What Are Rhetorical Devices?

Rhetorical devices, also known as persuasive devices or stylistic devices, are techniques that authors or speakers can use to convey meaning with the purpose of persuading. They can also be used to evoke emotion on the part of the reader or audience.

Some types of rhetorical devices can also be considered figurative language because they depend on a non-literal usage of certain words or phrases.

Top 10 Rhetorical Devices

1. Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a figure of speech that contains a bold overstatement or an exaggeration to give emphasis or focus to that part of the statement. It is the most overused rhetorical form, utilized in everyday speech, in writing, and in any form of discourse.

For example, if one says, “There are more reasons for you to enroll in university than there are stars in the sky,” that person is trying to persuade the listener that university is extremely important.

2. Understatement

Understatement is the opposite of hyperbole, deliberately expressing an idea as less important than it actually is, either for ironic emphasis or for politeness and tact.

For example, instead of describing in a few words the horrors and destruction of Hurricane Katrina, a writer might state:

“Hurricane Katrina somewhat interrupted business in the downtown area.”

3. Litotes

Litotes is a particular type of understatement, consisting in the assertion of an affirmative by negating its contrary.

For example, one might say, “He’s not the brightest man in the world” to mean, “He is stupid.”

4. Antithesis

Antithesis is a rhetorical contrast between opposing, often successive, ideas. Usually, the negative presentation of its opposite makes the principal idea more striking.

Example: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope

5. Hypophora

Hypophora is the rhetorical technique of raising one or more questions and then proceeding to answer them.

For example, in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Falstaff uses hypophora by asking and answering a series of questions:

“What is honour? A word. What is that word honour? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth be bear it? No. ‘Tis insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it.”

6. Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is basically a question not expecting an answer, or one whose answer is self-evident.

For example, Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind” ends with a famous rhetorical question:

“O, Wind,

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

In this case, the answer is contained within the rhetorical question: If winter comes, spring cannot be far behind.

7. Procatalepsis

Procatalepsis is similar to hypophora, but instead of questions, it deals with objections. Procatalepsis usually shows the audience that the author has already taken into account their possible objections and addressed them directly. It is very useful in argumentative essays.

In the essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell writes,

“I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, …, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail.”

Orwell anticipates the objection of the audience and offers a rebuttal.

8. Distinctio

Distinctio is a rhetorical device by which a writer elaborates on the meaning, or various meanings, of a word in order to avoid leaving anything unclarified, and therefore preventing confusion.

For example, a woman having her house painted might make use of distinctio while giving directions to the painter: “I want it blue, and by blue, I do not mean turquoise, or azure, or even royal blue; I mean sky blue, like the cloudless sky on a summer’s day.”

9. Simile

The simile is a figure of speech in which one thing is likened to another in order to clarify and enhance an image. It is an explicit comparison recognizable by the use of the words “like” or “as.”

Robert Burns, in the first stanza of the poem “A Red, Red Rose,” likens love to a flower and to a song:

“O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,

That’s newly sprung in June:

O my Luve’s like the melodie,

That’s sweetly play’d in tune.”

10. Metaphor

Metaphor is a figure of speech by which one thing is described in terms of another. Very frequently, the metaphor makes use of the verb “to be.”

For example, Joshua Reynolds, in a discourse delivered to the students of the Royal Academy, says,

“The mind is but a barren soil; is a soil soon exhausted, and will produce no crop, or only one, unless it be continually fertilized and enriched with foreign matter.”

This sentence contains three metaphors: mind—soil, intellectual/practical output­—crop, and knowledge/information—foreign matter that fertilizes and enriches.

Other Rhetorical Devices

  • Alliteration
  • Allusion
  • Amplification
  • Anacoluthon
  • Anadiplosis
  • Analogy
  • Anaphora
  • Anastrophe
  • Antanagoge
  • Antimetabole
  • Antiphrasis
  • Apophasis
  • Aporia
  • Aposiopesis
  • Apostrophe
  • Appositive
  • Assonance
  • Asyndeton
  • Catachresis
  • Chiasmus
  • Climax
  • Conduplicatio
  • Diacope
  • Dirimens Copulatio
  • Enthymeme
  • Enumeratio
  • Epanalepsis
  • Epistrophe
  • Epithet
  • Epizeuxis
  • Eponym
  • Exemplum
  • Hyperbaton
  • Hypotaxis
  • Irony
  • Metabasis
  • Metanoia
  • Metonymy
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Oxymoron
  • Parallelism
  • Parataxis
  • Parenthesis
  • Personification
  • Pleonasm
  • Polysyndeton
  • Scesis Onomaton
  • Sententia
  • Sentential Adverb
  • Syllepsis
  • Symploce
  • Synchysis
  • Synecdoche
  • Syntheton
  • Tricolon
  • Zeugma


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