Rhetorical / Literary Devices for AP English Language & Composition

Ad hominem argument: Latin meaning “to or against the man.” An argument that appeals to emotion rather than reason; to feeling rather than intellect.

For example:”You can’t believe Jack when he says the proposed policy would help the economy. He doesn’t even have a job.” Because Jack doesn’t have a job, he shouldn’t be assumed to know anything about the economy.

Best services for writing your paper according to Trustpilot

Premium Partner
From $18.00 per page
4,8 / 5
Writers Experience
Recommended Service
From $13.90 per page
4,6 / 5
Writers Experience
From $20.00 per page
4,5 / 5
Writers Experience
* All Partners were chosen among 50+ writing services by our Customer Satisfaction Team
Allusion: A direct or indirect reference to something which is presumably commonly known, such as an event, book, myth, place, or work of art. Allusions can be historical, literary, religious, or mythical.

There are many more possibilities. A work may simultaneously use multiple layers of allusions.

For example:”I was surprised his nose was not growing like Pinocchio’s.

” This refers to the story of Pinocchio, where his nose grew whenever he told a lie. It is from The Adventures of Pinocchio, written by Carlo Collodi.

Ambiguity: The multiple meanings, either intentional or unintentional, of a word, phrase, sentence, or passage.
For example:”Brave men run in my family.”(Bob Hope as “Painless” Peter Potter in The Paleface, 1948)

Analogy: A similarity or comparison between two different things or the relationship between them.

An analogy can explain something unfamiliar by associating it to something more familiar.

For example:I feel like a fish out of water. This implies that you are not comfortable in your surroundings.

Anaphora: Repetition of the initial word in several successive clauses.
For example:”It rained on his lousy tombstone, and it rained on the grass on his stomach. It rained all over the place.”(Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, 1951)

Antecedent:The word, phrase, or clause referred to by a pronoun. The AP Lang. exam occasionally asks for the antecedent of a given pronoun in a long, complex sentence or in a group of sentences.

For example:”A good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in not out.”(Virginia Woolf)

Antimetabole: Repetition of words in reverse order.
For example:”Women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget.”(Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937)

Antithesis:A concept that is directly opposed to a previously presented idea; a rhetorical contrast. (Parallel structure that juxtaposes contrasting ideas).
For example, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness..

..” (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities).

Aphorism:A short statement on a serious subject.
For example, “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (Holy Bible, Proverbs 15.


Apostrophe:A figure of speech that directly addresses an absent or imaginary person or personified abstraction, such as liberty or love. The effect may add familiarity or emotional intensity.
For Example:Love or Liberty

Assumption: A belief regarded as true, upon which other claims are based.

For Example:All Middle Eastern people hate us.

Asyndeton: The deliberate omission of conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses (suggests a sense of haste).
For example, “.

..that government of the people, by the people, for the people….”

Atmosphere: The emotional mood created by the entirety of a literary work, established partly by the setting and partly by the author’s choice of objects that are described. Frequently, atmosphere foreshadows events.

See mood.

For example: Even such elements as a description of the weather can contribute to the atmosphere.

Backing: In Toulmin’s argument, the evidence provided to support a warrant.
For example: Among Toulmin’s examples of backings are statutes and acts of Parliament, statistical reports, appeals to the results of experiments and references to taxonomical systems.

All can provide the backing that warrant the arguments as they are acceptable in particular fields.

Chiasmus: A figure of speech in which two successive phrases or clauses are parallel in syntax but reverse the order of the analogous words.
For example, “All for one and one for all” (Dumas, The Three Musketeers).

Claim: A statement that asserts a belief or truth. In arguments, most claims require supporting evidence. The claim is a key component in Toulmin’s argument.
For example: “Needle exchange programs should be abolished [claim] because they only cause more people to use drugs.” [reason]

Clause: A grammatical unit that contains both a subject and a verb.

A main, or independent, clause expresses a complete thought and can stand alone as a sentence. A subordinate, or dependent, clause cannot stand alone as a sentence and must be accompanied by a main clause.

Example, Because I practiced hard, my AP scores were high.

Colloquial/colloquialism: The use of slang or informalities in speech or writing. Not generally acceptable for formal writing, colloquialisms give a work a conversational, familiar tone. Colloquial expressions in writing include local or regional dialects.
Foe example:”I find a conversational tone in writing–as in telephoning–carries further than shouting.”(James Gibbons Huneker, letter to Emma Eames, 1913)

Conceit: A fanciful expression, usually in the form of an extended metaphor or surprising analogy between seemingly dissimilar objects.

For example:”All the world’s a stage,And all the men and women merely players;They have their exits and their entrances”(William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2/7)

Connotation: The nonliteral, associative meaning of a word; the implied, suggested meaning. Connotations may involve ideas, emotions, or attitudes.
For example:”In the real world, procrastination has a negative connotation.

Coordination: The act of making equal in a compound sentence.
Example, John held the dog, and Tom removed the burr from its paw.

Credibility: The quality of being believable or worthy of trust.
For example:People must have trust in you to follow you.

Being honest, loyal, open-minded, etc.

Denotation: The strict, literal, dictionary definition of a word, devoid of any emotional, attitude, or color.
For example:Vizzini: He didn’t fall? Inconceivable.Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.(The Princess Bride, 1987)

Diction: Related to style, diction refers to the writer’s word choices, especially with regard to their correctness, clearness, or effectiveness.

Diction, combined with syntax, figurative language, literary devices, imagery, etc., creates an author’s style.

For example:Individuals in a formal setting are inclined to say, “I will not accept your invitation” rather than saying, “I ain’t gonna do that.”

Didactic: From the Greek, didactic literally means teaching. Didactic works have the primary aim of teaching or instructing, especially the teaching of moral or ethical principles.
For example:”The flowery style is not unsuitable to public speeches or addresses, which amount only to compliment. . .

. But the flowery style ought to be banished from a pleading, a sermon, or a didactic work.”(Voltaire, A Philosophical Dictionary, 1764)

Enthymeme: In Toulmin argument, a statement that links a claim to a supporting reason: The bank will fail (claim) because it has lost the support of its largest investors (reason).

In classical rhetoric, an enthymeme is a syllogism with one term understood but not stated: Socrates is mortal because he is a human being. (The understood term is: All human beings are mortal.)

For example:”With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.

“(slogan of Smucker’s jams, jellies, and preserves)

Ethos: The quality of a literary work or passage which appeals to the writers’ character, especially in terms of how well they establish their credibility and trustworthiness.
For example:”As a doctor, I am qualified to tell you that this course of treatment will likely generate the best results.”

Euphemism: From the Greek for “good speech,” euphemisms are a more agreeable or less offensive substitute for generally unpleasant words or concepts. The euphemism may be used to adhere to standards of social or political correctness, or to add humor or ironic understatement. Euphemisms are associated diction.
For example:Dan Foreman: Guys, I feel very terrible about what I’m about to say.

But I’m afraid you’re both being let go.Lou: Let go? What does that mean?Dan Foreman: It means you’re being fired, Louie.(In Good Company, 2004)

Figure of speech: A figure of speech is a device used to produce figurative language. Many compare dissimilar things.
For example:Figures of speech include apostrophe, hyperbole, irony, metaphor, metonymy, oxymoron, paradox, personification, simile, synecdoche, and understatement.

Generic conventions: This term describes traditions for each genre. These conventions help to define each genre.

For example, they differentiate between an essay and journalistic writing or an autobiography and political writing

Grounds: In Toulmin argument, the evidence provided to support a claim and reason – that is an enthymeme.

Homily: This term literally means “sermon,” but more informally, it can include any serious talk, speech, or lecture involving moral or spiritual advice.
For example:When a preacher preaches to the church.

Hyperbole:A figure of speech using deliberate exaggeration or overstatement. Hyperbole’s often have a comic effect; however, a serious effect is also possible.

Often, hyperbole produces irony as well.

For example:”I’ve told you a million times”

Imagery: The sensory details or figurative language used to describe, arouse emotion, or represent abstractions. On a physical level, imagery uses terms related to the five senses; we refer to visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory, or olfactory imagery. On a broader and deeper level, however, one image can represent more than one thing.
For example: He felt like the flowers were waving him a hello.

Inference/infer: To draw a reasonable conclusion from the information presented. The most direct, most reasonable inference is the safest answer choice.

(If the answer choice is directly stated, is not inferred and is wrong.)

For example:Those who enjoy belonging to clubs, going to parties, and inviting friends often to their homes for dinner are gregarious.Implying that gregarious means social from context clues. Which is true.

Irony/ironic: The contrast between what is stated explicitly and what is really meant; the difference between what appears to be and what actually is true. The three types of irony are verbal, situational, and dramatic.
For example: As an audience member, you realize that if a character walks into an abandoned warehouse, chances are a killer is waiting.

.. but because you are a member of the audience you cannot disclose the information to the character.( Dramatic irony)

Juxtaposition:Placement of two things closely together to emphasize comparisons or contrasts.
For Example:”Your heart is a perfectly curved stone; set deep into your chest, soft as granite. Your hard topaz eyes shimmer liquidly; evaporating my heart with their numbing heat”.

Logos: The quality of a literary work or passage which appeals to the reader’s or viewer’s logic – especially that of the writer’s main points being sufficiently supported. The writer poses clear, rational ideas.

For example:”History has shown time and again that absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Loose sentence (cumulative): A type of sentence in which the main clause is followed by subordinate clauses or phrases that supply additional detail. A work containing many loose sentences often seems informal, relaxed, and conversational.
For example:I went to the movies yesterday, bought candy, and shopped at the mall.

Metonymy: A figure of speech that replaces the name of something with a word or phrase closely associated with it.

Similar to synecdoche.

For example, the white house instead of the president or brass to mean military officers.

Mood: This term has two distinct technical meanings in English writing. GRAMMATICAL mood ideals with verbal units and a speaker’s attitude, such as indicative, subjective, or imperative moods. LITERARY mood refers to prevailing atmosphere or emotional aura of a work. Setting, tone, and events can affect the mood.

For example:Cheerful: This light-hearted happy mood is shown with descriptions of laughter, upbeat music, delicious smells, and bright colors.

Parallelism: Also called parallel construction or parallel structure, this term refers to the grammatical or rhetorical framing of words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs to give structural similarity. Parallel construction acts as an organizing force to attract the reader’s attention, add emphasis and organization, or simply to provide a musical rhythm
For example:Charles Dickens’s novel A Tale of Two Cities begins with an example: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.


Parody: A word that closely imitates the style or content of another with the specific aim of comic effect and/or ridicule. As comedy, parody distorts or exaggerates distinctive features of the original.

As ridicule, it mimics the work by repeating and borrowing words, phrases, or characteristics in order to illuminate weaknesses in the original.

For example:The ever popular “Saturday Night Live” where there is a live broadcast of satirical sketches that ridicule the latest celebrity or reality star in the headlines, or even what is going on in the news.

Pathos: The quality of a literary work or passage which appeals to the reader’s or viewer’s emotions – especially pity, compassion, and sympathy.
For example:Empathizing with a friend who lost a family member

Pathetic fallacy: A special type of personification in which inanimate aspects of nature, such as the landscape or the weather, are represented as having human qualities or feelings.
For example: “The air was pitilessly raw…” (Joyce, “Araby”).

Pedantic: An adjective that describes words, phrases, or general tone that is overly scholarly, academic, or bookish.
For example:Edward answered all the questions on his history test correctly, but because he misspelled Napoleon’s name, his teacher took off points.

Periodic sentence: A sentence that presents its central meaning in a main clause at the end, usually preceded by subordinate clauses or phrases.
For Example: “Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration.”

Polysyndeton: The presence of more conjunctions than normal.

For example: “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day…” (Shakespeare, McBeth).

Reason: In writing, a statement that expands a claim by offering evidence to support it. The reason may be a statement of fact or another claim. In Toulmin argument, a reason is attached to a claim by a warrant, a statement that establishes the logical connection between claim and supporting reason.
For example: “Needle exchange programs should be abolished [claim] because they only cause more people to use drugs.

” [reason]

Rhetoric: From the Greek for orator, this term describes the principles governing the art of writing effectively, eloquently, and persuasively.
For example:Upon approaching a cashier at the grocery store she asks, “Will you help starving children today by adding $3 to your grocery bill?”

Rhetorical modes: This term describes the variety, the conventions, and the purposes of the major kinds of writing. The four most common are exposition, argument, description, and narration.
For example:Four of the most common rhetorical modes and their purpose are exposition, argumentation, description, and narration.

Rhetorical question: A question that is asked merely for effect and does not expect a reply. The answer is assumed.
For example:”Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution?”(H. L.


Sarcasm: From the Greek meaning to tear flesh, sarcasm involves bitter, caustic language that is meant to hurt or ridicule someone or something. It may use irony as a device, but not all ironic statements are satire, that is, intending to ridicule. When done well, sarcasm can be witty and insightful; when poorly done, it’s simply cruel.
For example:When someone asks, “What’s happening?!”…With your IQ, I don’t think you can understand.

Satire: A work that targets human vices and follies, or social institutions and conventions, for reform or ridicule.

Satire is best seen as a style of writing rather than a purpose for writing. It can be recognized by the many devices used effectively by the satirist such as irony, wit, parody, caricature, hyperbole, understatement, and sarcasm.

For example:”Weekend Update” from Saturday Night Live

Shift (rhetorical): In writing, a movement from one thought or idea or tone to another; a change.
For example:Look for key words like but, however, even though, although, yet, etc.

Style: the consideration of style has two purposes: • An evaluation of the sum of the choices an author makes in blending diction, syntax, figurative language, and other literary devices. Styles can be called flowery, explicit, succinct, rambling, bombastic, commonplace, incisive, laconic, plain, ornate, complex, etc. • Classification of authors to a group and comparison of an author to similar authors.

One can see how an author’s style reflects and helps to define a historical period, such as the Renaissance or the Victorian period, or a literary movement, such as romantic, transcendental, or realist movement.

Subject complement: The word (with any accompanying phrases) or clause that follows a linking verb and complements, or completes, the subject of the sentence by either (1) renaming it [predicate noun] or (2) describing it [predicate adjective].


Subordinate clause: Like all clauses, this word group contains both a subject and a verb (plus any accompanying phrases or modifiers), but unlike the independent (or main) clause, the subordinate clause cannot stand alone; it does not express a complete thought.

Also called a dependent clause, it depends on a main clause to complete its meaning. Key words and phrases usually begin these clauses, such as although, because, unless, if, even though, since, as soon as, while, who, when, where, how, that.

Subordination: The art of placing in, or occupying, a less equal position in a sentence. Think of a subordinate clause used as a noun, adjective, or adverb.
For example: John held the dog when Tom opened the door.

Syllogism: From the Greek for reckoning together, a syllogism (or syllogistic reasoning) is a deductive system of formal logic that presents two premises – the first called “major” and the second “minor” – that inevitable lead to a sound conclusion.
For example:• Major premise: All men are mortal.• Minor premise: Socrates is a man.• Conclusion: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

A syllogism’s conclusion is valid only if each of the two premises is valid. Syllogisms may also present the specific idea first (“Socrates”) and the general idea second (“All men”).

Synecdoche: A figure of speech where one part represents the entire object, or vice versa.
For example: All hands on deck. “..

. lend me your ears.”

Syntax: The way an author chooses to join words into phrases, clauses, and sentences. Syntax is similar to diction, but you can differentiate the two by thinking of syntax as referring to groups of words, while diction refers to individual words.


Tone: Similar to mood, tone describes the author’s attitude toward his or her material, the audience, or both. Some words describing tone are playful, serious, businesslike, sarcastic, humorous, formal, acerbic, didactic, etc.
For example:”Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty.” -To Kill a Mockingbird: This example shows the naivete of the young narrator, Scout, because she thinks that 50 is extremely old. Again, a coming of age narrative is established.

Toulmin Argument: A method of informal logic first described by Stephen Toulmin in 1958. It describes the key components of an argument as the claim, reason, warrant, backing, and grounds.

Transitions: A word or phrase that links different ideas. Used especially, although not exclusively, in expository and argumentative writing, transitions effectively signal a shift from one idea to another.
For example:”At first a toy, then a mode of transportation for the rich, the automobile was designed as man’s mechanical servant. Later it became part of the pattern of living.”

Warrant: In Toulmin’s argument, the statement (expressed or implied) that establishes the logical connection between the claim and its supporting reason.• Claim – Don’t eat that mushroom;• Reason – it’s poisonous.

• Warrant – What is poisonous should not be eaten.

For example: “Needle exchange programs should be abolished [claim] because they only cause more people to use drugs.” [reason]

Zeugma: The use of a single word to refer to or to describe two different words in a sentence resulting in two different meanings
For example: “..

. or stain her honour or her new brocade” (Pope’s Rape of the Lock).