AP English Language

Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High


Comprehensive Review—Analysis

About Style

What Is Style?


Ask yourself a question—What is the difference between the comedy of Bill Cosby and Eddie Murphy? We would all agree that they are both funny, but we would also say that each man has his own style. What makes Cosby’s comedy different from Murphy’s? Consider the following:

• Subject matter

• Language (diction)

• Pacing

• Selection of detail

• Presentation—body language

• Attitude toward his material

• Attitude toward his audience

This is what we call style. You do this all the time. You know Jennifer Lopez has a different style than does Barbra Streisand.

If we were to give you two literary passages, you could probably tell which was written by Hemingway and which was written by Dickens. How would you know? Simple; you would use the same principles you considered with the two comedians:

• Subject matter

• Selection of detail

• Point of view

• Diction

• Figurative language/imagery

• Attitude

• Tone

• Pacing/syntax

• Organization

See how easy it is? The AP English Language and Composition exam expects you to be able to recognize and to explain how these elements function in a given passage.

How Do I Talk About Style?

You need to understand and to refer to some basic writing terms and devices. These include subject matter, selection of detail, organization, point of view, diction, syntax, language, attitude, and tone.

What follows is a brief review of each of these elements of style. In this review, we define each device, cite examples, and provide practice for you. (In addition, we have incorporated suggested readings and writing for you.)

Subject Matter and Selection of Detail

Since these two are dependent on each other, let’s look at them together. Unlike the poor, beleaguered AP Comp student who is assigned a topic, each author makes a conscious decision about what he or she will write. (In most instances, so do you.) It is not hit or miss. The author wants to make a point about his or her subject and makes numerous conscious decisions about which details to include and which to exclude. Here’s an example. Two students are asked to write about hamburgers. One is a vegetarian, and one is a hamburger fanatic. You’ve already mentally categorized the details each would choose to include in making his or her points about hamburgers. Got it? Selection of detail is part of style.

Note: Many authors become associated with a particular type of subject matter: for example, Mario Puzo with organized crime (The Godfather), Steven King with horror and suspense (The Shining), Upton Sinclair with muckraking (The Jungle). This, then, becomes part of their recognized style.

Think about a couple of your favorite writers, rock groups, singers, comedians, and so on and list their primary subjects and selection of details.


The way in which a writer presents his or her ideas to the reader is termed organization. You do this every day. For example, look at your locker. How are your books, jacket, gym clothes, lunch, and other things arranged in it? If someone else were to open it, what conclusion would that person draw about you? This is your personal organization. The same can apply to a writer and his or her work. Let’s review a few favorite patterns of organization.

Writers can organize their thoughts in many different ways, including:

• Chronological

• Spatial

• Specific to general

• General to specific

• Least to most important

• Most to least important

• Flashback or fast-forward

• Contrast/comparison

• Cause/effect

As with your locker, an outside viewer—known here as the reader—responds to the writer’s organizational patterns. Keep these approaches in mind when analyzing style. (You might want to make marginal notes on some of your readings as practice.)

Point of View

Point of view is the method the author utilizes to tell the story. It is the vantage point from which the narrative is told. You’ve had practice with this in both reading and writing.

• First person: The narrator is the story’s protagonist. (I went to the store.)
Here is an example from Charles Dickens’s The Personal History of David Copperfield.

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.

• Third person objective: The narrator is an onlooker reporting the story. (She went to the store.)

Here is an example from Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry.

Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk. He leaned against the bar of the Old Home Sample Room, the most gilded and urbane saloon in Cato, Missouri, and requested the bartender to join him in “The Good Old Summer time,” the waltz of the day.

• Third person omniscient: The narrator reports the story and provides information that the character(s) is unaware of. (She went to the store unaware that in three minutes she would meet her unknown mother selling apples on the corner.)

Here is an example from Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge.

Her first name was India—she was never able to get used to it. It seemed to her that her parents must have been thinking of someone else when they named her. Or were they hoping for another sort of daughter? As a child she was often on the point of inquiring, but time passed, and she never did.

• Stream of consciousness: This is a narrative technique that places the reader in the mind and thought process of the narrator, no matter how random and spontaneous that may be (e.g., James Joyce’s Ulysses).

Here is an example from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows who he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours … And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is.

• Chorus: Ancient Greek plays employed a chorus as a narrative device. The chorus, as needed, could be a character, an assembly, the playwright’s voice, the audience, or an omniscient forecaster.

• Stage manager: This technique utilizes a character who comments omnisciently (e.g., Our Town, The Glass Menagerie).

• Interior monologue: This technique reflects the inner thoughts of the character. Here is an example from Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin.

I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.


Diction, also termed word choice, refers to the conscious selection of words to further the author’s purpose. Once again, place yourself in the writer’s position. How would you describe your date last weekend to your parents? Your peers? Yourself? We’re guessing you used different words (and selection of details) for each audience. And, may we say, “good choice.”

That personal note out of the way, a writer searches for the most appropriate, evocative, or precise word or phrase to convey his or her intent. The author is sensitive to denotation, connotation, and symbolic aspects of language choices.

For example, let’s look at “The evening invaded the street.” Here James Joyce chooses a strong verb to express his thought. What do you associate with this word? Does it affect you? What if he had said, “The evening caressed the street?” Diction makes a difference. (By the way, the first example is from “Eveline,” which is a story about a character’s personal war with herself.)

Diction is placing the right word in the right place. It is a deliberate technique to further the author’s purpose or intent. Diction builds throughout a piece so that ideas, tone, or attitude are continually reinforced. You should be able to identify and link examples of specific diction to the ideas, purpose, tone, or intent of the passage.

Let’s Try Another

Here is the bare-bones sentence outline of a paragraph.

She heard the story and accepted its significance. She wept in her sister’s arms. She went to her room alone.

Here is how Kate Chopin actually wrote her paragraph in “The Story of an Hour”:

She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with a paralyzed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden, wild abandonment in her sister’s arms. When the storm had spent itself she went away to her room alone. She would have no one follow her.

Now, you highlight those changes in words/phrases which transform the whole tone of the passage.

In this brief paragraph that describes Louise’s reaction to the news of her husband’s death, we can easily see diction at work. The first and last lines use a negative word to establish her separation from other women. The adjective paralyzed is also contrasted with Louise’s sudden, wild abandonment. The storm of grief is spent—as are her emotional responses. She is going away to be alone with herself.

See how the diction enriches the paragraph. Here, the reader begins to get a feeling for Louise’s unique character.


When writing your essay write, “Diction IS …” or “An example of Salinger’s diction IS….” Avoid saying, “Salinger uses diction.” It is a little point, but it is one that indicates a mature writer is at work.

Figurative Language and Imagery

Imagery is the written creation of sensory experience achieved through the use of figurative language. Figurative language includes the following:

• Analogy

• Sensory description

• Poetic devices, which include:

— metaphor

— simile

— hyperbole

— onomatopoeia

— personification

— oxymoron

— metonymy

— synecdoche

— alliteration

— assonance

— consonance

As an example, here is a passage excerpted from Herman Melville’s “Nantucket.”

And thus have these naked Nantucketers, these sea hermits, issuing from their ant-hill in the sea, overrun and conquered the watery world like so many Alexanders; parceling out among them the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, as the three pirate powers did Poland. Let America add Mexico to Texas, and pile Cuba upon Canada; let the English overswarm all India, and hang out their blazing banner from the sun; two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer’s. For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires; other seamen having but a right of way through it. Merchant ships are but extension bridges; armed ones but floating forts; even pirates and privateers, though following the sea as highwaymen the road, they but plunder other ships, other fragments of the land like themselves, without seeking to draw their living from the bottomless deep itself. The Nantucketer, he alone resides and riots on the sea; he alone, in Bible language, goes down to it in ships; to and fro ploughing it as his own special plantation. There is his home; there lies his business, which a Noah’s flood would not interrupt, though it overwhelmed all the millions in China. He lives on the sea, as prairie dogs in the prairie; he hides among the waves, he climbs them as mountain goats climb the Alps. For years he knows not the land; so that when he comes to it at last, it smells like another world, more strangely than the moon would to an Earthsman. With the landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows; so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sail, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.

Can you recognize the different examples of figurative language used in this paragraph? List several now.


Risking your closing the book, we are going to use the dreaded “G” word—grammar. Grammar refers to the function of words and their uses and relationship in a sentence. Syntax is the grammatical structure of sentences. Without syntax, there is no clear communication. It is the responsibility of the author to manipulate language so that his or her purpose and intent are clear to the reader.

Note: When we refer to syntax in the context of rhetorical analysis, we are not speaking of grammatical correctness, but rather of the deliberate sentence structure the author chooses to make his or her desired point.

We assume that you are already familiar with the basics of sentence structure and are able to recognize and clearly construct:

• phrases;

• clauses;

• basic sentence types: declarative, interrogative, imperative, exclamatory;

• simple sentences;

• compound sentences;

• complex sentences; and

• compound–complex sentences.

We also assume that you have a good working knowledge of:

• punctuation,

• spelling, and

• paragraphing.

If you are in doubt about any of these, refer to the English handbook section of your composition textbooks. We also recommend The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. And, don’t forget, your teacher is your major resource who can provide you with information and practice. Be honest with yourself. If you need help, get it early in the term.

Carefully read the following passage for more practice with syntax.

It struck eight. Bella waited. Nobody came.

She sat down on a gilt chair at the head of the stairs, looked steadily before her with her blank, blue eyes. In the hall, in the cloakroom, in the supper-room, the hired footmen looked at one another with knowing winks. “What does the old girl expect? No one’ll have finished dinner before ten.”

— (Mr. Loveday’s Little Outing; “Bella
Gave a Party,” Evelyn Waugh, 1936)

Did you notice the following syntactical elements and their effects in this selection?

• Short declarative sentences

— Repetitiveness is like the ticking of a clock

— Immediately introduces tension

• Simple declarative sentence beginning with subject/verbs

— Parallel structure with phrases beginning with in

— Pacing: clock ticking away time, uncaring

• Periodic sentence draws attention to the setting rather than the footmen

• Ends with a rhetorical question: reader drawn into the tension

You can see from just a brief analysis of the sentence structure of this passage that syntax plays an important role in the creation of character, setting, and tension.


We recommend that you choose brief passages from works which you study in your AP Comp class and practice this process on them throughout the year.

Here is a sentence structure activity you can use to review creating sentences using coordination and subordination.

Consider the following set of sentences.

I write.

I have a writing problem.

The problem is wordiness.

This tendency leads me somewhere.

It leads me to my writing awkward sentences.

These sentences confuse my readers.

I must edit my writing.

I must be very careful.

Rewrite this set of simple sentences THREE different ways, with each new sentence containing ALL of the information given. Each new sentence is to emphasize a different simple sentence (main clause) given in the original set. Bracket the clause you are emphasizing in each new sentence.


You might wish to work on this type of activity throughout the year with your class or with an AP Comp study group that you have formed.

Tone and Attitude

We are guessing that these terms have confused you, as indeed, they have confused our own students in the past. Both terms refer to the author’s perception and presentation of the material and the audience.

Tone, which often reinforces the mood of a piece, is easy to understand. Think of Edgar Allen Poe and the prevailing mood and tone of a short story such as “The Telltale Heart.” There is no doubt that the single effect of this story is macabre horror, which clearly establishes the tone.

An author’s attitude is not just the creation of a mood. It represents the stance or relationship the author has toward his or her subject. This type of analysis may require that you “read between the lines,” which is the close reading of diction and syntax.

There are some basics for you to consider when determining tone and attitude.

The author can indicate several attitudes toward the reader:

• Talking down to the reader as an advisor

• Talking down to the reader as a satirist

• Talking eye-to-eye with the reader as an equal

• Talking up to the reader as a supplicant or subordinate

The attitude may also be formal or informal.

• Formal tends to use diction and syntax that are academic, serious, and authoritative.

• Informal is more conversational and engages the reader on an equal basis.

In “The Telltale Heart,” it is fairly obvious that the diction and syntax help to create a macabre tone. At the same time, Poe’s highly academic and mature diction and syntax create a formal attitude as he relates his tale to his reader as an equal.

Jonathan Swift in “A Modest Proposal” presents a satiric attitude as he speaks down to (instructs) his audience. Likewise, Charles Lamb in “A Dissertation on Roast Pig” engages his reader with an informal attitude in his satire.

If you want to see a subservient or subordinate attitude, see Chief Seattle’s speech in our Practice Exam #1, essay question #1. Here, you will see how he employs diction and syntax to create a mocking humility that would serve his greater purpose.

The following is a list of adjectives often used to describe tone and attitude in a literary work. Feel free to add your own appropriate words.



Be aware that tone and attitude are frequently described using a pair of words in the multiple-choice section of the AP English Language and Composition exam. For example: bitter and disdainful. Both adjectives must apply for the choice to be correct.

What follows is a set of activities that can provide practice in recognizing and analyzing tone and attitude. We suggest you try them as you progress through your AP Comp course.

Consider the following passages:

Passage A

I am looking at a sunset. I am on the rim of the Grand Canyon. I have been on vacation for the past two weeks which I have been planning for over a year. I have always wanted to visit this geographic location. There are many people also looking at the same sight that I see. This is the first time I have witnessed this place and this event. There are many varied colors while this sunset is taking place. The sun disappears behind the Canyon walls, and darkness comes quickly after that.

Passage B

It was Monday morning. The sun was out, and I walked into the meeting. I was expecting to find some new people there. They were. I was introduced to them. The room was warm. Coffee was served. The meeting began, and the subject was our budget for the next year. There was discussion. I did not agree with many of the people there. A vote was taken after a period of time. The new budget was passed.

Passage C

I am looking at the new Wondercar. I am trying to decide whether or not to purchase or lease this car. It offers ABS, four-wheel drive, a V-8 engine, and the following extras: CD player, AC, power windows, door locks, etc., tinted glass, heated leather seats, a cellular phone, and luggage and ski racks. I would like the color forest green. The purchase price is $48,500. The monthly leasing payment after a $6,000 down payment would be $589.00 for three years.

Using your knowledge of tone, rewrite each of the above passages so that a specific tone is evident to your reader. Identify that tone/attitude. Once you have written the new passage, highlight those changes in diction and syntax which help you to create the tone and attitude you wanted.

Here is another activity that will allow you to practice your skills in analyzing tone and attitude:

Locate reviews of films, music, plays, cars, sports events, or teams—anything you can find that has been reviewed or criticized. These reviews can come from newspapers and/or periodicals you locate in an actual publication, or they can be from a real newspaper or periodical with articles posted on the Web. We suggest that you cut them out or print them out from the Internet.

Under each review:

• Cite the source and the date of the review

• State the tone the reviewer has

• Underline those words and/or phrases (diction) used in the review that support and/or develop this tone

As an extra practice, you might try this. Follow the directions above. Only this time, you will be collecting the reviews for only one film, sports event, and so forth. Let’s see. You could try the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, People, orEntertainment Weekly. Of course, you may know of others. Terrific; feel free to use them.

Again, try this with your class or study group. The more the merrier.

The following may serve as a final look at our review of style. We have been taking a rather concentrated look at some of the components of what the experts call “literary” style. As you know, two of the major components of style are: (1) the types of sentences an author chooses to use (syntax); and (2) word choice (diction). Below is a sample paragraph that provides some further practice with these two areas. This is the first, bare-bones draft.

Last night was chilly. I went into New York City. I went to see a reading of a play. It was a new play. It was a staged reading. It was read at the Roundabout Theater. The Roundabout Theater is on Broadway. It is on the corner of 45th Street. The play was written by Ruth Wolf. She writes about historical people. This play is about Mary Shelley. She was the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy B. Shelley was a poet. He is a very famous Romantic poet. Mary Shelley wrote books. She wrote FrankensteinMany people know this novel. Many people really like the story. There were more than 200 people there. The play was long. It had two acts. It takes place in France and Italy. It also takes place in heaven and hell. There are three main characters. One character is Mary Shelley. One character is Percy B. Shelley. One character plays the archangel and the devil. There is a lot of talking. There is little action. I liked the talking. I wished there was more action. It is called a comedy. Many of the scenes were not comical. The play could not make up its mind. I do not think it will be produced.

1. Now, using your knowledge of syntax and diction, rewrite this paragraph using coordination, subordination, phrases, and so forth.

2. Once you have written a revised paragraph, work with someone and REWRITE it in a new and different way.

Here’s an example of one way to revise the passage.

Last night, I went into chilly New York City to see a staged reading of a new play at the Roundabout Theater on the corner of 45th and Broadway. Ruth Wolf, who is known for her productions about historical figures, has written a play about Mary Shelley, the wife of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Many people know Mary Shelley as the author of the popular novel FrankensteinThe play takes place in France, Italy, heaven, and hell with main characters Mary herself, Percy B. Shelley, and an archangel who doubles as the devil. The drama contains much dialog and very little action, which I sorely missed. Billed as a comedy, this play seemed to be unable to make up its mind between being a comedy or a serious tragedy. Because of this problem, I don’t believe this play has a real chance of being produced.