Alliteration: The repetition of initial identical consonant sounds or any vowel sounds in successive or closely associated syllables


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English 10 Literary Terms

Higher Level Question(s) Literary Terms and Examples

The repetition of initial identical consonant sounds or any vowel sounds in successive or closely associated syllables (especially stressed syllables)

Ex: The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,

The furrow followed free

a figure of speech that makes a brief reference to a historical, or literary figure or object. Biblical allusions are frequent in literature.

Ex: Of Mice and Men from the poem from Burns “A Mouse”

The character directly opposed to the protagonist. A rival, opponent, or enemy of the protagonist.

Ex: Scar would be the antagonist to Simba in The Lion King

A figure of speech in which someone (usually absent but not always) some abstract quality, or nonexistent personage is directly addressed as though present.
is a special type of personification in which a speaker in a poem or rhetorical work pauses to address some abstraction that is not physically present in the room
Ex: on address to God, Emily Dickenson writes:
Papa Above!

Regard a Mouse.


the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.

Romeo and Juliet are an archetype of eternal love and a star-crossed love story.

Ex: Light vs. Dark, good vs. evil, colors, hero…

Conflict (External):

The struggle that grows out of the interplay of two opposing forces.

Ex: struggle against nature= “To Build a Fire”

Struggle against man = “The Interlopers”

Struggle against society = “Harrison Bergeron”

Higher Level Question(s) Literary Terms and Examples

Conflict (Internal):

The internal struggle occurs within the person. The existence of motivation


Struggle within self = “To Build a Fire” motivation…

Characterization (Direct):
the process by which the personality of a fictitious character is revealed by the use of descriptive adjectives, phrases, or epithets.

Characterization (Indirect):

is the method used by a writer to develop a character. The method includes (1) showing the character's appearance, (2) displaying the character's actions, (3) revealing the character's thoughts, (4) letting the character speak, and (5) getting the reactions of others



is an implied meaning of a word. Emotional connection

Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest (burial)

is the literal meaning of a word, the dictionary meaning


Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest (sleep).


The language of a particular district, class, or group of persons. The term dialect encompasses the sounds, spelling, grammar, and diction employed by a specific people as distinguished from other persons either geographically or socially. Dialect is a major technique of characterization that reveals the social or geographic status of a character


Jim: "We's safe, Huck, we's safe! Jump up and crack yo' heels. Dat's de good ole Cairo at las', I jis knows it."

Huck: "I'll take the canoe and go see, Jim. It mightn't be, you know."

Higher Level Question(s) Literary Terms and Examples


The choice of a particular word as opposed to others. A writer could call a rock formation by many words--a stone, a boulder, an outcropping, a pile of rocks, a cairn, a mound, or even an "anomalous geological feature."



a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight, or realization into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.



is the substitution of an agreeable or less offensive expression in place of one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant to the listener

Ex: “senior citizen” instead of “old people”


is action that interrupts to show an event that happened at an earlier time which is necessary to better understanding


Flat Character:
flat character is a minor character in a work of fiction who does not undergo substantial change or growth in the course of a story. Also referred to as "two-dimensional characters" or "static characters



is the use of hints or clues to suggest what will happen later in literature


Higher Level Question(s) Literary Terms and Examples


It is a negative term implying both arrogant, excessive self-pride or self-confidence, and also a hamartia (see above), a lack of some important perception or insight due to pride in one's abilities.



the trope of exaggeration or overstatement



refers to a construction or expression in one language that cannot be matched or directly translated word-for-word in another language

Ex: She has a bee in her bonnet," meaning "she is obsessed," cannot be literally translated into another language word for word

Irony (Dramatic):

involves a situation in a narrative in which the reader knows something about present or future circumstances that the character does not know. In that situation, the character acts in a way we recognize to be grossly inappropriate to the actual circumstances, or the character expects the opposite of what the reader knows that fate holds in store, or the character anticipates a particular outcome that unfolds itself in an unintentional way.


Irony (Situational):

accidental events occur that seem oddly appropriate, such as the poetic justice of a pickpocket getting his own pocket picked. However, both the victim and the audience are simultaneously aware of the situation in situational irony


Irony (Verbal):
a speaker makes a statement in which its actual meaning differs sharply from the meaning that the words ostensibly express. Often this sort of irony is plainly sarcastic in the eyes of the reader, but the characters listening in the story may not realize the speaker's sarcasm as quickly as the readers do.


Higher Level Question(s) Literary Terms and Examples


imagery includes the "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. Imagery is not limited to visual imagery; it also includes auditory (sound), tactile (touch), thermal (heat and cold), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), and kinesthetic sensation (movement).



A comparison or analogy stated in such a way as to imply that one object is another one, figuratively speaking

which figuratively makes the comparison by stating outright that one thing is another thing

we speak of "the ladder of success," we imply that being successful is much like climbing a ladder to a higher and better position.


A conspicuous recurring element, such as a type of incident, a device, a reference, or verbal formula, which appears frequently in works of literature


Motivation (Objective):

Reason or reasons behind a character's action; what induces a character to do what he does; motives. In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, love motivates the title characters. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, ambition (lust for power) motivates the title character and his wife to murder the king.




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


buzz, click, rattle, and grunt make sounds akin to the noise they represent


Using contradiction in a manner that oddly makes sense on a deeper level.

The richest literary oxymora seem to reveal a deeper truth through their contradictions. These oxymora are sometimes called paradoxes.

Ex: Simple or joking examples include such oxymora as jumbo shrimp, sophisticated rednecks, and military intelligence

Higher Level Question(s) Literary Terms and Examples


A trope in which abstractions, animals, ideas, and inanimate objects are given human character, traits, abilities, or reactions.

Ex: Sylvia Plath's "The Moon and the Yew Tree," in which the moon "is a face in its own right, / White as a knuckle and terribly upset. / It drags the sea after it like a dark crime."

Point of View (First Person):

The vantage point from which a narrative is told

Many narratives appear in the 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).


Point of View (Limited):

The narrator can also be limited--a narrator who is confined to what is experienced, thought, or felt by a single character, or at most a limited number of characters


Point of View (Omniscient):

The third-person narrator can be 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


Point of View (Third Person)

. third-person narrative (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). When the narrator reports speech and action, but never comments on the thoughts of other characters, it is the dramatic third person point of view or objective point of view.


Point of View (Second Person)

In second person point of view, the narrator tells the story to another character using "you"; the story is being told through the addressee's point of view. Second person is the least commonly used POV in fiction, though there are a few examples.


Higher Level Question(s) Literary Terms and Examples


The main character in a work, on whom the author focuses most of the narrative attention



play on two words similar in sound but different in meaning

Originally, puns were a common literary trope in serious literature, but after the eighteenth century, puns have been primarily considered a low form of humor


“If you find me tomorrow I will be a grave man”

Round Character:
A round character is depicted with such psychological depth and detail that he or she seems like a "real" person.

If the round character changes or evolves over the course of a narrative or appears to have the capacity for such change, the character is also dynamic

Typically, a short story has one round character and several flat ones. However, in longer novels and plays, there may be many round characters



An attack on or criticism of any stupidity or vice in the form of scathing humor, or a critique of what the author sees as dangerous religious, political, moral, or social standards

Ex: Popular cartoons such as The Simpsons and televised comedies like The Daily Show make use of it in modern media.


The general locale, historical time, and social circumstances in which the action of a fictional or dramatic work occurs; the setting of an episode or scene within a work is the particular physical location in which it takes place


An analogy or comparison implied by using an adverb such as like or as


Higher Level Question(s) Literary Terms and Examples


That quality of a literary work that makes the reader or audience uncertain or tense about the outcome of events. Suspense makes the reader ask "What will happen next?". Suspense is greatest when it focuses attention on a sympathetic character. Thus, the most familiar kind of suspense involves a character hanging form the lee of a tall building, or tied to a railroad tracks as a train approaches.


Frequent use of words, places, characters, or objects that mean something beyond what they are on a literal level. Often the symbol may be ambiguous in meaning

symbols can be cultural, contextual, or personal. A word, place, character, or object that means something beyond what it is on a literal level


the standard word order and sentence structure of a language. Sentence structure



A central idea or statement that unifies and controls an entire literary work. The theme can take the form of a brief and meaningful insight or a comprehensive vision of life. A theme is the author's way of communicating and sharing ideas, perceptions, and feelings with readers, and it may be directly stated in the book, or it may only be implied.


The means of creating a relationship or conveying an attitude or mood. 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. The tone might be formal or informal, playful, ironic, optimistic, pessimistic, or sensual.

Ex: To illustrate the difference, two different novelists might write stories about capitalism. Author #1 creates a tale in which an impoverished but hard-working young lad pulls himself out of the slums when he applies himself to his education, and he becomes a wealthy, contented middle-class citizen who leaves his past behind him, never looking back at that awful human cesspool from which he rose. Author #2 creates a tale in which a dirty street-rat skulks his way out of the slums by abandoning his family and going off to college, and he greedily hoards his money in a gated community and ignores the suffering of his former "equals," whom he leaves behind in his selfish desire to get ahead. Note that both author #1 and author #2 basically present the same plotline. While the first author's writing creates a tale of optimism and hope, the second author shapes the same tale into a story of bitterness and cynicism.


Understatement, the opposite of exaggeration: "I was somewhat worried when the psychopath ran toward me with a chainsaw." (i.e., I was terrified).


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