Literary Terms for High School Students

I created this list for my high school students to use as review.


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definitions & notes
only words

  1. alliteration

    use of the same consonant at the beginning of each word
  2. allusion

    passing reference or indirect mention
    A reference to a statement, person, place, event, or thing that is known from literature, history, religion, myth, politics, sports, science, or pop culture.
  3. anachronism

    locating something at a time when it couldn't have existed
    Examples: the clock and book mentioned in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar. In 44 B.C. there were no clocks; they used sundials to tell time. Also, there were no books; they used scrolls.
  4. antagonist

    someone who offers opposition
    The character who comes into conflict with the protagonist in a literary work.
  5. assonance

    the repetition of similar vowels in successive words
  6. ballad

    a narrative poem of popular origin
  7. blank verse

    unrhymed poetry, usually in iambic pentameter
  8. characterization

    the act of describing essential features
    direct characterization: where the author describes the character directly; i.e. john is a good soldier.

    indirect characterization: where the author describes the character indirectly through actions, speech, appearance, private thoughts, or other characters responses.
  9. climax

    the highest point of anything
    The most intense or exciting moment in the story when something happens to decide the outcome of the conflict.
  10. conflict

    an open clash between two opposing groups
    Internal Conflict: man vs. self

    External Conflict: man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, man vs. the supernatural
  11. connotation

    an idea that is implied or suggested
    All the meanings, associations, or emotions that a word suggests.
  12. couplet

    a stanza consisting of two successive lines of verse
  13. denotation

    the most direct or specific meaning of a word or expression
  14. denouement

    the outcome of a complex sequence of events
    AKA resolution: the moment in a story where all problems are resolved, either happily or unhappily, and the story is closed (untying the knot)
  15. drama

    a work intended for performance by actors on a stage
  16. enjambment

    continuation from one line of verse into the next line
  17. epic

    a long narrative poem telling of a hero's deeds
  18. exposition

    a collection of things for public display
    A type of writing that explains, gives information, or clarifies and idea.
  19. fiction

    a literary work based on the imagination
  20. figure of speech

    language used in a figurative or nonliteral sense
  21. flashback

    a transition in a story to an earlier event or scene
  22. foreshadowing

    the act of providing vague advance indications
  23. free verse

    poetry that does not rhyme or have a regular meter
  24. hyperbole

    extravagant exaggeration
  25. imagery

    the ability to form mental pictures of things or events
  26. internal rhyme

    a rhyme between words in the same line
  27. irony

    incongruity between what might be expected and what occurs
  28. meter

    a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in verse
  29. narration

    giving an account describing a course of events
  30. nonfiction

    prose writing that is not formed by the imagination
  31. novel

    an extended fictional work in prose
  32. onomatopoeia

    using words that imitate the sound they denote
  33. personification

    attributing human characteristics to abstract ideas
  34. persuasion

    communication intended to induce belief or action
  35. plot

    a small area of ground covered by specific vegetation
  36. poetry

    literature in metrical form
  37. point of view

    a mental position from which things are perceived
  38. protagonist

    the principal character in a work of fiction
  39. quatrain

    a stanza of four lines
  40. rhythm

    alternation of stressed and unstressed elements in speech
  41. satire

    witty language used to convey insults or scorn
  42. scansion

    analysis of verse into metrical patterns
  43. setting

    the physical position of something
  44. simile

    a figure of speech expressing a resemblance between things
  45. sonnet

    a verse form of 14 lines with a fixed rhyme scheme
  46. speaker

    someone who expresses in language
    The voice that is talking to us in a poem.
  47. stanza

    a fixed number of lines of verse forming a unit of a poem
  48. stress

    the relative prominence of a syllable or musical note
  49. theme

    the subject matter of a conversation or discussion
  50. tone

    the distinctive property of a complex sound
    The attitude a writer takes toward the reader, a subject, or a character.
  51. triplet

    one of three offspring born at the same time from the same pregnancy
  52. metaphor

    a figure of speech that suggests a non-literal similarity
  53. didactic

    instructive, especially excessively
    didactic literature: writing that aims primarily to teach (parables)
  54. symbol

    something visible that represents something invisible
  55. soliloquy

    speech you make to yourself
  56. end-rhymed

    rhymed on the terminal syllables of the verses
  57. iambic

    of metrical units having an unstressed/stressed pattern
    untressed, stressed syllable in a word: i.e. deny besiege

    iambic pentameter: five iambs in a line of poetry (used in sonnets and Shakespeare's plays)
  58. dramatic irony

    when the audience understands something the characters don't
Created on December 13, 2013
(updated December 13, 2013)