The following is a list of very simplified definitions of some technical words which
are used in the Converse essays and resources.
Terms for analysis of verse
Accentual Verse: Verse in which the metre
depends upon counting a fixed number of stresses (which are also known as ‘accents’)
in a line, but which does not take account of unstressed syllables. The majority
of Germanic poetry (including Old English) is of this type.
Accentual-Syllabic Verse: The normal system of verse composition in England since the fourteen century, in which the metre depends upon counting both the number of stresses and the total number of syllables in any give line. An iambic pentameter for example contains five stressed syllables and a total of ten syllables.
Alexandrine: a line of six iambic feet, often
used to mark a conclusion in a work which is in heroic couplets:
Alexander Pope in his Essay on Criticism (1709) satirised this technique
(which he was not above using himself): ‘ Then, at the last and only couplet
fraught | With some unmeaning thing they call a thought, | A needless Alexandrine
ends the song, | That like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along.’ The
final line of that extract is of course itself an alexandrine. Spenser used
an alexandrine to end his modified form of ottava rima.
The same word is used to describe a line of twelve syllables which is the dominant
form of French verse. See syllabic verse.
Allegory: the saying of one thing and meaning another. Sometimes this
trope works by an extended metaphor (‘the ship of state
foundered on the rocks of inflation, only to be salvaged by the tugs of monetarist
policy’). More usually it is used of a story or fable that has a clear secondary
meaning beneath its literal sense. Orwell’s Animal Farm, for example,
is assumed to have an allegorical sense.
Alliteration: The repetition of the same consonants (usually the initial
sounds of words or of stressed syllables) at the start of several words or syllables
in sequence or in close proximity to each other. In Anglo-Saxon poetry and in
some fourteenth century texts such as Piers Plowman and Sir Gawain
and the Green Knight rigid patterns of alliteration were an essential part
of poetic form. More recently it is used for expressive or occasionally onomatopoeic
Anapaest: A metrical foot consisting of three syllables. The first two are unstressed and the last is stressed: ‘di di dum’.
Anaphora: Repitition of the same word or words
at the beginning of consecutive syntactic units.
Apostrophe: In rhetoric the word is used to describe
a sudden address to a person or personification. In punctuation the same word
is used to describe the mark ‘ which can be used to indicate the beginning and
end of direct speech, a quotation, or an elision. From
the late sixteenth century an apostrophe was used, very irregularly, to indicate
a possessive form of a noun: by the mid-nineteenth century it was established
by convention that singular possessive forms should be indicated by “‘s” (‘the
cat’s pajamas’) and that regular plural possessive forms should be indicated by
“s'” (‘my parents’ house’). If a plural does not normally end in ‘s’ then the
form “‘s” is used for the plural possessive form (‘the children’s tea was delicious’).
The main exception to this rule is ‘it’s’, which is used as the contracted form
of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. The form ‘its’ is reserved for the possessive use (‘the
door has lost its paint’).
Assonance: The word is usually used to describe the repetition of vowel sounds in nieghbouring syllables (compare Alliteration. The consonants can
differ: so ‘deep sea‘ is an example of assonance, whereas
‘The queen will sweep past the deep crowds’ is an example
of internal rhyme. More technically it is used to describe the ‘rhyming of
one word with another in the accented vowel and those which follow, but
not in the consonants, as used in the versification of Old French,
Spanish, Celtic, and other languages’ (OED).
Asyndeton: The omission of a conjunction from a list (‘chips, beans, peas, vinegar, salt, pepper’). Compare polysyndeton.
Blank verse: is the metre most frequently
used by Shakespeare. It consists of an unrhymed iambic
pentameter. It was first used in Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey’s, translation
of Books 2 and 4 of Virgil’s Aeneid, composed some time in the 1530s
or 40s. It was adopted as the chief verse form in Elizabethan verse drama, and
was subsequently used by Milton in Paradise Lost and in a wide range
of subsequent meditative and narrative poems.
Caesura: A pause or breathing-place about
the middle of a metrical line, generally indicated by a pause in the
sense. The word derives from a Latin word meaning ‘cut or slice’, so the
effect can be quite violent. However in many lines of
blank verse the caesura may be almost
inaudible. A medial caesura is the norm: this occurs in the middle of a
line. An initial caesura occurs near the start of a line; a terminal
caesura near its end. A ‘masculine caesura’ occurs after a stressed
syllable, and a ‘feminine caesura’ occurs after an unstressed syllable.
Couplet: a rhymed pair of lines, which are usually
of the same length. If these are iambic pentameters
it is termed a heroic couplet. This form was made popular by Chaucer’s
Canterbury Tales and became the dominant poetic form in the latter part
of the seventeenth century. In the work of Alexander Pope it becomes a flexible
medium for pointed expression. Couplets of four iambic feet (i.e. eight syllables
in all) are called octosyllabic couplets. These were favoured by John
Gower, Chaucer’s near contemporary, and became a vehicle for a comically brisk
style in Samuel Butler’s satirical poem Hudibras (1663-78).
Dactyl: A metrical foot consisting
of three syllables, in which the first is stressed and the last two are unstressed.
Decorum: In literary parlance, the appropriateness of a work to its subject, its genre and its audience.
Diction: or lexis, or vocabulary of a passage
refers to nothing more or less then its words. The words of a given passage
might be drawn from one register, they might be drawn
from one linguistic origin (e.g. Latin, or its Romance descendants Italian and
French; Old English); they might be either very formal or very colloquial words.
Elision: The omission of one or more letters or syllables from a word. This is usually marked by an apostrophe: as in ‘he’s going to the shops’. In early printed texts the elided syllable is sometimes printed as well as the mark of elision, as in Donne’s ‘She ‘is all States, all Princes I’.
Enjambement: The effect achieved when the
syntax of a line of verse transgresses the limits set by the metre at the end
of the verse. Metre aims for the integrity of the single verse, whereas syntax
will sometimes efface that integrity. Thus ‘Black drizzling crags that spake
by the way-side/ As if a voice were in them, the sick sight/ And giddy prospect
of the raving stream…’ End-stopping is the
alternative to enjambement.
End-stopping: The effect achieved when the
syntax of a line coincides with the metrical boundary at the end of a line.
The contrary of enjambement.
Fabliau (plural fabliaux): A short,
pithy story, usually of a bawdy kind.
Foot: the basic unit for describing metre, usually
consisting of a certain number and combination of stressed and unstressed syllables.
Stressed and unstressed syllables form one or other of the recognised metrical
forms: an iamb is ‘di d√∫m’; a trochee is ‘d√∫m di’, a spondee is
‘d√∫m d√∫m’ (as in ‘home-made’), an anapaest
is ‘di di d√∫m’, and a dactyl is ‘d√∫m di di’.
Feminine Rhyme: a rhyme of two syllables
in which the final syllable is unstressed (‘mother | brother’). If an
iambic pentameter ends in a feminine rhyme the last, unstressed, syllable
is usually not counted as one of the ten syllables in the line (‘To be or
not to be, that is the question’ – the ‘ion’ is unstressed and takes the
line into an eleventh syllable). Feminine rhyme can be used for comic
effect, as it is frequently in the works of Byron: ‘I’ve spent my life,
both interest and principle, | And think not what I thought, my soul
invincible.’ It can also be sometimes used to suggest a feminine
subject-matter, as in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, which is addressed to the
‘master mistress of my passion’ and which makes extensive use of
Form: The term is usually used in the analysis of poetry to refer to the structure of stanzas
(such as ottava rima). It can also be used less technically of the general structural
principles by which a work is organised, and is distinguished from its content.
Free Verse: verse in which the metre and line length vary, and in which
there is no discernible pattern in the use of rhyme.
Genre(from Latin genus, type,
kind): works of literature tend to conform to certain types, or kinds. Thus we will describe a work as
belonging to, for example, one of the following genres: epic, pastoral, satire, elegy. All the resources
of linguistic patterning, both stylistic and structural, contribute to a sense of a work’s genre. Generic
boundaries are often fluid; literary meaning will often be produced by transgressing the normal expectations of genre.
Homophones: Words which sound exactly the same
but which have different meanings (‘maid’ and ‘made’).
Hypermetrical: having an extra syllable
over and above the expected normal length of a line of verse. See also feminine
Iambic pentameter: an unrhymed line of
five feet in which the dominant accent usually falls
on the second syllable of each foot (di d√∫m), a pattern known as an
iamb. The form is very flexible: it is possible to have one or more feet
in which the expected order of accent is reversed (d√∫m di). These
are called trochees.
Irony: strictly a sub-set of allegory:
irony not only says one thing and means another, but says one thing and means
its opposite. The word is used often of consciously inappropriate or understated
utterances (so two walkers in the pouring rain greet each other with ‘lovely
day!’, ‘yes, isn’t it’). Irony depends upon the audience’s being able to recognise
that a comment is deliberately at odds with its occasion, and may often discriminate
between two kinds of audience: one which recognises the irony, and the other
which fails to do so. Dramatic irony occurs when an audience of a play
know some crucial piece of information that the characters onstage do not know
(such as the fact that Oedipus has unwittingly killed his father).
Lexical set: words that are habitually used
within a given environment constitute a lexical set. Thus ‘Monday, Tuesday,
Wednesday…’ form a lexical set.
Metaphor: the transfer of a quality or attribute
from one thing or idea to another in such a way as to imply some resemblance
between the two things or ideas: ‘his eyes blazed‘ implies that his eyes
become like a fire. Many metaphors have been absorbed into the structure of
ordinary language to such an extent that they are all but invisible, and it
is sometimes hard to be sure what is or is not dead metaphor: ‘the fat book’
may imply a metaphor, as may also be the case when we talk of a note of music
as ‘high’ or ‘low’. Mixed metaphors often occur when a speaker combines
two metaphors from very diverse areas in such a way as to create something which
is physically impossible or absurd (‘the report of the select committee was
a bombshell which got right up my nose’). These often result from the tendency
of metaphors to become received idioms in which the original force of the implied
comparison is lost. See also Simile.
Metonymy: A figure of speech in which the name
of one object is replaced by another which is closely associated with it. So
‘the turf’ is a metonym for horse-racing, ‘Westminster’ is a metonym for the
Houses of Parliament, ‘Downing Street’ is a metonym for the Prime-Minister or
his office. ‘Sceptre and crown came tumbling down’ is a metonymic way of saying
‘the king fell from power’. See synecdoche.
Metre: A regular patterned recurrence of
light and heavy stresses in a line of verse. These patterns are given
names. Almost all poems deliberately depart from the template established
by a metrical pattern for specific effect. Assessing a poem’s metre requires
more than just spotting an iambic pentameter or other
metrical pattern: it requires you to think about the ways in which a poem departs
from its underlying pattern and why. Emotion might force a reverse foot or trochee,
or the normal patterns of speech might occasionally cut across an underlying rhythm.
See Iambic Pentameter.
Monorhyme: A rhymescheme in which all lines rhyme (aaaa etc.)
Onomatopoeia: The use of words or
sounds which appear to resemble the sounds which they describe. Some words
are themselves onomatopoeic, such as ‘snap, crackle, pop.’
Ottava rima: an eight line verse stanza
rhyming abababcc. In English it is usually in iambic
pentameter. It was introduced into English by Sir Thomas Wyatt in the 1530s,
and was widely used for long verse narratives. Sir John Harington translated
Ariosto’s Orlando furioso into ottava rima in 1591; Byron used the form
in Don Juan (1819-24). Edmund Spenser produced a nine line modification
of the form which ends with an alexandrine and rhymes
ababbcbcc. for his Faerie Queene (1590-6). This is known as the Spenserian
stanza, and was quite widely used by Wordsworth, Byron and Keats.
Personification: the attribution to a
non-animate thing of human attributes. The thing personified is often an abstract
concept (e.g. ‘Lust’). Personification is related to allegory, insofar as personification
says one thing (‘Lust possessed him’) and really means another. But it is opposed
to allegory insofar as it aims for the maximum degree of explicitness, whereas
allegory necessarily involves greater degrees of obliquity.
Plosive: A consonantal sound in the formation of which the passage of
air is completely blocked, such as ‘p’, ‘b’, ‘t’. The blockage can be made in
a variety of places (between the lips, between the tongue and teeth, between
the tongue and palate). A ‘bi-labial plosive’ is made with the lips (Latin labia):
examples are ‘p’ and ‘b’; a ‘dental plosive’ is made by blocking the passage
of air with the tongue and the teeth (‘d’, ‘t’); an ‘uvular’ plosive is made
right at the back of the throat (‘q’, ‘g’). Phoneticists (people who study the
science of pronunciation) distinguish between ‘voiced’ and ‘unvoiced’ plosives.
This is the distinction between ‘b’ (in saying which you have to make a sound
as well as simply letting the air escape between your lips; hence it is ‘voiced’)
and ‘p’ (in saying which you do not have to make a sound; hence it is termed
‘unvoiced’). Similarly ‘t’ is an unvoiced dental plosive; ‘d’ is a voiced dental
plosive. The International
Phonetic Association provides more information about how words are pronounced
and the specialised alphabet with which such sounds are transcribed.
Polysyndeton: The use of multiple conjunctions,
usually where they are not strictly necessary (‘chips and beans and fish and
egg and peas and vinegar and tomato sauce’). Compare asyndeton.
Quantitative Metre: A metrical system based on the length or
‘weight’ of syllables, rather than on stress. This is the norm in classical
Latin and Greek, but is rare in English. Sir Philip Sidney (1554-86) made some attempts to
write in quantitative metre in order to bring English poetry closer to its classical models,
but he had few imitators.
Quatrain: a verse stanza of four lines, often
rhyming abab. Tennyson’s In Memoriam rhymes abba, however.
Refrain: A repeated line, phrase or group of lines, which
recurs at regular intervals through a poem or song, usually at the end of a stanza.
The less technical term is ‘chorus’.
Register: a term designating the appropriateness of a given style
to a given situation. Speakers and writers in specific situations deploy, for example, a technical
vocabulary (e.g. scientific, commercial, medical, legal, theological, psychological), as well as
other aspects of style customarily used in that situation. Literary effect is often created by switching register.
Rhetorical Figures: Linguistic effect
can be perceptible to the mind and/or the eye. Figures of thought appeal
to the mind by twisting language in a way that is strictly improper, but licensed
by usage. Thus the word ‘is’ is used improperly in the sentence ‘John is a lion’,
but the metaphorical usage is permissible. Or when we hear the sentence ‘All
hands on deck’, we understand that the word ‘hands’ is being used as a synecdoche
for sailors. Figures of thought are sometime called tropes
(from a Greek word meaning ‘turn’, ‘twist’) or conceits (from a Latin
word meaning ‘concept’, because the conceit appeals to the mind). Figures
of speech are perceptible to the eye and the ear. Thus rhyme is a figure
of speech, as is alliteration and anaphora. Figures
of speech are sometimes called schemes (Greek ‘forms’).
Rhyme: When two or more words or phrases
contain an identical or similar vowel-sound, and the consonant-sounds that
follow are identical or similar (red and dead). Feminine rhyme
occurs when two syllables are rhymed (‘mother | brother’). Half-rhyme
occurs when the final consonants are the same but the preceding vowels are
not. (‘love | have‘). Eye rhyme occurs when two
syllables look the same but are pronounced differently (‘kind | wind’ –
although sometimes changes in pronunciation have made what were formerly
perfect rhymes become eye rhymes). Rime riche occurs when the same
combination of sounds is used in each element of the rhyme, but where the
two identical sounding words have different senses (‘maid | made’). This
was in the medieval period regarded as a particularly perfect form of
rhyme. Leonine rhyme occurs when the syllable immediately preceding
the caesura rhymes with the syllable at the end of
the line. The Rhyme Scheme, or regularly recurring patterns of rhyme
within a poem or stanza, is recorded by using a letter of the alphabet to
denote each rhyme, and noting the order in which the rhymes recur
(aabbcc… is the most simply rhyme scheme of all, that of the couplet).
Rhythm: a term designating the pattern of stressed
and unstressed syllables in verse or prose. Different lines of verse can have the
same metre but a different rhythm. Thus two lines of
alliterative verse in Middle English poetry might have the same metrical
pattern of four stressed syllables, but their rhythm might differ by having
a greater or lesser number of unstressed syllables intervening between the stressed syllables.
Rhyme Royal: A form of verse which consists of stanzas
of seven ten-syllable lines, riming a b a b b c c. It was first used by Chaucer,
and was also the form chosen by Shakespeare for the tragic gravity of his narrative
poem Lucrece (1594).
Simile: a comparison between two objects or ideas
which is introduced by ‘like’ or ‘as’. The literal object which evokes the comparison
is called the tenor and the object which describes
it is called the vehicle. So in the simile ‘the
car wheezed like an asthmatic donkey’ the car is the tenor and the ‘asthmatic
donkey’ is the vehicle. Negative similes are also possible (as in Shakespeare’s
Sonnet ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’). Epic similes are
more extended similes, which might involve multiple points of correspondence
between tenor and vehicle. The frequently occur in long heroic narrative poems
in the classical tradition, such as Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), as
when Milton describes the combat of Satan and Death:
‘Incenst with indignation Satan stood
Unterrifi’d, and like a Comet
That fires the length of Ophiucus huge
In th’ Artick
Sky, and from his horrid hair
Shakes Pestilence and Warr. Each at the
Level’d his deadly aime; thir fatall hands
No second stroke
intend, and such a frown
Each cast at th’ other, as when two black
With Heav’ns Artillery fraught, come rattling on
Caspian, then stand front to front
Hov’ring a space, till Winds the
To joyn thir dark Encounter in mid air:
the mighty Combatants, that Hell
Grew darker at thir frown, so matcht
This double simile (first Satan is compared to a comet, then to a cloud)
reflects back on the literal action: the violent energy of the comet is
damped down by the immobile clouds. This change of vehicle reflects back
on the fight which is the simile’s tenor: it suggests that Satan starts
off blazing with eagerness to fight Death, and then pauses, perhaps
Sonnet: In its earliest usages this can mean just
‘a short poem, often on the subject of love.’ Now it is almost always used to
denote a fourteen line poem in iambic pentameter.
There are two main forms of Sonnet: the ‘Shakespearean Sonnet’ rhymes abab cdcd
efef gg. It was the form favoured by Shakespeare, in his Sonnets (1609),
although it is first found in the work of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The
three quatrains can be linked together in argument in a variety of ways, but
often there is a ‘volta’ or turn in the course of the argument after the second
quatrain. The final couplet often provides an opportunity
to sum up the argument of the poem with an epigram. Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti
(1595) introduced a variant form in which the quatrains are connected by rhyme:
abab bcbc cdcd ee. The ‘Petrarchan Sonnet’, which is the earliest appearance
of the form, falls into an octet, or eight line unit, and a sestet, or six line
unit. The Petrarchan sonnet form rhymes abbaabba cdecde (although the sestet
can follow other rhyme-schemes, such as cdcdcd). Often there is a marked shift
in the progression of the argument after the octet in the Petrarchan sonnet,
which is sometimes vestigially registered in the Shakespearean form by a change
of argument or mood at the start of the third quatrain. Sonnets may be free-standing
poems, or they may form part of an extended sequence of poems which might relate
in a loose narrative form the progress of a love affair (as is the case in Sidney’s
Astrophil and Stella, Spenser’s Amoretti and Petrarch’s Canzoniere).
Stanza: ‘A group of lines of verse
(usually not less than four), arranged according to a definite scheme
which regulates the number of lines, the metre, and (in rhymed poetry) the
sequence of rhymes; normally forming a division of a song or poem
consisting of a series of such groups constructed according to the same
scheme’ (OED). See also ottava rima,
quatrain. This term is preferable to the less
technical ‘verse’, since that word can also refer to a single line of a
poem. In printed poems divisions between stanzas are frequently indicated
by an area of blank space.
Stress: Emphasis given to a syllable in pitch,
volume or duration (or several of these). In normal spoken English some
syllables are given greater stress than others. In metrical
writing these natural variations in stress are formed into recurrent patterns,
such as iambs, anapaests or
Strophe: A stanza or other grouping of lines
within a poem. In classical odes the term is used of the first group of lines
which might be followed by an antistrophe which exactly replicates the
form of the strophe.
Syllable: The smallest unit of speech
that normally occurs in isolation, or a distinct sound element within a word.
This can consist of a vowel alone (‘O’) or a combination of a vowel and one or more
consonants (‘no’, ‘not’). Monosyllables contain only one syllable
(‘dog’, ‘big’, ‘shoe’); polysyllables contain more than one syllable.
The word ‘syllable’ contains three syllables.
Syllabic Verse: A metrical system which depends
solely on syllable count, and which takes no account of stress.
This is the norm in most Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish), but is unusual
(and almost always consciously experimental) in English.
Synecdoche: the rhetorical figure whereby a
part is substituted for a whole (‘a suit entered the room’), or, less usually,
in which a whole is substituted for a part (as when a policeman is called ‘the
law’ or a manager is called ‘the management’). See metonymy.
Topos: from a Greek word meaning ‘place’, a ‘topos’
in poetry is a ‘commonplace’, a standard way of describing a particular subject.
Describing a person’s physical features from head to toe (or somewhere in between)
is, for example, a standard topos of medieval and Renaissance poetry.
Trochee: a foot of
two syllables, in which the accent falls on the first syllable (d√∫m di).
Some words which are trochaic include ‘broken’, ‘taken’, ‘Shakespeare’.
Trope: a general term for any figure of speech which
alters the literal sense of a word or phrase: so metaphor,
simile and allegory are all tropes,
since they affect the meaning of words. In the rhetorical tradition tropes are
contrasted with figures, which are rhetorical devices
which affect the order or placing of words (so the repetition of a particular
word at the start of each line is a figure).
Basic Grammatical terms
Adjective: A word which qualifies or
modifies the meaning of a noun; as in a ‘red
hat’ or a ‘quick fox’. They can be used to complement the verbs
‘to be’ or ‘to seem’ (‘Sue seems happy today’). Adjectives are
sometimes formed from nouns or verbs
by the addition of a suffix such as ‘-able’ (lovable), ‘-ful’ (heedful),
‘-ic’ (heroic), ‘-ish’ (foolish), ‘-ive’ (combative), ‘-ous’ (famous), or
Adverb: A word which qualifies or adds to
the action of a verb: as in ‘he ran quickly‘, or ‘he ran fast‘.
Adverbs can also qualify adjectives, as in ‘the
grass is intensely green’. They are usually formed by adding ‘-ly’
to an adjective: ‘playfully’, ‘combatively’,
‘foolishly’. They can also sometimes be formed by the addition of ‘-wise’
to a noun (‘the hands went round clockwise).
Clause: The word is often used but very hard to
define. It is a sentence or sentence-like construction
included within another sentence. A main clause might be a simple noun
plus verb (‘I did it’). A co-ordinate clause is of
equal status with the main clause: ‘I did it and she did it at the same time.’
A subordinate clause might be nested within a sentence using the conjunction
‘that’: ‘he said that the world was flat.’ Here ‘he said’ is the main clause
and the subordinate clause is ‘the world was flat’. Relative clauses
are usually introduced by a relative pronoun: ‘I read
the book which was falling to pieces‘; ‘She spoke to the man who was
standing at the bar.’
Conjunction: A word used to connect words or
constructions. Co-ordinating conjunctions such as ‘and’, and ‘but’ link together
elements of equal importance in a sentence (‘Fish and chips’ are of equal importance).
Subordinating conjunctions such as ‘because’, ‘if’, ‘although’, connect a subordinate
clause to its superordinate clause (‘We will do it if you insist’;
‘We did it because he insisted).
Noun: A word used as the name or designation of a
person or thing, such as ‘duck’ or ‘river’. Abstract nouns denote abstract
properties, such as ‘invisibility’, ‘gentleness’. Proper nouns are nouns
that designate one thing, as, for example, personal names.
Object: Usually the thing to which the action of a verb is done. More technically a substantive word, phrase, or
clause, immediately dependent on, or ‚Äògoverned by‚Äô, a verb, as
expressing, in the case of a verb of action, the person or thing to which
the action is directed, or on which it is exerted; that which receives the
action of the verb. So ‘the man patted the dog‘, ‘the woman was
reading the book‘. An indirect object of a verb denotes
that which is indirectly affected by an action, but wihch is not the immediate
product of it, as ‚ÄòGive him the book‚Äô, ‚ÄòMake
me a coat‚Äô.
Participle: a word derived from a
noun which functions like an adjective,
as in ‘let sleeping dogs lie’. More technically ‘A word that partakes of
the nature of a verb and an adjective; a
derivative of a verb which has the function and construction of an
adjective (qualifying a noun), while retaining some of those of the verb’.
Present participles usually end in ‘-ing’ and usually describe an action
which is going on at the same time as the verb: so in the sentence ‘”Go
and play on your own street,” she said, kicking the ball’,
the saying and the kicking are simultaneous. Past participles
usually end in ‘-ed’ or ‘-en’ (‘the door was kicked in’; ‘the door
was broken‘). They are used in two main ways: combined with the
verb ‘have’ they form a past or ‘perfect’ tense (so called because it
describes an action which has been completed or ‘perfected’), as in ‘I
have smashed the plate’. Past participles can also be used in
passive constructions (which describe what was done to something rather
than what something did), as in ‘the plate was smashed‘.
Preposition: A part of speech which
indicates a connection, between two other parts of speech, such as ‘to’,
‘with’, ‘by’ or ‘from’. ‘She came from China’, ‘He gave the
chocolates to me’.
Pronoun: A part of speech which stands
for a noun: ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘them’. Possessive pronouns
express ownership (‘his’, ‘hers’). Reflexive pronouns are
‘herself’, ‘himself’, ‘myself’ and are used either for emphasis (he did it
all himself‘), or when an action reflects back on the agent who
performs it (‘he shot himself in the foot’). Relative pronouns
include ‘who’, ‘which’, ‘that’ and are usually used in the form ‘he
rebuked the reader who had sung in the library’. Interrogative
pronouns ask questions (‘Who stole the pie?’; ‘Which
pie?’). Indefinite pronouns do not specify a particular person or
thing: ‘Anyone who studies grammar must be mad.’ ‘Somebody
has to know about this stuff.’
Sentence: This is a term which
professional linguists still find impossible to define adequately. It is
usually supposed to be ‘A sequence of words which makes complete sense,
containing subject, object
and main verb, and concluded by a full-stop’.
Subject: Usually the person or thing who is
performing the action of a verb. More technically the
grammatical subject is the part of a sentence of which an action is predicated: ‘the man
patted the dog’. It can be a single noun, or it can
been a complex clause: ‘the bald man who had just picked up the ball
gave it to the dog.’
Syntax (Greek ‘together arrangement’): a term designating
the way in which words can be arranged and modified to construct sentences.
Writers characteristically use syntactic sub-ordination when they aim
for a highly formal effect, and syntactic co-ordination when they aim
for a simpler, more straight-forward effect.
Verb: Usually a word which describes an action (such
as ‘he reads poems’, ‘she excels at cricket’). More technically
‘That part of speech by which an assertion is made, or which serves to connect
a subject with a predicate.’ This technical definition includes the most frequent
verb in the language: the verb ‘to be’ which can be used to connect a ‘subject’,
such as ‘he’, with a ‘predicate’, such as ‘good at hockey’. There are verbs
which take an object (‘he raps the desk’), which
are called transitive verbs. Other verbs do not, and are termed intransitive
verbs (‘I sit, he lives’). Some verbs can be used either transitively or
intransitively: ‘I sing’ is an intransitive usage; ‘Paul McCartney sings “God
save the Queen”‘ is a transitive usage. The main verb is the verb
on which the structure of the sentence depends, and without which the sentence
would not make any sense. In the following sentence the verb ‘fell’ is the main
verb: ‘The boy, who had run too quickly, fell’.
There are many dictionaries of literary terms available. One of the most user-friendly
is The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, ed. Chris Baldick
(Oxford, 1990). More substantial (and also slightly more expensive) The Penguin
Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, 4th edition, ed. J.A.
Cuddon, revised C. E. Preston (Harmondsworth, 1998). John Lennard, The Poetry
Handbook (Oxford, 1996) is a very helpful guide to ways of using this technical
vocabulary in practical criticism.
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