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Style Analysis: A Plan of

Attack
(This information synthesized from the Vertical Teaming Workshop presented by
College Board.)
On the AP English Language Exam, at least one of the questions will probably give
you a passage (or perhaps two) and as you to analy!e the author"s use of language,
rhetori#al strategies, et#$ %ea#hers #all this type of question a &style analysis'
question$ %he ey to nailing this type of prompt is reading the passage #losely
(usually more than on#e) and examining how the writing &wors$' %o some AP
students this #omes naturally, but many students have told me that a &plan of
atta#' is helpful ((espe#ially if you"re given a di)#ult passage$ *ere"s a plan of
atta# that you #an use to get yourself on tra#$ Even if you don"t fully understand
how language is &woring' in a passage at +rst glan#e, going through these
analyti#al steps #an help you see the writer"s #raft$
%here are at least four areas that may be #onsidered when
analy!ing style,
-$ di#tion,
.$ senten#e stru#ture,
/$ treatment of sub0e#t matter, and
1$ +gurative language$
1. DICTION (choice of words)
2es#ribe di#tion by #onsidering the following,
3ords may be onosylla!ic (one syllable in length) or
"olysylla!ic (more than one syllable in length)$ %he higher
the ratio of polysyllabi# words, the more di)#ult the #ontent$
3ords may be mainly collo#$ial (slang), inforal
(#onversational), foral (literary), or old%fashioned$
3ords may be mainly denotati&e (#ontaining an exa#t
meaning) or connotati&e (#ontaining a suggested meaning)$
3ords may be concrete (spe#i+#) or a!stract (general)$
3ords may be e$"honio$s (pleasant sounding), e$g$ butter4y,
or caco"hono$s (harsh sounding), e$g$, pus$
'. S(NT(NC( ST)*CT*)(
2es#ribe the senten#e stru#ture by #onsidering the following,
Examine the sentence len+th$
Are the senten#es tele+ra"hic (shorter than +ve words in
length), short (approximately +ve words in length),
edi$ (approximately eighteen words in length), or lon+
and in&ol&ed (thrity words or more in length)5 2oes the
senten#e length +t the sub0e#t matter6 what variety of
lengths are present5 3hy is the senten#e length e7e#tive5
Examine sentence "atterns$ 8ome elements to be
#onsidered are,
A declarati&e (asserti&e) senten#e maes a statement,
e$g$, %he ing is si#$ An i"erati&e sentence gives a
#ommand, e$g$, O7 with their heads$ An interro+ati&e
sentence ass a question, e$g$, 3hy is the ings si#5 An
e,claatory sentence maes and ex#lamation, e$g$, %he
ing is dead9
A si"le sentence #ontains one sub0e#t and one verb,
e$g$, %he singer bowed to her adoring audien#e$ A
co"o$nd sentence #ontains two independent #lauses
0oined by a #oordinate #on0un#tion (and, but, or), or by a
semi#olon, e$g$, %he singer bowed to the audien#e, but she
sang no en#ores$ A co"le, sentence #ontains an
independent #lause and one or more subordinate #lauses,
e$g$, :ou said that you would tell the truth$ A co"o$nd%
co"le, sentence #ontains two or more prin#ipal #lauses
and one or more subordinate #lauses, e$g$, %he singer owed
while the audien#e applauded, but she sang no en#ores$
A loose sentence maes #omplete sense if brought to a
#lose before the a#tual ending, e$g$, 3e rea#hed
Edmonton;that morning;after a turbulent 4ight;and some
ex#iting experien#es$ A "eriodic sentence maes sense
only when the end of the senten#e is rea#hed, e$g$, %hat
morning, after a turbulent 4ight and some ex#iting
experien#es, we rea#hed Edmonton$
<n a !alanced sentence, the phrases or #lauses balan#e
ea#h other by virtue of their lieness or stru#ture, meaning,
and;or length, e$g$, *e maeth me to lie down in green
pastures6 he leadeth me beside the still waters$
Nat$ral order of a sentence involves #onstru#ting a
senten#e so the sub0e#t #omes before the predi#ate, e$g$,
Oranges grow in =alifornia$ In&erted order of a sentence
(sentence in&ersion) involves #onstru#ting a senten#e so
the predi#ate #omes before the sub0e#t, e$g$, <n =alifornia
grow oranges$ %his devi#e in whi#h normal senten#e
patters are reversed to #reate an emphati# or rhythmi#
e7e#t$ S"lit order of a sentence divides the predi#ate
into tow parts with the sub0e#t #oming in the middle, e$g$, <n
=alifornia oranges grow$
-$,ta"osition is a poeti# and rhetori#al devi#e whi#h
normally unasso#iated ideas, words, or phrases are pla#ed
next to one another, #reating an e7e#t of surprise and with,
e$g$, %he apparition of those fa#es in the #rowd6;Petals on a
wet, bla# bough (In a Station of the Metro by E!ra Pound)$
Parallel str$ct$re ("arallelis) refers to a grammati#al
or stru#tural similarity between senten#es or parts of a
senten#e$ it involves an arrangement of words, phrases,
senten#es, and paragraphs so that elements or equal
importan#e are equally developed and similarly phrased,
e$g$, *e was waling, running, and 0umping for 0oy$
)e"etition is a devi#e in whi#h words, sounds, and ideas
are used more than on#e for the purpose of enhan#ing
rhythm and #reating emphasis, e$g$, $$$government of the
people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from
the earth (ddress at !ettysb"rg by A$ Lin#oln)$
A rhetorical #$estion is a question whi#h expe#ts no
answer$ <t is used to draw attention to a point and is
generally stronger than a dire#t statement, e$g$, <f >r$
?er#ho7 is always fair, as you have said, why did he refuse
to listen to >rs$ @aldwinAs arguments5
Examine the sentence !e+innin+s$ <s there a good
variety or does a pattern emerge5
Examine the arran+eent of ideas in a sentence$
Are they set out in a spe#ial way for a purpose5
Examine the arran+eent of ideas in a "ara+ra"h
to see if there is eviden#e of any pattern or stru#ture$
.. T)(AT/(NT O0 S*1-(CT /ATT()
2es#ribe the authors treatment of the sub0e#t matter by
#onsidering the following$ *as the author been,
8ub0e#tive5 Are his #on#lusions based upon opinions6 are
they rather personal in nature5
Ob0e#tive5 Are his #on#lusions based upon fa#ts, are they
impersonal or s#ienti+#5
8upportive of his main idea5 <f so, how did he support his
#laims5 2id he, state his opinions6 report his experien#e6
report observations6 refer to statements made by experts6
use statisti#al data5
2. 0I3*)ATI4( 5AN3*A3(
Alliteration is the pra#ti#e of beginning several #onse#utive
or neighboring words with the same sound, e$g$, %he twisting
trout twinled below$
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in a series of
words, e$g$, the words B#ryB and BsideB have the same vowel
sound and so are said to be in assonan#e$
Consonance is the repetition of a #onsonant sound within a
series of words to produ#e a harmonious e7e#t, e$g$, And ea#h
slow dus a drawing(down on blinds$ %he BdB sound is in
#onsonan#e$ as well, the BsB sound is also in #onsonan#e$
Siile is a #omparison of two di7erent things or ideas through
the use of the words lie or as$ <t is de+nitely stated
#omparison, where the poet says one thing is lie another,
e$g$, %he warrior fought lie a lion$
/eta"hor is a #omparison without the use of lie or as$ %he
poet states that one thing is another$ <t is usually a
#omparison between something that is real or #on#rete and
something that is abstra#t, e$g$, Life is but a dream$
Personi6cation is a ind of metaphor whi#h gives inanimate
ob0e#ts or abstra#t ideas human #hara#teristi#s, e$g$, %he wind
#ried in the dar$
Onoato"oeia (Iitati&e 7arony) is the use of words in
whi#h the sounds seem to resemble the sounds they des#ribe,
e$g$, hiss, bu!!, bang$ when onomatopoeia is used on an
extended s#ale in a poem, it is #alled imitative harmony$
7y"er!ole is a deliberate, extravagant, and often outrageous
exaggeration$ <t may be used either for serious or #omi#
e#ect$ e$g$, %he shot that was heard Around the world$
*nderstateent (>eiosis) is the opposite of hyperbole$ <t is a
ind of irony whi#h deliberately represents something as mu#h
less than it really is, e$g$, < #ould probably manage to survive
on a salary of two million dollars per year$
Parado, is a statement whi#h #ontradi#ts itself$ <t may seem
almost absurd$ Although it may seem to be at odds with
ordinary experien#e, it usually turns out to have a #oherent
meaning, and reveals a truth whi#h is normally hidden, e$g$,
%he more you now, the more you now you donAt now
(8o#rates)$
O,yoron is a form of paradox whi#h #ombines a pair of
#ontrary terms into a single expression$ %his #ombination
usually serves the purpose of sho#ing the reader into
awareness, e$g$, sweet sorrow, wooden ni#el$
P$n is a play on words whi#h are identi#al or similar in sound
but whi#h have sharply diverse meanings$ Puns may have
serious as well as humorous uses, e$g$, 3hen >er#utio is
bleeding to death in %omeo and &"liet' he says to his friends,
BAs for me tomorrow, and you shall +nd me a grave man$B
Irony is the result of a statement saying one thing while
meaning the opposite$ <ts purpose is usually to #riti#i!e, e$g$,
<t is simple to stop smoing$ <Ave done it many times$
Sarcas is a type of irony in whi#h a person appears to be
praising something while he is a#tually insulting the thing$ <ts
purpose is to in0ure or hurt, e$g$, As < fell down the stairs
head+rst, < heard her say BLoo at that #oordination$B
Antithesis % involves a dire#t #ontrast of stru#turally parallel
word groupings generally for the purpose of #ontrast, e$g$, 8in
or swim$
A"ostro"he is a for of "ersoni6cation in whi#h the
absent or dead are spoen to as if present, and the inanimate
as if animate$ %hese are all addressed dire#tly, e$g$, %he
answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind$
All$sion is a referen#e to a mythologi#al, literary, histori#al,
or @ibli#al person, pla#e, or thing e$g$, *e met his 3aterloo$
Synecdoche (/etonyy) is a form of metaphor$ <n
syne#do#he, a part of something is used to signify the whole,
e$g$, All hands on de#$ Also, the reverse, whereby the whole
#an represent a part, is syne#do#he, e$g$, =anada played the
Cnited 8tates in the Olympi# ho#ey +nals$ Another form of
syne#do#he involves the #ontainer representing the thing
being #ontained, e$g$, %he pot is boiling$ One last form of
syne#do#he involves the material from whi#h an ob0e#t is
made standing for the ob0e#t itself, e$g$, %he quarterba#
tossed the pigsin$ <n metonymy, the name of one thing is
applied to another thing with whi#h it is #losely asso#iated,
e$g$ < love 8haespeare$