Ten Fundamental Literary Terms

The AP English Literature exam will include literary devices on both the multiple-choice and essay sections.

As opposed to AP English Language, you will be tested on excerpts from stories, novels, and plays. Thus, there will be different literary devices in use, as there is a narrative with a theme rather than a nonfictional passage with a message for you to examine.

These terms were selected as they are commonly found throughout various fictional works and could appear on the test where you will be asked to identify and analyze them. Likewise, good preparation is key and this list will help guide you in the right direction!

  • ⏰ Β Anachronism: An event, object, custom, person, or thing that is out of order in time.
  • πŸ’• Apostrophe: A figure of speech which directly addresses an absent or imaginary person or personified abstraction, such as liberty or love. This effect may add familiarity or emotional intensity.
  • πŸ“– Epigraph: A quotation or aphorism at the beginning of a literary work suggestive of theme.
  • πŸ–‹οΈ Hubris: The excessive pride or ambition that leads a tragic hero to disregard warnings of impending doom, eventually causing his or her downfall.
  • πŸ“ Parenthetical phrase/idea: Interrupts the flow of a sentence with some commentary or added detail.
  • 🎭 Persona: The fictional mask or narrator that tells a story.
  • πŸƒ Realism: Describing nature/life without idealization.
  • 🌎 Regionalism: An element in literature that conveys a realistic portrayal of a specific geographic locale, using the locale and its influences as a major part of the plot.
  • 🌸 Romanticism: Art or literature characterized by an idealistic, perhaps unrealistic view of people and the world, and an emphasis on nature.
  • πŸ“š Zeugma: Using a single verb to refer to two different objects in an ungrammatical, but striking way, or artfully using an adjective to refer to two separate nouns, even though the adjective would logically only be appropriate for one of the two.

πŸ“Œ Check out these other AP English Literature resources:

Β  Β  Β  Β πŸ–₯️ Β Watch AP Lit reviews live every week with Fiveable + πŸ‘‰ Join today!Β 

       ✍🏻 For examples of each of these 10 terms, click here.


Of course, these are not ALL of the literary terms that may show up on the exam, nor are ten listed guaranteed to appear.

However, it is important to have a basis of literary terms that can be your go-to on the poetry and prose analysis essays.

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