Rapelje High School

Literary Vocabulary

This list is not meant to be static. It is merely a starting point for you to use in the composition of essays and exams, and should be added to throughout your study of literature.


Allegory- a tale in prose or verse in which the characters, actions, or settings represent abstract ideas or moral qualities

Alliteration- the repetition of consonant sounds in a group of words

Allusion- a recognizable reference to a person, place, or event in a literary work

Analogy-a comparison between two things to show the similarities in them

Anaphora- a rhetorical device involving repetition of a word, or group of words in successive clauses

Anglo-Saxon Period- also called the Old English Period, it spans the period from the Germanic invasions of England the mid 4th century to the Norman invasion of 1066

Antagonist- the opposing force in a drama or narrative

Aphorism- terse, pointed statement expressing some clever observation in life

Apostrophe- a figure of speech in which a thing, a place, or an abstract quality is addressed as if it is capable of understanding

Aside- a short speech spoken to the audience or in an undertone by a character

Assonance- the repetition of vowel sounds in a group of words

Ballad- a story told in verse and usually meant to be sung

Bildungsroman- a “coming of age” story. Recounts the youthful development of a hero or heroine

Blank Verse- verse written in unrhymed iambic pentameter

Cadence- the natural rhythm of language. Any writer with any sense of style has a cadence that distinguishes his or her work

Caesura- a break or pause in a line of poetry. If it occurs early in a line, it is referred to as ‘initial caesura’, if in the middle, it is ‘medial’ and at the end, it is ‘terminal’

Caricature- in literature, just as in painting, a portrait that ridicules an individual by exaggerating their most prominent features

Classicism- movement or tendency in art, literature, and music reflecting the principles manifested in the age of ancient Greece and Rome

Page 2

Climax- the decisive point in a narrative or drama; the point of greatest intensity or interest

Comedy of Manners- a genre in which the behavior and deportment of men and women are the central subject. Marked by sophistication and humour.

Comic Relief- comic episodes or interludes, usually in tragedy, that are meant to relieve tension and provide contrast to the tragic elements of the piece

Conceit- a type of metaphor that makes a comparison between two totally different things

Conflict- a struggle between the two opposing forces in literature

Consonance- the repetition of similar consonant sounds in a group of words

Couplet- two consecutive lines of poetry that rhyme

Denouement- the outcome of a plot

Deus Ex Machina- any artificial, forced, or improbable device used to resolve the entanglements in a play. In classical drama, this refers to the intervention of an actual god to resolve the conflict.

Didactic- any literature that is meant to instruct or teach

Elegy- a poem of mourning

Encomium- formal eulogy in prose or verse, glorifying people, objects, ideas or events

Existentialism- the philosophical idea that man fashions his own existence, and only exists by doing so. The very process gives meaning to his existence

Exposition- writing that is intended to present information

Expressionism- movement of literature that emphasizes more on the life of the mind and feelings rather than the realistic, external details of everyday life

Foot- a unit used to measure the meter and rhythmic pattern of a line in poetry

Foreshadowing- hints and clues in a narrative that suggest what is about to happen

Free verse- unrhymed verse that has no metric pattern or an irregular pattern

Hubris- from the Greek meaning ‘wanton insolence’, it is a shortcoming or defect in the classical tragic hero that leads him to ignore the warnings of the gods and by doing so, to bring about his downfall

Iambic pentameter- the most common verse line in English and American poetry consisting of five verse feet, with each foot an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable

Page 3

Imagery- words or phrases that create pictures or images in the readers mind

Invective- speech or writing which is highly denunciatory or abusive

Irony- contrast between what is stated to happen to what actually happens

Lyric- a short poem that expresses a speaker’s personal thoughts or feelings

Magical Realism- fiction that is characterized by the mingling or juxtaposition of the realistic with the fantastic or bizarre, skilful time shifts, labyrinthine narratives and plots, and the miraculous, all presented as completely plausible or possible

Metaphor- figure of speech that makes a comparison between two things that are strikingly dissimilar

Meter- the regular pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry

Mood- the prevailing feeling or emotional climate in a piece of literature

Motif- one of the dominant ideas in a work of literature; a part of the main theme

Narrative Verse- a poem that tells a story

Naturalism- an extreme form of realism

Ode- a lengthy, complex lyric poem, written in a dignified formal style on some lofty or serious subject

Onomatopoeia- the use of a word whose sound in some degree imitates or suggests its meaning

Parody- a humorous imitation of a work of literature, art, or music

Personification- giving something non-human human characteristics

Plot- the sequence of events in a short story, novel, or play, or narrative poem

Protagonist- the central character of a narrative poem, play, short story or novel

Quatrain- stanza or poem of four lines

Realism- attempt in literature and art to represent life as it really is, without sentimentalizing or idealizing it

Refrain- a word, phrase, line, or group of words repeated regularly in a poem, usually at the end of a stanza

Resolution- the end or conclusion of a piece of literature

Rhyme/Rhyme scheme- the repetition of the sounds of two or more words or phrases that appear close to each other in a poem

Page 4

Romanticism- movement that flourished in literature, philosophy, music, and art in Western culture during most of the nineteenth century, beginning as a revolt against classicism

Satire- writing that ridicules the weakness or wrongdoings of individuals, groups, or institutions

Sestet- six line poem or stanza

Soliloquy- a long speech in a drama done by a lone character

Sonnet- lyric of fourteen lines in the iambic pentameter

Stanza- unit of a poem that is longer than one line

Stream of Consciousness- a technique that is meant to depict the many thoughts and feelings which pass through a characters mind. Often characterized by jumbled, often confusing phrasing and a lack of punctuation

Symbol- Any object, person, place or action that has meaning in itself, but also stands for

something larger than itself, such as a quality, an attitude, a belief, or value

Synecdoche- a figure of speech in which a part stands for the whole such as, “all hands on deck” in which “hands” stands for the whole sailor

Theme- the general idea that the author wishes to convey

Tragedy- literary work in which the protagonist meets an unhappy end

Transcendentalism- philosophy which holds that basic truths can be reached through intuitions rather that through reason

Verisimilitude- the appearance or semblance of truth or reality

Voice- the style of language adapted by the author to create the effect of a particular speaker

Zeitgeist- the spirit of the age. The trend, fashion, or taste of a particular period