AP Lang Rhetorical Devices | Add Character & Dynamics to Your Writing

When taking the multiple-choice section of the exam, you will encounter over 50 AP Lang rhetorical devices. Though that might seem like an intimidating number, we can break them into more manageable chunks. Luckily, the AP Lang exam prefers some rhetorical devices over others and we can use this to our advantage so we can aim to get that perfect 5 scores.

The rhetorical devices mentioned below are just a portion of what you will encounter on the test, but these concepts show up the most on the AP Lang exam. By studying these 15 rhetorical devices, you can build a strong starting foundation and forge a path forward toward a 5 on the AP Lang exam. 

First, we should have a refresher on what exactly is a rhetorical device. A rhetorical device is an author’s way of using words to convey meaning, persuade others, and even evoke an emotion on the part of the audience. With a skilled writer, these rhetorical techniques can help add character and a certain dynamism to their texts, and is a very useful skill. Some great writers can utilize their skills to generate a lot of income.

AP Lang Rhetorical Devices You Must Learn

After referencing the best AP lang review books and reviewing the free test material found on the College Board website, we have compiled the following list of 15 items.

We chose these specific 15 due to their relative importance and the frequency of their appearance on the material. With these rhetorical devices in hand, you’ll have the best rhetorical strategy in town and you’ll be sure to get that 5.

Or maybe not, but at least you’ll have a good start on studying for the AP Lang exam. But even with this rhetorical strategy list in hand, I personally find that the delivery of material is just as important.

My students and I have found great success in partnering up and quizzing each other using flashcards on these rhetorical techniques. Make it a game and see who can score the highest on this list. If you’re by yourself, you can see if you can beat yourself within a time limit such as a minute or five minutes. We always find that competition is the greatest motivator.

1. Alliteration

Alliteration is the occurrence of the same letter or sounds at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. This rhetorical strategy draws the reader’s attention to a section of the text and can provide certain connotations. For example, the “s” sounds like a snake and connote danger or slyness. 

Some examples of this rhetorical device can be found with: Explanation & Example, Krispy Kreme, Mickey Mouse, Method to the Madness

2. Allusion

An allusion is an expression used to call something to mind without directly mentioning it. Essentially, it’s a passing or indirect reference. It adds an additional layer of meaning, usually deriving from the reference to the text.

In the book Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury wrote: “Mildred ran from the parlor like a native fleeing an eruption of Vesuvius.” This is an allusion to the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D. which destroyed the city of Pompeii and its inhabitants. It goes to show that Mildred was running for her life.

3. Analogy

An analogy is a comparison where an idea/thing is compared to another thing that is quite different but more familiar. Metaphors and similes are used to create an analogy. An analogy is like a house and the metaphors and similes are the bricks used to make it.

An example would be “The white mares of the moon rush along the sky beating their golden hoofs upon the glass heavens.” This is a line from Night Clouds, a poem by Amy Lowell. She builds an analogy between clouds and mares by comparing their movement across the night sky.

4. Antithesis

Antithesis places two seemingly contrasting concepts side by side to help accentuate that difference. 

A famous example of antithesis is Muhammad Ali’s quote, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. Here the lightness of the butterfly contrasts with the aggressiveness of the bee. It illustrates that a boxer would need to have these two contradictory skills (lightness of the feet and quickness with his fists) to be successful.

5. Consonance

This is a repetition of sounds caused by consonants within a sentence or text. This is different from the alliteration device mentioned above because consonance only uses consonants, while alliteration could use vowels or consonants. 

An example would be A blessing in disguise. This is an example of consonance. As you can see, the “s” sound is repeated.

6. Ellipsis

This is used when the author wants to indicate the omission of words in a quoted sentence or paragraph. It usually indicates that the speaker either trailed off or left a thought unfinished. Usually, it consists of 3 to 4 periods.

There are multiple ways of using ellipsis. One way is to tell the reader that the text is only a portion of the entire quote such as: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth … the proposition that all men are created equal.” This helps the author save space while letting his point come across.

Another way is to complete a sentence by reference. “Today, the sales team in Ohio sold 37 cars; the team in Kansas only 4…” Though the last word was omitted from the sentence, you can tell from the context that it meant to refer to cars.

7. Ethos

This is one of the three artistic proofs with the other two being Pathos and Logos. This is supposed to be an argument that appeals to the reader’s sense of ethics and morals. This is usually shown when the speaker is talking about their intentions or where their authority comes from. However, any statements about ethics could be an appeal to ethos.

From the New York Times, “The idea of building a large workforce of full-time employees, outside of core disciplines like engineering, is not part of the ethos of most companies in today’s tech industry, observers who have studied the industry say.” Here, the author wants to point out that in the tech industry, there is not a high value placed on full-time workers outside the core competency of tech. Later the author contrasts this with his own company’s value of having full-time workers across the organization.

8. Hyperbole

This device is used to exaggerate and overemphasize the basic crux of a statement to create a larger-than-life effect and to produce a grander, noticeable effect. 

A famous example of hyperbole comes from the opening of the American Folktale of Bunyan and the Babe the Blue Ox. “Well now, one winter it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue.” As you can tell, he makes some extreme statements to show how cold it was that winter.

9. Imagery

Imagery is the use of figurative language to represent objects, actions, and ideas in order to appeal to one’s physical senses. Particular words provoke the senses and help provide visual imagery in one’s mind. It would be good to note that imagery does not only have to deal with sight but with smell and taste as well.

In Goodbye Mr. Chips, there’s a section where the protagonist brings up a memory of a day in June. He describes it as “sunny June, with the air full of flower scents and the plick-plock of cricket on the pitch”. Here you can see that sunny evokes a visual image while the scents of flowers and the plick-plock of cricket evoke the sense of smell and audio respectively. It helps readers better understand and relate to the text.

10. Irony

There are two types of irony: verbal irony and situational irony. The verbal irony comes when the author conveys an idea that’s opposite from the words they are using. The situational irony arises when an incongruity is shown between the expectations of what is supposed to happen and what actually happens instead. 

Verbal Irony Example: One famous example of verbal irony can be found in the masterpiece, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In this scene, King Arthur confronts and fights the Black Knight. After removing the arms of the Black Knight, Arthur points out he lost his ability to fight. Thus the Black Knight quips back “It’s just a flesh wound”. This is incongruous with the dire situation of having two arms chopped off. 

Situational Irony Example: One well-known example of situational irony comes from the play The Gift of the Magi. It focuses on a couple, each looking for a gift for the other. The woman cuts off her hair to buy Jim a chain for his prized watch. When we see her present the gift to her husband, we expect him to be ecstatic. However, he is shocked because he sold his pocket watch to buy her new combs for her long hair. Though ironic, it showed that the most important thing is their love for each other.

11. Oxymoron

An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory or opposing terms appear in the same phrase. This shouldn’t be confused with antithesis, a device that presents two contradicting ideas in a sentence but not in the same phrase. 

Oxymorons can found in everyday conversation. Have you ever heard somebody refer to their food as “awfully good”, a goodbye as “bittersweet”, or someone as “openly deceptive”. As you can see, these phrases can help emphasize the other word or bring other connotations to an otherwise one dimensional word.

12. Pathos

Pathos is one of the other ingredients of persuasion. With the others being Ethos (as mentioned above) and Logos. Pathos refers to using arguments meant to draw on the reader’s emotions. It can stir up memories of a better time or feelings of pity and sympathy.

One example can be found in Mark Twain’s The Adventure of Tom Sawyer. “He had meant the best in the world, and been treated like a dog – like a very dog. She would be sorry someday – maybe when it was too late. Ah, if he could only die TEMPORARILY. This is meant to arouse feelings of sympathy in the reader’s mind. Most people could remember a time when a crush of theirs rejected them and the pain and suffering that caused. His wish of death, however temporary, points to the very human emotion of wishing the other would regret the decision they just made.

13. Personification

Using personification, the author applies human attributes to a non-human thing such as ideas and animals. These objects are portrayed such to make the reader believe that these things act like human beings. This is to help really bring the object to life and provide a way for the reader to understand it in a different way.

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen portrays a heart that’s divided between concern and resentment. These are two emotions that the heart itself cannot actually have.

It is clear it is Elizabeth, the protagonist, that is the one divided but Jane Austen helps emphasize the emotional aspect of this situation by focusing on the heart itself.

There is a subset of personification called anthropomorphism. The non-human entities actually do human things rather than having human attributes applied to them.

For example in the book, The Book Thief, Death narrates himself to the readers. He says, “.. It suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away.” Here death is written as if he can be seen standing genially, holding your soul, and carrying you away. 

14. Symbol/Symbolism

Symbolism uses symbols to denote ideas and traits. Most of the time, symbols take the form of objects that convey certain meanings. Sometimes an action, event, or spoken word can have a symbolic value. For example, a character breaking a mirror can symbolize a turn in fortunes since broken mirrors symbolize bad luck. 

Additionally, symbols can change meaning depending on the context surrounding the symbol. In one context, a chain means unity while in another it means imprisonment. Thus when evaluating symbolism usage within a passage, it is essential to understand the context and how it can affect the symbolism within the passage.

You can find symbolism in even the earliest works of literature. In Shakespeare’s famous monologue within the play, As you Like It“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts.” These lines help symbolize that everybody, men and women, have their own parts to play in each other’s lives. A stage here symbolizes the world and the players each individual human being.

15. Pun

Though puns are mostly known for their common usage among father figures, you can find yourself getting tested on them on the AP Lang exam as well. A pun is when a word that has two or more meanings and this ambiguity gets used in a humorous way. Most puns use homophones, words that sound alike, or homonyms, words that have different meanings.

William Shakespeare is known for his humorous plays. In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio says “Ask for me tomorrow, and you’ll find a grave man” after receiving a mortal stab wound. In this instance grave means somber but grave is also a place to bury the dead.

Another instance can be found in Shakespeare’s play, Richard III“Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of York.” Son has an awfully close pronunciation to the word sun which is further emphasized by the use of “glorious summer”.

Final Thoughts

We hope this rhetorical strategies list helped you with your understanding of the various rhetorical devices found on the AP Lang exam. Though this is just a subset of the 50 or so types of literary devices found on the exam, we have found through extensive testing and research that it is very likely that most of these rhetorical devices will be found on it. However, this is still a starting point and you should seek out our other articles on rhetorical devices to have a greater and comprehensive understanding about rhetorical devices. Be sure to learn how to write an AP Lang argumentative essay as well as as synthesis essay and use the rhetorical devices effectively!

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