AP Literary Terms

AP Literary Terms

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PUN a “play on words” based on the multiple meanings of a single word or on words

that sound alike but mean different things.


ALLUSION reference to someone or something that is known from history, literature,

religion, politics, sports, science, or another branch of culture. An indirect reference to

something (usually from literature, etc.).


ALLITERATION repetition of the same or similar consonant sounds in words that are

close together.

EXAMPLE: “When the two youths turned with the flag they saw that much of the

regiment had crumbled away, and the dejected remnant was coming slowly

back.” –Stephen Crane (Note how regiment and remnant are being used; the

regiment is gone, a remnant remains…)


APOSTROPHE calling out to an imaginary, dead, or absent person, or to a place or

thing, or a personified abstract idea. If the character is asking a god or goddess for

inspiration it is called an invocation.

Josiah Holland ---“Loacöon! Thou great embodiment/ Of human life and human history!”


METONYMY a figure of speech in which a person, place, or thing, is referred to by

something closely associated with it. “We requested from the crown support for our

petition.” The crown is used to represent the monarch.


PARALLEL STRUCTURE (parallelism) the repetition of words or phrases that have

similar grammatical structures.


VERNACULAR the language spoken by the people who live in a particular locality.


OXYMORON a figure of speech that combines opposite or contradictory terms in a

brief phrase. “Jumbo shrimp.” “Pretty ugly.” “Bitter-sweet”


EXTENDED METAPHOR is a metaphor that is extended or developed as far

as the writer wants to take it. (conceit if it is quite elaborate).

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LITOTES is a form of understatement in which the positive form is emphasized through

the negation of a negative form: Hawthorne--- “…the wearers of petticoat and

farthingale…stepping forth into the public ways, and wedging their not unsubstantial

persons, if occasion were, into the throng…”

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Homeric Simile/Epic Simile-An extended comparison that surpasses the normal conventions of a metaphor by comparing many aspects of a person, place, time, or concept.

Stylistics-Analyzing the connections and juxtapositions of syntactical/semantic elements of a phrasing, clause, sentence, paragraph, or work.

Syntax-Of Greek origin, syntax is the study of the order of words in a sentence.

Semantics-Also Greek, Semantics is the study of the varied meaning of words or careful phrasing.


Denotation-The direct or literal meaning.

Connotation-The varied meaning based on context, tone, or speaker.


Paratactic Style-The members within a sentence are put one after another without any explanation of their connective tissue.  The relationships are understood; although, sometimes the connective “and” is used.

Hypotactic Style-The relations of phrases or members are specified by words such as “when,” “then,” because,” “therefore,” “in order to,” or “as a result of.”

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DENOUEMENT: The final outcome or unraveling of the main dramatic complications in a play, novel, or other work of literature.  Denouement is usually the final scene or chapter in which any necessary, and, as yet unmade, clarifications are made.  It sometimes involves an explanation of secrets or misunderstandings.  Understanding the denouement helps the reader to see how the final end of a story unfolds, and how the structure of stories works to affect our emotions.

DOUBLE-ENTENDRE: From the French: “double meaning” (pron.: “DOO-bluh on-TAWN-dreh).  A literary device which consists of a double meaning, especially when the second meaning is impolite or risqué.  For example, when Guildenstern says: "her [Fortune’s] privates we," his words can be interpreted either to mean, “ordinary men” (as in “private soldiers”) or as “sexual confidants” (with a pun on “private parts”).

EPITHET: a picturesque tag or nickname associated with a certain character.  Epithets can serve as a mnemonic device to remember and distinguish different characters.  Homer also used epithets to fill out the syllables in a line of poetic meter.  Most of the important people in the Iliad have a special epithet that serves as an extra name.  Athena is the only one described as 'grey-eyed'.  Homer often refers to the Greeks 'as the 'well-greaved' or 'brazen-clad Achaeans'. Odysseus is 'much-suffering' and 'crafty'.  Perhaps the most famous epithet in Homer is the one he used for the passage of time, ‘rosy-fingered Dawn' (Odyssey, 2.1; cf. Iliad, 8.1; 11.1).

IRONY: Using a word or situation to mean the opposite of its usual or literal meaning, usually done in humor, sarcasm or disdain.  A contradiction between what something appears to mean and what it really means.  Sophocles' created a dramatic or tragic irony in the structure of his play Oedipus Rex.  The king exerts himself throughout the play in an effort to find his father's murderer; it turns out that the one he seeks is himself.  In literature there are two primary types of irony, as just mentioned:

Verbal Irony:  This is the contrast between what is said and what is meant. In other words, sarcasm.

Dramatic Irony:  This is the contrast between what the character thinks to be true and what we (the reader) know to be true.  Sometimes as we read we are placed in the position of knowing more than what one character knows.  Because we know something the character does not, we read to discover how the character will react when he or she learns the truth of the situation.  Think:  soap operas!

A form of dramatic irony in which a character who is about to become a victim of disaster uses words that have one meaning to him and quite another to the spectator or those who are aware of the real situation is called TRAGIC IRONY.  In some instances the character may not be about to become a victim, but rather their statement is based on partial knowledge or misunderstanding, and the spectator is aware of the truth of the situation.

Situational Irony:  This is the most common in literature.  It is the contrast between what happens and what was expected (or what would seem appropriate).  Because it emerges from the events and circumstances of a story it is often more subtle and effective than verbal or dramatic irony.


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APHORISM brief, cleverly worded statement that makes a wise observation about life,

or of a principle or accepted general truth. Also called maxim, epigram.


APOSTROPHE calling out to an imaginary, dead, or absent person, or to a place or

thing, or a personified abstract idea. If the character is asking a god or goddess for

inspiration it is called an invocation.

Josiah Holland ---“Loacöon! Thou great embodiment/ Of human life and human history!”


APPOSITION Placing in immediately succeeding order of two or more coordinate

elements, the latter of which is an explanation, qualification, or modification of the first

(often set off by a colon). Paine: “These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer

soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country;

but he that stands it Now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”


CHARACTERIZATION the process by which the writer reveals the personality of a



INDIRECT CHARACTERIZATION the author reveals to the reader what the

character is like by describing how the character looks and dresses, by letting the

reader hear what the character says, by revealing the character’s private thoughts

and feelings, by revealing the characters effect on other people (showing how

other characters feel or behave toward the character), or by showing the character

in action. Common in modern literature

DIRECT CHARACTERIZATION the author tells us directly what the

character is like: sneaky, generous, mean to pets and so on. Romantic style

literature relied more heavily on this form.


STATIC CHARACTER is one who does not change much in the course of a



DYNAMIC CHARACTER is one who changes in some important way as a

result of the story’s action.


FLAT CHARACTER has only one or two personality traits. They are one

dimensional, like a piece of cardboard. They can be summed up in one phrase.


ROUND CHARACTER has more dimensions to their personalities---they are

complex, just a real people are.


a way of speaking that is characteristic of a certain social group or of the

inhabitants of a certain geographical area.


a speaker or writer’s choice of words.


a word or phrase in everyday use in conversation and informal

writing but is inappropriate for formal situations.

Example: “He’s out of his head if he thinks I’m gonna go for such a stupid idea.


the language spoken by the people who live in a particular locality.


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Antithesis- A contrast or opposition in meaning; directly opposing an original proposition by stating a paralleled argument.

Archaism-The literary use of words and expressions that have become obsolete in the common speech of an era.

Asyndeton- The stylistic scheme in which conjunctions are deliberately omitted from a series of related clauses for dramatic effect or fluency.

Aporia- A rhetorically useful expression of doubt, where the speaker doesn’t seem to know what he should say or do.

Anticlimax- The writer deliberately changes the mood by dropping the serious and elevated to the trivial and lowly.

Assonance- The repetition of identical or similar vowels, especially in stressed syllables—in a sequence of nearby words.