31 Useful Rhetorical Devices

What is a rhetorical device and why are they used.

As with all fields of serious and complicated human endeavor (that can be considered variously as an art, a science, a profession, or a hobby), there is a technical vocabulary associated with writing. Rhetoric is the name for the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion, and though a writer doesn’t need to know the specific labels for certain writing techniques in order to use them effectively, it is sometimes helpful to have a handy taxonomy for the ways in which words and ideas are arranged. This can help to discuss and isolate ideas that might otherwise become abstract and confusing. As with the word rhetoric itself, many of these rhetorical devices come from Greek.


Ready, set, rhetoric.

The repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables

wild and woolly, threatening throngs

Syntactical inconsistency or incoherence within a sentence especially : a shift in an unfinished sentence from one syntactic construction to another

you really should have—well, what do you expect?

Repetition of a prominent and usually the last word in one phrase or clause at the beginning of the next

rely on his honor—honor such as his?

A literary technique that involves interruption of the chronological sequence of events by interjection of events or scenes of earlier occurrence : flashback

Repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect

we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground

The repetition of a word within a phrase or sentence in which the second occurrence utilizes a different and sometimes contrary meaning from the first

we must all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately

The usually ironic or humorous use of words in senses opposite to the generally accepted meanings

this giant of 3 feet 4 inches

The use of a proper name to designate a member of a class (such as a Solomon for a wise ruler) OR the use of an epithet or title in place of a proper name (such as the Bard for Shakespeare)

The raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it

we won't discuss his past crimes

An expression of real or pretended doubt or uncertainty especially for rhetorical effect

to be, or not to be: that is the question

Harshness in the sound of words or phrases

An inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases

working hard, or hardly working?

A disjunctive conclusion inferred from a single premise

gravitation may act without contact; therefore, either some force may act without contact or gravitation is not a force

The substitution of a disagreeable, offensive, or disparaging expression for an agreeable or inoffensive one

greasy spoon is a dysphemism for the word diner

Repetition of a word or expression at the end of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect

of the people, by the people, for the people

Emphatic repetition [ this definition is taken from the 1934 edition of Webster's Unabridged dictionary ]

An interchange of two elements in a phrase or sentence from a more logical to a less logical relationship

you are lost to joy for joy is lost to you

A transposition or inversion of idiomatic word order

judge me by my size, do you?

Extravagant exaggeration

mile-high ice-cream cones

The putting or answering of an objection or argument against the speaker's contention [ this definition is taken from the 1934 edition of Webster's Unabridged dictionary ]

Understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary

not a bad singer

The presentation of a thing with underemphasis especially in order to achieve a greater effect : UNDERSTATEMENT

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them ( Metaphor vs. Simile )

drowning in money

A figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated

crown as used in lands belonging to the crown

The naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it

A combination of contradictory or incongruous words

cruel kindness

The use of more words than those necessary to denote mere sense : REDUNDANCY

I saw it with my own eyes

A figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by "like" or "as"

cheeks like roses

The use of a word in the same grammatical relation to two adjacent words in the context with one literal and the other metaphorical in sense

she blew my nose and then she blew my mind

A figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (such as fifty sail for fifty ships ), the whole for a part (such as society for high society ), the species for the genus (such as cutthroat for assassin ), the genus for the species (such as a creature for a man ), or the name of the material for the thing made (such as boards for stage )

The use of a word to modify or govern two or more words usually in such a manner that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one

opened the door and her heart to the homeless boy

MORE TO EXPLORE: Rhetorical Devices Used in Pop Songs

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The Top 41 Rhetorical Devices That Will Make Your Words Memorable

  • What Are Rhetorical Devices?
  • Top Rhetorical Devices
  • Take The Quiz

For many, public speaking is one of the most terrifying things imaginable. Thankfully, we can rely on the many, many rhetorical devices to give us a helping hand.

What are rhetorical devices ?

A rhetorical device is typically defined as a technique or word construction that a speaker or writer uses to win an audience to their side, either while trying to persuade them to do something or trying to win an argument.

As you are about to see, the majority of rhetorical devices have names that come from Greek or Latin. While the concept of public speaking developed early around the world, much of what we know about the art of public speaking comes to English speakers from the ancient Greeks. The Greeks cultivated the art of rhetoric and many great philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, thoroughly studied it. The ancient Romans greatly valued rhetoric as well and they continued to build on the Greek rhetorical traditions that came before them.

What worked for the ancient Greeks and Romans still works wonders today. Rhetorical devices are effective tools that any writer or speaker can use to make their words more impactful to an audience. Rhetorical devices make speeches more persuasive, writing more memorable, and are just what you need if you are trying to really take advantage of ethos, pathos, and logos .

Rhetorical devices vs. literary devices

Literary and rhetorical devices are sometimes discussed separately, but it’s important to note the relationship and occasional overlap between the two. A l iterary device is an element, like a metaphor, imagery, and others, that draws us into a story . Have you ever been so wrapped up in a story, book, song, or poem, that you just couldn’t walk away from it? If so, there’s a good chance the writer has mastered the art of using literary devices.

To compare, rhetorical devices are often described as those elements that are incorporated intentionally to invoke responses in the reader, as well as influence the tone of a work.

Our comprehensive guide to literary devices is chock full of examples from masterful writers.

Often, rhetorical devices emphasize a specific language pattern, word, sentence structure, or rhyming pattern. They include formative techniques, like repetition or hyperbole , that accentuate certain elements of a work for the purpose of getting the reader’s attention, persuading them, or drawing out an emotional response. It is often said rhetorical devices are used to elicit a certain emotion via persuasion, whereas literary devices may be primarily used to enhance storytelling.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular, effective, and interesting rhetorical devices that turn our words into award-winning speeches and writing.

✒️ Want to try a quiz first?

We have a quick quiz for you if you want to see how far your knowledge of rhetorical devices goes. Or review the terms below first so you can test what you’ve learned.

List of 41 top rhetorical devices

1. metaphor.

A metaphor is a comparison in which something is said to figuratively be something else.

Example: He was a wolf among sheep.

2. hyperbole

A hyperbole is an intentional exaggeration.

Example: The plate exploded into a million pieces.

3. alliteration

Alliteration is repeating the same or similar sounds at the beginning of words.

Example: She sells seashells by the sea shore.

An analogy is a comparison between two similar things, typically using figurative language. Metaphors and similes—more on them later—are usually considered to be types of analogies. Sometimes, analogies are considered to be a unique device that is a comparison that explains itself; basically, a complex metaphor or long simile.

Example: Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you are going to get.

5. onomatopoeia

An onomatopoeia is a word that imitates the sound it refers to.

Example: The thunder boomed and the lightning crashed.

6. allusion

Allusion is the act of casually referencing something, usually a work of popular culture.

Example: Finishing his memoir was his white whale.

7. oxymoron

Oxymoron is a figure of speech that uses two opposite words together.

Example: The treaty led to a violent peace.

Satire is using humor to criticize public figures.

Example: When Senator Jackson said “numbers don’t lie,” he forgot that his first name wasn’t “Numbers.”

In rhetoric, the word paradox refers to making a statement that seems self-contradictory or impossible but actually makes sense.

Example: Youth is wasted on the young.

A simile is a comparison in which something is said to figuratively be like something else.

Example: It was as hot as a desert this morning.

Learn about different types of poems (and see what rhetorical devices they may use).

In rhetoric, the notoriously confusing word irony means to use words to mean the opposite of their literal meaning.

Example: Ashley said it was a beautiful day while drying off from the drenching rain. (Ashley ironically referred to poor weather as “beautiful.”)

12. personification

Personification is the act of giving human elements to non-human things.

Example: The beautiful valley spread its arms out and embraced us.

13. anecdote

An anecdote is a brief story about something that happened to the speaker, usually something funny or interesting.

Example: Five years ago, I went to the store and met some clowns. Those clowns gave me the advice I am sharing with you now.

14. euphemism

Euphemism is using alternative language to refer to explicit or unpleasant things.

Example: The baseball struck him in a sensitive area.

15. connotation

Connotation is using words to suggest a social or emotional meaning rather than a literal one.

Example: This is a house, but I want a home.

16. meiosis

As a rhetorical device, meiosis means using euphemism to minimize the importance or significance of something.

Example: We must put an end to this peculiar institution. (“Peculiar institution” is a euphemism for slavery.)

17. apostrophe

In rhetoric, apostrophe occurs when a writer or speaker directly addresses an absent person, a concept, or an inanimate object.

Example: You have made a fool out of me for the last time, washing machine!

18. antithesis

Antithesis is using parallel sentences or clauses to make a contrast.

Example: No pain, no gain.

19. sarcasm

Sarcasm is using irony to mock something or to show contempt.

Example: Oh, yeah, he is a great guy. A great guy who took the last slice of pizza.

20. consonance

Consonance is a repetition of consonants or consonant sounds.

Example: Mike likes Ike’s bike.

21. rhetorical question

A rhetorical question is a question that isn’t intended to be answered. The point of asking the question is to make an audience think or to cause an emotional reaction.

Example: Can we really know what our place in the universe is? We have asked ourselves this question for millennia.

22. epithet

An epithet is a nickname or descriptive term used to refer to someone.

Example: You need to listen to me and not Clueless Kevin over there.

23. anaphora

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or words at the start of phrases, clauses, or sentences.

Example: I came, I saw, I conquered.

Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech is a classic example of anaphora. Read about it here.

In rhetoric, climax is ordering words so that they build up in intensity.

Example: Look at the sky! It’s a bird! A plane! Superman!

25. cacophony

Cacophony is the act of purposefully using harsh sounds.

Example: The gnashing of teeth and screeching of bats kept me awake.

26. assonance

Assonance is the repetition of the same vowel sound with different consonants.

Example: She and Lee see the bees in the tree.

A person is making a pun when they humorously use words with multiple meanings or words with similar sounds to create wordplay.

Example: The farmer tried to get his cows to get along, but they insisted on having a beef with each other.

28. parallelism

Parallelism is using grammatically similar phrases or sentences together.

Example: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

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29. aphorism

An aphorism is a short sentence that presents truth or opinion, usually in a witty or clever manner.

Example: A penny saved is a penny earned.

30. synecdoche

Synecdoche is when a part of something is used to refer to a whole.

Example: The commander had an army of 10,000 swords. (The people holding the swords were there, too.)

Parody is an imitation of something with the intent to poke fun at it.

Example: If Edgar Allen Poe had written this speech, it might have opened with “Here we are, weak and weary, gathered on a Monday dreary.”

32. colloquialism

A colloquialism is an instance of informal language or a local expression. The act of using such language is also called colloquialism .

Example: Here in Philly, we love to eat hoagies and all kinds of tasty jawns.

33. understatement

Understatement is using language to intentionally lessen a major thing or event.

Example: The erupting volcano was a little problem for the neighboring city.

34. syllogism

Syllogism is an argument based on deductive reasoning that uses generalizations to reach specific conclusions. Usually, a syllogism follows the format of “A is B. B is C. So, A is C.”

Example: Dogs are mammals. Biscuit is a dog. Therefore, Biscuit is a mammal.

Learn more about deductive and inductive reasoning.

An eponym can refer to “a word based on or derived from a person’s name,” such as the Gallup poll , named after statistician G.H. Gallup, or Reagonomics (a combination of the last name Reagan and economics ). As a rhetorical device, an eponym can be an allusion to a famous person.

Example: He is the LeBron James of chess.

36. metonymy

Metonymy is when the name of something is replaced with something related to it.

Example: He loved music from the cradle (birth) to the grave (death).

37. parenthesis

In rhetoric, parenthesis is an interruption used for clarity.

Example: The audience, or at least the paying members of the audience, enjoyed the show.

38. expletive

In rhetoric, an expletive is an interrupting word or phrase used for emphasis.

Example: The eggs were not, in any sense of the word, delicious.

39. metanoia

In rhetoric, metanoia refers to any instance of self-correction. Metanoia can involve things like retracting a previous statement to replace it with a new one or amplifying a previous statement by using stronger language.

Example: We’ll work on it on Sunday. No, let’s make that Monday—it’s the weekend after, all!

40. chiasmus

Chiasmus is reversing the grammatical order in two otherwise parallel phrases or sentences.

Example: Dog owners own dogs and cats own cat owners.

41. asyndeton

Asyndeton is the removal of conjunctions from a sentence.

Example: Get in, cause a distraction, get out.

Take the quiz

Are you ready to write with these rhetorical devices? You can review them using our Rhetorical Devices Word List , where you can practice with flashcards and practice quizzes. And when it’s time, fit in this quiz to quickly distinguish which terms you now know before you apply them to your next project.

Learn more about the modes of persuasion known as ethos, pathos, and logos.

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What Is a Rhetorical Device? Definition, List, Examples

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A rhetorical device is a linguistic tool that employs a particular type of sentence structure, sound, or pattern of meaning in order to evoke a particular reaction from an audience. Each rhetorical device is a distinct tool that can be used to construct an argument or make an existing argument more compelling.  

Any time you try to inform, persuade , or argue with someone, you’re engaging in rhetoric. If you’ve ever had an emotional reaction to a speech or changed your mind about an issue after hearing a skilled debater's rebuttal, you've experienced the power of rhetoric. By developing a basic knowledge of rhetorical devices, you can improve your ability to process and convey information while also strengthening your persuasive skills. 

Types of Rhetorical Devices

Rhetorical devices are loosely organized into the following four categories:

  • Logos. Devices in this category seek to convince and persuade via logic and reason, and will usually make use of statistics, cited facts, and statements by authorities to make their point and persuade the listener.
  • Pathos. These rhetorical devices base their appeal in emotion. This could mean invoking sympathy or pity in the listener, or making the audience angry in the service of inspiring action or changing their mind about something.
  • Ethos. Ethical appeals try to convince the audience that the speaker is a credible source, that their words have weight and must be taken seriously because they are serious and have the experience and judgment necessary to decide what’s right.
  • Kairos. This is one of the most difficult concepts in rhetoric; devices in this category are dependent on the idea that the time has come for a particular idea or action. The very timeliness of the idea is part of the argument.

Top Rhetorical Devices

Since rhetoric dates back to ancient times, much of the terminology used to discuss it comes from the original Greek. Despite its ancient origins, however, rhetoric is as vital as ever. The following list contains some of the most important rhetorical devices to understand:

  • Alliteration , a sonic device, is the repetition of the initial sound of each word (e.g. Alan the antelope ate asparagus).
  • Cacophony , a sonic device, is the combination of consonant sounds to create a displeasing effect. 
  • Onomatopoeia , a sonic device, refers to a word that emulates the real-life sound it signifies (e.g. using the word "bang" to signify an explosion).
  • Humor  creates connection and identification with audience members, thus increasing the likelihood that they will agree with the speaker. Humor can also be used to deflate counter-arguments and make opposing points of view appear ridiculous.
  • Anaphora  is the repetition of certain words or phrases at the beginning of sentences to increase the power of a sentiment. Perhaps the best-known example of anaphora is Martin Luther King Jr.'s repetition of the phrase "I have a dream."
  • Meiosis is a type of euphemism that intentionally understates the size or importance of its subject. It can be used to dismiss or diminish a debate opponent's argument. 
  • Hyperbole  is an exaggerated statement that conveys emotion and raises the bar for other speakers. Once you make a hyperbolic statement like “My idea is going to change the world," other speakers will have to respond in kind or their more measured words may seem dull and uninspiring in comparison.
  • Apophasis  is the verbal strategy of bringing up a subject by denying that that very subject should be brought up at all.
  • Anacoluthon  is a sudden swerve into a seemingly unrelated idea in the middle of a sentence. It can seem like a grammatical mistake if handled poorly, but it can also put powerful stress onto the idea being expressed.
  • Chiasmus  is a technique wherein the speaker inverts the order of a phrase in order to create a pretty and powerful sentence. The best example comes from President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country ."
  • Anadiplosis  is the use of the same word at the end of one sentence and at the beginning of the subsequent sentence, forming a chain of thought that carries your audience to the point you’ve chosen.
  • Dialogismus  refers to moments when the speaker imagines what someone else is thinking, or speaks in the voice of someone else, in order to explain and then subvert or undermine counterpoints to the original argument.
  • Eutrepismus , one of the most common rhetorical devices, is simply the act of stating points in the form of a numbered list. Why is it useful? First off, this devices makes information seem official and authoritative. Second, it gives speech a sense of order and clarity. And third, it helps the listener keep track of the speaker's points.
  • Hypophora  is the trick of posing a question and then immediately supplying the answer. Do you know why hypophora is useful? It's useful because it stimulates listener interest and creates a clear transition point in the speech.
  • Expeditio  is the trick of listing a series of possibilities and then explaining why all but one of those possibilities are non-starters. This device makes it seem as though all choices have been considered, when in fact you've been steering your audience towards the one choice you desired all along.
  • Antiphrasis  is another word for irony. Antiphrasis refers to a statement whose actual meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning of the words within it.
  • Asterismos. Look, this is the technique of inserting a useless but attention-grabbing word in front of your sentence in order to grab the audience’s attention. It's useful if you think your listeners are getting a bit bored and restless.

Examples of Rhetorical Devices

Rhetoric isn’t just for debates and arguments. These devices are used in everyday speech, fiction and screenwriting, legal arguments, and more. Consider these famous examples and their impact on their audience.

  • “ Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back . Rhetorical Device : Anadiplosis. The pairs of words at the beginning and ending of each sentence give the impression that the logic invoked is unassailable and perfectly assembled.
  • “ Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” —President John F. Kennedy. Rhetorical Device : Chiasmus. The inversion of the phrase can do and the word country creates a sense of balance in the sentence that reinforces the sense of correctness.
  • "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience." –President Ronald Reagan Rhetorical Device : Apophasis. In this quip from a presidential debate, Reagan expresses mock reluctance to comment on his opponent's age, which ultimately does the job of raising the point of his opponent's age.  
  • “ But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.” —Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address . Rhetorical Device : Anaphora. Lincoln’s use of repetition gives his words a sense of rhythm that emphasizes his message. This is also an example of kairos : Lincoln senses that the public has a need to justify the slaughter of the Civil War, and thus decides to make this statement appealing to the higher purpose of abolishing slavery. 
  • “ Ladies and gentlemen, I've been to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and I can say without hyperbole that this is a million times worse than all of them put together.” – The Simpsons . Rhetorical Device : Hyperbole. Here, hyperbole is used to humorous effect in order to undermine the superficial point of the sentence.
  • Rhetoric. The discipline of discourse and persuasion via verbal argument.
  • Rhetorical Device. A tool used in the course of rhetoric, employing specific sentence structure, sounds, and imagery to attain a desired response.
  • Logos. The category of rhetorical devices that appeal to logic and reason. 
  • Pathos. The category of rhetorical devices that appeal to emotions.
  • Ethos.  The category of rhetorical devices that appeals to a sense of credibility. 
  • Kairos.  The concept of “right place, right time” in rhetoric, wherein a specific rhetorical device becomes effective because of circumstances surrounding its use.
  • “16 Rhetorical Devices That Will Improve Your Public Speaking.” Duarte , 19 Mar. 2018, www.duarte.com/presentation-skills-resources/rhetoric-isnt-a-bad-thing-16-rhetorical-devices-regularly-used-by-steve-jobs/.
  • Home - Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, the Modes of Persuasion ‒ Explanation and Examples , pathosethoslogos.com/ .
  • McKean, Erin. “Rhetorical Devices.” Boston.com , The Boston Globe, 23 Jan. 2011, archive.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2011/01/23/rhetorical_devices/ .
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Rhetoric is the art of effective communication; if you communicate with others at all, rhetorical devices are your friends!

Rhetorical devices help you make points more effectively, and help people understand you better. In this article, I'll be covering some important rhetorical devices so you can improve your own writing! 

What Are Rhetorical Devices?

A lot of things that you would think of as just regular everyday modes of communicating are actually rhetorical devices That’s because ‘rhetorical devices’ is more or less a fancy way of saying ‘communication tools.’

Most people don’t plan out their use of rhetorical devices in communication, both because nobody thinks, “now would be a good time to use synecdoche in this conversation with my grocery clerk,” and because we use them so frequently that they don’t really register as “rhetorical devices.”

How often have you said something like, “when pigs fly!” Of those times, how often have you thought, “I’m using a rhetorical device!” That’s how ubiquitous they are!

However, being aware of what they are and how to use them can strengthen your communication , whether you do a lot of big speeches, write persuasive papers, or just argue with your friends about a TV show you all like.

Rhetorical devices can function at all levels: words, sentences, paragraphs, and beyond. Some rhetorical devices are just a single word, such as onomatopoeia. Others are phrases, such as metaphor, while still others can be sentence-length (such as a thesis), paragraph-length (hypophora), or go throughout the entire piece, such as a standard five-paragraph essay.

Many of these (such as the thesis or five-paragraph essay) are so standard and familiar to us that we may not think of them as devices. But because they help us shape and deliver our arguments effectively, they're important to know and understand.


The Most Useful Rhetorical Devices List

It would be impossible to list every single rhetorical device in one blog post. Instead, I've collected a mixture of extremely common devices you may have heard before and some more obscure ones that might be valuable to learn.


Amplification is a little similar to parallelism: by using repetition, a writer expands on an original statement and increases its intensity .

Take this example from Roald Dahl’s The Twits :

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

In theory, we could have gotten the point with the first sentence. We don’t need to know that the more you think ugly thoughts, the uglier you become, nor that if you think good thoughts you won’t be ugly—all that can be contained within the first sentence. But Dahl’s expansion makes the point clearer, driving home the idea that ugly thoughts have consequences.

Amplification takes a single idea and blows it up bigger, giving the reader additional context and information to better understand your point. You don’t just have to restate the point— use amplification to expand and dive deeper into your argument to show readers and listeners how important it is!


Anacoluthon is a fancy word for a disruption in the expected grammar or syntax of a sentence. That doesn’t mean that you misspoke—using anacoluthon means that you’ve deliberately subverted your reader’s expectations to make a point.

For example, take this passage from King Lear :

“I will have such revenges on you both, That all the world shall—I will do such things, What they are, yet I know not…”

In this passage, King Lear interrupts himself in his description of his revenge. This has multiple effects on the reader: they wonder what all the world shall do once he has his revenge (cry? scream? fear him?), and they understand that King Lear has interrupted himself to regain his composure. This tells us something about him—that he’s seized by passion in this moment, but also that he regains control. We might have gathered one of those things without anacoluthon, but the use of this rhetorical device shows us both very efficiently.


Anadiplosis refers to purposeful repetition at the end of one sentence or clause and at the beginning of the next sentence or clause. In practice, that looks something like a familiar phrase from Yoda:

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Note the way that the ending word of each sentence is repeated in the following sentence. That’s anadiplosis!

This rhetorical device draws a clear line of thinking for your reader or listener—repetition makes them pay closer attention and follow the way the idea evolves. In this case, we trace the way that fear leads to suffering through Yoda’s purposeful repetition.


Antanagoge is the balancing of a negative with a positive. For example, the common phrase, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” is antanagoge—it suggests a negative (lots of lemons) and follows that up with a positive (make lemonade).

When writing persuasively, this can be a great way to respond to potential detractors of your argument. Suppose you want to convince your neighborhood to add a community garden, but you think that people might focus on the amount of work required. When framing your argument, you could say something like, “Yes, it will be a lot of work to maintain, but working together will encourage us all to get to know one another as well as providing us with fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers.”

This is a little like procatalepsis, in that you anticipate a problem and respond to it. However, antanagoge is specifically balancing a negative with a positive, just as I did in the example of a garden needing a lot of work, but that work is what ultimately makes the project worth it.

Apophasis is a form of irony relating to denying something while still saying it. You’ll often see this paired with phrases like, “I’m not saying…” or “It goes without saying…”, both of which are followed up with saying exactly what the speaker said they weren’t going to say.

Take this speech from Iron Man 2 :

"I'm not saying I'm responsible for this country's longest run of uninterrupted peace in 35 years! I'm not saying that from the ashes of captivity, never has a phoenix metaphor been more personified! I'm not saying Uncle Sam can kick back on a lawn chair, sipping on an iced tea, because I haven't come across anyone man enough to go toe to toe with me on my best day! It's not about me."

Tony Stark isn’t saying that he’s responsible for all those things… except that’s exactly what he is saying in all of his examples. Though he says it’s not about him, it clearly is—all of his examples relate to how great he is, even as he proclaims that they aren’t.

A scene like this can easily be played for humor, but apophasis can also be a useful (albeit deceptive) rhetorical tool. For example, this argument:

Our neighborhood needs a community garden to foster our relationships with one another. Not only is it great for getting to know each other, but a community garden will also provide us with all kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables. It would be wrong to say that people who disagree aren’t invested in others’ health and wellness, but those who have the neighborhood’s best interests in mind will support a community garden.

That last sentence is all apophasis. Not only did I imply that people who don’t support the community garden are anti-social and uncaring (by outright stating that I wouldn’t say that, but I also implied that they’re also not invested in the neighborhood at all. Stating things like this, by pretending you’re not saying them or saying the opposite, can be very effective.

Assonance and Alliteration

Assonance adds an abundance of attractive accents to all your assertions. That’s assonance—the practice repeating the same vowel sound in multiple words in a phrase or sentence, often at the beginning of a word, to add emphasis or musicality to your work. Alliteration is similar, but uses consonant sounds instead of vowel sounds.

Let’s use Romeo and Juliet as an example again:

“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes; A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.”

Here, we have repetition of the sounds ‘f’ and ‘l’ in ‘from forth...fatal...foes,’ and ‘loins...lovers...life.’

Even if you don’t notice the repetition as you’re reading, you can hear the effects in how musical the language sounds. Shakespeare could easily have just written something like, “Two kids from families who hate one another fell in love and died by suicide,” but that’s hardly as evocative as the phrasing he chose.

Both assonance and alliteration give your writing a lyrical sound, but they can do more than that, too. These tools can mimic associated sounds, like using many ‘p’ sounds to sound like rain or something sizzling, or ‘s’ sounds to mimic the sounds of a snake. When you’re writing, think about what alternative meanings you can add by emphasizing certain sounds.

Listen, asterismos is great. Don’t believe me? How did you feel after I began the first sentence with the word ‘listen?’ Even if you didn’t feel more inspired to actually listen, you probably paid a bit more attention because I broke the expected form. That’s what asterismos is—using a word or phrase to draw attention to the thought that comes afterward.

‘Listen’ isn’t the only example of asterismos, either. You can use words like, ‘hey,’ ‘look,’ ‘behold,’ ‘so,’ and so on. They all have the same effect: they tell the reader or listener, “Hey, pay attention—what I’m about to say is important.”

Dysphemism and Euphemism

Euphemism is the substitution of a more pleasant phrase in place of a familiar phrase, and dysphemism is the opposite —an un pleasant phrase substituted in place of something more familiar. These tools are two sides of the same coin. Euphemism takes an unpleasant thing and makes it sound nicer—such as using 'passed away' instead of 'died'—while dysphemism does the opposite, taking something that isn't necessarily bad and making it sound like it is.

We won’t get into the less savory uses of dysphemism, but there are plenty that can leave an impression without being outright offensive. Take ‘snail mail.’ A lot of us call postal mail that without any real malice behind it, but ‘snail’ implies slowness, drawing a comparison between postal mail and faster email. If you’re making a point about how going electronic is faster, better for the environment, and overall more efficient, comparing email to postal mail with the phrase ‘snail mail’ gets the point across quickly and efficiently.

Likewise, if you're writing an obituary, you probably don't want to isolate the audience by being too stark in your details. Using gentler language, like 'passed away' or 'dearly departed' allows you to talk about things that might be painful without being too direct. People will know what you mean, but you won't have to risk hurting anyone by being too direct and final with your language.


You’ve no doubt run into epilogues before, because they’re a common and particularly useful rhetorical device! Epilogues are a conclusion to a story or work that reveals what happens to the characters in the story. This is different from an afterword, which is more likely to describe the process of a book’s creation than to continue and provide closure to a story.

Many books use epilogues to wrap up loose ends, usually taking place in the future to show how characters have changed as a result of their adventures. Both Harry Potter and The Hunger Games series use their epilogues to show the characters as adults and provide some closure to their stories—in Harry Potter , the main characters have gotten married and had children, and are now sending those children to the school where they all met. This tells the reader that the story of the characters we know is over—they’re adults and are settled into their lives—but also demonstrates that the world goes on existing, though it’s been changed forever by the actions of the familiar characters.


Eutrepismus is another rhetorical device you’ve probably used before without realizing it. This device separates speech into numbered parts, giving your reader or listener a clear line of thinking to follow.

Eutrepismus is a great rhetorical device—let me tell you why. First, it’s efficient and clear. Second, it gives your writing a great sense of rhythm. Third, it’s easy to follow and each section can be expanded throughout your work.

See how simple it is? You got all my points in an easy, digestible format. Eutrepismus helps you structure your arguments and make them more effective, just as any good rhetorical device should do.

You’ve probably used hypophora before without ever thinking about it. Hypophora refers to a writer or speaker proposing a question and following it up with a clear answer. This is different from a rhetorical question—another rhetorical device—because there is an expected answer, one that the writer or speaker will immediately give to you.

Hypophora serves to ask a question the audience may have (even if they’re not entirely aware of it yet) and provide them with an answer. This answer can be obvious, but it can also be a means of leading the audience toward a particular point.

Take this sample from John F. Kennedy’s speech on going to the moon:

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

In this speech, Kennedy outright states that he’s asking questions others have asked, and then goes on to answer them. This is Kennedy’s speech, so naturally it’s going to reflect his point of view, but he’s answering the questions and concerns others might have about going to the moon. In doing so, he’s reclaiming an ongoing conversation to make his own point. This is how hypophora can be incredibly effective: you control the answer, leaving less room for argument!

Litotes is a deliberate understatement, often using double negatives, that serves to actually draw attention to the thing being remarked upon. For example, saying something like, “It’s not pretty,” is a less harsh way to say “It’s ugly,” or “It’s bad,” that nonetheless draws attention to it being ugly or bad.

In Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave , he writes:

“Indeed, it is not uncommon for slaves even to fall out and quarrel among themselves about the relative goodness of their masters, each contending for the superior goodness of his own over that of the others.”

Notice the use of “not uncommon.” Douglass, by using a double negative to make readers pay closer attention, points out that some slaves still sought superiority over others by speaking out in favor of their owners.

Litotes draws attention to something by understating it. It’s sort of like telling somebody not to think about elephants—soon, elephants becomes all they can think about. The double negative draws our attention and makes us focus on the topic because it’s an unusual method of phrasing.


Onomatopoeia refers to a sound represented within text as a mimicry of what that sound actually sounds like. Think “bang” or “whizz” or “oomph,” all of which can mean that something made that kind of a sound—”the door banged shut”—but also mimic the sound itself—”the door went bang .”

This rhetorical device can add emphasis or a little bit of spice to your writing. Compare, “The gunshot made a loud sound,” to “The gun went bang .” Which is more evocative?


Parallelism is the practice of using similar grammar structure, sounds, meter, and so on to emphasize a point and add rhythm or balance to a sentence or paragraph.

One of the most famous examples of parallelism in literature is the opening of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities :

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

In the beginning, every phrase begins with “It was,” which is itself a parallelism. But there are also pairs of parallelism within the sentence, too; “It was the ___ of times, it was the ___ of times,” and “it was the age of ___, it was the age of ___.”

Parallelism draws your reader deeper into what you’re saying and provides a nice sense of flow, even if you’re talking about complicated ideas. The ‘epoch of incredulity’ is a pretty meaty phrase, but Dickens’ parallelism sets up a series of dichotomies for us; even if we don’t know quite what it means, we can figure it out by comparing it to ‘belief.’


Personification is a rhetorical device you probably run into a lot without realizing it. It’s a form of metaphor, which means two things are being compared without the words like or as—in this case, a thing that is not human is given human characteristics.

Personification is common in poetry and literature, as it’s a great way to generate fresh and exciting language, even when talking about familiar subjects. Take this passage from Romeo and Juliet , for example:

“When well-appareled April on the heel Of limping winter treads.”

April can’t wear clothes or step on winter, and winter can’t limp. However, the language Shakespeare uses here is quite evocative. He’s able to quickly state that April is beautiful (“well-appareled”) and that winter is coming to an end (“limping winter”). Through personification, we get a strong image for things that could otherwise be extremely boring, such as if Shakespeare had written, “When beautiful April comes right after winter.”


Procatalepsis is a rhetorical device that anticipates and notes a potential objection, heading it off with a follow-up argument to strengthen the point. I know what you’re thinking—that sounds really complicated! But bear with me, because it’s actually quite simple.

See how that works? I imagined that a reader might be confused by the terminology in the first sentence, so I noted that potential confusion, anticipating their argument. Then, I addressed that argument to strengthen my point—procatalepsis is easy, which you can see because I just demonstrated it!

Anticipating a rebuttal is a great way to strengthen your own argument. Not only does it show that you’ve really put thought into what you’re saying, but it also leaves less room for disagreement!

Synecdoche is a rhetorical device that uses a part of something to stand in for the whole. That can mean that we use a small piece of something to represent a whole thing (saying ‘let’s grab a slice’ when we in fact mean getting a whole pizza), or using something large to refer to something small. We often do this with sports teams–for example, saying that New England won the Super Bowl when we in fact mean the New England Patriots, not the entirety of New England.

This style of rhetorical device adds an additional dimension to your language, making it more memorable to your reader. Which sounds more interesting? “Let’s get pizza,” or “let’s grab a slice?”

Likewise, consider this quote from Percy Bysshe Shelly’s “Ozymandias”:

“Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them.”

Here, Shelly uses ‘the hand’ to refer to the sculptor. The hand did not sculpt the lifeless things on its own; it was a tool of the sculptor. But by using just the hand, Shelly avoids repeating ‘the sculptor,’ preserves the poem’s rhythm, and narrows our focus. If he had referred to the sculptor again, he’d still be a big important figure; by narrowing to the hand, Shelly is diminishing the idea of the creator, mirroring the poem’s assertion that the creation will outlast it.


Tautology refers to using words or similar phrases to effectively repeat the same idea with different wording. It’s a form of repetition that can make a point stronger, but it can also be the basis of a flawed argument—be careful that your uses of tautology is the former, not the latter!

For example, take this section of “The Bells” by Edgar Allen Poe:

“Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme… From the bells, bells, bells, bells.”

Poe’s poetry has a great deal of rhythm already, but the use of ‘time, time, time’ sets us up for the way that ‘bells, bells, bells, bells’ also holds that same rhythm. Keeping time refers to maintaining rhythm, and this poem emphasizes that with repetition, much like the repetitive sound of ringing bells.

An example of an unsuccessful tautology would be something like, “Either we should buy a house, or we shouldn’t.” It’s not a successful argument because it doesn’t say anything at all—there’s no attempt to suggest anything, just an acknowledgment that two things, which cannot both happen, could happen.

If you want to use tautology in your writing, be sure that it’s strengthening your point. Why are you using it? What purpose does it serve? Don’t let a desire for rhythm end up robbing you of your point!

That thing your English teachers are always telling you to have in your essays is an important literary device. A thesis, from the Greek word for ‘a proposition,’ is a clear statement of the theory or argument you’re making in an essay. All your evidence should feed back into your thesis; think of your thesis as a signpost for your reader. With that signpost, they can’t miss your point!

Especially in longer academic writing, there can be so many pieces to an argument that it can be hard for readers to keep track of your overarching point. A thesis hammers the point home so that no matter how long or complicated your argument is, the reader will always know what you’re saying.

Tmesis is a rhetorical device that breaks up a word, phrase, or sentence with a second word, usually for emphasis and rhythm . We often do this with expletives, but tmesis doesn’t have to be vulgar to be effective!

Take this example from Romeo and Juliet :

“This is not Romeo, he’s some other where.”

The normal way we’d hear this phrase is “This is not Romeo, he’s somewhere else.” But by inserting the word ‘other’ between ‘some’ and ‘where,’ it not only forces us to pay attention, but also changes the sentence’s rhythm. It gets the meaning across perfectly, and does so in a way that’s far more memorable than if Shakespeare had just said that Romeo was somewhere else.

For a more common usage, we can turn to George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion , which often has Eliza Doolittle using phrases like “fan-bloody-tastic” and “abso-blooming-lutely.” The expletives—though mild by modern standards—emphasize Eliza’s social standing and make each word stand out more than if she had simply said them normally.

What’s Next?

Rhetorical devices and literary devices can both be used to enhance your writing and communication. Check out this list of literary devices to learn more !

Ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos are all modes of persuasion—types of rhetorical devices— that can help you be a more convincing writer !

No matter what type of writing you're doing, rhetorical devices can enhance it! To learn more about different writing styles, check out this list !

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Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.

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AP ® Lang teachers: looking to help your students improve their rhetorical analysis essays?

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clear, concise rhetorical analysis instruction.

Common Rhetorical Devices Used in Speeches

September 23, 2022 by Beth Hall

As students prepare for the AP Lang exam, there is so much to focus on. One critical element involves understanding common rhetorical devices used in speeches. Students need to have confidence in knowing these to avoid forgetting them due to pressure. Thankfully, this helpful list provides an excellent overview of common devices and tips to ask yourself when the exam begins. 

What are Rhetorical Devices?

Rhetorical analysis prompts now ask for rhetorical choices (verb), but analyzing a rhetorical device (noun) is okay. Before identifying common rhetorical devices used in speeches, it is essential to know what this means. Ultimately, it is a specific set of words to convey meaning, provoke a response, or provide persuasion based on the topic. You apply rhetorical devices whenever you try to inform, persuade, or argue. 

Honestly, it can be challenging to identify rhetoric. However, it is helpful to ask what the person is doing. Are they using humor? Flattery? Knowing this will help you with your response. 

Common Rhetorical Devices 

You will feel pressure when you begin the exam as the clock ticks. However, consider this list to recall common rhetorical devices used in speech. 

Diction: In simpler terms, diction means word choices. Every author uses this while writing. This means you need to specify which type of diction. For instance, is it scientific diction? Patriotic diction? Then, think about the word choices used to convey that tone. Ultimately, you are looking for words the author uses in a meaningful and intentional way. 

Tone: While examining word choices, you want to look at the tone they create. Additionally, it is crucial to identify if there is a shift in tone. If there is, you can identify what the tone shifted from and to.

Appeals: Essentially, other choices create appeals. So, you can embed the appeals into your analysis of other devices. 

  • Logos: You will see facts, statistics, and examples to rationally prove an argument.
  • Pathos: The writer is making an emotional appeal. However, you do not want to say this. Instead, you want to specify specific emotions, such as patriotism or fear. Often, writers do this to create unity, motivate others, or inspire fear and outrage.
  • Ethos: Many times, this is an appeal to credibility or morals. Like logic and ethos, you want to avoid using the word pathos. Instead, you want to examine why the writer needs to bolster their credibility.

Questions: Often, students quickly identify this common device used in speeches due to punctuation. A helpful format involves discussing how the writer poses a question and answers it. Then, address how it affects the reader. Be sure to focus on why the author is asking the questions versus stating the question is rhetorical. It is so hard to know if the question is rhetorical or not. 

Repetition: While this device is often easy to recognize, it is hard to analyze effectively. While repetition emphasizes a specific message, it is crucial to look a bit deeper. Instead of using fancy terms, use a strong verb to explain what the writer repeats. Specifically, remember that while you are reading a speech, it was once said aloud. So, repetition may form cohesion in the speech. It may also reinforce the message. 

Contrast: If this device is in the speech, it is vital to determine why contrasting the items is meaningful. Are there positive and negative word choices? Comparisons of two people or groups? Ultimately, you want to answer why this connection is significant to the speech. 

Comparison: As the opposite of contrast, writers may also show meaningful similarities between two items or aspects. Writers may do this through figurative language or to show links to items that seem different. If you use this device, identify the comparison and explain how it helps the writer convey the message. 

Exemplification: Writers may also use examples to prove a claim. You want to be sure to examine the examples and explain why the writer uses them. Additionally, address why the example is relevant to the audience and occasion. 

Parallelism: Many times, this common device used in speech is actually in one of the other devices. However, it still deserves an honorable mention. If the writer uses the same or similar grammatical structure, explain why. Is the writer creating balance? Cadence in the speech? Emphasizing certain words? 

Allusion: There are many types of allusions, including reference to famous literature, art, and people. For example, biblical allusions are common in some speeches. While not every reference is an allusion, writers may allude to something to help the listener/reader make meaningful connections. 

Anecdotes: Often, these short personal stories have a narrative style. You want to explain how the story develops the writer’s message and why the writer selected it. 

Definition: When writers use this common device, they define the term. You want to explain why this definition is there. In other words, explain how the definition helps portray the message. 

What if I Don’t See Devices?

When it comes time to take the AP Lang Exam, panic sets in. Due to this, you may forget what you’ve learned in class. However, just pause and take a deep breath. Then, refocus on the question. Ask yourself, “What is the writer doing?” Specifically, do not worry about naming a specific device. Just look for what is happening. After, look at the language and type of diction. This will help get the ideas flowing for the overall tone and mood. 

The AP Lang exam is challenging. If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it is understandable! However, believe in yourself! Set time aside to prepare. Use your practice prompts, notes, and tips to help. For instance, this list is a great place to explore common rhetorical devices used in speeches.

Check out this blog post for more info about rhetorical choices.

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The 20 most common rhetorical devices (with examples).

speech writing rhetorical devices

The phrase rhetorical devices might ring a bell to some. Maybe you vaguely remember hearing about them in an English class that you took years ago. But you probably haven’t thought about them since. That’s totally understandable, but whether we know it or not, rhetorical devices play a surprisingly large role in our daily speech. Sometimes we use them without even realizing it. Whether they’re used to illustrate sound, order or meaning (we’ll explain all these in a bit), rhetorical devices are widely used across the board, especially in advertising and marketing. Without further ado, we’d like to share our list of the 20 most common rhetorical devices that you can use to impress your friends and family or win a free round of drinks at the next trivia night at your local bar.

What Are Rhetorical Devices?

Before we dive into the different types of rhetorical devices, we should probably review what exactly they are. “Rhetorical devices” refer to figures of speech that are used to achieve a certain effect. Essentially, they’re a way to deviate from everyday language by taking advantage of the power of words.

Words have connotative value: on one hand, they have their denotation, which is their true and correct meaning. On the other hand, words have a set of meanings that are generally attributed to them. For example, the word “heart” literally refers to the organ at the center of your circulatory system. But it can also have a wide variety of connotations or alternative meanings: a person “with a good heart” is someone who’s kind and helpful to others. The “heart” of a system is its center, and someone who is “lionhearted” is extremely brave. Rhetorical devices don’t use just one meaning or connotation; they also take advantage of different word orders and structures.

Rhetorical devices are most commonly used in literature, but they can also appear in the most unexpected places. They’re an intrinsic part of language, and they’ve probably been around since the beginning of language itself. Even in Ancient Rome, rhetoric students studied the art of classifying words. Early examples of rhetorical devices can even be found in the Bible.

Rhetorical devices can be roughly classified into three different groups:

  • Sound-related rhetorical devices: these figures of speech take advantage of a word or phrase’s rhythmic or phonetic sound. The most famous examples are alliteration, assonance and puns.
  • Order-related rhetorical devices: these devices modify the normal order of words within a phrase or sentence. The most well-known examples are anaphoras, anastrophes, asyndeton, chiasmus, omissions, hyperbaton and polysyndeton.
  • Meaning-related rhetorical devices: these types of devices use the word’s semantic aspect, or their meaning. Some examples are hyperbole, litotes, metaphors, metonymy, oxymorons, similes, synecdoche and synesthesia.

What Is Figurative Language?

To understand the many rhetorical devices that exist in the English language, it’s important that we first discuss figurative language. Figurative language is the form of communication that rhetorical devices fall under. More specifically, it is when words and phrases stray from their strict, dictionary definition to create new meanings. Most commonly, figurative language is used in poetry and other creative prose. However, it also is used in everyday language in the form of expressions or to refer to something without directly saying it.

Take the expression “the news hit me like a ton of bricks”. Figuratively speaking, it’s used to quantify the impact of a piece of news on someone. However, when taken literally, this expression doesn’t make much sense. To note the obvious, the news itself doesn’t carry physical weight and it’s also not actually hitting anyone, as it’s a concept. Additionally, there is of course no ton of bricks hitting the person in question,which is where the importance of the preposition “like” comes in. The use of “like” in this sentence ultimately changes the meaning and makes this sentence identifiable as a “simile”. A simile is one of the many forms that figurative language takes. These forms are better known as rhetorical devices, so let’s get into it.

Sound-Related Rhetorical Devices


Alliteration refers to repeating a sound or a series of similar consonant sounds at the beginning of two or more words.

Examples of alliteration:

  • How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
  • Trick or treat!
  • “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes . . .” — William Shakespeare

Assonance resembles rhyming. It positions two similar sounding words together that have the same vowels (but not the same consonants).

Examples of assonance:

  • “And so all the night-tide, I lie down by the side of my darling-my darling-my life and my bride” — Edgar Allen Poe
  • “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.” — My Fair Lady


Onomatopoeia is one of the most famous rhetorical devices. It refers to reproducing the sound of an object (like a machine) or an animal.

Examples of onomatopoeia:

  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (a book written by Ian Fleming, the title of which refers to the sound a car makes)
  • “Meow meow.” — a cat

Puns are a common play on words that use words with similar sounds but radically different meanings.

Examples of puns:

  • “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” — Mark Twain
  • “We had breakfast in the town of Soda, pop. 1001.” — Vladimir Nabokov

Order-Related Rhetorical Devices

An anaphora is the repetition of one or more words within one or more consecutive verses or sentences.

Examples of anaphora:

  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” — Mark Twain
  • “So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania…” — Martin Luther King
  • “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” — John F. Kennedy

Derived from Greek, the term anastrophe means “inversion” and is achieved by inverting the usual order of two words.

Examples of anastrophe:

  • “The greatest teacher, failure is.” — Yoda
  • “Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear…” — Toni Morrison
  • “To thine own self be true.” — William Shakespeare

Many rhetorical devices have fancy names that can be difficult to remember. There’s a reason why technical jargon is usually used only by literature students and aficionados. Some terms are used so often that they’ve become commonplace in everyday speech, however. Antithesis is one of these words. Simply put, antithesis refers to juxtaposing two words with opposite meanings. In layman’s terms, it refers to some sort of contrast (like contrasting ideas.)

Examples of antithesis:

  • “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, as long as it is black.” — Henry Ford
  • “To err is human; to forgive divine.” -Alexander Pope

Asyndeton is a list of words that are connected by using punctuation instead of conjunctions like “and” or “or.”

Examples of asyndeton:

  • “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” — Abraham Lincoln
  • “I came, I saw, I conquered.” — Julius Caesar

Chiasmus is the crossed arrangement of two words or groups of words according to the AB-BA format.

Examples of chiasmus:

  • “The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.” — Alfred North Whitehead
  • “And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them.” — Walt Whitman
  • When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Omission is the elimination of one or more words that remain understood despite being removed.

Examples of omission:

  • “Hope is a thing with feathers/That perches in the soul.” — Emily Dickinson
  • “And he to England shall along with you.” — William Shakespeare

Not to be confused with anastrophe, hyperbaton consists of distancing a word from the word that it should be placed closer to.

Examples of hyperbaton:

  • “Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man.” -Edgar Allen Poe
  • “One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day.” — Aristotle


Polysyndeton is the exact opposite of asyndeton. It’s a series of words linked by conjunction words.

Examples of polysyndeton:

  • “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” — The Wizard of Oz
  •  “I said, ‘Who killed him?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know who killed him but he’s dead all right,’ and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights and windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Key and she was all right only she was full of water.” — Ernest Hemingway

Meaning-Related Rhetorical Devices

Hyperbole is achieved by exaggerating a reality through expressions that amplify it to an extreme.

Examples of hyperbole:

  • “A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.” — To Kill a Mockingbird
  • “It’s a slow burg. I spent a couple of weeks there one day.” — Carl Sandburg
  • “At that time Bogota was a remote, lugubrious city where an insomniac rain had been falling since the beginning of the 16th century.” — Gabriel García Márquez

Litotes is the affirmation of something by negating the opposite. It’s used, for example, to mitigate the harshness of an expression or a situation.

Examples of litotes:

  • It’s not rocket science.
  • He isn’t the brightest bulb in the bunch.

Metaphors are one of the most famous rhetorical devices. Metaphors use words or phrases to indicate something that isn’t often denoted by that word or phrase. Metaphors can sometimes be confused with similes, metonymy or synecdoche, but each of these devices have their own unique characteristics.

Examples of metaphors:

  • Daniel is a sheep. (Meaning, Daniel follows other people easily.)
  • “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” — William Shakespeare

Metonymy is the exchange of two words that have close reasoning or are closely related in terms of their subject.

Examples of metonymy:

  • “I’m reading Sartre.” (I’m not reading the word Sartre; I’m reading a piece written by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre)
  • “England beat Italy 2-0.” (the soccer team representing England beat the team representing Italy)
  • “Let’s go get a pint.” (a pint in this case refers to some sort of alcoholic drink)

An oxymoron juxtaposes two words with opposite meanings.

Examples of oxymorons:

  • Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
  • Big Little Lies (the title of a book by Liane Moriarty)
  • “I am a deeply superficial person.” — Andy Warhol

Similes are very similar to metaphors. In this case, the comparison is made through adverbs or adverbial phrases, most notably “like” or “as.”

Examples of similes:

  • You’re working like a dog.
  • He’s dead as a doornail.
  • The news hit me like a ton of bricks.

Synecdoche is always mentioned in conjunction with metonymy. These two rhetorical devices are very similar. However, while metonymy substitutes one word or phrase with another that has a close logical or material proximity, synecdoche substitutes a word or phrase with another term representing a part of it (or vice versa: it uses a broader term to refer to something that it’s a part of). Metonymy expresses a qualitative relationship between the two terms, while synecdoche represents a quantitative relationship.

Examples of synecdoche:

  • The feline attacked the antelope. (in this case, the broader term feline, the family that the animal belongs to, is used to denote a tiger)
  • “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” — William Shakespeare
  • Brain drain (when people educated in their native country seek opportunities in other countries. In this case, it’s not the brains physically leaving the country but the academic talent)


Synesthesia is a type of metaphor that’s created by connecting two unrelated senses.

Examples of synesthesia:

  • “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was.” — William Shakespeare
  • “Thy voice was a censer that scattered strange perfumes, and when I looked on thee I heard a strange music.” — Oscar Wilde
  • “Back to the region where the sun is silent.” — Dante

A version of this article originally appeared on the Italian edition of Babbel Magazine.

21 Rhetorical Devices Explained

By paul anthony jones | nov 11, 2016.


Rhetoric is often defined as “the art of language.” That might sound like a bit of a cliché (which it is), but it’s actually quite a nice way of saying that rhetorical devices and figures of speech can transform an ordinary piece of writing or an everyday conversation into something much more memorable, evocative, and enjoyable. Hundreds of different rhetorical techniques and turns of phrase have been identified and described over the centuries—of which the 21 listed here are only a fraction—but they’re all just as effective and just as useful when employed successfully.


You’ll no doubt have heard of hyperbole , in which an over-exaggeration is used for rhetorical effect, like, “he’s as old as the hills,” “we died laughing,” or “hyperbole is the best thing ever.” But adynaton is a particular form of hyperbole in which an exaggeration is taken to a ridiculous and literally impossible extreme, like “when pigs fly!” or “when Hell freezes over!”


Often used in literature to create a stream-of-consciousness style in which a character’s thoughts flit from one idea to the next, anacoluthon describes a sudden and unexpected break in a sentence that leads to it being concluded in a different way than might have been expected. Although it can sometimes be due to nothing more than a speaker losing their train of thought, in practice anacoluthon can also be OH MY GOD I’VE LEFT THE GAS ON.


Anadiplosis is an ingenious and memorable rhetorical device in which a repeated word or phrase is used both at the end of one sentence or clause and at the beginning of the next. As with practically all rhetorical devices, William Shakespeare liked using it (“She being none of your flesh and blood , your flesh and blood has not offended the king”), but you can thank George Lucas for what is now probably the best-known example: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”


You know when you pose a question for dramatic effect and then immediately answer it yourself? That’s anthypophora .


If you’ve ever friended or texted someone, emailed or DMed something, tabled a meeting or motorwayed your way across country, then you’ll be familiar with antimeria , a rhetorical device in which an existing word is used as if it were a different part of speech. More often than not this involves using a noun as if it were a verb, a semantic process better known as “verbing” (which is actually a perfect example of itself). Slang (and modern English in general, for that matter) loves antimeria, but it is Shakespeare who remains the undisputed master of it. Cake , drug , kitchen , squabble , ghost , blanket , graze , elbow, and crank were all only ever used as nouns before he got hold of them.


Prosopopoeia is just a more formal name for personification, in which inanimate objects are either described in human terms or given human characteristics. The opposite of that is antiprosopopoeia , a figure of speech in which a person is compared to an inanimate object. That might sound odd, but it’s actually a very effective form of metaphor able to confer a great deal of detail or information in a clever and often witty way—think about what it means to call someone a doormat , a tank , a firecracker , a mattress , or a garbage disposal and you’ll see precisely how effective it can be.


The Bard. The Iron Lady. The King. Ol’ Blue Eyes. When you substitute a proper name for an epithet or a nickname, that’s antonomasia .


In Act 2 of King Lear , the eponymous king rages against two of his daughters in a disjointed speech that ends with the famous lines, “I will have such revenges on you both that all the world shall—I will do such things—what they are yet, I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth!” The point at which Lear’s threat of revenge trails off, restarts, and trails off again is a perfect example of aposiopesis , a rhetorical ploy in which an idea is left unsaid or a sentence is left incomplete purely for emphatic effect. Why I oughta…


Right. Okay. Here goes. Asterismos is the use of a seemingly unnecessary word or phrase to introduce what you’re about to say. Semantically it’s fairly pointless to say something like “listen!” before you start talking to someone, because they are (or at least should be) already listening. Rhetorically, however, asterismos is a seriously clever way of subconsciously drawing attention to what you’re about to say.


“We got there, the weather was bad, we didn’t stay long, we got back in the car, we came home, end of story.” When you deliberately miss out the conjunctions between successive clauses, you’re left with a choppy and abrupt series of phrases that energetically push things forward, an effect properly known as asyndeton . The opposite is called polysyndeton , when you add more conjunctions to a phrase or clause than are strictly necessary, often with the effect of intentionally dragging it out: “We ate and drank and talked and laughed and talked and laughed and ate some more.”


Apart from the fact that it’s part of a great speech, one of the reasons why John F. Kennedy’s famous “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” line is so striking is that is a fine example of chiasmus , a clever rhetorical formation in which the order of a pair of words or phrases in one clause ( your country , you ) is inverted in the next ( you , your country ). This gives a rhythmic and instantly memorable criss-cross pattern, AB-BA, which appropriately enough takes its name from the X-shaped Greek letter chi .


Congery is a form of tautology, the rhetorical use of repetition. It refers to a writer or speaker using a number of different and successive words or phrases that all effectively mean the same thing, purely to emphasise the point. That’s it. That’s all. Done. Finished. Finito.


In a dialogismus , a speaker either imagines what someone or something else might be thinking (“I bet that guy’s thinking, ‘what am I doing here?’”), or else paraphrases someone’s earlier words (“‘Don’t worry!’ she told me. ‘Everything will be fine!’”). In either case, the speaker ends up talking not as themselves just for rhetorical effect.


If a euphemism is a nicer turn of phrase used in place of a more offensive or embarrassing one (like “call of nature” or “bought the farm”), then a dysphemism is an offensive or detrimental phrase deliberately used in place of a nicer one. This applies to everything from using an insult instead of someone’s name, to phrases like frankenfood and junk food that try to influence what we should think of genetically modified crops and take-out restaurants with just a few choice words.


First, we need to explain what this is. Second, we need to show how it works. And third, we need to explain what it achieves. Eutrepismus is the numbering or ordering of a series of phrases that are all under consideration, and it’s used to structure arguments and speeches more clearly, making them easier for an audience to take in and follow your train of thought.


An expeditio is that instantly recognisable figure of speech in which you list a number of alternatives, and then proceed to eliminate all but one of them. “We can go for Italian, Mexican, or Chinese. But I had Chinese last night and you hate garlic, so it’s going to have to be Mexican.”


When you say that something is like something else (“as busy as a bee”), that’s a simile. When you say that something actually is something else (“a heart of stone”) that’s a metaphor. But when you just go all out and label something as something that it actually isn’t (“You chicken!”), that’s a hypocatastasis .


When you use more words than are in actual fact absolutely really strictly necessary in order to communicate and make your point effectively and efficiently, that’s a pleonasm . It needn’t be as clumsy and as long-winded as that, of course, and more often than not the term pleonasm is used to apply to what is otherwise called “semantic redundancy,” in which extra qualifying words are used to force a point home—like “empty space,” “boiling hot,” or “totally unique.”


A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part or component of something is used to represent that whole—like calling a car your “wheels,” the staff of a company the “hands,” or the film industry as a whole “Hollywood.”

Tmesis is the proper name for that fan-bloody-tastic technique of splitting a word in half by inserting another word inside it. More often than not, the word being inserted in the other is a swearword (you can provide your own examples for that), but it needn’t always be—tmesis can be used any-old-how you like.

There are several different forms and definitions of precisely what a zeugma is, but in basic terms it describes a figure of speech in which one word (usually, but not always, a verb) governs or is directly related to two or more other words in the same sentence. So you can run out of time, and out of the room. You can have a go, and a laugh. And, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, you can go home in floods of tears and a sedan-chair.

Frantically Speaking

4 Ways to Use Rhetorical Devices to Make Powerful Speeches (with Examples)

Hrideep barot.

  • Speech Writing

Using rhetorical devices to sound more convincing.

I am certain all of us have come across powerful speeches, novels, or presentations that left us speechless at some point. But have you wondered how the speaker or the author managed to do so?

How did they manage to make almost everyone in the audience riveted? You might have attributed this skill of captivating the audience to good public speaking, which is partially true but the other half of this lies in their use of magic tools which are referred to as rhetorical devices.

A rhetorical device is a technique that is used by a speaker or an author for conveying a particular message to the audience in such a way that it provokes an emotional response to a particular action. It is a linguistic tool, whose employment can be used to construct an argument or make an existing one more compelling .

To put it simply, rhetorical devices are devices used to spice up your conversations, work presentations, and speeches. They are often used to provoke an emotional response and make the matter of the speech more compelling, with the goal of persuading the audience.

Why are rhetorical techniques important?

Why should rhetorical devices be used? What impact do they have? Well, here’s why,

There is one common thing between the world’s famous speeches and presentations, which is their ability to create an emotional connection with the audience. The way in which a speaker makes the audience feel is very important as that feeling will stay with the audience long after the speech or the presentation is over. This emotional response is evoked with the help of rhetorical devices.

Apart from this, rhetorical devices help you become more persuasive. It also aids in composing successful presentations and writings. It helps you make your speech crisp and improves the understanding of the audience.

Moreover, with the correct rhetorical devices, it enables you to make stronger arguments and a way of handling controversial topics. It also has a powerful impact on the audience helping them remember the ideas better through repetition or grammatical manipulation.

Most used rhetorical devices

In order to know how to use these magic tools, it is crucial to know some of these most used rhetorical devices and also its application in a speech.

1. Alliteration

This is the repetition of sounds of two or more neighboring words. This is usually used to put emphasis and to draw attention. For instance, safety and security Ate apples all afternoon

2. Anadiplosis

Repetition of the last word in a phrase at the beginning of the next phrase or sentence. For example, Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering –Yoda, Star Wars

3. Antistrophe

This is repetition of words at the end of consecutive phrases/clauses. It can be termed as a specific type of repetition. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny compared to what lies within us.”

The above sentence is quoted by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a prominent essayist. Here, the words ‘What lies’ is repeated leading to the creation of a poetic effect.

4. Antithesis

In this, two opposite and contrasting ideas are juxtaposed. For example, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Here, two contrasting ideas are proposed in the same sentence in such a way that it shows the strikingly different ideas showing a compare and contrast kind of situation.

A repeated word or phrase split up by another word, to display strong emotion. Understanding it with an example, Free at last! Free at last! Thank god we are free at last!

6. Ellipsis

In this, few words are depicting an event is omitted making the readers ponder about the narrative gaps. For instance, “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth…the proposition that all men are created equal.”

This is the start of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where the three dots are ellipsis points suggesting a time lapse.

This is a simple method of double negatives that present a positive statement. It is often used to express irony. This is commonly used in conversations as well.

For example, ‘She is not thin’ OR ‘You are not unfamiliar with poetry’.

8. Hyperbole

This is an expression of mere exaggeration, often used to draw attention to the severity of the matter or to make a strong point. This is also frequently used in day to day language.

For instance,

‘I called her a thousand times’

‘It raining cats and dogs’.

9. Epistrophe

Repetition of words at the end of successive phrases for a poetic effect. An example of this could be the famous definition of democracy given by Abraham Lincoln, “… and that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

10. Personification

Attributing human qualities to inanimate objects. It aids in a better explanation of ideas and concepts.

For instance, ‘The thunder roared in the evening’

‘The brutal wind bullied the trees compelling them into giving up their leaves’

11. Epiphora

Repetition of a word/phrase at the end of every clause. An instance of this could be a speech given by Steve Jobs where this technique is effectively used,

“Well, these are their home screens . And again, as you recall, this is the iPhone’s homescreen. This is what their contacts look like . This is what iPhone’s contacts look like .”

12. Anaphora

This is slightly different from Epiphora in the sense that the repetition of the word/phrase is at the beginning of the two or more sentences or clauses.

For instance, “They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and in academia, and engineering, medicine and science. They are part of the world of tech and politics and in business. They are athletes in the Olympics and they are soldiers in the military.”

This is a small chunk of a speech made by Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes awards. Here, she tries to draw attention of the audience by emphasising on the word ‘They are’ highlighting the role of women in different parts of life.

13. Germinatio

This is repetition of a word in the same sentence for more than once. For instance, “And so I’ve got voice mail how I wanna listen to it, when I wanna listen to it, in any order I wanna listen to it with visual voicemail.”

The technique of germinatio was used by Steve Jobs in his speech in order to create a compelling effect on the listeners.

These are just a few commonly used rhetorical devices from an ocean of such magic tools. (Take a guess at what device is used here!)

How to use rhetorical devices in speeches?

Before we dive in to how to use rhetorical devices, we made a fun video on how these tools are the one simple thing that helps take your speech to the next level. There are a bunch of examples and tips here that will help you incorporate rhetorical devices for your next presentation. Highly recommend you check it out:

To know how to implement these rhetorical devices in your speech is also of utmost importance, apart from knowing them. Here’s a way of incorporating them in your speech.

Using rhetorical devices in a speech.

1. Know the rhetorical appeals

It is important to know the types of rhetorical appeals as rhetorical devices fall into these categories. Make a rough draft and then insert rhetorical devices accordingly depending on the tone of the speech. Figure out the mode of persuasion, that is, whether it is Logos, Pathos, Ethos or Kairos.

This refers to giving logical and intellectual arguments and reasoning, supporting it with credible evidence. An example of logos can be a speech by Donald Trump, where he states a few figures regarding the illegal immigration,

“So here are just a few statistics on the human toll of illegal immigration. According to a 2011 government report, the arrests attached to the criminal alien population included an estimated 25,000 people for homicide, 42,000 for robbery, nearly 70,000 for sex offenses, and nearly 15,000 for kidnapping. In Texas alone, within the last seven years, more than a quarter-million criminal aliens have been arrested and charged with over 600,000 criminal offenses. … Sixty-three thousand Americans since 9/11 have been killed by illegal aliens. This isn’t a problem that’s going away; it’s getting bigger.”

This refers to making an appeal to the audience’s emotions. This includes using language in such a way that creates an empathetic feeling towards the speaker. Given below is an example of Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream” speech.

“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

This refers to persuading the audience about the speaker’s credibility and the fact that his arguments carry weight.

An example of this could be the speech made by Mitt Romney, senator of the United States. In this speech, accepting the presidential nominee Mitt Romney points out to the fact that his business success would prove useful if he were to take the office.

“I learned the real lessons about how America works from experience. When I was 37, I helped start a small company. My partners and I had been working for a company that was in the business of helping other businesses. So some of us had this idea that if we really believed our advice was helping companies, we should invest in companies. We should bet on ourselves and on our advice. So we started a new business called Bain Capital…That business we started with 10 people has now grown into a great American success story. Some of the companies we helped start are names you know. An office supply company called Staples – where I’m pleased to see the Obama campaign has been shopping; The Sports Authority, which became a favorite of my sons. We started an early childhood learning center called Bright Horizons that First Lady Michelle Obama rightly praised.”

This involves an appeal to the timing of the argument, meaning that the argument has to be made in a suitable context making the audience receptive to it. An instance of Kairos can be Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,

“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to make to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”

One can use these rhetorical appeals in such a way that a combination of all 4 appeals is made simultaneously.

Making the speech highly logos specific, that is giving only facts, will make the audience bored, whereas making it too pathos oriented will make the speech very emotional and lacking in rational thinking.

If you would like some more information on ETHOS, PATHOS and LOGOS, you can check out the same in this short video we made:

2. A rhetorical question

Asking a rhetorical question in a speech.

Rhetorical questions can be used to control the thoughts of the audience. These questions may have obvious answers or may not have a clear cut answer.

One technique of using such questions is inserting them in the start of the speech and then carrying on with the speech in such a way that the rhetorical question is answered in the content of your presentation.

Another way is by inserting a rhetorical question, which as an obvious answer to it at the end of the speech- making sure that the question is related to what the speech entails.

The election speech of Ronald Reagan for the 1980 presidential debate between Governor Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter, where the governor ended with a bunch of rhetorical questions is a perfect example for this,

“Next Tuesday is Election Day. Next Tuesday all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision. I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago? And if you answer all of those questions yes, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for. If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.”

Check it out in action, here:

3. A powerful beginning

It is rightly said that the first impression is the last impression and hence a powerful beginning is very important. To capture the audience it is important to insert some rhetorical devices at the start of your speech which create some poetic effect that helps you engage the audience. It may also include the use of diacope or anadiplosis which focus on repetition of the words of phrases creating emphasis and a strong display of emotions.

An example of anadiplosis can be: “Tonight, we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution.” This was used by the George W. Bush

George Bush giving a speech.

4. A powerful end

Climax is the most important part, be it a speech or a movie! What you say in the end is what stays with the audience hence, ending the speech with impactful rhetorical devices is advisable.

These may include inserting a rhetorical question making the audience ponder a little as mentioned above. It may also include the use of Epistrophe.

For instance, while addressing the nation about terrorism George Bush ends his speech in a powerful way assuring people that he will take the necessary actions to prevent terrorism, with appropriate use of Epistrophe:

“I will not forget the wound to our country and those who inflicted it. I will not yield, I will not rest, I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.”  

Watch the full speech here:

Use of rhetorical devices by Frederick Douglass

Rhetorical devices used by Frederick Douglass.

The credit for developing the basics of rhetoric goes to Aristotle and since then there has been extensive use of these literary tools. A prominent figure who is well known for his use of rhetorical devices is also Frederick Douglass, who was a slave who had escaped and went on to become an activist, author and public speaker.

He is known not only for his idea of abolition of slavery but also his superior skill of rhetoric and the art of persuading the audience. In his memoir called the ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave’, a number of rhetorical devices are used to argue against the heinous act of slavery.

Here is a look at how he used some of them to make his communication all the more poewrful:

It involves persuading the audience about the author’s qualifications and credibility pointing to the fact that the speaker’s arguments carry weight.

In the memoir, Frederick Douglass talks about his first-hand experience with slavery by talking about being oblivious about his birthday unlike other people in the first chapter itself, building his ethos.

In order to make an appeal to the audience’s emotions, Douglass talks about his experience of watching his aunt being whipped by the slaveholder until she is covered in blood.

Frederick writes, ‘He would at times seem to take great pleasure in whipping a slave. I have often been awakened at the dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom he used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cow skin.’

Frederick talks about how animals were treated better than humans by the slaveholder.  

He writes about the condition of the slaves by saying:

‘Everything depended upon the looks of the horses, and the state of Colonel Lloyd’s own mind when his horses were brought to him for use. If a horse did not move fast enough, or hold his head high enough, it was owing to some fault of his keepers. It was painful to stand near the stable-door, and hear the various complaints against the keepers when a horse was taken out for use. To all the complaints, no matter how unjust, the slave must answer never a word. Colonel Lloyd could not brook any contradiction from a slave. When he spoke, a slave must stand, listen, and tremble; and such was literally the case. I have seen Colonel Lloyd make old Barney, a man between fifty and sixty years of age, uncover his bald head, kneel down upon the cold, damp ground, and receive upon his naked and toil-worn shoulders more than thirty lashes at the time.’

In Fredrick Douglass’s speech- “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”, he also makes a similar appeal through the use of ethos, pathos and logos . To begin with, he makes an appeal to ethos, by initiating his speech with modesty and meekness. For example, “He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have.”

To steer emotions among the audience, he also uses metaphors such as “A horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic . “

“From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen.” This is an example of an extended metaphor where he is comparing the United States to a ship at sea and the dark and threatening clouds are compared to the ongoing threats and troubles.

There has also been use of simile , where the speaker makes a direct comparison of the slaves to animals sold in the market. For example, “I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, and swine.”

Other Rhetorical Devices used by Douglas

Moreover, through the phrase ‘ doleful wail of fettered humanity ’ the speaker is trying to give the human quality of being fettered to an abstract noun of humanity, pointing out to the use of personification .

Apart from these rhetorical devices, Frederick Douglass also uses rhetorical questions to make the audience ponder about the situation of slavery by asking them, “Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? Or is it in the temple?”

“What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a tract of land, in which no mention of land was made?”

Another important rhetorical device used by him was that of allusion . Allusion is when the author or the speaker refers to an event, object, person or to a work of art either directly or indirectly. In his speech, Frederick alludes to biblical material, knowing that the audience mostly comprises of Christians.

For instance, “ The arm of the Lord is not shortened, and the doom of slavery is certain.” Through this, the speaker makes an analogy between the Lord sending the Israelites back to their homeland and the hope that slavery will perish. Frederick Douglass has made such allusions in order to support his arguments, knowing that words from the bible would carry weight and have a strong impact.

Use of rhetorical devices in famous speeches

1. michelle obama – anaphora.

“I trust Hillary to lead this country because I’ve seen her lifelong devotion to our nation’s children – not just her own daughter, who she has raised to perfection but every child who needs a champion: Kids who take the long way to school to avoid the gangs. Kids who wonder how they’ll ever afford college. Kids whose parents don’t speak a word of English but dream of a better life. Kids who look to us to determine who and what they can be.”

This is a small part of a speech made by Michelle Obama. In this, it is seen the word “ Kids ” is used more than once to start sentences that follow each other, pointing out to the use of anaphora.

Here’s the video for the speech made by the former first lady:

2. Steve Jobs – Germination

“That’s 58 songs every second of every minute of every hour of every day.”

This is an instance from the speech of Steve Jobs, where he puts emphasis on the word “ every ” by repeating it frequently in the same sentence.

See the entire speech here:

3. Barack Obama – Antistrophe

“It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can. It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can. It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.”

Here, the phrase “Yes, we can” is used repeatedly at the end of every sentence in order to put emphasis on the subject.

Watch the video of the speech here:

4. Martin Luther King, Jr – Antithesis

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Here, the speaker uses antithesis by inverting the statements to show that America will have a day when people are judged by their character and not their skin colour.

Given below is the historic speech made at the Lincoln Memorial by Martin Luther King Jr :

5. John Kennedy – Ellipsis

“This much we pledge — and more.”

Here the former President uses “and more” instead of listing more ideas. He also compels the audience to keep thinking about the ideas they should pledge to, instead of listing them.   

John Kennedy giving a speech.

In order to use a wide variety of rhetorical devices, it is important to know the different types of these literary techniques. A powerful speech is not just about a good orator or good public speaking skills but much more than that! And these rhetorical devices constitute an integral part of the components which make your speech extraordinary.

Hrideep Barot

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Rhetorical devices are techniques in writing and speech that try to persuade the audience. A rhetorical device uses language to shape ideas into arguments, convincing the reader through a plethora of literary strategies.

Why study rhetorical devices? Understanding how writers wield words to persuade you will help you read critically and carefully. And, if you’re a writer, a poet, a future lawyer, or even someone who writes a lot of emails, learning how to employ common rhetorical devices will help sharpen your writing style and skills. Familiarizing yourself with this article will help you learn how to identify rhetorical devices in literature.

But first, what are rhetorical devices? This article dives deep into the topic, with a full rhetorical devices list and ample examples from poetry, literature, and speech. This article is filled with inspiration, ideas, and strategies to fine tune your writing, so let’s dive in. What are rhetorical devices?

Common Rhetorical Devices List Contents:

  • What are Rhetorical Devices?

Types of Rhetorical Devices

9 syntactic rhetorical devices list, 10 argumentative rhetorical devices list, 10 emphatic rhetorical devices list, 7 stylistic rhetorical devices list, what are rhetorical devices.

Rhetorical devices are literary strategies for persuading the audience. Through techniques involving syntax, style, emphasis, word choice , and appeals to the audience itself, the authors that employ rhetorical devices hope to convince you of a certain idea or argument.

What are rhetorical devices? They are literary strategies for persuading the audience.

It’s important to note that “rhetorical devices” is an open-ended term, because writers are always trying to convince you of something. The devices in this article pertain to strategies in the style and syntax of language itself. But, other literary devices , such as metaphors and onomatopoeias , can also be considered rhetorical, if employed rhetorically—that is, if they try to change your way of thinking. Even the elements of fiction , like setting and plot , want to persuade you to think in a certain way.

Nonetheless, this article focuses on common rhetorical devices employed in the art of argument. Before we look at these literary strategies, let’s examine the different types of rhetorical devices.

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There aren’t any clear taxonomies for rhetorical devices, in part because the term itself is so open-ended. Rhetorical scholars certainly don’t try to taxonomize these devices, as language itself is so open-ended and can be employed in infinite ways. Nonetheless, to keep these devices organized, we use the following labels to categorize the different types of rhetorical devices:

  • Rhetorical appeals —Devices that appeal directly to the reader’s feelings, thoughts, morals, and sense of time. You may have already heard of them: ethos, logos, pathos, and kairos.
  • Syntactical devices —Devices that use sentence structures to communicate or simplify complex ideas.
  • Argumentative rhetorical devices —Devices whose structures are conducive to the advancement of a certain argument.
  • Emphatic rhetorical devices —Devices that underscore or emphasize certain ideas.
  • Stylistic rhetorical devices —Devices that use word play and diction to advance an argument.

Let’s examine these 5 categories now, with a look at rhetorical devices examples in literature, poetry, and speech.

Rhetorical Appeals: Kairos, Ethos, Logos, Pathos Rhetorical Devices

The following common rhetorical devices appeal directly to the reader’s sensibilities. Do note: an appeal to ethos, for example, can also be an appeal to pathos. Many master rhetoricians will advance arguments that appeal to multiple sensibilities at the same time.

1. Kairos—Appeal to Time

Now is the time to use kairos!—a device that appeals directly to the audience’s sense of time.

Specifically, kairos is an appeal to immediacy, to a sense of “in this moment.” When employed ethically, kairos convinces the audience that we must act immediately for the better good. For example, Martin Luther King once said:

King’s call for radical optimism in the face of racism and oppression was a call to action: now is the time that we change our situation of segregation.

Of course, kairos can also be used unethically, in that it can encourage the audience to think about something uncritically. If I implored an audience that “now is the time to chop all the trees down,” and some audience members didn’t think about the effects of this statement, they might actually start deforesting the land around them.

Kairos creates a sense of urgency. Now is the time to act, to think, to hope, etc. The kairos rhetorical device also helps the speaker explain why they are speaking to the audience: Because it is the time for action , I am speaking to you now.

2. Ethos—Appeal to Ethics and Credibility

Ethos is a device which appeals to two different senses:

  • The credibility of the speaker. Why should I trust this person’s arguments?
  • The ethics of the argument. How can I trust the ethical good in this argument?

To see the ethos rhetorical device in action, let’s look at an excerpt of the novel Animal Farm by George Orwell , a novel filled with rhetorical devices examples. For reference, this novel is an allegorical representation of the rise of the U.S.S.R., and the below excerpt implores the animals on the farm to overthrow the farmers and establish an equitable, self-governing system. Appeals to ethos are bolded.

“Comrades, you have heard already about the strange dream that I had last night. But I will come to the dream later. I have something else to say first. I do not think, comrades, that I shall be with you for many months longer, and before I die, I feel it my duty to pass on to you such wisdom as I have acquired. I have had a long life, I have had much time for thought as I lay alone in my stall, and I think I may say that I understand the nature of life on this earth as well as any animal now living . It is about this that I wish to speak to you.

“Now, comrades, what is the nature of this life of ours? Let us face it: our lives are miserable, laborious, and short. We are born, we are given just so much food as will keep the breath in our bodies, and those of us who are capable of it are forced to work to the last atom of our strength; and the very instant that our usefulness has come to an end we are slaughtered with hideous cruelty. No animal in England knows the meaning of happiness or leisure after he is a year old. No animal in England is free. The life of an animal is misery and slavery: that is the plain truth.

“But is this simply part of the order of nature? Is it because this land of ours is so poor that it cannot afford a decent life to those who dwell upon it? No, comrades, a thousand times no! The soil of England is fertile, its climate is good, it is capable of affording food in abundance to an enormously greater number of animals than now inhabit it. This single farm of ours would support a dozen horses, twenty cows, hundreds of sheep—and all of them living in a comfort and a dignity that are now almost beyond our imagining. Why then do we continue in this miserable condition? Because nearly the whole of the produce of our labour is stolen from us by human beings. There, comrades, is the answer to all our problems. It is summed up in a single word—Man. Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished for ever.”

The first paragraph demonstrates an appeal to character. The speaker, Old Major, tells the audience he is trustworthy because he has lived a long life, and he wishes to pass on his wisdom. (There is also an appeal to kairos here, because Old Major tells the animals he has not long to live, and needs to tell them this information now .)

The second and third paragraphs appeal to the ethics of the audience. Paragraph two demonstrates the awful conditions of the farm. The animals are, quite literally, worked to death, and they receive no share in the profits of the farm. But the animals do not deserve this: they can imagine a farm that supports a large population, each animal living “in a comfort and a dignity that are now almost beyond our imagining.” Why not strive for this level of prosperity?

Words like “comfort” and “dignity” reinforce the ethics of Old Major’s argument. These ideas are benchmarks for the pig’s ideas, since the audience will now be considering how to construct a world that preserves each individual’s comfort and dignity. It also lends credibility to Old Major himself, who seeks, above all, to better the lives of the animals long after he has died himself.

3. Logos—Appeal to Logic

Logos employs reason or logic to convince the audience of a certain argument. Logos will often be the backbone of an argument, particularly among rhetoricians who have actually thought through the logic of the ideas they’re advancing. (If an argument relies too heavily on pathos or kairos, that argument will often be poorly thought through, or else be trying to achieve nefarious ends.)

There are two primary forms of logos: inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning.

  • Inductive Reasoning: Drawing predictions from specific claims. For example, a specific claim might be “I have to wear a scarf every winter.” To make this a predictions, you might say “This winter, I will also wear a scarf.”
  • Deductive Reasoning: Drawing specific conclusions from general claims. For example, a general claim might be “All birds have feathers.” To take this to a specific conclusion, you might note that “an emu has feathers. Therefore, an emu is a bird.” (This is also an example of syllogism, which we define later in the article.)

Another way to think about this: inductive reasoning makes predictions based on existing data, whereas deductive reasoning makes conclusions based on existing data. Both forms of argument are valid in different ways, and both are equally prone to being false or manipulated.

The use of facts and figures is also the use of logos, although logos itself is logical argument. In other words, simply writing “studies show” is not an appeal to logos, as the writer must explain how their argument is supported by the data.

Here’s an example of the logos rhetorical device, from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee . For reference, Atticus is a lawyer trying to prove the innocence of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of assaulting Mayella Ewell.

[Atticus] You’re a strong girl, what were you doing all the time, just standing there?”

[Mayella] “I told’ja I hollered’n‘kicked’n’fought—”

Atticus reached up and took off his glasses, turned his good right eye to the witness, and rained questions on her. Judge Taylor said, “One question at a time, Atticus. Give the witness a chance to answer.”

“All right, why didn’t you run?”

“Tried to? What kept you from it?”

“I—he slung me down. That’s what he did, he slung me down’n got on top of me.”

“You were screaming all this time?”

“I certainly was.”

“Then why didn’t the other children hear you? Where were they? At the dump? Where were they?”

“Why didn’t your screams make them come running? The dump’s closer than the woods, isn’t it?”

“Or didn’t you scream until you saw your father in the window? You didn’t think to scream until then, did you?”

“Did you scream first at your father instead of at Tom Robinson? Was that it?”

“Who beat you up? Tom Robinson or your father?”

“What did your father see in the window, the crime of rape or the best defense to it? Why don’t you tell the truth, child, didn’t Bob Ewell beat you up?”

Atticus uses deductive reasoning here to demonstrate that Mayella’s bruises came from her father, not from Tom Robinson. Logically speaking, if Tom was the one assaulting her, she would have screamed, and wouldn’t someone have heard? Tried to get Tom off of her?

By canceling out all other possible scenarios, Atticus deduces that, because no one came to Mayella’s rescue, her story about being assaulted by Tom is fake, because the source of her bruises is actually her father.

Note: When appeals to logic are false or poorly argued, they are often logical fallacies .

4. Pathos—Appeal to Feeling

Pathos is an appeal to the feelings of the audience. The author employs pathos when the writing tries to evoke a particular emotion, especially for the purposes of advancing an argument.

Pathos is a common facet of all literature, since literature tries to connect the reader to our greater shared humanity. This can only happen on the levels of the symbolic : images, feelings, and the like.

In argument, politics, and the court of law, the pathos rhetorical device certainly helps win the audience over to a certain idea or position. That said, pathos is a very easy device to abuse. When the writing focuses on evoking strong emotions from the reader, particularly without the backing of research and credibility, then the author likely wants to persuade you without evidence. Pathos-heavy writing is the stuff of conspiracy theories, extremism, and propaganda. (See also: logical fallacies.)

We won’t dive into all nuances of pathos—that’s a different article for a different day. But let’s see pathos in action through the poem “It’s What Happens, Sometimes, in October” by Angel Gonzalez :

When nothing occurs, and summer is gone, and leaves start to fall off the trees, and the cold rusts the edges of rivers, and slows down the flow of waters;

when the sky seems a violent sea, and birds swap landscapes, and words sound more and more distant, like whispers strewn by the wind;

then, as you know, it’s what happens:

those leaves, birds, clouds, strewn words and rivers, fill us with sudden restlessness and despair.

Don’t seek the cause in your hearts. It is merely what I said: what happens.

Through both natural imagery and appeals to the reader’s emotions, this poem evokes the sense of “restlessness and despair” that one sometimes feels in the peak of autumn. Of course, don’t just let the poem tell you how to feel: immerse yourself in its images, its windswept chill and “strewn words and rivers.” This poem doesn’t ask us to feel any particular way about autumn, only to observe the feelings that arise in us, which are simply “what happens” in October.

The following common rhetorical devices are employed to draw attention to a certain idea by playing with sentence structure. The English language can be toyed with in many different ways, and master rhetoricians know how to use syntax to their advantage through the following devices.

5. Anacoluthon—Interruptions in Grammatical Flow

An anacoluthon occurs when the writer employs different grammatical structures in the same sentence. This device is a grammatical discontinuity —the syntax of the sentence changes, often alongside an abrupt change in topic.

Both poets and rhetoricians use this device to highlight important ideas. Poets, and prose poets in particular, will use the device to replicate the disjointed nature of thoughts, as our brains naturally think and feel incoherently.

Here’s an example of anacoluthon, from our accomplished instructor Barbara Henning ( Retrieved from Posit ):

When I woke up, I was in the wrong place, holding a blooming dandelion in my hand.

I knew there was something wrong when I completely forgot the script so clearly encoded under my forehead.

The rush of spirit retreated through a pinhole and dropped me back in this square room with thunder and the sound of heavy metal.

On the other side of the window the microwave beeped. A door slammed. The tv was on automatic shut off.

The computer, some kind of advance on cuneiform writing was flashing the figure of a fish.

A drawing by Dr. Freud in 1878 of the neurons in a spinal ganglion. Through the pinhole of that glassy eye—

Dr. Agassiz made his student learn the truth about fish— and I put my ear to a conch shell.

The sound of a distant oceanic voice— “What is there is there. And that is that.”

Some poignant anacolutha occur at the ends of the final two stanzas. These interruptions in thought bring the reader to what is most important in the poem. Barbara’s poetry frequently finds insight through careful attention to the natural and the now; by bringing the reader back to the present through the image of the conch shell, the poem tries to remind us of the nature of things, of the complicated simplicity of the present.

6. Antithesis—Parallel Juxtaposition of Opposite Ideas

Antithesis refers to the placement of differing ideas side by side using parallel structure, with the intent of comparing and contrasting those ideas. It relies on two key concepts in writing: parallelism and juxtaposition .

A lot of common phrases in the English language rely on antithesis. You may have recently heard one of the following phrases:

  • Go big or go home
  • Get busy living or get busy dying
  • No pain, no gain
  • No guts, no glory
  • If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail
  • Out of sight, out of mind
  • Hope for the best; prepare for the worst
  • Easy come, easy go

Well written antitheses lodge themselves in the brain, laying out complex ideas in simple sentences. A lot of idioms and proverbs rely on this device. So do rhetoricians: see the below excerpt from Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” :

This excerpt shows a clean cause and effect, utilizing the power of antithesis to honor the Union soldiers that died for the nation’s survival.

7. Asyndeton—Absence of Conjunctions

A writer employs asyndeton when they don’t use conjunctions to separate clauses. This has the effect of making the sentence move quicker, while also making the sentence feel sharp and directed.

For example:

With conjunctions (polysyndeton): Swift and concise and pointed, the sentence makes you think and moves your heart and compels you to action.

Without conjunctions (asyndeton): Swift, concise, pointed, the sentence makes you think, moves your heart, compels you to action.

Notice how the flow and feel of the sentence changes with the inclusion of “and” in place of commas? The example of polysyndeton actually feels a little overwhelming. Later in this article, we’ll look at proper uses of polysyndeton.

Here’s an example of asyndeton from Othello (I.i) by William Shakespeare:

Asyndeton can also refer to a lack of conjunctions between sentences, as in the above excerpt.

8. Hypallage—Syntactic and Semantic Split in a Modifier

Hypallage occurs when the author uses a modifier (usually a single adjective) to describe something semantically, rather than syntactically.

Okay, that’s a tough sentence to parse. Let me give you an example right away, from “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen :

So, the word “clumsy” is modifying the word “helmets.” This is occurring on a syntactic level. However, “clumsy” isn’t describing the helmets, it’s actually describing the boys fumbling to put them on during World War I.

In other words, there’s a split between the modifier’s syntactic and semantic meanings. (You can also argue that “helmets” is being used as a synecdoche to describe the boys themselves.)

Some phrases in the English lexicon naturally use hypallage. If you have a “restless night,” it’s not the night that was restless, it was you restless during the night.

Hypallage helps make an idea more concise, and it also builds an interesting visual link between two ideas. What does a clumsy helmet look like? We can almost see the boys struggling to put their helmets on, without the author having to say “the boys donned their helmets clumsily.”

9. Hyperbaton—Inverted Word Order

One of the common rhetorical devices, hyperbaton is!

A hyperbaton occurs when the writer writes a sentence in an unusual order, in order to emphasize the most salient aspect of the sentence. It is also called anastrophe. Rhetoricians may use this device for emphasis, and poets will certainly use it to preserve the rhythm and flow of a poem’s line. In formal poetry , such as the works of Shakespeare, hyperbaton makes it easier for the poem to retain its meter, like iambic pentameter.

Here are a few rhetorical devices examples using hyperbaton:

“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe :

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare :

“anyone lived in a pretty how town” by E. E. Cummings :

anyone lived in a pretty how town (with up so floating many bells down) spring summer autumn winter he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small) cared for anyone not at all they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few and down they forgot as up they grew autumn winter spring summer) that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf she laughed his joy she cried his grief bird by snow and stir by still anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones laughed their cryings and did their dance (sleep wake hope and then)they said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon (and only the snow can begin to explain how children are apt to forget to remember with up so floating many bells down )

one day anyone died i guess (and noone stooped to kiss his face) busy folk buried them side by side little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep and more by more they dream their sleep noone and anyone earth by april wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding) summer autumn winter spring reaped their sowing and went their came sun moon stars rain

For this last example, pay attention to how hyperbaton preserves the flow of the poem, and how it creates a sense of mystery. Cummings was a master of using language not to impart direct communication, but to create senses, mysteries, and feelings in the text.

10. Hypotaxis—Hierarchical Sentence Structure

Before we explain hypotaxis, a brief grammar refresher might prove helpful.

The components of a sentence are clauses and phrases. A clause is a part of a sentence that has a noun and a verb; sometimes, a clause is a complete sentence. A phrase is a group of words without a complete noun-verb pairing, such as the verb phrase “will be writing.” (There’s no noun.)

A subordinate clause is a clause that has a noun and a verb, but cannot stand on its own as a sentence. This is because the clause is modifying another part of the sentence. The bolded portion of the following sentence is subordinate: “I cannot use rhetorical devices, although I try very hard to. ”

Now, to hypotaxis. A hypotactic sentence is one that has dependent, or subordinate, clauses. This creates a hierarchical relationship in the sentence: the most important part of the sentence is the clause that can exist independently, while the subordinate clauses, which are less important, still modify and sharpen the message of the sentence.

Here’s an example—from Simone Weil’s Waiting for God . The sentences containing hypotaxis are bolded.

In the bolded sentences, take note of which is the main clause, and which clauses are subordinate. Notice how this makes the main clause the most important aspect of the sentence, creating a hierarchy of information, and a sense of relationships between different interconnected ideas.

Notice, also, how this passage has a mix of complex and simple sentences. Too much hypotaxis will prove much harder to read and comprehend.

The opposite of hypotaxis is parataxis.

11. Parataxis—Equally Weighted Sentence Components

In opposition to hypotaxis, parataxis is the use of equally weighted sentences or clauses in succession to one another. Parataxis requires short, simple sentences and clauses. You can identify this device by an absence of subordinating conjunctions—words that make a clause subordinate, like “although” or “because” or “if.”

Parataxis plays an important role in the following excerpt from Sula , by Toni Morrison:

The sequence of nouns (written using asyndeton) all blur together in one long list of things that don’t belong to Shadrack (the subject of this excerpt). Parataxis makes this sentence quick and even overwhelming, as the reader is immersed in Shadrack’s poverty upon leaving the military hospital he was confined to for so long.

Parataxis plays an equally interesting role in the below prose poem by Barbara Henning. Prose poets often employ parataxis as it resembles the disjointed nature of thought.

With a Bang

Many of the items in this prose poem are equally weighted, allowing the poem to represent the honest, fast-moving nature of human thought and experience. It is up to the reader to understand and interpret the many different items and ideas juxtaposed in this piece.

12. Polysyndeton—Succession of Coordinating Conjunctions

Polysyndeton is the opposite of asyndeton. A sentence with polysyndeton uses coordinating conjunctions (usually “and,” sometimes “or” or “nor”) to join a series of clauses, which serves to quicken the pace of the sentence itself.

Polysyndeton is prominent in these first two stanzas from the poem “It’s What Happens, Sometimes, in October” by Angel Gonzalez:

The repeating “ands” quicken the pace of the poem, reflecting the way the seasons change swiftly in October. They also help create rhythm and tension in the language of the poem itself.

13. Synesis—“Sense” Over Syntax

A synesis occurs when a sentence lacks grammatical agreement, for the purpose of highlighting an agreement in “sense.”

This is easier demonstrated than defined. See the below excerpt from Shakespeare’s King Lear :

“Revenges,” here, is grammatically incorrect. The word should be singular, because it should agree, grammatically and syntactically, with “I.” One does not typically carry out “revenges,” and it’s actually rare to see that word in the plural.

But, in this instance, it is correct logically. Lear is promising revenge on two people, and he might even be promising a different kind of revenge on each person. So, while the sentence is wrong in grammar, it is correct in sense. 

This break in grammar also highlights the word breaking grammatical rules. Our attention is drawn to “revenges”, and so, the idea of revenge is highlighted and heightened in the text.

Synesis is considered a form of anacoluthon. Like anacoluthon, synesis reflects the ways that we naturally communicate to one another. King Lear’s syneses and anacolutha sound true to his character, as these devices feel disjointed, much like a man blind with anger might speak.

The following common rhetorical devices are employed to convince the audience of something. Some of these devices are earnest, sincere, and logical; others are more manipulative.

14. Accismus—Feigned Indifference

What? No! I don’t want that thing (which I actually secretly really desperately want).

Accismus is a form of irony in which the speaker pretends not to desire something that they actually desire. They might do this so as not to scare off the person offering it, or to conceal that their entire motivation rests on this one thing.

For example, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (I.ii), Caesar pretends not to want the crown of Rome:

Caesar at first refuses the crown before accepting, so that the people of Rome don’t catch on to the fact that this crown is the only thing he wants . Were they to know this, the people might realize that Caesar is power hungry and tyrannical.

15. Anecdote—Story-Based Evidence

An anecdote is a short, pithy story, utilized to demonstrate a key point in an argument. Anecdotes are often funny, but can be serious, too.

The teller of the anecdote must not get too lost in the story that they lose track of their own argument; but they must also demonstrate their point clearly and emphatically.

We use anecdotes all the time, making this one of the more common rhetorical devices in this list. Here’s an example, from Timothy Donnelly’s poem “All Through the War” ( in New England Review ):

I said to my daughter on the phone: Be an honest person,

just be an honest person. Be honest, be honest, be honest. Some days I can’t believe what it means to be alive some days. Some days I think about tearing myself apart but not exactly

with pleasure. Some days I know the strongest feeling is grief but I believe it must be love: it has to be, has to be, has to. Some days I feel each cell in my body has its fingers crossed.

The first two lines in this excerpt are an example of the anecdote rhetorical device, with the following lines furthering the argument of the poem. The speaker demonstrates exactly what he means by being honest, sharing thoughts that are both radically intimate and deeply heartfelt.

When an anecdote is moral in nature, it is sometimes referred to as an “exemplum.”

16. Antanagoge—Deflection by Counter Allegation

An antanagoge refers to a deflection in which, instead of answering a question or defending a point, the speaker makes a counter allegation.

For example, if I charged you with “eating all the Oreos,” you might reply that I “ate all the pecan pie last week.” (It’s true; I did.)

Antanagoge can also be employed syntactically. If you raise a claim and then answer that claim with an opposing sentiment, you have used antanagoge. For example, the phrase “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” The first clause is negative, the responding clause is positive.

17. Aporia—Feigned Uncertainty

An aporia occurs when the writer expresses uncertainty or doubt, with the intention of raising a certain argument and exploring it. This uncertainty is usually feigned, as the writer pretends to be uncertain so that they can enumerate their argument and ideas.

A famous example of this is Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech:

By frequently calling into question her own womanhood, Sojourner Truth highlights the blinding effects of racism—how Black women don’t get to have the same rights, privileges, and freedoms of white women, perhaps because no one even views them as women. This speech was quite provocative, and quite effective, for its time—delivered at the 1851 Woman’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, in the midst of rising racial tension and conversations about abolishing slavery.

Aporia is also a concept in philosophy, referring to irresolvable knots or logical impasses in a text.

18. Bdelygmia—Litany of Insults

Despite its weird and satisfying spelling, bdelygmia describes something neither weird nor satisfying: insults.

Specifically, bdelygmia is a litany of insults directed towards an opponent or someone with opposing ideas. It is sometimes called abominatio, is always a form of ad hominem , and it uses strong language to appeal to pathos.

At its cutest, bdelygmia is levied against the perceived antagonist of a story, such as this excerpt from How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss:

The list of insults (using asyndeton, no less!) compels the reader to believe that the Grinch, for lack of a better word, sucks. This has a strong influence on the reader, as it tinges the way they view the Grinch’s place in the story, and it also moves the reader when the Grinch comes around to Christmas.

At its ugliest, bdelygmia is the stuff of internet discourse and political rhetoric. If someone is casting a litany of insults towards their opposition, recognize that this is an abuse of rhetoric, and that no substantial argument is being levied. Bdelygmia is what incites hate groups, political polarization, cyberbullying, and all sorts of intentionally hurtful discourse. Don’t fall for it!

19. Enthymeme—Deductive Reasoning With an Unstated Premise

In our section on the Logos rhetorical device, we explain that deductive reasoning follows a series of premises to reach a conclusion. For example:

  • Rhetorical devices use language to persuade the audience.
  • Amplification is a rhetorical device.
  • Amplification uses language to persuade the audience.

In other words, A = B, and B = C, so A must equal C. (This is a syllogism, which we define later in this article.)

An enthymeme uses deductive reasoning without stating one of the premises. This is because the unstated premise is obvious to the reader. If we remove that first premise, then we get:

You don’t need to be told that rhetorical devices use language to persuade the audience; so, this enthymeme implies that premise. The reader trusts that you already know this basic concept. Using enthymeme conveys trust in the audience, which can help build ethos. It also lets the writer build more concise arguments.

20. Hypophora—Raising and Answering a Question

What can learning about common rhetorical devices do for your writing? Everything.

Also known as antipophora or anthypophora, hypophora is when the writer asks a question and immediately answers it. This rhetorical strategy allows the writer to raise a new topic, and it also invites the audience to participate in the work, since asking questions (even rhetorical questions) makes the audience feel engaged.

A hypophora occurs at the end of the poem “When she told me” by Jean Valentine:

When she told me over the phone you died I lay down and cried, “Don’t you stop loving me.”

In the West Side Market, I heard your voice from the ceiling say out loud to me, I love you.

In the park, to a chestnut tree, to the light through hundreds of leaves, I said, I love you.

It was you. And it was my life, run, to what,

—you closer than touch. 

21. Procatalepsis—Raising and Responding to Rebuttal

I know what you’re going to say. Rhetorical devices? Who needs those?

Procatalepsis is the act of raising a possible rebuttal to your argument, in order to address it right away. It strengthens the argument by addressing criticism and predicting what the opponent might say. As long as that rebuttal is properly addressed, this device can greatly enhance the ethos of an argument. Like hypophora, procatalepsis can also create surprising transitions in literary texts.

Frederick Douglass used procatalepsis in his 1846 “Appeal to the British People.” See below:

Douglass raises and rebuts the argument that he should confine his efforts to the United States. By connecting his plight to humanity’s plight, Douglass not only crafts an effective argument, but also boosts his appeal to ethos and pathos.

22. Reductio ad Absurdum—Taking an Argument to its Absurd Extreme

Reductio ad absurdum is a Latin phrase meaning “Reducing to the point of absurdity.” It is a means of arguing that a certain position is actually absurd. This is one of the operating mechanisms of satire, because it takes an argument to its logical extreme, demonstrating the futility and absurdity of that argument.

At its simplest, reductio ad absurdum simply explains why an argument is incorrect. For example:

The sun cannot orbit the Earth. Otherwise, the Earth would be 1,000,000 times the size of the sun!

At its more complex, reductio ad absurdum pokes fun at the absurdity of the ways we think and act. Satirist Jonathan Swift makes fun of the ways women prepare themselves in his poem “The Ladies’ Dressing Room”:

Five hours, (and who can do it less in?) By haughty Celia spent in dressing; The goddess from her chamber issues, Arrayed in lace, brocades and tissues…

Her ointments, daubs, and paints and creams, Her washes, slops, and every clout Such order from confusion sprung, Such gaudy tulips raised from dung.

The details and imagery here, as well as the mention that Celia spends five hours getting ready, makes Celia’s actions seem simply absurd.

Reductio ad absurdum can become a logical fallacy if it misinterprets the premise of an argument, or else doesn’t show a clear cause and effect between a premise and its logical extreme. Use this device wisely, logically, and convincingly.

23. Syllogism—If A=B, and B=C, Then A=C

If rhetorical devices help strengthen your writing, and syllogism is one of the common rhetorical devices, then a syllogism must strengthen your writing!

A syllogism is the base structure of deductive reasoning—the means by which specific claims are drawn from general knowledge. It follows the template “If A equals B, and B equals C, then A must equal C.”

Shakespeare, of course, master poet and rhetorician that he was, used syllogism in The Life of Timon of Athens .

FLAVIUS. “Have you forgot me, sir?”

TIMON. “Why dost ask that? I have forgot all men; Then, if thou grant’st thou’rt a man, I have forgot thee.”

Of course, employing a syllogism does not mean that the argument holds true. One of the claims A or B could prove incorrect, or else not encompass the full truth. This results in a faulty syllogism, or the syllogism fallacy. For example:

  • All cats have four legs.
  • A zebra has four legs.
  • Therefore, a zebra is a cat.

While both claims A and B are generally true, they don’t encompass the full truth, because cats are not the only category of animals with four legs.

When a syllogism is employed with one claim instead of two (A = B, therefore A = C), that’s known as enthymeme, which is defined elsewhere in this article.

The following common rhetorical devices are employed to emphasize a certain idea. Many of these devices take ideas to their logical extreme, or else use repetition to make an argument stick.

24. Adynaton—Extreme Hyperbole

A hyperbole is an exaggeration. Adynaton is an extreme exaggeration—a hyperbole so out there that it’s beyond impossible. An adynaton might be employed for comic effect, or it might be evidence of the speaker’s extreme feelings.

Here’s an example: the poem “The Cow Speaks to the Child” by Evan Gill Smith :

There’s no me without you, says the cow in the sunlight being looked at, being drawn by the child with crayons.

Is the hill an almond? the child wants to know. Is life irrefutable?

The start of ‘me’ is the start of the ending of ‘you.’ See that hole in your sock where the cold can get through?

The child’s toe sticks through the hole now.

Some philosophers grow ulcers from eating loneliness. There’s not much we know.

The cow’s tongue smacks its lips.

The child fills in its spots with blue crayon and silence. A dragonfly or not.

The line “some philosophers grow ulcers from eating loneliness” can be considered adynaton, as philosophers cannot actually eat loneliness. The idea of growing ulcers from eating loneliness is certainly out there . Of course, this line is metaphorical, and it’s doing excellent work by making the abstract physical. But it’s also a great example of how to use adynaton, because the line is so surprising to the reader, and stands out so clearly from the rest of the piece, that it sticks with the reader long after they’ve finished the poem.

25. Amplification—Drawing Attention to Ideas

The amplification rhetorical device uses superfluous words, embellishments, and unnecessary additions to draw attention towards a particular idea which might otherwise escape the reader’s attention. (That sentence is one example!)

Sometimes, a concise, abruptly worded sentence might not convey what it intends to. The language itself is functional, but the sentence is so short, or so dense, that the reader won’t get it. Amplification ensures that the reader grasps the entirety of what the author believes to be a highly important idea.

Here’s an example, from The Twits by Roald Dahl . The amplifications have been bolded, so you can see how they’re highlighting the core idea.

If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.

Notice how the bolded additions aren’t adding anything “new” to the original ideas, but they help demonstrate, through imagery and example, a necessary concept for the reader to understand.

Be careful with this device. Err on the side of concision , unless you’re certain that the reader must slow down and sit with the idea(s) in the writing.

26. Antiphrasis—Using Words Opposite of Their Meanings

Antiphrasis is the use of words to mean the opposite of their dictionary definitions. For example, if you fell down on the asphalt, and I said “Nice going, ballerina!”, that would be antiphrasis—I do not think that was “nice going,” and I certainly don’t think you’re a ballerina.

Antiphrasis is the operating mechanism for things like irony, sarcasm, satire , and sometimes even euphemism and litotes. (We define euphemism in our article on dialogue ; litotes appears elsewhere in this article.)

Among rhetorical devices, antiphrasis helps writers emphasize what they mean by making the reader think. When the reader realizes that the words being used are opposite to what the writer means, the time spent thinking about those words makes them stick in the reader’s head.

Of course, antiphrasis can also be used as a weapon. It’s not a very kind device to use, so use it wisely and sparingly.

27. Asterismos—Calling Attention With Introductory Words

Behold , rhetorical devices! Asterismos is when you call attention to an idea with an introductory word or phrase. Behold! Alas! Hark! Listen. Hey…. Notice, I say to you!

We use asterismos all the time in daily conversation, and you might notice it used when writers try to capture colloquial speech in their work. Here’s one example, from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn :

Asterismos won’t do much for the arguments in your writing. But, this device helps keep the audience’s attention, and it can clue them into something important that’s about to occur in the text.

28. Litotes—The Rhetorical Double Negative

These common rhetorical devices are not bad !

A litotes is a double negative for rhetorical emphasis. It is a form of pleonasm (defined elsewhere in this article) because it requires the addition of extra words to convey a certain point. By expressing something positive using a double negative, the writer makes the audience think a little harder, adding weight behind the feeling that the double negative expresses.

Here are some common expressions in the English vernacular that use Litotes:

  • I don’t hate it.
  • I can’t disagree.
  • Not uncommon.
  • Hardly difficult.
  • It has not gone unnoticed.
  • It’s not the worst!

And, here are a couple rhetorical devices in poetry involving litotes:

He hath not fail’d to pester us with message Importing the surrender of those lands Lost by his father, with all bands of law, To our most valiant brother. So much for him.— Hamlet (I.ii) by William Shakespeare

“To not harm each other is not enough. I want you

so much that you have no before .” —Our instructor Caitlin Scarano , out of their collection The Necessity of Wildfire .

Litotes is considered a form of meiosis, defined below.

29. Meiosis—Witty Understatement

A meiosis gives the impression that something is less important than it actually is. This understatement creates dramatic effect, because the reader knows that the thing described actually has profound importance. Understatement is considered a form of hyperbole.

In Romeo and Juliet , Mercutio offers several examples of meiosis during his death scene:

(after being stabbed) MERCUTIO. Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch. Marry, ’tis enough. Where is my page? Go villain, fetch a surgeon.

ROMEO. Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.

MERCUTIO. No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’ both your houses. Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to scratch a man to death. A braggart, a rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of arithmetic!—Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm.

As with other rhetorical devices where what’s said differs from what’s meant, meiosis makes the reader slow down and think about what’s being spoken. The ironic dissonance between what’s said and what’s meant emphasizes the true meanings of the words themselves.

30. Metanoia—Immediate Self-Correction

Rhetorical devices are great—no, amazing!

When a writer backtracks or modifies something they just wrote, they use the device metanoia. This is not erasing and rewriting something—it is acknowledging the thing just written, and correcting it with a new, more accurate meaning. This immediate self-correction emphasizes the correction itself, making it stick in the reader’s brain.

Additionally, metanoia mimics the way that we talk in real life. Employing rhetorical devices like this tactically can help build trust and ethos with the audience.

Metanoia can be used to strengthen an argument, soften it, or make it more precise.

Here’s an example of the device, from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitgerald:

The narrator’s self-correction indicates that he knows things now that he did not know before. Thus, this metanoia is also an example of foreshadowing , because it suggests we are about to learn much more about the owner of this mansion.

31. Paralipsis—Performative Refusal to Speak on a Topic

I will not bring up the importance of rhetorical devices in literature, so don’t ask me to talk about it!

Paralipsis is a form of raising a topic by pretending not to want to speak on that topic. In everyday speech, you might say something like “I can’t stand my mother-in-law’s perfume. Not to mention her drinking problem…”

That “not to mention” reveals the thing that you actually want to mention the most. Paralipsis is a form of irony and antiphrasis, because it’s emphasizing the thing that the writer pretends not to want emphasized.

This example comes from “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift:

Swift’s satirical essay argues that the Irish should start eating their 1 year old children to stave off famine and boost their economy. It is, of course, not a serious argument, because Swift is actually mocking the inability of the British to care for the Irishman’s plight. The above quote adds to the satire, because Swift is pretending like the other solutions aren’t worth anyone’s time, when in fact they are the solutions for helping Ireland.

32. Overstatement—Intentional Exaggeration

Rhetorical devices are the only way to make your writing sharp.

Not really. While rhetorical devices are powerful strategies for your writing, they’re not the only way to sharpen it. That was an overstatement—a device in which the writer intentionally exaggerates something to illustrate a point. While overstatements often add a sense of humor to the writing, poets in particular might use this device for strong, evocative emotions and imagery.

Here’s an example, from the poem “100 Bells” by Tarfia Faizullah (which also has great examples of parataxis):

This is, of course, a metaphor. The speaker probably doesn’t believe they actually have horns nestled beneath their hair. But, this visceral overstatement still rings true to the reader—it feels painful, intimate, real, true.

An overstatement is often another literary device, too, such as a metaphor or simile or hyperbole.

33. Tmesis—A Word or Phrase Embedded in Another Word or Phrase

Will rhetorical devices revolutionize your writing? Abso- freaking -lutely!

A tmesis (yes, spelled that way) is a word or phrase embedded in another word or phrase, usually for emphatic effect. It typically reflects the ways we speak to one another.

Some examples of tmesis in everyday speech include:

  • That’s a whole nother story
  • Leave it any old where you like.
  • This is fan- bloody -tastic. (Typical of British English.)
  • Ned Flanders in The Simpsons : “Well- diddly -elcome!”
  • Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother : “Legen- wait for it -dary”

And, in literature:

While tmesis seems easiest to construct in languages like English, you can find examples of this device in both contemporary and classic literature. In Latin, Ovid’s Metamorphoses utilizes the device. Contemporarily, many stream of conscious poets and modernists have used tmesis to reflect the fractured nature of language in the brain.

The following common rhetorical devices are employed to make the writing memorable. Stylistic writing can prove both persuasive and compelling, sticking in the audience’s mind long after the final sentence.

34. Adnomination—Words with Repeating Roots

A single root word can produce many words in the contemporary English lexicon. For example, the latin “facere,” which means “to make” or “to bring forth,” has spawned a bunch of English words. Some examples:

Adnomination is the use of two or more words that share similar roots in a sentence. By doing this, the writer makes something about the sentence memorable. This is a rhetorical device useful for both rhetoricians and for marketers.

Here’s an example from the poem “The Choice” by Franz Wright (which repeats the prefix “some”):

35. Aposiopesis—The Unfinished Sentence

An aposiopesis occurs when the speaker leaves their sentence unfinished. Doing so forces the audience to use their imaginations and “fill in the blank,” which makes the speaker’s message more impactful—provided it’s clear what the speaker implies.

Use aposiopesis clearly, or else—!

Shakespeare employed this device often in his plays. One example comes from King Lear (I.iv):

Two examples of this rhetorical device appear in the bolded line. They both communicate something similar: the “such revenges” that King Lear will take on his daughters. What those revenges are, the reader doesn’t know—and that not knowing actually makes these words scarier, as the reader is left to fill in the blanks with their own imagination, and why wouldn’t we imagine the worst “terrors of the earth?”

36. Circumlocution—Unnecessary Wordiness

Circumlocution (also known as periphrasis) is the use of extraneous words to describe something that could be described concisely. That sentence is one example!

At its most useful, a circumlocution helps define words, so you’ll see this device employed in dictionary entries. It’s also common for language learners to use circumlocution when they don’t have a strong vocabulary—for example, saying “my mother’s sister” if you don’t know the word “aunt.”

Circumlocution is also the operating mechanism for euphemisms. Instead of saying a person is “dumb,” you might say they “didn’t have the best schooling growing up.” In literature, this is the operating mechanism for calling Voldemort “He-who-must-not-be-named.”

Among rhetorical devices, circumlocution is commonly used when politicians try to talk in circles, or else express empty ideas using bloated language. This use of circumlocution is also known as “equivocation.”

For example, if you ask a politician why they decided to close an important public school, they might say they’re trying to “allocate resources in the interest of all students” or “optimize the city’s learning experience through tailored resource allocation.” Well, those ideas sound fine and dandy, but they’re not actually answering the question, they’re just appealing to the audience by being ambiguous and seemingly-moral.

37. Dysphemism—Language That’s Derogatory Instead of Neutral

A dysphemism is the opposite of a euphemism. When you use words derogatorily, particularly when a neutral word or phrase already exists, you are employing dysphemism—a device sometimes used alongside bdelygmia.

  • Euphemism: It’s time for Number Two.
  • Neutral term: I need to use the restroom.
  • Dysphemism: I’ve gotta shit.

So, most insults, swear words, and vulgarities are dysphemisms.

There is something to be said about connotation, context, and the audience: in some instances, a dysphemism could be a euphemism, and vice versa. If someone died, for example, and the nurse said that he “kicked the bucket,” this would normally be a euphemism. But, if the family prefers direct communication, or if the nurse laughed while she said it, then the nurse might have used a dysphemism instead.

38. Ellipsis—Omission of Words

Ellipsis is the omission of words from a sentence, encouraging the reader to “fill in the blank.” Aposiopesis is a form of ellipsis, but an ellipsis can happen anywhere in the text, and is much more open in terms of subject matter.

Take a look at the following example sentences. The words in brackets can be removed without changing the meanings of the sentences. If those bracketed words were removed, these sentences would then contain ellipses:

  • I rode the train, and he [rode] the bus.
  • I rode the train, [but I did] not [ride] the bus.
  • Who rode the train to school today? I did [ride the train, myself.]
  • I’ll ride the train, and you will [ride the train] too.

Ellipsis is a useful tool in the art of concise writing. It can also add ambiguity, particularly in literary works, if the writer wants to imply but not outright state something occurring in the story. Here’s a famous example from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which suggests sexual relations between Mr. McKee and Nick Carraway:

Then Mr. McKee turned and continued on out the door. Taking my hat from the chandelier, I followed.

“Come to lunch some day,” he suggested, as we groaned down in the elevator.“Where?”


“Keep your hands off the lever,” snapped the elevator boy.

“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. McKee with dignity, “I didn’t know I was touching it.”

“All right,” I agreed, “I’ll be glad to.”

… I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands.

“Beauty and the Beast… Loneliness… Old Grocery Horse… Brook’n Bridge…”

Then I was lying half asleep in the cold lower level of the Pennsylvania Station, staring at the morning Tribune, and waiting for the four o’clock train.

The ellipses are marked by the three dots (…). It’s the ellipses after the main bit of dialogue that suggests the two men had some sort of relations: we know time has passed, but not what precisely occurred so that Nick was beside the bed and McKee was in his underwear.

39. Isocolon—Parallelism With an Equal Number of Words or Syllables

A writer uses isocolon when they write a parallel sentence in which each element has the same number of words or syllables. This device is naturally built into certain other rhetorical devices, such as antithesis (“go big or go home!”), and it’s also built into poetry forms like iambic pentameter.

Here are two rhetorical devices examples that use isocolon:

Same number of words: 

Same number of syllables:

Notice how each item replicates the same grammatical and syntactical structures. Isocolon presents ideas in a balanced manner, maintaining rhythm and flow in the sentence while advancing equally weighted ideas.

Isocolon can be further defined as bicolon (two parallel items), tricolon (three parallel items), tetracolon (four parallel items), and so on.

40. Pleonasm—Intentional Redundancy

If you use rhetorical devices, you are a smart, intelligent person!

A pleonasm is an intentional redundancy. It is typically used to emphasize a certain idea or draw attention to it, though it can also add a sense of urgency and intensity to language, so long as it’s employed properly.

Pleonasm is very similar to tautology, which is when you use different words that have the same meanings side by side. The only difference is that a pleonasm is any sort of rhetorical magniloquence.

Some phrases in the English language are inherently pleonastic/tautological. You might have said or heard recently:

  • I saw it with my own two eyes. (You can just say “my.” The “two” is redundant, too.)
  • Can I have a chai tea ? (“Chai” literally means “tea.”)
  • I’ll have the tuna fish for supper. (Just “tuna” communicates the same idea.)
  • It may be possible.
  • I got a free gift !
  • Under false pretenses.
  • PIN Number (PIN stands for Personal Identification Number.)
  • ATM Machine (ATM stands for Automatic Teller Machine.)

Pleonasm is also a prominent feature in Mary Oliver’s poem “Every Dog’s Story”:

I have a bed, my very own . It’s just my size. And sometimes I like to sleep alone with dreams inside my eyes .

But sometimes dreams are dark and wild and creepy and I wake and am afraid , though I don’t know why. But I’m no longer sleepy and too slowly the hours go by.

So I climb on the bed where the light of the moon is shining on your face and I know it will be morning soon.

Everybody needs a safe place.

Pleonasm, here, emphasizes the dog’s intense emotions, and also somehow emulates the way a dog might think. The writing here certainly feels feasible for a dog’s own thoughts, if a dog thought in the English language.

The key here is whether or not the writer is abusing their poetic license: some pleonasm may be useful, though of course it’s best to err on the side of concision.

Master These Common Rhetorical Devices in Literature at Writers.com

Poets, rhetoricians, storytellers, lawyers, politicians, journalists, and translators all use these common rhetorical devices in their work. These devices can be leveraged for style, for argument, or for effective, evocative writing.

Whatever your screed, master these common rhetorical devices at Writers.com. Take a look at our upcoming classes , where you’ll receive expert feedback on every piece of writing you submit.

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Sean Glatch

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Useful article. The implications or the complications of using certain words or phrases are well explained.

The implications or the complications of using certain words or phrases are well explained. This helps to improve my writing skills.

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This has built me. Making me to increase my standard in styles and other things in literary work.

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Blog • Perfecting your Craft

Last updated on Jan 19, 2024

45 Rhetorical Devices: Your Secret Writing Weapons [Download Cheatsheet]

Chances are, you use rhetorical devices every day of your life. Some, like similes and metaphors, you may already know about but others, maybe not. (When was the last time you consciously deployed bdelygmia ?)

In this post, we’re going to show you 45 rhetorical devices that you can use to level-up your writing and speech. 

What are rhetorical devices?

Definition of rhetoric

Rhetorical devices (also known as stylistic devices, persuasive devices, or simply rhetoric) are techniques or language used to convey a point or convince an audience. And they're used by everyone: politicians, businesspeople, and even your favorite novelists.

While there’s some overlap with literary devices (such as metaphors) — those are mainly used to express ideas artistically. Rhetoric, however, appeals to the reader or audience’s sensibilities in four specific ways:

  • Logos , an appeal to logic;
  • Pathos , an appeal to emotion;
  • Ethos , an appeal to ethics; or,
  • Kairos , an appeal to time.

These categories haven’t changed since the Ancient Greeks first identified them thousands of years ago. But don't let their fancy Greek names fool you — they're pretty simple to use. 



Rhetorical Device Cheatsheet

Improve your powers of persuasion by mastering these 35 devices.

Your Ultimate List of Rhetorical Devices

1. accismus .

Accismus is the rhetorical refusal of something one actually wants, to try and convince themselves or others of a different opinion.

Example: I’m fine! I didn’t want to win that gold medal anyway!

2. Adnomination

Adnomination is the use of multiple words with the same root in the same sentence. Like many other rhetorical devices, this is a linguistic trick to make statements sound more persuasive.

Example: Somewhere, somewhen, somehow, we’ll find an answer to that question. 

3. Adynaton

Adynata are purposefully hyperbolic metaphors to suggest that something is impossible — such as the classic saying, “when pigs fly”. And hyperbole, of course, is a rhetorical device in and of itself: an excessively exaggerated statement for effect.

Example: I wouldn’t date him if he was the last man on Earth! 

4. Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of consonants across s uccessive, s tressed s yllables… get it? This most often means repeating consonants at the beginning of multiple words, as opposed to consonance , which is the repetition of consonants anywhere in consecutive words. (Learn more about the difference between alliteration and consonance — and other types of repetition — in this guide !)

Example: Edgar Allan Poe’s makes use of both alliteration and consonance in “The Raven”: 

“ And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain.”

“Silken” and “sad” are alliterative, but the consonance continues into “uncertain” and “rustling.” And as a bonus, it contains assonance — the repetition of vowel sounds — across “purple curtain.”

5. Anacoluthon

An anacoluthon is a misdirection that challenges listeners and/or readers to think deeply and question their assumptions.

Example: The opening sentence of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a famous anacoluthon because it ends somewhere entirely different than where it started: 

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”

Note that anacoluthons are different from non-sequiturs , which are unintentional and incoherent — well, but can anything really be different from anything else?

6. Anadiplosis

Anadiplosis is the repetition of the word from the end of one sentence to the beginning of the next. It has been used by everyone from Shakespeare to Yeats to Yoda. 

Example: As Yoda laments in Stars Wars: The Phantom Menace : “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”


7. Anaphora

Another type of repetition, anaphora, is the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of subsequent sentences.

Example: Though Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” is best known for its opening line, we'll skip to the next part of the poem, where he uses the word 'who' to keep a run-on sentence going. 

“ Who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz, who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated, who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war…”

Another similar rhetorical device is epistrophe : the repetition of words at the end of sentences. And, if you combine the two, you’ve got a symploce .

8. Antanagoge

Antanagoge involves responding to an allegation with a counter-allegation that reframes the situation. Antanagoge doesn't necessarily solve the initial problem, but it does provide an appealing alternative. 

Example: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” 🍋

People unconsciously use antanagoge all the time to justify things to themselves: “Well, it's raining today, but that's fine — I wanted to stay inside anyway.”

9. Anthimeria

Anthimeria is the intentional misuse of one word’s part of speech, such as using a noun for a verb. It’s been around for centuries, but is frequently used in the modern day, as “Instagramming” and “adulting” have seamlessly become part of the lexicon.

Example: “Have you tried Googling that?”

10. Antiphrasis

Antiphrasis is a sentence or phrase that means the opposite of what it appears to say. Like how the idiom, “Tell me about it” generally means, “Don’t tell me about it — I already know.” It’s a subset of a much more common rhetorical device: irony .

Example: “Take your time. We’ve got all day.” 

11. Antithesis

Antithesis is when contrasting ideas or concepts are placed next to each other in a parallel grammatical structure. It doesn’t merely point out that they’re different, but emphasizes the stark contrast between them. 

Example: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

12. Antonomasia

Antonomasia is, essentially, a rhetorical name. Like “Old Blue Eyes,” “The Boss,” or “The Fab Four” — affectionate epithets that take the place of proper names like Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, or the Beatles.

Example: For his contributions to the English language, Shakespeare is also known as “the Bard.” 

13. Apophasis

Apophasis — also known as paralipsis, occupatio, praeteritio, preterition, or parasiopesis —  is when you bring up a subject by denying that it should be brought up. As you might have noticed by now, this is one of many rhetorical devices to stem from irony. It’s a powerful type of rhetoric and when used right, creates a memorable effect.  

Example: This is a classic, if oft-maligned, political tactic and one frequently utilized by Donald Trump when he was the 45th President of the United States, particularly in his colorful tweets. For example: 

“Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me 'old,' when I would NEVER call him 'short and fat?'”

14. Apostrophe

Apostrophe is very simply when a speaker is addressing someone that is either dead, not present, or an inanimate object. If you’re very creative, it can even be all three at once! It comes from the classic Greek for “turning away” — and can be seen quite often in stage plays.

Example: In the gravedigger scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the titular Prince of Denmark discovers the bones of a long-dead court jester he used to play with as a child and — for a brief moment — he addresses the skull. “Alas, poor Yorick.”

Aporia is the rhetorical expression of doubt — almost always insincerely. This is a common tool that businesses use to connect with a consumer base, typically in ads or presentations.

Example: For instance, take Steve Jobs’ introduction of touchscreen technology. 

“Now, how are we gonna communicate this? We don’t wanna carry around a mouse, right? What are we gonna do?”

Steve Jobs


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16. Aposiopesis

Aposiopesis is essentially the rhetorical version of trailing off at the end of your sentence, leaving your listener (or reader) hanging.

Example: At the end of the “Queen Mab” speech in Romeo and Juliet , Mercutio has spun a tale about a fairy queen — demonstrating his own free-wheeling, romantic nature that builds into a breathless crescendo that can only end with…

“This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,

That presses them and learns them first to bear,

Making them women of good carriage:

This is she…”

17. Asterismos

Asterismos is simply a phrase beginning with an exclamation. Like every other sentence in Moby-Dick : “Book! You lie there; the fact is, you books must know your places.” But if no sentence follows, it's an exclamation : an emphatic expression like “My word!” that warrants no follow-up.

Example: Good heavens! What’s happened here?

18. Asyndeton

Asyndeton is the removal of conjunctions like “or,” “and,” or “but” from your writing because the sentence flows better, or more poetically, without them.

Example: This is a favorite technique of Cormac McCarthy, as seen in this passage from Out Dark :

“A parson was laboring over the crest of the hill and coming toward them with one hand raised in blessing, greeting, fending flies.”

And like most of the enigmatic author’s preferred rhetoric, this asyndeton is almost intentionally confusing; whether the parson is blessing or greeting or swatting flies is never clarified.

At other times, McCarthy uses polysyndeton , which is essentially asyndeton's opposite — the addition of extra conjunctions (“and then we walked and then we stopped and then we sat on the ground”).

19. Bdelygmia

Befitting its harsh spelling, bdelygmia (or abominatio) is a rhetorical insult — the uglier and more elaborate, the better. Like most rhetorical devices, Shakespeare was a big fan. As was Doctor Seuss. 

Example: Doctor Seuss goes all out with bdelygmia in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Just take a look at this passage:

“You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch, You're a nasty wasty skunk, Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch. The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote, ‘Stink, stank, stunk!’”

How the grinch stole Christmas

20. Cacophony

Cacophony is simply the use of words that sound bad together. Though some might call it bad writing, this can be used for intentional effect.

Example: For his poem , “Jabberwocky,” Lewis Carroll invented more than a few words for the purpose of sounding harsh and unmelodious:

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.”

This is the antithesis (see above) of euphony — the use of words that sound good together, like this passage from an Emily Dickinson poem :

“Oars divide the Ocean, / Too silver for a seam.”

21. Chiasmus

Chiasmus is the repetition and/or reversal of words or grammatical structure across two phrases. 

Example: A great example of chiasmus can be found in this excerpt from Mary Leapor’s Essay on Woman: 

“Despised, if ugly; if she's fair, betrayed.”

More specific is antimetabole : the switching of words or phrases to suggest truth. (Ask not what rhetorical devices can do for you. Ask what you can do for rhetorical devices.)

Narrative arcs aren’t just for novels. Sentences can have a climax , too — the initial words and clauses build to a peak, saving the most important point for last. We’ve been using climaxes rhetorically since at least the days of the bible.

Example: “ There are three things that will endure: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” — Corinthians 13:13


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23. Colloquialism 

Despite its grand name, colloquialism is when informal, everyday language and expressions are used in writing. This encompasses everything from slang to proverbs to writing out a regional dialect. It adds flavor and can reveal a lot about the characters and setting of a story.

Example: “Ya’ll better behave yourselves tonight!”

24. Connotation

Connotation is when a word has a literal meaning as well as an underlying feeling or idea attached to it. Essentially, this is when words themselves have an unspoken subtext to them. These underlying meanings can be positive or negative, but they can change how we view the subject. 

Example: “ The stench of her cooking filled the house” (negative connotation) vs. “The aroma of her cooking filled the house” (positive connotation).

25. Dysphemism

Dysphemism is a description that is explicitly offensive to its subject or audience. It stands in contrast to a euphemism , which strives to avoid outright offense, but nonetheless has unfortunate connotations. Most racial epithets started as the latter, but are recognized today as the former.

Example: Consider the differences in these two descriptions. “Harry is a thin-necked pencil-pusher with a rat’s nest of a quiff.” (dysphemism) vs. “Harry is a slim office worker with tousled hair.” (euphemism).  

26. Ellipsis

Ellipsis is when a word is deliberately omitted from a sentence to achieve a specific effect. This can be done with or without the use of ellipsis, which are three dots like this “...” (and incidentally, what this rhetorical device is named for). Sometimes, this is used for poetic effect and other times it’s used to present the most important information while acknowledging that some things are being left out. 

Example : “I only left my family because… I had my reasons.”

27. Epizeuxis

Epizeuxis is a type of repetition where a word or phrase is repeated in quick succession with no other words in between. It’s highly effective for placing emphasis on an idea and inspiring a reader. 

Example: One of the most famous examples of Epizeuxis can be found in the classic sitcom, The Brady Bunch , where Jan is fed-up of living in the shadow of her older sister.

“All I hear all day long at school is how great Marcia is at this, or how wonderful Marcia did that. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”

speech writing rhetorical devices

28. Eutrepismus

Like most rhetorical devices, you’ve likely seen eutrepismus in action before, but didn’t know it had a name. This is simply when the points you’re trying to make are stated in a numbered list. It provides a way to separate your thoughts and present ideas in a clear, concise way. 

Example: To make a cake, first you need to gather ingredients. Second, you need to mix them together properly. Third, you must put it in the oven to bake.



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29. Hyperbaton

Hyperbaton is when you rearrange the order of words in a sentence to provide a particular emphasis. It calls attention to itself, which is often why hyperbaton phrases are memorable: they force a reader to stop and think about the strangeness of a phrase as they try to figure out what it means. 

Example: “ Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire.” — The Tell-Tale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe

30. Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is when two opposing thoughts or ideas are presented side by side to highlight their differences. Comparison can be a great way to build an argument or present themes, which is why you see this device used so often.

Example: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Anna Karenina , Leo Tolstoy

This device is often used in haiku poetry , juxtaposing two images to evoke emotions. For example: 

“a blind musician

extending an old tin cup

collects a snowflake” 一 Nick Virgilio

31. Litotes

Litotes is an ironic figure of speech used to express an understatement by negating its contrary. If you see words like “not” or “wasn’t” or any other kind of negation and an undertone of sarcasm, you’re probably dealing with litotes. While this can often be used in a negative way, litotes can also be used to express positive understatements. 

Example: It’s not the worst book in the world. 

32. Meiosis

If you’ve ever understated something before, that’s meiosis — like the assertion that Britain is simply “across the pond” from the Americas. 

Example: You might recognize this rhetorical device from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When the black knight has his leg cut off, he underplays its severity. “‘Tis but a flesh wound!” he says, hopping on his one remaining leg.  

The opposite of meiosis — rhetorical exaggeration — is called auxesis .

33. Metanoia

Metanoia is a self-correction in speech or writing that expresses the idea in a good — no, a “better” way than the original. It can function a bit like an afterthought, but can also put emphasis on a thought by amplifying or softening it. 

Example : This restaurant is the best spot in the city — actually, no, in the entire tri-state area!

34. Onomatopoeia

Wham! Pow! Crunch! These are all examples of onomatopoeia , a word for a sound that phonetically resembles the sound itself. Which means the finale of the 1966 Batman is the most onomatopoeic film scene of all time.

Example: The gun went off with a bang. 

Scott Pilgrim

35. Oxymoron

An oxymoron is when words with opposing definitions are used together to create contradictory phrases that, while at first seem nonsensical, actually are sharply observant or incisive. You can even think of oxymorons as a micro form of juxtaposition.

Example: The room existed in a state of organized chaos. 

36. Parenthesis

Parenthesis is when a word or phrase is inserted or interjects a sentence to provide additional clarity or detail, or even go on a tangent. Despite its name, you don’t have to use parentheses to achieve this effect. Commas, brackets, and dashes can all be used in parenthesis. 

Example: It’s true that she often cuts class (though it isn’t for the typical reasons one would imagine.) 

37. Parallelism

Parallelism is when a pattern of words repeats within a sentence, phrase, or paragraph. This creates a pleasing rhythm, and suggests to the listener that each of the parallel statements are of equal importance or validity. In many cases, parallelism can let statements build on each other and accumulate into a final powerful statement.

Example: “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall never surrender.” — Winston Churchill

38. Personification

Personification describes things and concepts using human characteristics. It's easier for humans to understand a concept when it’s directly related to them, which is why this is such an effective rhetorical device!

Personification appears in almost all forms of literature — even simple sentences like "the alarm screamed" or "the wind howled" would qualify as personification. 

Example: The train roared down the tracks and into the station. 

39. Pleonasm

Pleonasms are redundant phrases that emphasize the nature of the subject. Certain words are so overused that they’ve lost meaning — darkness, nice, etc. However, “black darkness” or “pleasantly nice” reinvigorate that meaning, even if the phrases are technically redundant.

Example: The burning fire flickered merrily in the hearth. 

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40. Rhetorical comparisons

Some of the most prevalent rhetorical devices are figures of speech that compare one thing to another. Two of these, you surely know: the simile and the metaphor . But there is a third, hypocatastasis , that is just as common… and useful. The distinctions between the three are pretty simple as you’ll see in the example below. 

Example: A simile compares two things using like or as: “You are like a monster.” A metaphor compares them by asserting that they’re the same: “You're a monster.” And with hypocatastasis, the comparison itself is implied: “Monster!”

If you can't get enough rhetorical comparisons, check out these 90+ examples of metaphors in literature and pop culture!

41. Rhetorical question

You’ve probably heard of rhetorical questions : they are questions asked to make a point rather than to be answered. Technically, this figure of speech is called interrogatio, but plenty of other rhetorical devices take the form of questions.

Example: “Don’t you want to be a millionaire?”

If you pose a rhetorical question just to answer it yourself, that’s hypophora . And if your rhetorical question infers or asks for a large audience’s opinion, that’s anacoenosis — though it generally doesn’t warrant an answer, either.

42. Synecdoche

Synecdoche is a rhetorical device wherein a part of one thing represents its whole. This differs slightly from metonymy , in which a single thing represents a larger institution.

Example : If you referred to an old king as “greybeard,” that would be synecdoche. If you referred to him as “the crown,” it would be metonymy.

43. Synesthesia

Like the neurological condition of the same name, synesthesia is when a sense is described using the terms of another. So if you’re smelling colors or seeing sounds, you’re employing the techniques of synesthesia in your writing. 

Example: The music sounded like green and pink and purple. 

Have you ever, in a fit of outrage, referred to something un-effing-believable? If you have, congratulations on discovering tmesis : the separation of one word into two parts, with a third word placed in between for emphasis.

Example: Well, that’s just fan-freaking-tastic!

Gordon Ramsay

Zeugma , also called syllepsis, places two nouns with different meanings in a similar position in a sentence. This is a grammatical trick that can be used rhetorically as well.

Example: Mark Twain was a master at deploying zeugma:

“ They covered themselves with dust and glory.”

Though you'd “cover” yourself with these things in very different ways, the phrase still works because the same verb applies to both. Authors often use zeugma in clever wordplay, sometimes even entering everyday conversation. (My grandmother, for example, uses zeugma to describe staticky clothing: “This shirt attracts everything but a man.”)

Download Cheatsheet

Congrats on getting to the end of our rhetorical devices list! Of course, this might feel a bit like a list of fancy names for things you already do. If so, that’s great — you’re already well on your way to mastering the art of rhetoric. And if you need a little help remembering them, we’ve created this handy cheatsheet so you can have all your definitions in one place.

7 responses

nadaid says:

06/11/2019 – 01:45

↪️ Vic replied:

05/12/2019 – 03:37

An oxymoron creates a two-word paradox-such as "near miss" or "seriously funny." An oxymoron is sometimes called a contradiction in terms and is most often used for dramatic effect.

↪️ AtreidesOne replied:

18/08/2020 – 04:38

With "near miss", it's all about different senses of the word and the contexts they're used in.Yes, near can mean "almost", as in "a near perfect fit". So in that sense, a "near failure", or a "near disaster" means that the failure or disaster almost happened. They were "close", but only in a figurative sense. However, near can also mean "at or to a short distance away; nearby", as in "a bomb exploded near the house". This is a physical distance sense. When we're talking about a "miss", we're using the physical distance sense. So "near miss" doesn't mean "it nearly missed" or "it nearly was a miss", but instead "it missed by a small distance".So there is no oxymoron.

↪️ bruh replied:

08/12/2019 – 21:42

Denise Hidalgo says:

26/12/2019 – 14:19

Why aren't analepsis and prolepsis on this otherwise comprehensive list?!?

↪️ OK BOOMER replied:

27/01/2020 – 10:56

analepsis is for literary devices. prolepsis should have been here tho

↪️ Name replied:

12/02/2020 – 20:05

Because they're not JOHN

Comments are currently closed.

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  • Literary Terms
  • Rhetorical Device
  • Definition & Examples
  • When & How to Write a Rhetorical Device

I. What is a Rhetorical Device?

A rhetorical device is any language that helps an author or speaker achieve a particular purpose (usually  persuasion , since rhetoric is typically defined as the art of persuasion). But “rhetorical device” is an extremely broad term, and can include techniques for generating emotion, beauty, and spiritual significance as well as persuasion.

II. Examples of Rhetorical Devices

Hyperbole is a word- or sentence-level rhetorical device in which the author exaggerates a particular point for dramatic effect. For example:

Berlin was flattened during the bombing.

Because the city was not literally left flat, this is an exaggeration, and therefore hyperbole. But it still helps express the author’s main point, which is that the city of Berlin was very severely damaged.

Analogy is an important device in which the explains one thing by comparing it to another. At the sentence level, this might be as simple as saying “my cat’s fur is as white as a cloud .” But analogies can also function at much higher levels, including paragraphs and whole essays . For example, you might argue against war by drawing an extended analogy between the war on terrorism and World War 2. The success of the whole argument would depend entirely on how well you could persuade readers to accept the analogy!

The counterargument is the most important rhetorical device for college-level essays. A counterargument is a response to your own view – for example, if you’re arguing in favor of an idea, the counterargument is one that goes against that idea. In order to make your own argument perspective, you have to acknowledge, analyze, and answer these counterarguments.

III. Types of Rhetorical Devices

Because the term is so broad, there are countless ways to categorize rhetorical devices. For example, we might group them by function: e.g. persuasive devices, aesthetic devices (for creating beauty), or emotional devices. We could also group them according to the types of writing they belong to: e.g. poetry vs. essays.

The clearest way to categorize, though, is probably by scale: that is, what level of the writing does each device affect?

A. Word Level

Before we even get to full sentences, there are many rhetorical devices that operate at the level of individual words or groups of words. For example, the “metonym” is a rhetorical device in which a part stands in for the whole. For example, you might say that a ship is staffed with “twenty hands,” where each hand stands in for a full human being.

B. Sentence Level

Most rhetorical devices operate at the sentence level. They affect the meaning of a sentence, or a chunk of a sentence. For example, parallelism is an important rhetorical device in which different parts of a sentence have the same grammatical structure: “I am disgusted by your methods , but impressed with your results .” Notice how each underlined portion has the same pattern of adjective, preposition, pronoun, and plural noun.

C. Paragraph Level

Paragraph-level rhetorical techniques are especially important in essays, where they help to signal the structure of the argument. One example would be the topic sentence. Topic sentences open the paragraph and introduce its main idea, which is then supported and explained in the body of the paragraph. This is one of the most important techniques for structuring paragraphs effectively.

D. Structural Level

Some rhetorical devices cover the whole structure of a piece of writing. For example, the 5-paragraph essay is a rhetorical device that many people learn in high school for structuring their essays. The five paragraphs involve an introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. This structure is rejected by many college-level writing instructors (and thus may be thought of as a bad rhetorical device), but it’s a rhetorical device nonetheless.

IV. The Importance of Rhetorical Devices

Rhetorical devices are just like artistic techniques – they become popular because they work. For as long as human beings have been using language, we’ve been trying to persuade one another and evoke emotions. Over time, we’ve developed a huge variety of different techniques for achieving these effects, and the sum total of all such techniques is encapsulated in our modern lists of rhetorical techniques. Each rhetorical device has a different purpose, a different history, and a different effect!

V. Examples of Rhetorical Devices in Literature

“If we shadows have offended , think but this and all is mended : that you have but slumbered here while these visions did appear .” (Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream )

This famous quote, like many of Shakespeare’s lines, employs rhyme and meter, the two most basic rhetorical devices in verse. Although not all poetry has rhyme or meter, most classical poems do, and these rhetorical devices were probably important in helping poets memorize their works and sing them in front of audiences.

The dialogue form is an important structural device used in philosophy and religious scriptures for thousands of years. By putting different arguments in the mouths of different characters , philosophers can present their readers with a broader range of possible views, thus bringing more nuance into the conversation. This device also allows philosophers to make their own arguments more persuasive by responding to the various counterarguments presented by characters in the dialogue.

VI. Examples of Rhetorical Devices in Popular Culture

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); “Ah, yes – Zorro! And where is he now, padre? Your masked friend? He hasn’t shown himself in 20 years!” (Don Rafael, The Mask of Zorro )

A rhetorical question is a question that the audience is not supposed to answer – either because the answer is obvious, or because the speaker is about to answer it for them. It’s one of the most common techniques in oratory (speeches) and essays. In this case, Don Rafael is using a rhetorical question to undermine the crowd’s confidence in Zorro, their legendary defender.

“The microphone explodes, || shattering the mold.” (Rage Against the Machine, Bulls on Parade )

The two vertical lines (||) represent a caesura , or pause. This is a common rhetorical device in poetry, but is also found in music. In the recording of the song, there’s a beat’s pause in between “explodes” and “shattering.”

VII. Related Terms

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, either through speaking or writing. In ancient Greece, the concept of rhetoric was given huge cultural importance, and philosophers like Aristotle wrote whole books on rhetoric and the techniques of convincing others.

Today, people sometimes view rhetoric in a negative light (as when someone says of a politician’s speech that it was “all rhetoric and no substance”). But this is a shame, since we are very much in need of leaders who have mastered the art of persuasive reasoning and respectful argumentation. Rhetoric has fallen from its former place of honor, and perhaps this explains the lack of productive dialogue in our political arena, driven as it is by sound bites and personal attacks.

Figure of Speech

When a rhetorical device departs from literal truth, this is called a “figure of speech.” The most common figure of speech is a metaphor, in which one thing stands for another (e.g. “he unleashed a hurricane of criticism”). However, many rhetorical devices employ literal truth and therefore should not be thought of as figures of speech.

List of Terms

  • Alliteration
  • Amplification
  • Anachronism
  • Anthropomorphism
  • Antonomasia
  • APA Citation
  • Aposiopesis
  • Autobiography
  • Bildungsroman
  • Characterization
  • Circumlocution
  • Cliffhanger
  • Comic Relief
  • Connotation
  • Deus ex machina
  • Deuteragonist
  • Doppelganger
  • Double Entendre
  • Dramatic irony
  • Equivocation
  • Extended Metaphor
  • Figures of Speech
  • Flash-forward
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Juxtaposition
  • Literary Device
  • Malapropism
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parallelism
  • Pathetic Fallacy
  • Personification
  • Point of View
  • Polysyndeton
  • Protagonist
  • Red Herring
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Rhetoric: The Art of Persuasive Writing and Public Speaking

Gain critical communication skills in writing and public speaking with this introduction to American political rhetoric.

A speech bubble.

Associated Schools

Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences

Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences

What you'll learn.

When and how to employ a variety of rhetorical devices in writing and speaking

How to differentiate between argument and rhetorical technique

How to write a persuasive opinion editorial and short speech

How to evaluate the strength of an argument

How to identify logical fallacies in arguments

Course description

We are living in a contentious time in history. Fundamental disagreements on critical political issues make it essential to learn how to make an argument and analyze the arguments of others. This ability will help you engage in civil discourse and make effective changes in society. Even outside the political sphere, conveying a convincing message can benefit you throughout your personal, public, and professional lives.

This course is an introduction to the theory and practice of rhetoric, the art of persuasive writing and speech. In it, you will learn to construct and defend compelling arguments, an essential skill in many settings. We will be using selected addresses from prominent twentieth-century Americans — including Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Margaret Chase Smith, Ronald Reagan, and more — to explore and analyze rhetorical structure and style. Through this analysis, you will learn how speakers and writers persuade an audience to adopt their point of view.

Built around Harvard Professor James Engell’s on-campus course, “Elements of Rhetoric,” this course will help you analyze and apply rhetorical structure and style, appreciate the relevance of persuasive communication in your own life, and understand how to persuade and recognize when someone is trying to persuade you. You will be inspired to share your viewpoint and discover the most powerful ways to convince others to champion your cause. Join us to find your voice!

Course Outline

Introduction to Rhetoric

  • Define the term "rhetoric."
  • Articulate the importance of effective communication.
  • Summarize the history of rhetorical study, from the ancient Greeks to the modern-day.
  • Identify the parts of discourse.
  • Define the three modes of appeal.
  • Identify tropes and schemes, and explain their use in composition.
  • Compose an opinion editorial on a topic of your choice.

Civil Rights - Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Analyze Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream…” speech
  • Define inductive reasoning and some of its associated topics
  • Identify instances of inductive reasoning in writing and speech
  • Define deductive reasoning and some of its associated topics
  • Identify instances of deductive reasoning in writing and speech
  • Recognize and evaluate the strength of an argument's refutation
  • Apply the elements of rhetoric you have learned so far into the final draft of your op-ed

Gun Control - Sarah Brady and Charlton Heston

  • Analyze Sarah Brady’s Democratic National Convention Keynote Speech.
  • Analyze Charlton Heston’s speech on the Second Amendment.
  • Define “inductive reasoning” and some of its associated topics
  • Define “deductive reasoning” and some of its associated topics
  • Recognize and evaluate the strength of an argument’s refutation
  • Apply the elements of rhetoric you have learned so far in the final draft of your op-ed

Introduction to Oratory

  • Describe the origins of the practice of oratory.
  • Recognize ways in which orators tailor their writing for the spoken word.
  • Describe techniques for effective public speaking, both prepared and extemporaneous.
  • Brainstorm ideas for your own short speech.

The Red Scare - Joseph McCarthy and Margaret Chase Smith

  • Analyze Joseph McCarthy’s “Enemies Within” speech.
  • Analyze Margaret Chase Smith’s "A Declaration of Conscience" speech.
  • Identify the modes of appeal and the logical reasoning of the featured speeches.
  • Identify both common and special topics used in these speeches, like cause and effect, testimony, justice and injustice, and comparison, and begin to recognize their use in other speeches.
  • Identify examples from these speeches of logical fallacies including the either/or fallacy, the fallacy of affirming the consequent, the argument ad hominem, the argument ad populum, begging the question, the complex question, and the use of imprecise language.
  • Discuss the importance of winning and keeping an audience’s trust and the pros and cons of attempting to tear down their confidence in an opponent.
  • Define for yourself the definition of "extremist rhetoric," debate its use as a political tool.
  • Consider the moral responsibilities of those who would seek to persuade others through language.

Presidential Rhetoric - John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan

  • Discuss how the audience and the desired tone for a speech can influence diction (word choice).
  • Compare the effects of using passive vs. active voice, and first-person vs. other tenses in a speech.
  • Discuss the effectiveness of the use of symbolism in writing and speech.
  • Define hyperbole, antimetabole, and polysyndeton, and identify when these devices might be appropriate and useful in terms of persuasion.
  • Describe techniques for connecting with your audience, including storytelling and drawing on shared experience.


James Engell

James Engell

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Stylistic Devices (Rhetorical Devices, Figures of Speech)

On the following pages, we will explain some of the most important stylistic devices (also called rhetorical devices or figures of speech) – they are not only useful for analysing texts, but also for creating your own texts.

Stylistic devices make your speeches, essays etc. more interesting and lively and help you to get and keep your reader ’ s / listener ’ s attention.

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Nine Rhetorical Devices For Your Next Speech

Many speakers are good at conveying information to their audiences. But how many of them are actually interesting ?

Rhetorical devices are too often cast aside as the province of the great Roman orators. They shouldn’t be. When executed well, they can spice up your speeches, presentations, even your one-on-one conversations.

Here are nine of my favorite rhetorical devices. Instead of just reading this article, try inserting a few of these devices in your next speech!

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation. Audience at the conference hall.

1. Alliteration: The repetition of a sound in the first syllable of each phrase. In the example below, you will see one string of three words beginning with “f,” and another with three words beginning with “d.”

“They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known. They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different, and difficult places.” – President Barack Obama

  2. Anadiplosis: The last word or phrase is repeated to begin the next.

“Suffering breeds character; character breeds faith.” – Rev. Jesse Jackson “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

    3. Antimetabole: The repetition of words or phrases in successive clauses, but in reverse order.

“Not all schooling is education nor all education, schooling.” – Economist Milton Friedman “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” – Scientist Carl Sagan

    4. Antithesis:  A word, phrase, or sentence opposes the original proposition.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” – Neil Armstrong

5. Asyndeton: Omits conjunctions, which helps to increase the tempo and highlight a specific idea.

“…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” – Abraham Lincoln “He was a bag of bones, a floppy doll, a broken stick, a maniac.” – Jack Kerouac

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6. Diacope: A repeated word or phrase split up by other words; typically used to express a strong emotion.

“Put out the light, and then put out the light.” – William Shakespeare, Othello “For the love of God, man, for the love of God.” – Me, all the time “You’re not fully clean unless you’re Zest fully clean .” – Zest Soap commercial  

  7. Litotes: You’ve probably heard this if a friend ever told you her first date was “not bad.” Litotes is essentially a double negative, expressed by denying an opposite idea; often used ironically.

“She’s no dummy” (she’s smart) “This is no small problem” (this is a big problem)

  8. Metaphor: An analogy that compares one thing or idea to another, using a term or phrase it literally isn’t to suggest similarity.

“Homeowners are the innocent bystanders in a drive-by shooting by Wall Street and Washington.” – Sen. John McCain “It’s raining men.” – The Weather Girls

  9. Simile: A comparison between two unalike things, usually using the words “as” or “like.”

“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. “You’re as cold as ice.” – Foreigner

Do you want to learn even more ways to spice up your speeches and presentations? Become the speaker you always wanted to be with our free public speaking tips guide . 

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Comments (9)

Useful list, but I’m rather surprised by your use of all these obscure Greek words to describe the techniques. I’ve been teaching people how to use rhetorical devices for more than 25 years and have found it perfectly possible to describe them in instantly accessible modern English that anyone can easily understand. For the same reason – instant accessibility so that people can benefit from using them – also did this in my book ‘Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know About Making Speeches and Presentations’ http://amzn.to/g7NgAL

Hi Max, Thank you for your comment, and you raise a fair point. I certainly agree that jargon is lousy for all forms of communication. Would you mind sharing a few of the terms you use to replace the ancient Greek words? Thank you, Brad

I think it’s important to note that it’s not necessary to use ALL of these devices in a speech or presentation. Two similes, a bunch of alliteration and some antimetabole can be too much. It’s a presentation, not Shakespeare. Don’t let the message get muddied in order to show how clever you are. Simplicity, in many cases, is the best rhetorical device.

Hi Betsy, Thank you for making that point – you’re exactly right. Rhetorical devices should be used to help achieve a specific purpose, such as making a key point more memorable. Speakers should feel free to experiment with a device or two in every speech, but should be careful not to go over-the-top. If you’re unsure how many devices to use, I’d err on the side of too few (at least at first). As you suggested, a little goes a long way. Thanks for stopping by the blog! Brad


I would like to point out, that I am fairly certain that your second example for alliteration, given by Martin Luther King Jr., is not alliteration at all. I believe it is actually an example of anaphora.

First commenter (Max) is clearly self promoting and not adding value here. Why say that and then not offer examples? Thank you author Brad for providing these examples and the names that are used for them.

Jack is correct! H.S. was 10 years ago for me (I took a public speaking class), but I DO recall falling in love with anaphora, particularly when I was crafting a rousing speech. It gets me FIRED UP! BTW, is there any way in which an apposition can be qualified as a rhetorical device? I feel in love with them from about age 9– I read a lot. I do love them in informative pieces, but it would be fun to see them used convincingly in a persuasive piece. I faintly recall trying to squeeze A FEW into just one sentence for a particularly militant English professor, just to piss her off. . . IT WORKED. She loved me by the end of the semester, however.

For those who did not appreciate the technical terms for the devices. I loved It, as it helped focus my attention. I got a real kick out of it, the specific terms, the love of language for the sake of language. Mmm. A rhetorical device?

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My Favorite Speeches for Rhetorical Analysis: 10 Speeches for Middle School ELA and High School English

Teaching rhetorical analysis is one of my absolute favorite units to complete with my students. I love teaching my students about rhetorical strategies and devices, analyzing what makes an effective and persuasive argument, and reading critical speeches with my students. Here is a quick list of some of my favorite speeches for rhetorical analysis.

My Favorite Speeches for Rhetorical Analysis

I absolutely LOVE teaching rhetorical analysis. I think it might be one of my favorite units to teach to my high school students. There are just so many different text options to choose from. Here is a list of some of my favorite speeches to include in my rhetorical analysis teaching unit.

10 Speeches for Teaching Rhetorical Analysis

1. the gettysburg address (abraham lincoln).

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Some notable things to mention in this speech include allusion and parallel structure. To make your analysis more meaningful, point out these devices to students and explain how these devices enhance the meaning of the text.

Teaching Resource : The Gettysburg Address Rhetorical Analysis Activity Packet

2. Lou Gehrig’s Farewell Speech (Lou Gehrig)

This speech is one that many of my athletes love to analyze, and it is an excellent exemplar text to teach pathos. And like The Gettysburg Address, it is short. This is another speech that you can read, analyze, and even write about in one class period.

When I use this speech in my class, I have students look for examples of pathos. Mainly, I have them look at word choice, tone, and mood. How does Lou Gehrig’s choice of words affect his tone and the overall mood of the speech?

3. I Have a Dream (Martin Luther King,  Jr.)

IMG 8495

In the classroom, it is important to point out the sermonic feel to the speech and also to have your students look for calls to action and pathos. Have your students look for tone, allusions, and word choice to help them notice these rhetoric expressions throughout it.

Teaching Resource : I Have a Dream Close Read and Rhetorical Analysis

4. Speech at the March on Washington (Josephine Baker)

This is another important speech that held a lot of importance for the changes that needed to be made in America. The speech is a shorter one, so in the classroom, it will not take as long to analyze it, and students can understand the significance of the use of rhetoric in a shorter amount of time than some other speeches.

When teaching this speech, I like to remind my students to search for devices that portray an excellent example of the pathos that is so present in this speech. Some of these devices could be mood, repetition, and diction.

5. Steve Jobs’ Commencement Speech (Steve Jobs)

My Favorite Speeches for Rhetorical Analysis

In class, it is good to have your students annotate and analyze the speech just as they have done for the others. The organization of the speech will help them to notice the similarities and differences between each point Jobs makes.

6. Space Shuttle Challenger (Ronald Reagan)

This speech represents a strong sense of pathos as a movement to help the American people cope with loss after the deaths of the astronauts aboard the Challenger. It is another speech that is not too long, so it should not take a long time to both analyze and annotate the entire speech.

When teaching this speech in class, be sure to mention how pathos is the driving force behind the speech, through the tone and the diction. How does Reagan use emotion to focus on the astronauts as humans, rather than solely focusing on the tragedy?

7. The Perils of Indifference (Elie Wiesel)

This speech is a good one to teach because it both makes students question their own lives, but also how the world works. The speech relies on pathos, and a little ethos too, to get the audience to feel the full effect of the tragedy of the Holocaust and what the speaker went through. It is a long speech so it may take longer for the students to fully grasp all the details that make it such a persuasive speech.

When I teach this speech, I like to have students annotate every place they notice an example of pathos, and then have them explain why in their annotations this makes them feel an emotion. The same with the ethos, and then we can further analyze the rest together.

8. 9/11 Address to the Nation (George W. Bush)

This speech shows another example of the use of pathos in the midst of a tragedy. The President wanted to show the American people how much he was feeling for those lost in the tragedy of 9/11. It is not a long speech, but the amount of emotion within the words is significant for students to notice.

When teaching this speech, it is essential that students look very closely at each part of it, noticing each piece that reveals tone, mood, and other literary devices. How do the different devices add to the pathos of the speech?

FREE TEACHING ACTIVITY : September 11 Address to the Nation Sampler

Teaching Resource : September 11 Address to the Nation Rhetorical Analysis Unit

9. We are Virginia Tech (Nikki Giovanni)

This speech is probably the shortest speech on this list but provides one of the most emotional and pathos-filled rhetoric. This describes another tragedy that is spoken about with pathos to give the audience a safe feeling after such an emotional thing. Students can spend time analyzing the different devices that make the piece so strong in its emotion.

In the classroom, make sure your students make a note of the repetition, and what that does for the speech. Does it make the emotion more impactful? How does it make the audience feel like they are a part of something bigger?

10. Woman’s Right to the Suffrage (Susan B. Anthony)

This is another short speech that holds a lot of power within it. A lot of students will enjoy reading this to see how much the country has changed, and how this speech may have some part in influencing this change. It is a great speech to help teach logos in the classroom, and it will not take a long time to analyze.

Make sure your students notice, and they also understand, the use of allusions within the speech. These allusions help to establish the use of logos, as Anthony wants the use of American historical documents to show how logical her argument is.

Ready-For-You Rhetorical Analysis Teaching Unit

Rhetorical2BAnalysis2BCover 1

You might also be interested in my blog post about 15 rhetorical analysis questions to ask your students.

Teaching rhetorical analysis and speeches in the classroom is a great way to teach informational text reading standards.

Rhetorical Analysis Teaching Resources:

These resources follow reading standards for informational text and are ideal for secondary ELA teachers.

  • Rhetorical Analysis Unit with Sticky Notes
  • Ethos, Pathos, Logos: Understanding Rhetorical Appeals\
  • Rhetorical Analysis Mini Flip Book

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  1. 60+ Rhetorical Devices with Examples for Effective Persuasion • 7ESL

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  2. 60+ Rhetorical Devices with Examples for Effective Persuasion • 7ESL

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  3. 60+ Rhetorical Devices with Examples for Effective Persuasion • 7ESL

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    The use of a proper name to designate a member of a class (such as a Solomon for a wise ruler) OR the use of an epithet or title in place of a proper name (such as the Bard for Shakespeare) apophasis | see definition » The raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it we won't discuss his past crimes aporia | see definition »

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  12. Common Rhetorical Devices List

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    2. Adnomination. Adnomination is the use of multiple words with the same root in the same sentence. Like many other rhetorical devices, this is a linguistic trick to make statements sound more persuasive. Example: Somewhere, somewhen, somehow, we'll find an answer to that question. 3. Adynaton.

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  15. Rhetorical Device: Definition and Examples

    Example 1. Hyperbole is a word- or sentence-level rhetorical device in which the author exaggerates a particular point for dramatic effect. For example: Berlin was flattened during the bombing. Because the city was not literally left flat, this is an exaggeration, and therefore hyperbole. But it still helps express the author's main point ...

  16. How to Use Rhetorical Devices Properly in Your Writing

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  17. What is Rhetoric: Definition & Meaning

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  18. Rhetorical device

    In rhetoric, a rhetorical device, persuasive device, or stylistic device is a technique that an author or speaker uses to convey to the listener or reader a meaning with the goal of persuading them towards considering a topic from a perspective, using language designed to encourage or provoke an emotional display of a given perspective or action. . They seek to make a position or argument more ...

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    This ability will help you engage in civil discourse and make effective changes in society. Even outside the political sphere, conveying a convincing message can benefit you throughout your personal, public, and professional lives. This course is an introduction to the theory and practice of rhetoric, the art of persuasive writing and speech.

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  21. Nine Rhetorical Devices For Your Next Speech

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