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Foundations I Literary Terms (Or Really for Anyone!)

Foundations II Literary Terms for Vocabulary Quizzes

 Directions:  The following terms are to be used all year in class discussion, to prepare you for AP English courses as well as college level discussion and writing about literature.  We have weekly vocabulary quizzes on them, so you must memorize them.  I recommend flashcards.

Allegory:  That type of literature in which the characters and setting are inter-related symbols that contribute to a larger, significant meaning.

Alliteration:  A sound device in which there is a repetition of the first consonant sound in words located close together.  Example:  Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

Allusion:  An indirect reference by one text to another in relation to a historical, political, mythological, biblical, or other literary source.

Ambiguity:  Purposeful use of open-ended interpretations by the author in order to make the reader think.

Anaphora:  A rhetorical device in which there is a purposeful repetition of a word at the beginning of phrases, clauses, or paragraphs.  Example:  "I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country.  What I had was a hat, a coat, and a gun." 

Antagonist:  The character who opposes the protagonist. 

Antanaclasis:  The rhetorical device that purposefully uses the repetition of the same word in a different context in consecutive phrases, clauses, or sentences.  It's purpose is humor.  Example:  "If you aren't fired with enthusiasm for your job, you will be fired with enthusiasm."

Example:  ""Set down the corpse, or I will make a corpse of you." 

Aphorism:  Aphorism is a statement of truth or opinion expressed in a concise and witty manner.  Example:  Fish and guests both smell after several days  Example:  Youth is a blunder; Manhood a struggle; Old age a regret.

Antithesis:  A rhetorical device in which there is a juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in parallel structure.  Example:  "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." 

Assonance:  A sound device in which there is a repetition of the vowel sound in words located close together.  Easy and Eve, Harley and barley, keep, and reap are all examples of the repetition of the same long “e” sound in various positions in words (first, end, and middle).

Blank Verse:  A structure of poetry that is unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Caesura:  A pause in the middle of a line of poetry.  Caesuras are most commonly shown by the use of colons or dashes in the middle of a line of poetry.

Conflict:   The struggle of opposing forces within a work of literature.  (Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Self are examples)

Consonance:  The sound device in which there is the repetition of the consonant sound in the middle or end of words. Examples:  Buzz and busy,  and last and late.

Couplet:  Two lines of verse forming a unit of meaning.  Couplets usually rhyme.

Dialect:  accent or regionalization of speech.

Diction:  word choice

Elegy:  A structure of poetry in which a meditative poem laments a death.

Epistrophe:  A rhetorical device in which there is a purposeful repetition of a word or words at the end of consecutive phrases, clauses, or sentences.  Example:  "of the people, for the people, by the people." 

**Euphemism:  A softer, kinder way of something that might be perceived as harsh (although honest). Example:  "a little thin on top"=balding.  "a few extra pounds"=in need of a diet.

Figurative Language:  Description that is not literal.  Figurative language is made up of similes, metaphors, personification, allusion, hyperbole, and synecdoche.

Flat Character:  a character that has little dimension or layers to him/her. (Opposite of a Round Character.)

Foil:  a flat character in a drama that is used to bring out characteristics of the main character.  (Example in Romeo and Juliet Benvolio is a foil for Romeo; he is very rational and logical and, thus, highlights Romeo's rashness and impulsivity.) 

Foreshadowing:  Hints or predictions about what will happen in the story.

Free Verse:  The structure of poetry that uses no rhyme, metrical pattern (rhythm), or conventions of punctuation or (sometimes) spelling.  This structure uses sensory detail and the use of white space to underscore the meaning of the poem.

Hyperbole:  A deliberate exaggeration

Iamb:  A popular type of meter that is unstressed, stressed. 

Imagery:  Literal description that presents a picture with words created by sensory images (using the five senses).

Irony:  The opposite of what one expects.  There are 3 kinds of ironies:  dramatic, verbal, and situational.  Dramatic irony occurs when the audience and the narrator know something the characters do not.  Verbal irony is sarcasm  or when the meaning of one speaker is misunderstood by one or more other characters.  Situational irony is when the setting for an event is odd or humorous.  (Ex:  a fire at a firehouse).

Lyric Poetry:  The structure of poetry that expresses strong emotional state in a relatively short form.

Metaphor:  The comparison of two unlike things without the use of “like” or “as.”  An extended metaphor is the use of a metaphor for more than four lines. 

Meter:  The rhythm or beat of a poem.  This measure is based on the emphasis of stressed or unstressed syllables within a line of poetry.

Metonymy:  A figure of speech (a type of metaphor) in which a word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated.  Example:  “crown” for king; “sword” for military; “pen” for literature; “fireside” for domestic life.

Mood:  The feeling the reader gets from the literature.  Mood is often interpreted by diction, tone, and topic and/or theme of a piece of literature.

Motif: The repetition of an element that is significant within a piece of literature.  recurring element that has symbolic significance in a stor

Onomatopoeia:  Words whose sounds suggest their meanings.  Examples:  hiss, pop, slam, sizzle.

Paradox:  A seemingly contradictory or absurd statement that is nevertheless true or sensible.  “The pen is mightier than the sword” is a paradox using metonymy. 

Parallelism:  The arrangement of related words, phrases, or clauses used to create emphasis through similarity.  Example:  “Give me liberty, or give me death.”  (In each part of the statement the “You” implied subject, verb, indirect object, and direct object parallel each other).

Parody:  Humorous imitations of styles, characters, or plots of other works of literature.

Personification:  The poetic device by which an inanimate object or animal is given human qualities.

Plot:  Artistic arrangement of events (actions) in a piece of literature.

Point of View:  Perspective from which the story is told.  First, second, or third are common.

Protagonist:  The main character from whose perspective we experience  the literature 

Quatrain:  A four-lined poem.

Refrain:  A repetition of a line or part of a line in a poem or song.

Rhetorical Questions:  A question posed that is not meant to be answered.  Its purpose is to make the reader think.

Round Character:  a multidimensional character who is dynamic (changes through the course of the literature).  (The opposite of a  Flat Character.)

Rhyme:  Repetitions of similar sounds sustained through two or more lines of verse. 

  End rhyme:  Occurs when the last words of at least two lines rhyme. 

            Masculine rhyme:  Is perfect rhyme found only in one syllable in the final stressed                         syllable.  Example:  shapes, drapes.

            Feminine rhyme consists of two or more rhyming syllables which may be                                                 unaccented.  Example:  Going, and flowing; scenting and repenting;                                     auroral, and choral.

            Eye Rhyme:  Looks like it should rhyme (by nature of similar spelling) but                                     actually doesn’t.  Example: cough and bough; love and move.

            Slant Rhyme:  Rhyme that is not perfect but has consonance in                                                             common.  Example:  bodies and ladies;  soul and all.

Satire:  That type of literature that makes fun of society in order to bring about social


Setting:  The time and place of the story. 

Shaped Poem (or Concrete Poem):  that structure of poetry in which the words of the poem are arranged on paper to suggest a shape that relates to the theme or topic of the poem.

Simile:  The comparison of two unlike things with the use of “like” or “as.”

Sonnet:  A fourteen line poem about love written in iambic pentameter.  The Shakespearean sonnet (or “English sonnet”) is comprised of three quatrains and a couplet. 

Stanza:  A formal grouping of lines in a poem.

Symbol:  A concrete object that stands for an abstract concept.  Example:  the flag represents a country and nationalistic beliefs.

Synecdoche:  A literal part for a whole.  Example:  In "All hands on deck,' the ““hands” is a part of the whole for sailors.  Military “brass” refers to the brass on the uniforms of military men. The more "brass," the higher ranking the man.  In this case, the brass that is literally on the uniform stands for the whole military man.   Synecdoche is like metonymy except that the part for a whole in metonymy is symbolic, not literal.

Synesthesia:  The overlapping or confusion of senses for effect.  Example:  The grass smells green.  (Green is a color, not a smell)

Syntax:  The study of the use of patterns of formations of paragraph, sentence, or phrase structures.

Theme:  The message that an author is trying to communicate to the reader.  Themes are never expressed as one word like “love” or “power.”  They are statements like “Love makes madmen of us all,” or “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Tone:  The attitude of the writer/narrator toward the topic of the literature.

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