Major literary terms

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English IV AP / Mrs. Ramos


allegory: a piece of literature that holds a deeper, often philosophical story.

exemplum: a fable or example for living. “The Pardoner’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales

fabliaux (pl. of fabliau): medieval tale with humorous, often sexually explicit, overtones. “The

Nun’s Priest’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales

farce: a type of comedy that is primarily visual / physical. “The Miller’s Tale” from The

Canterbury Tales

fiction: narrative that does not depict actual events

frame tale: a series of stories in a collection that are components of a larger, enveloping tale.

The Canterbury Tales

mock epic: a narrative that exaggerates the qualities of an epic in order to satirize them. “The

Nun’s Priest’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales.

nonfiction: narrative that depicts actual events

prologue: a forward or background information required before reading a work

prose: writing that is not poetry and is organized into paragraphs; may be fiction or nonfiction.

satire: making fun of something that is serious. Johnathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”

estates satire a parody of social stations. Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales

Narrative devices

antagonist: the character or element in a narrative that stands in the way of the protagonist.

characterization: An author or poet's use of description, dialogue, dialect, and action to create

in the reader an emotional response to a character or to make the character more vivid and realistic.

archetype: original model or pattern from which other later copies are made,

especially a character, an action, or situation that seems to represent common patterns of human life generally; a stereotyped character (hero, damsel in distress, careless teenager)

dynamic: a character that changes throughout the course of a narrative

epic hero: a hero, usually a king, of the epic poem (Beowulf)

flat: a character that is not well-described and may be simply a stereotypical entity

foil: a set of characters who are purposefully presented to be similar in some ways but

completely opposite in others in order to highlight particular character traits. In Hamlet, Claudius and Old Hamlet are foil characters because they were both kings of Denmark, but each had opposite moral tendencies.

purpose: the functional reason for the character to be in the story

round: a character that is described in detail in a work

static: a character that does not change throughout the course of a narrative

conflict: the opposition between two characters (such as a protagonist and an antagonist),

between two large groups of people, or between the protagonist and a larger problem such as forces of nature, ideas, public mores, and so on.

external conflict: a conflict that occurs outside of the protagonist

man vs. man: a conflict between two characters

man vs. nature: a conflict between the protagonist and an element of nature

man vs. society: a conflict between the protagonist and the socially accepted

behaviors of a society

internal conflict: a conflict that occurs inside a character’s mind, heart or


man vs. himself: a conflict such as a decision that must be reached, that occurs

within a character, usually the protagonist

man vs. fate: a conflict that demonstrates man’s desire to oppose the forces of

time or destiny

dialogue: the representation of a conversation between two characters in a narrative

epiphany: personal revelations that occur within characters in a narrative

fatal flaw: the personality trait that causes a character to experience a setback or tragedy

flashback: A method of narration in which present action is temporarily interrupted so that the

reader can witness past events--usually in the form of a character's memory.

foreshadowing: Suggesting, hinting, indicating, or showing what will occur later in a narrative.

irony: an opposition between what is expected and what really happens

dramatic irony: when the audience or reader of a piece of literature knows information

about the plot or characters that other characters do not know.

situational irony: when the opposite of what is expected occurs

verbal irony: saying one thing and meaning the opposite for the sake of exaggeration

cosmic irony:

Socratic irony: when a speaker pretends to be ignorant on a topic in order to illicit the

ideas of others

narrator: the "voice" that speaks or tells a story.

unreliable narrator: a storyteller who cannot be trusted for various possible reasons.

This narrator may miss the significance in elements of the story because of his/her point of view or plainly misinterpret the motives or actions of characters.

innocent eye narrator: a narrator who is young, ignorant, or naïve; the audience often catches significance that the narrator describes but does not comprehend.

plot: the framework of events in a narrative

exposition: the introduction of basic elements of a narrative such as characters and


rising action: the point in the plot of a narrative when the conflict becomes complicated

climax: the point in a narrative when the protagonist has to make a decision regarding

the conflict

falling action: the point just after the climax when the results of the protagonist’s

decision are revealed

resolution / denouement: the final outcome of the narrative

point of view: the way a story gets told and who tells it. It is the method of narration that

determines the position, or angle of vision, from which the story unfolds. Point of view governs the reader's access to the story.

first person: the narrator speaks as "I" and the narrator is a character in the story who

may or may not influence events within it

second person: the narrator addresses the audience throughout the narrative (rarely


third person limited: the narrator seems to be someone standing outside the story who

refers to all the characters by name or as he, she, they, and so on

third person omniscient: a narrator who knows everything that needs to be known

about the agents and events in the story, and is free to move at will in time and place, and who has privileged access to a character's thoughts, feelings, and motives.

mixed point of view: the use of multiple narrators in the same narrative. A strategy

used by an author to give a more rounded perspective of events.

protagonist: the character that drives the action in a narrative

style: the author's words and the characteristic way a writer uses language to achieve certain


verisimilitude: the sense that what one reads is "real," or at least realistic and believable.



ballad: a narrative poem in which the story is told through dialogue and action. The language

is simple or "folksy," and the theme is often tragic. The ballad contains a refrain repeated several times.

couplet: two consecutive lines of rhyming poetry

dramatic monologue: a poem in which the speaker is a created character who tells his/her own

story. There is usually a critical situation as topic.

elegy: a poem that eulogizes; a poem written upon the occasion of a person’s death

epic poem: a long, story-like poem that is focused on the exploits of a hero or demi-god who

represents the cultural values of a race, nation, or religious group Beowulf, Milton’s Paradise Lost.

free verse: a poem without regular rhyme or metrical patterns

octave: eight lines of poetry in a stanza, usually rhymes in a regular pattern

ode: a long, often elaborate apostrophaic poem of varying line lengths and sometimes intricate

rhyme schemes dealing with a serious subject matter and treating it reverently. Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

lyric poem: expresses the feelings, perceptions, and thoughts of a single poetic speaker (not

necessarily the poet) in an intensely personal, emotional, or subjective manner.

narrative poem: tells a story. Beowulf

quatrain: four lines of rhyming poetry together in a stanza

scop (shope): an Old English term for poet. In Anglo-Saxon culture, the scop had the important

job of singing about the accomplishments of his patron and his people. The scop functioned as both an entertainer and as an historian.

sestet: six lines of poetry together in a stanza.

sonnet: fourteen-lined poem with a particular pattern of rhyme and idea progression:

Shakespearean (English): three quatrains; each rhymed differently, with a final,

independently rhymed couplet that makes an effective, unifying climax to the whole. Its rhyme scheme is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Typically, the final two lines follow a "turn" or a "volta," (sometimes spelled volte, like volte-face) because they reverse or turn from the original line of thought to take the idea in a new direction.

Petrarchan (Italian): an eight line stanza (called an octave) followed by a six line

stanza (called a sestet). The octave has two quatrains rhyming abba, abba, the first of which presents the theme, the second further develops it. In the sestet, the first three lines reflect on or exemplify the theme, while the last three bring the poem to a unified end. The sestet may be arranged cdecde, cdcdcd, or cdedce.

Spencerian: contains three quatrains which are interlocked by the repetition in both the

second and third quatrains of a rhyme from the quatrain that immediately precedes it.

a b a b - End words of first quatrain in alternating rhyme.

b c b c - End words of second quatrain in alternating rhyme,

with repetition of the last rhyme in the first quatrain.

- Shift.

c d c d - End words of third quatrain in alternating rhyme,

with repetition of the last rhyme in the second quatrain.

e e - Heroic couplet.
stanza: a poem’s ‘paragraph’ or grouping of lines.

tercet: a three-line stanza

villanelle: a 19-line poem that is structured in five tercets with a final quatrain. The repetition

of lines 1 and 3 of the first stanza continues in the other stanzas to create the rhythm.

Sound Devices

alliteration: repeating a consonant sound in close proximity to others, or beginning several

words with the same vowel sound.

cacophony: unharmonious sounds within a poem (opposite = euphony)

caesura: a pause in a line of poetry

consonance: repetition of internal vowel sounds in close proximity words

enjambment: a line having no pause or end punctuation but having uninterrupted meaning

continuing into the next line

euphony: harmonious sounds within a poem (opposite = cacophony)

meter (scansion): the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry

foot: A basic unit of meter consisting of a set number of strong stresses and light


stressed syllable: one that is spoken with more emphasis

unstressed syllable: one that is spoken with less emphasis

free verse: poetry that has no regular meter, rhyme, or number of syllables on a line

onomatopoeia: The use of sounds that are similar to the noise they represent for a rhetorical or

artistic effect. For instance, buzz, click, rattle, and grunt make sounds akin to the noise they represent.

rhyme: a matching similarity of sounds in two or more words, especially when their accented

vowels and all succeeding consonants are identical.

eye rhyme (sight rhyme): two words that look as if they would rhyme due to similar

internal vowels but do not (pint / lint; move /love)

feminine rhyme: a rhyming set of words in which the final syllable is unstressed

(feather / heather). Creates a soft sound.

internal rhyme: a poetic device in which a word in the middle of a line rhymes with a

word at the end of the same metrical line

masculine rhyme: a rhyming set of words in which the final syllable is stressed or both

words are stressed one-syllable words (hit/fit). Creates a powerful punch of a


rhyme scheme: the pattern of end rhyme in a poem that is typically rendered with

letters of the alphabet signifying like rhymes.

slant rhyme (approximate rhyme, near rhyme): rhymes created out of words with

similar but not identical sounds. In most of these instances, either the vowel segments are different while the consonants are identical (soul/all), or vice versa (moon/fool).


allusion: A reference in literature to a person, place, event, or another passage of

literature, often without explicit identification. Allusions can originate in mythology, the Bible, historical events, or legends. Authors often use allusion to establish a tone, create an implied association, contrast two objects or people, or make an unusual juxtaposition of references. Authors assume that the readers will recognize the original sources and relate their meaning to the new context.

conceit: a fairly elaborate figure of speech, especially an extended comparison involving

metaphor: a comparison or analogy stated in such a way as to imply that one object is another

one, figuratively speaking. The comparison is usually between two unlike objects.

extended metaphor: a metaphor that is sustained for several lines /stanzas of a

poem or the entire poem

implied metaphor: a metaphor that is suggested (his stomach growled) rather

than stated directly (his hunger is a tiger).

motif: a recurring element, such as a type of incident, a device, a reference, or verbal formula,

which appears frequently in a work of literature

personification: a type of metaphor in which an object is given human qualities (“The sun

wept golden tears.”)

simile: a comparison that suggests two things are similar, using “like” or “as” (Time folds as

wrinkles at the corner of the universe’s eye.)

epic / heroic simile: Like a regular simile, an epic simile makes a comparison between

one object and another using "like" or "as." However, unlike a regular simile, which appears in a single sentence, the epic simile mainly appears in the genre of the epic and it may be developed at great length, often up to fifty or a hundred lines.

symbol: a word, place, character, or object that means something beyond its literal meaning ()

Poetic devices

antithesis: opposing ideas presented in similar-sounding language. (“There is no king who has

not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.” –Helen Keller)

apostrophe: the act of addressing some abstraction or personification that is not physically

present. Keats’ “Ode to Autumn”

diction: the word choice of an author

connotative diction: the extra emotional tinge or taint of meaning each word carries

beyond the minimal, strict definition found in a dictionary

denotative diction: the dictionary definition of a word

imagery: "mental pictures" that readers experience with a passage of literature. It signifies all

the sensory perceptions referred to in a poem, whether by literal description, allusion, simile, or metaphor

auditory: imagery that appeals to the sense of sound

color: the use of colors to create a verbal picture

gustatory: imagery that appeals to the sense of taste

olfactory: imagery that appeals to the sense of smell

tactile: imagery that appeals to the sense of touch

visual: imagery that appeals to the sense of sight

oxymoron: using contradiction in a manner that oddly makes sense on a deeper level. Simple

examples include such oxymora as jumbo shrimp, sophisticated rednecks, and bittersweet

paradox: seeming opposites that turn out to be true.

parallelism: when the writer establishes similar patterns of grammatical structure and length.

For instance, "King Alfred tried to make the law clear, precise, and equitable." The previous sentence has parallel structure in use of adjectives.

poetic idea: the overall philosophical concept of the poem

refrain: a repeated line or phrase in a poem; creates a musical repetition

speaker: the narrative voice in a poem that speaks of his or her situation or feelings. It is a

convention in poetry that the speaker is not the same individual as the historical author of the poem.

tone: The means of creating a relationship or conveying an attitude. By looking carefully at the

choices an author makes (in characters, incidents, setting; in the work's stylistic choices and diction, etc.), careful readers often can isolate the tone of a work and sometimes infer from it the underlying attitudes that control and color the story or poem as a whole

volta / turn: a change in thought, direction, or emotion in a poem


act: a large section of a drama containing a number of scenes. Most plays have five acts.

aside: a statement made by a character that is meant only for the audience or reader

chorus: In ancient Greek drama, (1) A group of singers who stand alongside or off stage from

the principal performers in a dramatic or musical performance. (2) The song or refrain that this group of singers sings. In other works of drama, the chorus serves as a narrator at the beginning of a scene. See Oedipus Rex by Sophocles or Shakespeare’s Hamlet

comedy: any play or narrative poem in which the main characters manage to avert an

impending disaster and have a happy ending. The comedy did not necessarily have to be funny, and indeed, many comedies are serious in tone. Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well.

dramatic structure: Act I (exposition); Act II (rising action); Act III (climax); Act IV (falling

action); Act V (resolution/denouement)

history: a play that presents historical information. Shakespeare’s Richard III.

scene: a smaller section of an act. Most acts have 3-7 scenes.

soliloquy: a monologue spoken by an actor at a point in the play when the character believes

himself to be alone. The technique frequently reveals a character's innermost thoughts, including his feelings, state of mind, motives or intentions. The soliloquy often provides necessary but otherwise inaccessible information to the audience.

tragedy: a serious play in which the chief figures, by some peculiarity of character, pass

through a series of misfortunes leading to a final, devastating catastrophe.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet


ethos: appealing to ethics in order to make a point

hyperbole: an exaggeration; opposite of understatement

logos: appealing to logic in order to make a point

pathos: appealing to compassion in order to make a point

negation: anticipating the arguments of your opponents and refuting them before they can


rhetorical question: asking a question that is intended merely to make listeners think, not for

an actual response

syntax: word order and sentence structure, as opposed to diction, the actual choice of words.

Standard English syntax prefers a Subject-Verb-Object pattern, but poets may tweak syntax to achieve rhetorical or poetic effects.

theme: a lesson or moral presented in a work of literature. A work may have many themes, but

they will all be universal (about life in general, not the particular piece of literature) and stated in a sentence.

understatement: intentionally stating something with less emphasis than that for which the

situation calls. The opposite of exaggeration: "I was somewhat worried when the psychopath ran toward me with a chainsaw."

Midway through the exam, Allen pulls out a bigger brain.

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