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Advanced Placement (AP)
One of the competencies you need to develop for AP Language and Composition is a thorough understanding of rhetorical strategies and techniques. This is because you will both be expected to identify these strategies and techniques in the writing of others and to use them in your own writing.
But given the huge number of rhetorical terms there are, how do you know which ones you need to know and understand? Do you need to know what anaphora is? What about synecdoche?
In this article I'll provide two lists: one of essential key AP Language and Composition terms to know for the exam, and one list of useful bonus words that will serve you well on the exam. Then I'll advise how to learn and use these terms for AP success!
Essential AP Language and Composition Terms
The following list of 37 terms, based on consulting both the AP English Language and Composition Course and Exam Description and free-response material from past years, provides an important overview of the major AP Lang rhetorical devices and techniques you need to know. With all of this AP Language and Composition vocabulary at your disposal, you'll be a top-notch rhetorical analyst in no time!
Each entry has a definition and example or further explanation. Don't be intimidated by the size of this list—many of these are terms you are probably already familiar with!
Essential Rhetorical Analysis Terms
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Bonus AP Language and Composition Terms
Here are 18 bonus AP Language vocabulary terms that, while not absolutely essential to your success on the exam, will be very helpful. They identify some common but obscurely named rhetorical techniques and some additional rhetorical and argumentative strategies.
These terms also each have a definition and an example or explanation.
Bonus Rhetorical Terms
The Angry Storm: a story of personification.
How to Learn and Use AP Language Terms
You might be tempted to bust out some flashcards, do some aggressive memorization, and call yourself finished. However, that's really only the first step of the three-step process of actually learning AP Lang terms.
Step 1: Learn Rhetorical Terms
As you initially try to familiarize yourself with these terms and what they mean, it's fine to make flashcards. You could use the term on one side and the definition on the other, or the definition and the example from the chart on one side and the term on the other—whatever's easier for you.
You can make physical flashcards if you like to learn things with a tactile element involved, but for the sake of convenience, you might consider making online flashcards at a site like Quizlet, where a free account lets you make and save flash cards and then quiz yourself with a variety of games and strategies.
When you know the terms and their definitions inside and out, you're ready to move on to the next step.
Step 2: Identify Rhetorical Strategies and Devices
Next, you need to work on identifying rhetorical strategies and devices in actual written works. Make an effort when you read to seek out examples of the different rhetorical techniques at work.
Think about the larger context of the piece: what's the author's purpose in writing this piece? Is the speaker the same as the author? What genre is it? What devices are being used repeatedly? You might try jotting down your thoughts about how pieces you read are using rhetorical devices.
When you feel you can consistently identify these strategies at work in the writing of others, it's time to try your hand at using them yourself.
Step 3: Deploy Rhetorical Strategies and Devices
Once you feel you have a handle on identifying a given device/concept in other pieces, it's time to think about using it in your own writing. Consider your own purpose and argument when you write. Think about audience. Deploy hyperbole and irony.
See what works and what doesn't. Trying to apply the terms will help you learn the concepts much better than simple memorization.
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Final Thoughts: AP Language and Composition Terms
There are so many rhetorical terms that it can be hard to determine which ones you need to know for AP Language and Composition! This list gives you an overview of all the essential AP English Language and Composition vocabulary.
When you're trying to learn these concepts, it's better to try to apply them—by seeing how other authors use them and using them in your own writing—than to just memorize the terms and their definitions. The important thing is to understand the concepts, not just know the terms!
Need to familiarize yourself with the format of the AP Lang test? We go over exactly what's included on the AP Language test and how to tackle the multiple choice section here . Plus, check out our complete list of released practice AP Language tests .
If you're also taking AP Literature, see our ultimate guide to the AP English Literature test and our AP Literature Reading List .
Studying poetry in class? Whether you're reading " Do not go gentle into that good night " by Dylan Thomas or a Shakespearean sonnet, you're going to want to make sure you know important poetic devices and terms like assonance and iambic pentameter , just to name a few.
We can help if you're not sure how to study for AP exams .
Looking for other practice AP tests? See our complete lists for AP Human Geography , AP Literature , AP US History , AP Chemistry , AP Biology , AP Psychology , and AP World History . Or see our guide to finding the best AP practice tests for any exam .
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AP Vocabulary List
TERMS FOR THE MULTIPLE-CHOICE AND ESSAY SECTIONS
The device of using character and/or story elements symbolically to represent an abstraction in addition to the literal meaning.
The repetition of sounds, especially initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words.
A direct or indirect reference to something which is presumably commonly known, such as an event, book, myth, place, or work of art.
The multiple meanings, either intentional or unintentional, of a word, phrase, sentence, or passage.
A similarity or comparison between two different things or the relationship between them. An analogy can explain something unfamiliar by associating it with or pointing out its similarity to something more familiar.
The word, phrase, or clause referred to by a pronoun.
A terse statement of known authorship which expresses a general truth or a moral principle.
A figure of speech that directly addresses an absent or imaginary person or a personified abstraction, such as liberty or love.
The emotional mood created by the entirety of a literary work.
A writer's intellectual position or emotion regarding the subject of the writing.
A grammatical unit that contains both a subject and a verb.
The use of slang or informalities in speech or writing.
A fanciful expression, usually in the form of an extended metaphor or surprising analogy between seemingly dissimilar objects.
The nonliteral, associative meaning of a word; the implied, suggested meaning. Connotations may involve ideas, emotions, or attitudes.
The strict, literal, dictionary definition of a word.
Related to style, diction refers to the writer's word choices, especially with regard to their correctness, clearness, or effective ness.
From the Greek, didactic literally means "teaching." Didactic works have the primary aim of teaching or instructing.
From the Greek for "good speech," euphemisms are a more agreeable or less offensive substitute for a generally unpleasant word or concept.
A metaphor developed at great length, occurring frequently in or throughout a work.
Writing or speech that is not intended to carry literal meaning and is usually meant to be imaginative and vivid.
This term literally means "sermon," but more informally, it can include any serious talk, speech, or lecture involving moral or spiritual advice.
A figure of speech using deliberate exaggeration or overstatement. Hyperboles often have a comic effect; however, a serious effect is also possible.
The sensory details or figurative language used to describe, arouse emotion, or represent abstractions.
To draw a reasonable conclusion from the information presented.
An emotionally violent, verbal denunciation or attack using strong, abusive language.
The contrast between what is stated explicitly and what is really meant.
A type of sentence in which the main idea (independent clause) comes first, followed by dependent grammatical units such as phrases and clauses.
A figure of speech using implied comparison of seemingly unlike things or the substitution of one for the other, suggesting some similarity.
A term from the Greek meaning "changed label" or "substitute name," metonomy is a figure of speech in which the name of one object is substituted for that of another closely associated with it.
The telling of a story or an account of an event or series of events.
A figure of speech in which natural sounds are imitated in the sounds of words. Simple examples include such words as buzz, hiss, hum, crack, whinny, and murmur.
From the Greek for "pointedly foolish," an oxymoron is a figure of speech wherein the author groups apparently contradictory terms to suggest a paradox.
A statement that appears to be self-contradictory or opposed to common sense but upon closer inspection contains some degree of truth or validity.
Also referred to as parallel construction or parallel structure. It refers to the grammatical or rhetorical framing of words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs to give structural similarity.
A work that closely imitates the style or content of another with the specific aim of comic effect and/or ridicule.
An adjective that describes words, phrases, or general tone that is overly scholarly, academic, or bookish.
A sentence that presents its central meaning in a main clause at the end. This independent clause is preceded by a phrase or clause that cannot stand alone.
A figure of speech in which the author presents or describes concepts, animals, or inanimate objects by endowing them with human attributes or emotions. Personification is used to make these abstractions, animals, or objects appear more vivid to the reader.
The duplication, either exact or approximate, of any element of language, such as a sound, word, phrase, clause, sentence, or grammatical pattern.
From the Greek for "orator," this term describes the principles governing the art of writing effectively, eloquently, and persua sively .
From the Greek meaning "to tear flesh," sarcasm involves bitter, caustic language that is meant to hurt or ridicule someone or something.
A work that targets human vices and follies or social institutions and conventions for reform or ridicule.
The branch of linguistics that studies the meaning of words, their historical and psychological development, and their relation to one another.
An evaluation of the sum of the choices an author makes in blending diction, syntax, figurative language, and other literary devices.
Deductive system of formal logic that presents two premises (the first one called "major" and the second "minor") that inevitably lead to a sound conclusion.
The way an author chooses to join words into phrases, clauses, and sentences. Syntax is similar to diction, but you can differentiate them by thinking of syntax as the groups of words, while diction refers to the individual words.
The central idea or message of a work, the insight it offers into life. Usually, theme is unstated in fictional works, but in nonfic t ion, the theme may be directly stated, especially in expository or argumentative writing.
In expository writing, the thesis statement is the sentence or group of sentences that directly expresses the author's opinion, purpose, meaning, or proposition. Expository writing is usually judged by analyzing how accurately, effectively, and thoroughly a writer has proven the thesis.
Similar to mood, tone describes the author's attitude toward his or her material, the audience, or both.
A word or phrase that links different ideas.
The ironic minimalizing of fact, understatement presents something as less significant than it is.
In modern usage, intellectually amusing language that surprises and delights.
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