Literary Terms and Definitions

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50 Terms

1

allegory

The device of using character and/or story elements symbolically to represent an abstraction in addition to the literal meaning. In some ___________, for example, an author may intend the characters to personify an abstraction like hope or freedom. The __________ meaning usually deals with moral truth or a generalization about human existence.

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2

alliteration

The repetition of sounds, especially initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words (as in "she sells seashells"). Although the term is not frequently in the multiple choice section, you can look for ______________ in any essay passage. The repetition can reinforce meaning, unify ideas, supply a musical sound, and/or echo the sense of the passage.

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3

allusion

A direct or indirect reference to something which is presumably commonly known, such as an event, book, myth, or work of art. ___________ can be historical, literary, religious, topical, or mythical. There are many more possibilities, and a work may simultaneously use multiple layers of ___________.

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4

ambiguity

The multiple meanings, either intentional or unintentional, of a word, phrase, sentence, or passage.

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5

anaphora

A sub-type of parallelism, when the exact repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of successive lines or sentences. MLK used __________ in his famous "I Have a Dream" speech (1963).

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6

antecedent

The word, phrase, or clause referred to by a pronoun. The AP language exam occasionally asks for the ____________ of a given pronoun in a long complex sentence or in a group of sentences.

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7

antithesis

The opposition or contrast of ideas expressed in a grammatically balanced statement(s).

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8

aphorism

A terse statement of known authorship which expresses a general truth or a moral principle. (If the authorship is unknown, the statement is generally considered to be a folk proverb.) A(n) ___________ can be a memorable summation of the author's point.

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9

apostrophe

A figure of speech that directly addresses an absent or imaginary person or a personified abstraction, such as liberty or love. It is an address to someone or something that cannot answer. The effect may add familiarity or emotional intensity.

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10

ethos

The argumentative technique that deals with "presentation of self." The development of credibility or similar ethics. When a writer or speaker seems trustworthy.

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11

logos

The argumentative technique that appeals to logic. The presentation of facts, statistics, credible testimony, cogent examples...to support an argument.

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12

pathos

The argumentative technique that generates emotions (such as fear, anger, jealousy, pity, love...) in readers to shape their responses and dispose them to accept a claim.

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13

cacophony

Words combining unpleasant, discordant sounds that produce an effect of harshness (similar or perhaps even a more sub-group to onomatopoeia).

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14

caricature

A verbal description, the purpose of which is to exaggerate or distort, for comic effect, a person's distinctive physical features or other characterisitics.

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15

catharsis

A purging of pity and/or terror in the audience when watching or reading a tragic event.

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16

clause

A grammatical unit that contains both a subject and a verb. An independent, or main, _________ expresses a complete thought and can stand alone as a sentence. A dependent, or subordinate ________ cannot stand alone as a sentence and must be accompanied by an independent ________.

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17

colloquial/colloquialism

The use of slang or informalities in speech or writing. Not generally acceptable for formal writing, ___________ give a work a conversational, familiar tone. _________ expressions in writing include local or regional dialects.

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18

connotation

The non-literal, associative meaning of a word; the implied, suggested meaning. __________ may involve ideas, emotions, or attitudes.

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19

diction

Related to style, ______ refers to the writer's word choices, especially with regard to their correctness, clearness, or effectiveness. _________, combined with syntax, figurative language, literary devices etc., creates an author's style.

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20

digression

The use of material unrelated to the subject of the work.

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21

euphemism

From the Greek for "good speech", _________ are a more agreeable or less offensive substitute for a generally unpleasant word or concept. The ___________ may be used to adhere to standards of social or political correctness or to add humor or ironic understatement.

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22

foil

A character that provides a sharp contrast to another character in the same work.

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23

foreshadowing

Hints or clues that suggest events yet to occur.

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24

genre

The major category into which a literary work fits.

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25

hyperbole

A figure of speech using deliberate exaggeration or overstatement. __________ often has a comic effect; however, a serious effect is also possible. Often, ________ produces irony.

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26

imagery

The sensory details or figurative language used to describe, arouse emotion, or represent abstractions. On a physical level, _______ uses terms related to the five senses.

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27

invective

An emotionally violent, verbal denunciation or attack using strong, abusive language.

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28

irony/ironic

The contrast between what is stated explicitly and what is really meant, or the difference between what appears to be and what is actually true. ________ is often used to create poignancy or humor. In general, there are three major types of ________ used in language (verbal, situational, and dramatic).

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29

metaphor

A figure of speech using implied comparison of seemingly unlike things or the substitution of one for the other, suggesting some similarity. ____________ language makes writing more vivid, imaginative, thought provoking, and meaningful.

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30

metonymy

A term from the Greek meaning "changed label" or "substitute name," ___________ is a figure of speech in which the name of one object is substituted for that of another closely associated with it. ex ("The White House" declared instead of "The President").

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31

mood

The prevailing atmosphere or emotional aura of a work. Setting, tone, and events can affect the ____. _______ is similar to tone and atmosphere.

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32

motif

An image that occurs throughout a work that is in and of itself, but also may have symbolic meaning.

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33

narrative

The telling of a story or an account of an event or series of events.

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34

onomatopoeia

A figure of speech in which natural sounds are imitated in the sounds of words. Simple examples include such words as buzz, hiss, hum, crack, whinny, and murmur.

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35

oxymoron

From the Greek for "pointedly foolish," a(n) ____________ is a figure of speech wherein the author groups apparently contradictory terms to suggest a paradox. Simple examples include "jumbo shrimp", and "cruel kindness."

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36

parable

A story designed to suggest a principle, illustrate a moral, or answer a question.

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37

paradox

A statement that appears to be self-contradictory or opposed to common sense but upon closer inspection contains some degree of truth or validity.

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38

parody

A work that closely imitates the style or content of another with the specific aim of comic effect and/or ridicule. It exploits peculiarities of an author's expression.

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39

pastoral

A rural or natural setting.

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40

personification

A figure of speech in which the author presents or describes concepts, animals, or inanimate objects by endowing them with human attributes or emotions. ______________ is used to make these abstractions, animals, or objects appear more vivid to the reader.

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41

point of view

In literature, the perspective from which a story is told.

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42

rhetoric

From the Greek for "orator," this term describes the principles governing the art of writing effectively, eloquently, and persuasively.

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43

rhetorical question

A question asked for effect, not in the expectation of reply. It is the speaker's duty to "answer."`

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44

satire

A work that targets human vices and follies or social institutions and conventions for reform or ridicule. Regardless of whether or not the work aims to reform human behavior, ________ is best seen as a style of writing rather than a purpose of writing.

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45

setting

The background of a story--the physical location of a play, story, or novel--involves time and place.

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46

simile

A figure of speech comparing two unlike objects using the words like, as, or than.

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47

symbol/symbolism

Generally, anything that represents itself and stands for something else. Usually a(n) ___________ is something concrete--such as an object, action, character, or scene--that represents something more abstract.

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48

theme

The central idea or message of a work, the insight it offers into life.

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49

thesis

In expository writing, the ________ statement is the sentence or group of sentences that directly expresses the author's opinion, purpose, meaning, or position.

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50

tone

Similar to mood, _________ describes the author's attitude toward his material, the audience, or both. ______ is easier to determine is spoken language than in written language.

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