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English Literary Terms

Literary Terms

Words Meaning
Allegory An allegory generally teaches a lesson by means of an interesting story.
Alliteration The repetition at close intervals of consonant sounds for a purpose.
Allusion A reference to something in literature, history, mythology, religious texts, etc., is considered common knowledge.
Ambiguity Double or even multiple meanings.
Analogy A point by point comparison between two dissimilar things for the purpose of a completely different explanatory meaning
Antagonist The character or force that opposes the protagonist.
Apostrophe The device, usually in poetry, of calling out to an imaginary, dead, or absent person, or to a place, thing, or personified abstraction either to begin a poem or to make a dramatic break in thought somewhere within the poem.
Assonance The repetition at close intervals of vowel sounds for a purpose.
Ballad A narrative poem that was originally meant to be sung.
Cacophony Harsh, clashing, or dissonant sounds, are often produced by combinations of words that require a clipped, explosive delivery, or words that contain a number of plosive consonants.
Catalog A long list of anything
Climax The point at which the conflict of the story begins to reach a turning point and begins to be resolved.
Conceit An elaborate figure of speech comparing two very dissimilar things.
Conflict the struggle between two opposing forces that is the basis of the plot.
Connotation The associations, images, or an impression carried by a word, as opposed to the word’s literal meaning.
Consonance the close repetition of identical consonant sounds before and after differing vowel sounds.
Denotation The precise, literal meaning of a word, without emotional associations or overtones.
Denouement The final unraveling or outcome of the plot in drama or fiction during which the complications and conflicts of the plot are resolved.
Diction Word choice.
Enjambment The carrying of sense and grammatical structure in a poem beyond the end of one line, COUPLET, or STANZA and into the next.
Epigram Any witty, pointed saying
Epigraph A motto or quotation that appears at the beginning of a book, play, chapter, or poem.
Epitaph The inscription on a tombstone or monument in memory of the person or people buried there.
Euphony A succession of sweetly melodious sounds; the opposite of CACOPHONY.
Exposition Background information at the beginning of the story.
Fable A brief tale typically with animals or characters told to illustrate a moral.
Foreshadowing A writer’s use of hints or clues to indicate events that will occur later in the narrative.
Hyperbole An exaggeration for emphasis or humorous effect.
Irony A contrast between appearance and actuality.
Dramatic irony Occurs when the reader knows information that the characters do not.
Metaphor A figure of speech in which a comparison or analogy is made between two seemingly unlike things.
Metonymy A figure of speech that substitutes the name of a related object, person, or idea for the subject at hand.
Narrator The person from whose point of view events are conveyed.
Onomatopoeia The formation or use of words.
Oxymoron A figure of speech in which two contradictory words or phrases are combined in a single expression, giving the effect of a condensed paradox
Paradox A statement or situation containing obvious contradictions, but is nevertheless true.
Parallelism The use of similar grammatical forms gives items equal weight.
Parody An imitation of a serious work of literature for the purpose of criticism or humorous effect or for flattering trib.
Protagonist The central character in a story.
Pun A form of wit, not necessarily funny, involves a play on a word with two or more meanings.
Resolution The final unwinding, or resolving of the conflicts and complications in the plot.
Rhyme scheme The pattern of end rhyme in a poem.
Satire A literary technique in which foolish ideas or customs are ridiculed for the purpose of improving society.
Soliloquy A dramatic convention in which a character in a play, alone on stage, speaks his or her thoughts aloud.
Syllogism A logical argument based on deductive reasoning.
Synecdoche A figure of speech in which a part of something stands for the whole thing.
Theme The central idea in a literary work.
Tone The writer’s or speaker’s attitude toward a subject.
Understatement A type of verbal IRONY in which something is purposely represented as being far less important than it actually is; also called meiosis.