks I am but a fool. A fool, perhaps I am”).
Classicism—A literary movement, popular in France and England in the 17th and 18th centuries, that
reflected the following values of ancient Greece and Rome: an interest in balance and proportion in artistic
form; an emphasis on reason and rationality rather than on emotion and irrationality; dignity and restraint;
objectivity; and unity of structure.
cliché—an expression that has been overused to the extent that its freshness has worn off.
climax—The high point of emotional intensity in a work of literature. May not be the same as the crisis or
colloquial—the use of slang or informalities in speech or writing.
comedy—A work of literature that is designed to be entertaining and humorous.
comparison—The bringing together of similar characters, ideas, or images for the purpose of emphasizing
particular attributes or attitudes.
conceit—a fanciful expression, usually in the form of an extended metaphor or surprising analogy between
seemingly dissimilar objects. For example, Richard Selzer’s passage “The Knife” compares the preparation
and actions of surgery to preparing for and conducting a religious service or sacred ritual.
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AP L&C Lit Terms Combo Alpha
conflict—Opposition in a work of literature, such as man against man, man against himself, or man against
*connotation—What a word suggests beyond its basic definition; a word's overtones of meaning; the non-
literal, associative meaning of a word; the implied, suggested meaning.
+denotation - the strict, literal, dictionary definition of a word, devoid of any emotion, attitude, or color.
context—The relationships that affect a literary work, both within the work and between the work and
contrast—The bringing together of different or opposite characters, ideas, or images for the purpose of
emphasizing particular attributes or attitudes.
crisis—The turning point of a story, play, or narrative poem, the point at which the protagonist makes a
significant choice that leads to his or her fate.
*deductive reasoning—reasoning in which a conclusion is reached by stating a general principle and then
applying that principle to a specific case (The sun rises every morning; therefore he sun will rise on Tuesday
+inductive reasoning—deriving general principles from particular facts or instances (“Every cat I have ever
seen has four legs; cats are four-legged animals).
dialect—a variety of speech characterized by its own particular grammar or pronunciation, often associated
with a particular geographical region. For example, Minnesotans say “ you betcha” when they agree with
you. Southerners refer to a gathering of folks as “y’all.” Some people would say, “youse guys” for the
second person plural.
diction—refering to style, diction refers to the writer's word choices, especially with regard to their
correctness, clearness, or effectiveness.
discovery—The point, either at or following the climax of a story, where a character suddenly realizes the
truth in a situation. He or she has moved from innocence or ignorance to experience or knowledge.
doppelgänger—A term used by Carl Jung in his writings, to describe the inherent part of each person’s
personality that is subconscious. “[It] personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about
himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly." [See night journey; shadow.]
elegy—a formal poem presenting a meditation on death or another solemn theme.
ellipsis—the omission of a word or phrase which is grammatically necessary but can be deduced from the
context (“Some people prefer cats; others, dogs”).
Epic—a long narrative poem written in elevated style which presents the adventure of characters of high
position and episodes that are important to the history of a race or nation.
epigram—a brief, pithy, and often paradoxical saying.
epigraph—a quotation or statement at the beginning of a work of literature or used as a heading for chapter
or other section of a work in order to suggest its theme.
epiphany—An event or incident that evokes a sudden, significant insight into the deeper meaning of a
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AP L&C Lit Terms Combo Alpha
epitaph—an inscription on a tombstone or burial place.
epithet—a term used to point out a characteristic of a person. Homeric epithets are often compound
adjectives (”swift-footed Achilles”) that become an almost formulaic part of a name. Epithets can be abusive
or offensive but are not so by definition. For example, athletes may be proud of their given epithets e.g.,
“The Rocket,” while a royal may expect to be acknowledged as “Your Highness.”
eulogy—a formal speech praising a person who has died.
euphemism—an indirect, less offensive way of saying something that is considered unpleasant.
Existentialism—A philosophy where human beings live in a universe that is irrational and without
meaning. Human nature, custom, and religion are outmoded concepts. People are totally free to create who
they are, and their actions give meaning to their lives and the world in which they live. Such an awesome
responsibility creates anxiety and anguish.
extended metaphor—a metaphor developed at great length, occurring frequently in or throughout a work.
first-person narrator—A narrator who is part of the story and refers to himself or herself as “I.”
flashback—A break in the chronology of a story, play or narrative poem during which past events are
related. (aka retrospection)
foil—A character, often the antagonist, whose qualities or actions function to highlight the qualities and
actions of the protagonist by the contrast between the two.
foreshadowing—A technique in which an incident, behavior, conversation, or atmosphere prepares the
reader for what will happen later.
form—The internal organization or structure of a literary work. It is related to style and, in traditional
literature, is distinguished from content even thought the two are always related.
frame device—a story within a story. An example is Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, in which the primary
tales are told within the “frame story” of the pilgrimage to Canterbury. This is the typical repetition of an
overheard or second hand story. “I was sitting in the bar and this guy at the next stool told me about what
happened to his nephew….”
genre—A literary class or type, each with its own characteristics. Typically divided into Poetry, Non-
Fiction, Drama, Fiction (novel and short story).
Gothic—A literary style that emphasizes the supernatural, mystery, suspense, horror, and terror.
homily--literally "sermon," but more contemporary uses include any serious talk, speech, or lecture
providing moral or spiritual advice.
hubris—A feeling of excessive pride in oneself.
idiom—an expression in a given language that cannot be understood from the literal meaning of the words
in the expression; or a regional speech or dialect.
imagery—broadly defined, any sensory detail or evocation in a work; more narrowly, the use of figurative
language to evoke a feeling, to call to mind an idea, or to describe an object. Basically, imagery involves any
or all of the five senses. A writer generally uses imagery in conjunction with other figures of speech, such as
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AP L&C Lit Terms Combo Alpha
simile and metaphor. “Her checks were rosy and so was my love—bursting with fragrance and softness.”
Here metaphor is used, with the images of rosy cheeks (visual color) and the smell and feel of roses.
Imagism—A movement in American and English poetry in the early 20th century that had the following
goals: to regard any subject as acceptable for poetry; to suggest rather than to state ideas, expressing them
concisely; to emphasize images, choosing those that are specific rather than abstract; to use exact words
from common speech, avoiding those that are overused; and to create new rhythms to express new moods.
Impressionism—A 19th century artistic and literary movement that emphasized the subjective impression a
writer or character had of reality, rather than attempting to re-create objective reality.
interior monologue—The vehicle for the continuous process by which a character reveals his or her
thoughts to the reader or audience as if he or she were actually thinking them aloud.
invective—a intensely, highly emotional verbal attack.
irony—Hidden meaning, usually the contrast between appearance and reality and the contrast between
expectations and actuality.
>dramatic or situational irony—A character, seeing only appearances, speaks or acts in ignorance of the
reality of which the audience is aware.
>verbal irony—A character makes a comment that means something different to a listening character or to
the audience. The character may intentionally say the opposite of what he or she means. The listener may
be either aware or unaware of the discrepancy.
isolocolon—parallel structure in which the parallel elements are similar not only in grammatical structure,
but also in length. For example, the Biblical injunction, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” is an
jargon—the specialized language or vocabulary of a particular group or profession. The computer industry,
for instance, has introduced such jargon as geek, crash, interface, delete, virus, into our usage.
juxtaposition—placing two elements side by side to present a comparison or contrast.
*leitmotif—A German term from music criticism meaning "leading motif." In literature it is a word phrase,
image, symbol, or theme that is frequently repeated for the purposes of emphasis and unity. It may be
associated with a particular character, emotion, or situation.
+motif—A word, phrase, idea, image, action, character, or symbol that is repeated throughout part or all of a
literary work for emphasis and for unity.
limerick—A fixed form consisting of five lines of anapestic meter, the first two trimeter, the next two
dimeter, the last line trimeter, riming aabba; used exclusively for humorous or nonsense verse.
limited narrator—a narrator who presents the story as it is seen and understood by a single character and
restricts information to what is seen, heard, thought or felt by one character.
limited omniscience—The technique of having the narrator possess limited knowledge, knowing only what
he or she experiences directly or hears from other characters.
literal meaning—The meaning of words or a work of literature on the surface level, without considering
what they suggest.
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AP L&C Lit Terms Combo Alpha
*litotes—understatement; affirmation by stating opposite: No amateur; Not a pretty picture. George Orwell
wrote, “Last week I saw a woman flayed and you would hardly believe how much it altered her person for
+meiosis—understatement for emphasis; one thing is belittled to magnify another; opposite of hyperbole.
magic realism—A concept applied specifically to fiction by Latin American authors. It is defined in two
principal ways: an unexpected or improbable (but not impossible) element inserted into a predominantly
realistic work in a matter-of-fact way, in order to delight or puzzle the reader; and magical elements
incorporated into a realistic tale in a matter-of-fact manner.
malapropism—the mistaken substitution of one word for another word that sounds similar (“The doctor
wrote a subscription”).
maxim—a concise statement, often offering advice; an adage.
*metonomy—from the Greek "changed label," the name of one object is substituted for that of another
closely associated with it (e.g., "the White House" for the President). A figure of speech in which some
significant aspect or detail of an experience is used to represent the whole experience. In Perrine the single
term metonymy is used for what are sometimes distinguished as two separate figures: synecdoche (the use
of the part for the whole) and metonymy (the use of something closely related for the thing actually meant).
The word Cooperstown is often used as shorthand (or a metonym) for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
+synecdoche—using one part of an object to represent the entire object (for example, referring to a car
simply as “wheels”; 50 masts—for ships; 100 head [of cattle]).
Modernism—A literary movement that began with the French symbolists and ended in the 1950’s and
includes impressionism, expressionism, and existentialism. They rejected the objective point of view of the
realists and naturalists and emphasized subjective perceptions that often involved a sense of alienation.
monologue—In a literary work, a long speech by one character.
mood—grammatically, the verbal units and a speaker's attitude (indicative, subjunctive, imperative);
literarily, the prevailing atmosphere or emotional aura of a word.
moral—The stated or implied lesson about right and wrong that a literary work teaches.
narrative perspective—The point of view from which a story is told. It includes both who is telling the story
and at what time the story is taking place.
Naturalism—A late 19th century branch of realism that reflected the new age of science and industry. The
writing emphasizes an objective point of view, historical background, urban setting, characters from the
lower classes, and characters who, as passive victims of heredity and their social and economic
environment, are often destitute and ill.
Négritude—A literary and cultural movement that originated in Paris in the early 1930’s among a group of
African students from the French colonies. Its goals were to combat assimilation by instilling pride in
African heritage and culture.
Neoclassicism—A revival of classical standards and forms during the late seventeenth and eighteenth
+night journey—A particular description of the psychological process that Carl Jung discusses in terms of
his concept of the shadow. “An essentially solitary journey involving profound spiritual change in the
voyager.” The experience may be either a dream or a real journey. [See doppelganger; shadow]
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AP L&C Lit Terms Combo Alpha
non sequitur—an inference that does not follow logically from the premises (literally, “does not follow”).
omniscient narrator—A narrator who knows, sees, tells everything that is important to the story, including
the characters’ inner thoughts and feelings.
onomatopoeia—a word formed from the imitation of natural sounds.
oxymoron—from the Greek for "pointedly foolish," when an author groups apparently contradictory terms
to suggest a paradox.
parable—A short, simple story that is designed to teach a moral.
paradox—A statement or situation that appears to be false or self-contradictory, but that proves to be true
parallelism—In literature, the juxtaposition of words, phrases, or sentences that are similar in structure in
order to emphasize particular ideas or to achieve the aural effect of a repetitive form.
parody—a humorous imitation of a serious work.
The author or speaker uses ethos to establish his credibility with his audience. He must convince the
audience he is knowledgeable, ethical, and fair.
The author or speaker will use pathos or an emotional appeal to sway his audience. Using description,
concrete images and figurative language, the author influences his audience’s emotions.
The author or speaker best achieves his purpose by convincing his audience that his ideas or arguments are
logical. He uses logos to sound authoritative and reasonable.
pastoral—A literary work that is set in a rural or natural landscape.
pedantic—an adjective that describes words, phrases, or general tone that is overly scholarly, academic, or
personification—treating an abstraction or non-human object as if it were a person by endowing it with
human features and qualities. William Wordsworth speaks of the stars, “Tossing their heads in sprightly
philippic—a strong verbal denunciation. The term comes from the orations of Demosthenes against Philip
of Macedonia in the fourth century.
protagonist—The principal character in a story or play.
psychological realism—Achieving realism by emphasizing the psychological aspects of character. Focuses
on thoughts and feelings by depicting his or her thought processes.
Realism—A 19th century literary movement that rejected the values of romanticism and had as its goal the
depiction of life as it really is, without subjectivity, artificiality, or exaggeration.
Regionalism—A branch of naturalism that reacts to industrialism by rejecting an urban focus and by
emphasizing the personality and psychological motivation of characters who live in rural settings, abide by
local customs and speak the language or rural folk.
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AP L&C Lit Terms Combo Alpha
rhetorical modes--the variety, conventions, and purposes of the major kinds of writing (exposition explains
and analyzes information; argumentation proves validity of an idea; description re-creates, invents, or
presents a person, place, event or action; narration tells a story or recount an event).
resolution—The concluding events of the plot that follow from the climax and bring the story or play to a
romance—A story where plot is the most important element and adventure, love, and heroism are the most
common subjects, and entertainment is the most important function.
Romanticism—Late 18th and early 19th century literary movement that rejected neoclassicism’s emphasis
on the rational and instead valued the subjective qualities of instinct and spontaneity, originality,
imagination, and fantasy, and the expression of powerful emotions.
sarcasm—Bitter or cutting speech; speech intended by its speaker to give pain to the person addressed.
satire—Genre and techniques that ridicules or condemns individuals or society for having a lower standard
of values, attitudes, and behavior. A kind of literature that ridicules human folly or vice with the purpose of
bringing about reform or of keeping others from falling into similar folly or vice.
scapegoat—a person or group that bears the blame for another.
semantics - the branch of linguistics which studies the meaning of words, their historical and psychological
development (etymology), their connotations, and their relation to one another.
shadow—A German term used to describe the passionate, subconscious self, which continually interjects
itself into the life of the rational, conscious self. [See doppelganger; night journey]
solecism—nonstandard grammatical usage; a violation of grammatical rules. [From Gk. soloikismos "to
speak (Greek) incorrectly," from soloikos "ungrammatical utterance;" properly, "a speaking like the people
of Soloi," from Soloi, Athenian colony in Cilicia, whose dialect the Athenians considered barbarous.]
Examples: "He ain't going nowhere" for "He isn't [or "he's not"] going anywhere" (dialectic usage; see
"ain't"); "I could care less" for "I could not care less"; unflammable.
stream of consciousness—The term refers both to the content of an interior monologue and to the
organization of that content. It provides characterization both by the nature of the particular thoughts and
by the nature of the particular thought process.
Surrealism—A movement originating in France in the early 1920’s that was influenced by Freud and the
French Symbolists. These writers reviewed reality as including more than what is visible and rational. They
rejected objectivity and rationality and, instead, emphasized the primitive and unconscious, in the form of
dreams and fantasies. Goes beyond realism.
syllepsis—a construction in which one word is used in two different senses (“after he threw the ball, he
threw a fit”).
*syllogism—a three-part deductive argument in which a conclusion is based on a major premise and a
minor premise. (e.g., “All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal.”)
+syllogism—from the Greek for "reckoning together," a deductive system of formal logic that presents two
premises (first "major," second "minor") that inevitably lead to a sound conclusion
symbol—A word or phrase that functions on two levels. On the surface, it literally expresses a concrete
image. Below the surface, it also represents an abstract idea or an emotion. The early information adds
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AP L&C Lit Terms Combo Alpha
credibility to the later situation and helps to unify the work. In literature, something that means more than
what it is; an object, person, situation, or action that in addition to its literal meaning suggests other
meanings as well, a figure of speech which may be read both literally and figuratively.
synesthesia (or synaesthesia)—describing one kind of sensation in terms of another (“a loud color,” "a sweet
tautology—needless repetition which adds no meaning or understanding (“widow woman” or “free gift”).
theme—The main idea, expressed or implied, of a work of literature. Something(s) the author wants the
reader to think about after reading the work.
third-person narrator—A narrator who is usually an anonymous, objective, and omniscient observer, such
as the author, and who refers to the characters as “he,” “she,” or “they.”
tone—The specific atmosphere or mood of a work determined by the writer's attitude toward the subject
and created by literary techniques such as the use of setting and language. The writer's or speaker's attitude
toward the subject, the audience, or herself or himself; the emotional coloring, or emotional meaning, of a
*tragedy—A serious story or drama in which the protagonist begins happily and ends in misery. The
process of coping with adversity and accepting misfortune elevates the stature of the protagonist.
+classical tragedy—Results when the protagonist casts aside prudent human behavior, creates a state of
disorder, and reaps the consequences that then bring a return to order. Greek in origin.
>modern tragedy—A serious story or play in which the protagonist is an ordinary person who is a member
of the middle or lower class, rather than an aristocrat.
>tragicomedy—A form of drama in which a reversal turns a potentially tragic situation into one that ends
understatement--the deliberate representation of something as lesser in magnitude than it actually is; a
deliberate under-emphasis. A figure of speech that consists of saying less than one means, or of saying
what one means with less force than the occasion warrants. (See meiosis.)
usage—the customary way language or its elements are used.
vernacular—the every speech of a particular country or region, often involving nonstandard usage.
unreliable narrator—A narrator who is not objective and whose version of the story reflects personal
attitudes and judgments that the reader cannot trust.
zeugma—a grammatically correct construction in which a word, usually a verb or adjective, is applied to
two or more nouns without being repeated. Often used to comic effect (“the thief took my wallet and the
Fifth Avenue bus”).
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AP L&C Lit Terms Combo Alpha
simple sentence—a sentence consisting of one independent clause and no dependent clause.
balanced sentence—a sentence in which words, phrases, or clauses are set off against each other to
emphasize a contrast.
complex sentence—a sentence with one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.
compound sentence—a sentence with two or more coordinate independent clauses, often joined by one or
cumulative sentence—a sentence which the main independent clause is elaborated by the successive
addition of modifying clauses or phrases.
declarative sentence—a sentence that makes a statement or declaration.
exclamatory sentence—a sentence expressing strong feeling, usually punctuated with an exclamation mark.
loose sentence—a type of sentence in which the main idea comes first, followed by dependent grammatical
units: “The child ran, frenzied and ignoring all hazards, as if being chased by demons.”
periodic sentence—a long sentence in which the main clause is not completed until the end; for example,
“The child, looking as if she were being chased by demons, frenzied and ignoring all hazards, fled.”
clause—a grammatical unit that contains both a subject and a verb.
predicate adjective—one type of subject complement, an adjective, group of adjectives, or adjective clause
that follows a linking verb
predicate nominative—another type of subject complement, a noun, group of nouns, or noun clause that
renames the subject
subject complement—the word or clause that follows a linking verb and complements, or completes, the
subject of the sentence by either renaming it or describing it
subordinate clause—contains a subject and verb (like all clauses) but cannot stand alone; does not express
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