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AP English Literature and Composition Literary Terms

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Absolute
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a word free from limitations or qualifications (“best”, “all”, “unique”, “perfect”)
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Adage
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a familiar proverb or wise saying
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Ad Hominem Argument
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an argument attacking an individual’s character rather than his or her position on an issue
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Allegory
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a literary work in which characters, objects, or actions represent abstractions
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Alliteration
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the repitition of initial sounds in successive or neighboring words
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Allusion
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a reference to something literary, mythological, or historical that the author assumes the reader will recognize
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Analogy
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a comparison of two different things that are similar in some way
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Anaphora
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the repitition of words or phrases at the beginning of consecutive lines or sentences
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Anecdote
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a brief narrative that focuses on a particular incident or event
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Antecedent
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the word, phrase, or clause to which a pronoun refers
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Antithesis
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a statement in which two opposing ideas are balanced
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Aphorism
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a concise statement that expresses succinctly a general truth or idea, often using rhyme or balance
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Apostrophe
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a figure of speech in which one directly addresses an absent or imaginary person, or some abstraction
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Archetype
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a detail, image, or character type that occurs frequently in literature and myth and is thought to appeal in a universal way to the unconscious and to evoke a response
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Argument
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a statement of the meaning or main point of a literary work
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Asyndeton
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a construction in which elements are presented in a series without conjuctions
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Balanced Sentence
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a sentence in which words, phrases, or clauses are set off against each other to emphasize a contrast
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Bathos
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insincere or overly sentimental quality of writing/speech intended to evoke pity
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Chiasmus
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a statement consisting of two parallel parts in which the second part is structurally reversed (“Susan walked in, and out rushed Mary”)
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Cliche
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an expression that has been overused to the extent that its freshness has worn off
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Colloquialism
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informal words or expressions not usually acceptable in formal writing
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Complex Sentence
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a sentence with one independent clause and at least one dependent clause
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Compound Sentence
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a sentence with two or more coordinate independent clauses, often joined by one or more conjuctions
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Conceit
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a fanciful, particularly clever extended metaphor
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Concrete Details
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details that relate to or describe actual, specific things or events
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Connotation
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the implied or associative meaning of a word
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Cumulative Sentence
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a sentence in which the main independent clause is elaborated by the successive addition of modifing clauses or phrases
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Declarative Sentence
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a sentenece that makes a statement or declaration
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Deductive Reasoning
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reasoning in which a conclusion is reached by stating a general principle and then applying that principle to a specific case (The sun rises every morning; therefore, the sun will rise on Tuesday morning.)
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Denotation
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the literal meaning of a word
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Dialect
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a variety of speech characterized by its own particular grammar or pronunciation, often associated with a particular geographical region
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Dialogue
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conversation between two or more people
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Diction
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the word choices made by a writer
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Didactic
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having the primary purpose of teaching or instructing
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Dilemma
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a situation that requires a person to decide between two equally attractive or equally unattractive alternatives
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Dissonance
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harsh, inharmonious, or discordant sounds
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Elegy
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a formal poem presenting a meditation on death or another solemn theme
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Ellipsis
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the omission of a word or phrase which is grammatically necessary but can be deduced from the context (“Some people prefer cats; others, dogs”)
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Epic
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a long narrative poem written in elevated style which presents the adventures of characters of high position and episodes that are important to the history of a race or nation
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Epigram
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a brief, pithy, and often paradoxical saying
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Epigraph
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a saying or statement on the title page of work, or used as a heading for a chapter or other section of a work
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Epiphany
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a moment of sudden revelation or insight
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Epitaph
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an inscription on a tombstone or burial place
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Epithet
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a term used to point out a characteristic of a person. Homeric epithets are often compound adjectives (“swift-footed Achilles”) that become an almost formulaic part of a name. Epithets can be abusive or offensive but are not so by definition. For example, athletes may be proud of their given epithets (“The Rocket”)
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Eulogy
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a formal speech praising a person who has died
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Euphemism
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an indirect, less offensive way of saying something that is considered unpleasant
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Exclamatory Sentence
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a sentence expressing strong feeling, usually punctuated with an exclamation mark
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Expletive
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an interjection to lend emphasis; sometimes, a profanity
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Fable
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a brief story that leads to a moral, often using animals as characters
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Fantasy
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a story that concerns an unreal world or contains unreal characters; a fantasy may be merely whimsical, or it may present a serious point
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Figurative Language
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language employing one or more figures of speech (simile, metaphor, imagery, etc.)
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Flashback
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the insertion of an earlier event into the normal chronological order of a narrative
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Flat Character
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a character who embodies a single quality and who does not develop in the course of a story
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Foreshadowing
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the presentation of material in such a way that the reader is prepared for what is to come later in the work
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Frame Device
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a story within a story. An example is Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in which the primary tales are told within the “frame story” of the pilgrimage to Canterbury
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Genre
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a major category or type of literature
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Homily
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a sermon, or a moralistic lecture
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Hubris
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excessive pride or arrogance that results in the downfall of the protagonist of a tragedy
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Hyperbole
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intentional exaggeration to create an effect
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Hypothetical Question
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a question that raises a hypothesis, conjecture, or supposition
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Idiom
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an expression in a given language that cannot be understood from the literal meaning of the words in the expression; or, a regional speech or dialect
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Imagery
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the use of figures of speech to create vivid images that appeal to one of the senses
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Implication
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a suggestion an author or speaker makes (implies) without stating it directly. Note: the author/sender implies; the reader/audience infers
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Inductive Reasoning
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deriving general principles from particular facts or instances (Every cat I have ever seen has four legs; cats are four-legged animals”)
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Inference
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a conclusion one draws (infers) based on premises or evidence
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Invective
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an intensely vehement, highly emotional verbal attack
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Irony
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the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning; or, incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs
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Jargon
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the specialized language or vocabulary of a particular group or profession
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Juxtaposition
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placing two elements side by side to present a comparison or contrast
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Legend
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a narrative handed down from the past, containing historical elements and usually supernatural elements
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Limerick
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light verse consisting of five lines of regular rhythm in which the first, second, and fifth lines (each consisting of three feet) rhyme, and the second and third lines (each consisting of two feet) rhyme
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Limited Narrator
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a narrator who presents the story as it is seen and understood by a single character and restricts information to what is seen, heard, thought, or felt by that one character
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Literary License
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deviating from normal rules or methods in order to achieve a certain effect (intentional sentence fragments, for example)
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Litotes
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a type of understatement in which an idea is expressed by negating its opposite (describing a particularly horrific scene by saying, “It was not a pretty picture.”)
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Malapropism
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the mistaken substitution of one word for another word that sounds similar (“The doctor wrote a subscription”)
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Maxim
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a concise statement, often offering advice; an adage
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Metaphor
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a direct comparison of two different things
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Metonymy
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substituting the name of one object for another object closely associated with it (“The pen [writing] is mightier than the sword [war/fighting]”)
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Mood
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the emotional atmosphere of a work
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Motif
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a standard theme, element, or dramatic situation that recurs in various works
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Motivation
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a character’s incentive or reason for behaving in a certain manner; that which impels a character to act
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Myth
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a traditional story presenting supernatural characters and episodes that help explain natural events
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Narrative
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a story or narrated account
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Narrator
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the one who tells the story; may be first- or third-person, limited or omniscient
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Non Sequitur
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an inference that does not follow logically from the premises (literally, “does not follow”)
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Omniscient Narrator
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a narrator who is able to know, see, and tell all, including the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters
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Onomatopoeia
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a word formed from the imitation of natural sounds
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Oxymoron
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an expression in which two words that contradict each other are joined
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Parable
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a simple story that illustrates a moral or religious lesson
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Paradox
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an apparently contradictory statement that actually contains some truth
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Parallelism
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the use of corresponding grammatical or synitactical forms
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Paraphrase
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a restatement of a text in a different form or in different words, often for the purpose of clarity
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Parody
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a humorous imitation of a serious work
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Parethetical
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a comment that interrupts the immediate subject, often to qualify or explain
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Pathos
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the quality in a work that prompts the reader to feel pity
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Pedantic
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characterized by an excessive display of learning or scholarship
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Personification
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endowing non-human objects or creatures with human qualities or characteristics
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Philippic
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a strong verbal denunciation. The term comes from the orations of Demosthenes against Philip of Macedonia in the fourth century
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Plot
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the action of a narrative or drama
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Point of View
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the vantage point from which a story is told
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Polysyndeton
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the use, for rhetorical effect, of more conjunctions than is necessary or natural
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Pun
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a play on words, often achieved through the use of words with similar sounds bu different meanings
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Resolution
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the falling action of a narrative; the events following the climax
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Rhetoric
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the art of presenting ideas in a clar, effective, and persuasive manner
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Rhetorical Question
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a question asked merely for rhetorical effect and not requiring an answer
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Rhetorical Devices
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literary techniques used to heighten the effectiveness of expression
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Riddle
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a question requiring thought to answer or understand; a puzzle or conundrum
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Romantic
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a term describing a character or literary work that reflects the characteristics of Romanticism, the literary movement beginning in the late 18th century that stressed emotion, imagination, and individualism
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Round Character
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a character who demonstrates some complexity and who develops or changes in the course of a work
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Sarcasm
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harsh, cutting language or tone intended to ridicule
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Satire
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the use of humor to emphasize human weaknesses or imperfections in social institutions
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Scapegoat
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a person or group that bears the blame for another
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Scene
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a real or fictional episode; a division of an act in a play
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Setting
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the time, place, and environment in which action takes place
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Simile
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a comparison of two things using “like,” “as,” or other specifically comparative words
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Simple Sentence
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a sentence consisting of one independent clause and no dependent clause
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Solecism
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nonstandard grammatical usage; a violation of grammatical rules
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Structure
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the arrangement or framework of a sentence, paragraph, or entire work
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Style
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the choices a writer makes; the combination of distinctive features of a literary work
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Surrealism
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an artistic movement emphasizing the imagination and characterized by incongruous juxtapositions and lack of conscious control
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Syllepsis
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a construction in which one word is used in two different senses (“After he threw the ball, he threw a fit.”)
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Syllogism
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a three-part deductive argument in which a conclusion is based on a major premise and a minor premise (“All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore, Socrates is mortal”)
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Symbol
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an object that is used to represent something else
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Synecdoche
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using one part of an object to represent the entire object (for example, referring to a car simply as “wheels”)
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Synesthesia (or Synaesthesia)
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describing one kind of sensation in terms of another (“a loud color,” “a sweet sound”)
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Syntax
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the manner in which words are arranged into sentences
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Tautology
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needless repitition which adds no meaning or understanding (“widow woman,” “free gift”)
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Theme
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a central idea of a work
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Thesis
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the primary position taken by a writer or speaker
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Tone
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the attitude of a writer, usually implied, toward the subject or audience
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Topic
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the subject treated in a paragraph or work
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Tragedy
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a work in which the protagonist, a person of high degree, is engaged in a significant struggle and which ends in ruin or destruction
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Trilogy
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a work in three parts, each of which is a complete work in itself
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Trite
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overused and hackneyed
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Turning Point
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the point in a work in which a very significant change occurs
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Understatement
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the deliberate representation of something as lesser in magnitude than it actually is; a deliberate under-emphasis
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Usage
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the customary way language or its elements are used
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Vernacular
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the veryday speech of a particular country or region, often involving nonstandard usage
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Anapest
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two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable
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Approximate Rhyme
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(slant rhyme) the sounds are similar but not exactly the same
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Assonance
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the repition of similar vowel sounds in a sequence of nearby words
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Ballad
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a narrative folk song – oral stories passed on through generations alternating tetrameter and trimeter, usually iambic and rhyming
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Blank Verse
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unrhymed iambic pentameter; bears a close resemblance to the rhythms of ordinary speech, giving poetry a natural feel
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Cacophony
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the clash of discordant or harsh sounds within a sentence or phrase -for tongue twisters or poetic effect
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Consonance
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the repitition of consonant sounds anywhere within words
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Continuous Form
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form of poem in the lines follow one another without formal grouping; the only breaks being dictated by the units of meaning
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Couplet
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a style of poetry defined as a complete thought written in two lines with rhyming ends (for example, heroic couplet is a pair of rhyming lines in iambic pentameter)
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Dactyl
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a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables
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Dactylic
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the form of classical epic poetry – Homer, Virgil dactyl lines made from hexameters (6 feet)
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Didactic Poetry
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poetry that is instructional or informative – main purpose is in conveying a message, not artistic technique
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Dimeter
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two feet
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Dramatic Irony
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a technique in which the author lets the audience or reader in on a character’s situation while the character himself remains in the dark. In tragic plays – called tragic irony
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Feminine Rhyme
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a rhyme consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable
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Foot
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basic rhythmic unit into which a line of verse can be divided – when reciting verse, there usually is a slight pause between feet
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Free Verse
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verse that does not conform to any fixed meter or rhyme scheme
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Haiku
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a compact form of Japanese poetry written in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables respectively
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Heptameter
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seven feet
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Hexameter
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six feet
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Iamb
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an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable
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Iambic Pentameter
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each line of verse has five feet, each of which consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable – most popular metrical schemes in English poetry
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Internal Rhyme
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a rhyme between two or more words within a single line of verse
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Masculine Rhyme
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a rhyme consisting of a single stressed syllable
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Meter
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the rythmic pattern created in a line of verse – four basic types: accentual, syllabic, accentual-syllabic, and quatitive
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Monometer
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one foot
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Octameter
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eight feet
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Pentameter
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five feet
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Petrarchan/Italian Sonnet
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poetic form with an octave ABBAABBA/ABBACDDC and then a sestet CDECDE/CDCCDC
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Quatrain
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a four line stanza, has many variants such as the heroic quatrain (ABAB rhyme scheme)
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Refrain
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group of words repeated at key intervals in a poem
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Rhythm
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the pattern of sound created by the varying length and emphasis given to different syllables. Rise and fall of spoken language – candace
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Rhyme
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creating a sense of musicality between lines of verse
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Scansion
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the process of analyzing the number and type of feet in a line
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Sentimentality
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a term used to describe the effort by an author to induce emotional responses in the reader that exceed the situation, especially pertains to such emotions as pathos and sympathy
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Sestet
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a six line stanza
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Shakespearean Sonnet
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a poetic form with three quatrains and a final couplet – ABAB CDCD EFEF GG
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Situational Irony
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a technique in which one understanding of a situation stands in sharp contrast to another, usually more prevalent, understanding of the same situation
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Sonnet
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a distinctive poetic style that uses system or pattern of metrical structure and verse composition usually consisting of 14 lines written in iambic pentameter
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Spondee
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two successive syllables with light stresses
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Stanza
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a division in poetry often named for the number of lines it contains, comparable to a paragraph in prose
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Stress
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the emphasize or accent given to a syllable in pronunciation
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Symbol
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something that represents something else
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Terza Ryme
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a system of interlaced tercets linked by a common rhyme: ABA BCB CDC (hard to remain in English)
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Tetrameter
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four feet in a line
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Trimeter
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three feet in a line
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Trochaic/Trochee
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a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable
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Verbal Irony
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the use of a statement that, by its context, implies the opposite; sarcasm
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Villanelle
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a nineteen-line poem made up of five tercets and a final quatrain in which all nineteen lines carry one of only two rhymes. There are two refrains. alternating between the ends of each tercet and then forming the two last lines of the quatrain