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AP English Language and Composition Exam: 101 Key Terms

Glossary of Important Grammatical, Literary, and Rhetorical Terms

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On these two pages you'll find brief definitions of 101 grammatical, literary, and rhetorical terms that have appeared on the multiple-choice and essay portions of the AP* English Language and Composition exam. For examples and more detailed explanations of the terms, follow the links to the expanded entries in our Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms.

Ad Hominem to Imagery (below)
Induction to Zeugma (page two)

*AP is a registered trademark of the College Board, which neither sponsors nor endorses this glossary.


  • Ad Hominem
    An argument based on the failings of an adversary rather than on the merits of the case; a logical fallacy that involves a personal attack.


  • Adjective
    The part of speech (or word class) that modifies a noun or a pronoun.


  • Adverb
    The part of speech (or word class) that modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverb.


  • Allegory
    Extending a metaphor so that objects, persons, and actions in a text are equated with meanings that lie outside the text.


  • Alliteration
    The repetition of an initial consonant sound.


  • Allusion
    A brief, usually indirect reference to a person, place, or event--real or fictional.


  • Ambiguity
    The presence of two or more possible meanings in any passage.


  • Analogy
    Reasoning or arguing from parallel cases.


  • Anaphora
    The repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses.


  • Antecedent
    The noun or noun phrase referred to by a pronoun.


  • Antithesis
    The juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases.


  • Aphorism
    (1) A tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion.
    (2) A brief statement of a principle.


  • Apostrophe
    A rhetorical term for breaking off discourse to address some absent person or thing.


  • Appeal to Authority
    A fallacy in which a speaker or writer seeks to persuade not by giving evidence but by appealing to the respect people have for a famous person or institution.


  • Appeal to Ignorance
    A fallacy that uses an opponent's inability to disprove a conclusion as proof of the conclusion's correctness.


  • Argument
    A course of reasoning aimed at demonstrating truth or falsehood.


  • Assonance
    The identity or similarity in sound between internal vowels in neighboring words.


  • Asyndeton
    The omission of conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses (opposite of polysyndeton).


  • Character
    An individual (usually a person) in a narrative (usually a work of fiction or creative nonfiction).


  • Chiasmus
    A verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed.


  • Circular Argument
    An argument that commits the logical fallacy of assuming what it is attempting to prove.


  • Claim
    An arguable statement, which may be a claim of fact, value, or policy.


  • Clause
    A group of words that contains a subject and a predicate.


  • Climax
    Mounting by degrees through words or sentences of increasing weight and in parallel construction with an emphasis on the high point or culmination of a series of events.


  • Colloquial
    Characteristic of writing that seeks the effect of informal spoken language as distinct from formal or literary English.


  • Comparison
    A rhetorical strategy in which a writer examines similarities and/or differences between two people, places, ideas, or objects.


  • Complement
    A word or word group that completes the predicate in a sentence.


  • Concession
    An argumentative strategy by which a speaker or writer acknowledges the validity of an opponent's point.


  • Confirmation
    The main part of a text in which logical arguments in support of a position are elaborated.


  • Conjunction
    The part of speech (or word class) that serves to connect words, phrases, clauses, or sentences.


  • Connotation
    The emotional implications and associations that a word may carry.


  • Coordination
    The grammatical connection of two or more ideas to give them equal emphasis and importance. Contrast with subordination.


  • Deduction
    A method of reasoning in which a conclusion follows necessarily from the stated premises.


  • Denotation
    The direct or dictionary meaning of a word, in contrast to its figurative or associated meanings.


  • Dialect
    A regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, and/or vocabulary.


  • Diction
    (1) The choice and use of words in speech or writing.
    (2) A way of speaking, usually assessed in terms of prevailing standards of pronunciation and elocution.


  • Didactic
    Intended or inclined to teach or instruct, often excessively.


  • Encomium
    A tribute or eulogy in prose or verse glorifying people, objects, ideas, or events.


  • Epiphora
    The repetition of a word or phrase at the end of several clauses. (Also known as epistrophe.)


  • Epitaph
    (1) A short inscription in prose or verse on a tombstone or monument.
    (2) A statement or speech commemorating someone who has died: a funeral oration.


  • Ethos
    A persuasive appeal based on the projected character of the speaker or narrator.


  • Eulogy
    A formal expression of praise for someone who has recently died.


  • Euphemism
    The substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit.


  • Exposition
    A statement or type of composition intended to give information about (or an explanation of) an issue, subject, method, or idea.


  • Extended Metaphor
    A comparison between two unlike things that continues throughout a series of sentences in a paragraph or lines in a poem.


  • Fallacy
    An error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid.


  • False Dilemma
    A fallacy of oversimplification that offers a limited number of options (usually two) when in fact more options are available.


  • Figurative Language
    Language in which figures of speech (such as metaphors, similes, and hyperbole) freely occur.


  • Figures of Speech
    The various uses of language that depart from customary construction, order, or significance.


  • Flashback
    A shift in a narrative to an earlier event that interrupts the normal chronological development of a story.


  • Genre
    A category of artistic composition, as in film or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form, or content.


  • Hasty Generalization
    A fallacy in which a conclusion is not logically justified by sufficient or unbiased evidence.


  • Hyperbole
    A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect; an extravagant statement.


  • Imagery
    Vivid descriptive language that appeals to one or more of the senses.

Ad Hominem to Imagery (above)
Induction to Zeugma (page two)

Concluded on page two

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