AP English Language


Abstract refers to language that describes concepts rather than concrete images.

Ad Hominem In an argument, an attack on the person rather than on the opponent’s ideas. It comes from the Latin meaning “against the man.”

Allegory a work that functions on a symbolic level.

Alliteration the repetition of initial consonant sounds, such as “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.”

Allusion a reference contained in a work.

Analogy a literary device employed to serve as a basis for comparison. It is assumed that what applies to the parallel situation also applies to the original circumstance. In other words, it is the comparison between two different items.

Anecdote a story or brief episode told by the writer or a character to illustrate a point.

Antecedent the word, phrase, or clause to which a pronoun refers. The AP English Language and Composition exam often expects you to identify the antecedent in a passage.

Antithesis the presentation of two contrasting images. The ideas are balanced by word, phrase, clause, or paragraph. “To be or not to be …” “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country …”

Argument a single assertion or a series of assertions presented and defended by the writer.

Attitude the relationship an author has toward his or her subject, and/or his or her audience.

Balance a situation in which all parts of the presentation are equal, whether in sentences or paragraphs or sections of a longer work.

Cacophony harsh and discordant sounds in a line or passage in a literary work.

Character those who carry out the action of the plot in literature. Major, minor, static, and dynamic are types of characters.

Colloquial the use of slang in writing, often to create local color and to provide an informal tone. Huckleberry Finn is written in a colloquial style.

Comic Relief the inclusion of a humorous character or scene to contrast with the tragic elements of a work, thereby intensifying the next tragic event.

Conflict a clash between opposing forces in a literary work, such as man vs. man; man vs. nature; man vs. god; man vs. self.

Connective Tissue those elements that help create coherence in a written piece. See Chapter 8.

Connotation the interpretive level of a word based on its associated images rather than its literal meaning.

Deduction the process of moving from a general rule to a specific example.

Denotation the literal or dictionary meaning of a word.

Dialect the re-creation of regional spoken language, such as a Southern dialect. Zora Neale Hurston uses this in such works as Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Diction the author’s choice of words that creates tone, attitude, and style, as well as meaning.

Didactic writing whose purpose is to instruct or to teach. A didactic work is usually formal and focuses on moral or ethical concerns.

Discourse a discussion on a specific topic.

Ellipsis an indication by a series of three periods that some material has been omitted from a given text. It could be a word, a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, or a whole section. Be wary of the ellipsis; it could obscure the real meaning of the piece of writing.

Epigraph the use of a quotation at the beginning of a work that hints at its theme. Hemingway begins The Sun Also Rises with two epigraphs. One of them is “You are all a lost generation” by Gertrude Stein.

Euphemism a more acceptable and usually more pleasant way of saying something that might be inappropriate or uncomfortable. “He went to his final reward” is a common euphemism for “he died.” Euphemisms are also often used to obscure the reality of a situation. The military uses “collateral damage” to indicate civilian deaths in a military operation.

Euphony the pleasant, mellifluous presentation of sounds in a literary work.

Exposition background information presented in a literary work.

Extended Metaphor a sustained comparison, often referred to as a conceit. The extended metaphor is developed throughout a piece of writing.

Figurative Language the body of devices that enables the writer to operate on levels other than the literal one. It includes metaphor, simile, symbol, motif, and hyperbole, etc.

Flashback a device that enables a writer to refer to past thoughts, events, or episodes.

Form the shape or structure of a literary work.

Hyperbole extreme exaggeration, often humorous, it can also be ironic; the opposite of understatement.

Image a verbal approximation of a sensory impression, concept, or emotion.

Imagery the total effect of related sensory images in a work of literature.

Induction the process that moves from a given series of specifics to a generalization.

Inference a conclusion one can draw from the presented details.

Invective a verbally abusive attack.

Irony an unexpected twist or contrast between what happens and what was intended or expected to happen. It involves dialog and situation and can be intentional or unplanned. Dramatic irony centers around the ignorance of those involved; whereas, the audience is aware of the circumstance.

Logic the process of reasoning.

Logical Fallacy a mistake in reasoning (see Chapter 9 for specific examples).

Metaphor a direct comparison between dissimilar things. “Your eyes are stars” is an example.

Metonymy a figure of speech in which a representative term is used for a larger idea (The pen is mightier than the sword).

Monologue a speech given by one character (Hamlet’s “To be or not to be …”).

Motif the repetition or variations of an image or idea in a work used to develop theme or characters.

Narrator the speaker of a literary work.

Onomatopoeia words that sound like the sound they represent (hiss, gurgle, pop).

Oxymoron an image of contradictory term (bittersweet, pretty ugly, jumbo shrimp).

Pacing the movement of a literary piece from one point or one section to another.

Parable a story that operates on more than one level and usually teaches a moral lesson. (The Pearl by John Steinbeck is a fine example.)

Parody a comic imitation of a work that ridicules the original. It can be utterly mocking or gently humorous. It depends on allusion and exaggerates and distorts the original style and content.

Pathos the aspects of a literary work that elicit pity from the audience. An appeal to emotion that can be used as a means to persuade.

Pedantic a term used to describe writing that borders on lecturing. It is scholarly and academic and often overly difficult and distant.

Periodic Sentence presents its main clause at the end of the sentence for emphasis and sentence variety. Phrases and/or dependent clauses precede the main clause.

Personification the assigning of human qualities to inanimate objects or concepts. (Wordsworth personifies “the sea that bares her bosom to the moon” in the poem “London 1802.”)

Persuasion a type of argument that has as its goal an action on the part of the audience.

Plot a sequence of events in a literary work.

Point of View the method of narration in a literary work.

Pun a play on words that often has a comic effect. Associated with wit and cleverness. A writer who speaks of the “grave topic of American funerals” may be employing an intentional or unintentional pun.

Reductio ad Absurdum the Latin for “to reduce to the absurd.” This is a technique useful in creating a comic effect (see Twain’s “At the Funeral”) and is also an argumentative technique. It is considered a rhetorical fallacy, because it reduces an argument to an either/or choice.

Rhetoric refers to the entire process of written communication. Rhetorical strategies and devices are those tools that enable a writer to present ideas to an audience effectively.

Rhetorical Question one that does not expect an explicit answer. It is used to pose an idea to be considered by the speaker or audience. (François Villon [in translation] asks, “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”)

Sarcasm a comic technique that ridicules through caustic language. Tone and attitude may both be described as sarcastic in a given text if the writer employs language, irony, and wit to mock or scorn.

Satire a mode of writing based on ridicule, that criticizes the foibles and follies of society without necessarily offering a solution. (Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is a great satire that exposes mankind’s condition.)

Setting the time and place of a literary work.

Simile an indirect comparison that uses the word like or as to link the differing items in the comparison. (“Your eyes are like stars.”)

Stage Directions the specific instructions a playwright includes concerning sets, characterization, delivery, etc.

Stanza a unit of a poem, similar in rhyme, meter, and length to other units in the poem.

Structure the organization and form of a work.

Style the unique way an author presents his ideas. Diction, syntax, imagery, structure, and content all contribute to a particular style.

Summary reducing the original text to its essential parts.

Syllogism the format of a formal argument that consists of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion.

Symbol something in a literary work that stands for something else. (Plato has the light of the sun symbolize truth in “The Allegory of the Cave.”)

Synecdoche a figure of speech that utilizes a part as representative of the whole. (“All hands on deck” is an example.)

Syntax the grammatical structure of prose and poetry.

Synthesis locating a number of sources and integrating them into the development and support of a writer’s thesis/claim.

Theme the underlying ideas the author illustrates through characterization, motifs, language, plot, etc.

Thesis simply, the main idea of a piece of writing. It presents the author’s assertion or claim. The effectiveness of a presentation is often based on how well the writer presents, develops, and supports the thesis.

Tone the author’s attitude toward his subject.

Transition a word or phrase that links one idea to the next and carries the reader from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph. See the list of transitions in Chapter 8.

Understatement the opposite of exaggeration. It is a technique for developing irony and/or humor where one writes or says less than intended.

Voice can refer to two different areas of writing. The first refers to the relationship between a sentence’s subject and verb (active voice and passive voice). The second refers to the total “sound” of a writer’s style.