Rhetorical device

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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 compelling than it would otherwise be.[1][page needed]

Sonic devices[edit]

Sonic devices depend on sound. Sonic rhetoric is used as a clearer or swifter way of communicating content in an understandable way. Sonic rhetoric delivers messages to the reader or listener by prompting a certain reaction through auditory perception.[2][1][page needed]


Alliteration is the repetition of the sound of an initial consonant or consonant cluster in subsequent syllables.[3][4]

Small showers last long but sudden storms are short.

— Shakespeare, Richard II 2.1


Assonance is the repetition of similar vowel sounds across neighbouring words.[5][page needed]

Blow wind, swell billow and swim bark!

— Shakespeare, Julius Caesar 5.1


Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds across words which have been deliberately chosen. It is different from alliteration as it can happen at any place in the word, not just the beginning.[6]

In the following example, the k sound is repeated five times.

...with streaks of light,
And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels...

— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet 2.3


Cacophony refers to the use of unpleasant sounds, such as the explosive consonants k, g, t, d, p and b, the hissing sounds sh and s, and also the affricates ch and j, in rapid succession in a line or passage, creating a harsh and discordant effect.[7]

Hear the loud alarum bells–
Brazen bells! What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek...


Onomatopoeia is the use of words that attempt to emulate a sound. When used colloquially, it is often accompanied by multiple exclamation marks and in all caps. It is common in comic strips and some cartoons.[3][4]

Some examples: smek, thwap, kaboom, ding-dong, plop, bang and pew.

Word repetition[edit]

Word repetition rhetorical devices operate via repeating words or phrases in various ways, usually for emphasis.


Anadiplosis involves repeating the last word(s) of one sentence, phrase or clause at or near the beginning of the next.[4]

To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream...

— Shakespeare, Hamlet 3.1

Conduplicatio is similar, involving repeating a key word in subsequent clauses.

Thou quiet soul, sleep thou a quiet sleep!

— Shakespeare, Richard III 5.3


Anaphora is repeating the same word(s) at the beginning of successive sentences, phrases or clauses.[3]

With mine own tears I wash away my balm,
With mine own hands I give away my crown,
With mine own tongue deny my sacred state,
With mine own breath release all duty's rites.

— Shakespeare, Richard II 4.1

Epistrophe is repeating the same word(s) at the end.[8]

If you had known the virtue of the ring,
Or half her worthiness that gave the ring,
Or your own honour to contain the ring,
You would not then have parted with the ring.

— Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice 5.1

Symploce is a simultaneous combination of both anaphora and epistrophe, but repeating different words at the start and end.[9]

Alfred Doolittle: I'll tell you, Governor, if you'll only let me get a word in. I'm willing to tell you. I'm wanting to tell you. I'm waiting to tell you.
Henry Higgins: Pickering, this chap has a certain natural gift of rhetoric. Observe the rhythm of his native woodnotes wild. 'I'm willing to tell you. I'm wanting to tell you. I'm waiting to tell you.' Sentimental rhetoric! That's the Welsh strain in him. It also accounts for his mendacity and dishonesty.

Epanalepsis repeats the same word(s) at the beginning and end.[5][page needed]

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!

— Shakespeare, Henry V 3.1


Epizeuxis is repetition of the same word without interruption.[4]

O horror! Horror! Horror!

— Shakespeare, Macbeth 2.3

Antanaclasis is repetition of the same word but in a different sense. The repeated word has two different meanings in the context of the sentence. Antanaclasis is often used when the repeated word has multiple definitions or ways it may be interpreted. Authors typically use this rhetorical strategy in order to emphasize a certain word that contributes to the overarching theme or idea, to create a rhythm in their writing, or to give off a witty or humorous tone.

[10] This can take advantage of polysemy. [11]

We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.


Diacope is the repetition of a word or phrase after an intervening word or clause.[5][page needed]

A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

— Shakespeare, Richard III 5.4

Word relation[edit]

Word relation rhetorical devices operate via deliberate connections between words within a sentence.


Antithesis involves putting together two opposite ideas in a sentence to achieve a contrasting effect.[12][page needed] Contrast is emphasised by parallel but similar structures of the opposing phrases or clauses to draw the listeners' or readers' attention. Compared to chiasmus, the ideas must be opposites.

Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall.

— Shakespeare, Measure for Measure 2.1

Antimetabole involves repeating but reversing the order of words, phrases or clauses. The exact same words are repeated, as opposed to antithesis or chiasmus.

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

Chiasmus involves parallel clause structure but in reverse order for the second part. This means that words or elements are repeated in the reverse order.[13][page needed] The ideas thus contrasted are often related but not necessarily opposite.

But O, what damned minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts; suspects, yet strongly loves!

— Shakespeare, Othello 3.3


Asyndeton is the removal of conjunctions like "or", "and", or "but" where it might have been expected.[13][page needed]

Accursed, unhappy, wretched, hateful day!

— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet 4.4

Polysyndeton is the use of more conjunctions than strictly needed. This device is often combined with anaphora.[13][page needed]

We'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news...

— Shakespeare, King Lear 5.3


Auxesis is arranging words in a list from least to most significant.[14][page needed] This can create climax.

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'er-sways their power...

— Shakespeare, Sonnet 65

Catacosmesis, the opposite, involves arranging them from most to least significant.[14][page needed]

Nor brass, nor stone, nor parchment bears not one.

— Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale 1.2

This can create anticlimax for humour or other purposes.

He has seen the ravages of war, he has known natural catastrophes, he has been to singles bars.


An oxymoron is a 2-word paradox often achieved through the deliberate use of antonyms. This creates an internal contradiction that can have rhetorical effect.[15]

I could weep
And I could laugh, I am light and heavy.

— Shakespeare, Coriolanus 2.1


Zeugma involves the linking of two or more words or phrases that occupy the same position in a sentence to another word or phrase in the same sentence. This can take advantage of the latter word having multiple meanings depending on context to create a clever use of language that can make the sentence and the claim thus advanced more eloquent and persuasive.

In the following examples, 2 nouns (as direct objects) are linked to the same verb which must then be interpreted in 2 different ways.[3]

He caught the train and a bad cold.
This shirt attracts everything but men.
I held my breath and the door for you.
Dumbledore was striding serenely across the room wearing long midnight-blue robes and a perfectly calm expression.

Zeugma is sometimes defined broadly to include other ways in which one word in a sentence can relate to two or more others. Even simple constructions like multiple subjects linked to the same verb are then "zeugma without complication".[16]

Fred excelled at sports; Harvey at eating; Tom with girls.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.

Discourse level[edit]

Discourse level rhetorical devices rely on relations between phrases, clauses and sentences. Often they relate to how new arguments are introduced into the text or how previous arguments are emphasized. Examples include antanagoge, apophasis, aporia, hypophora, metanoia and procatalepsis.


Amplification involves repeating a word or expression while adding more detail, to emphasise what might otherwise be passed over.[12][page needed] This allows one to call attention to and expand a point to ensure the reader realizes its importance or centrality in the discussion.

But this revolting boy, of course,
Was so unutterably vile,
So greedy, foul, and infantile
He left a most disgusting taste
Inside our mouths...

Pleonasm involves using more words than necessary to describe an idea. This creates emphasis and can introduce additional elements of meaning.[17]

Swerve not from the smallest article of it, neither in time, matter or other circumstance.

— Shakespeare, Measure for Measure 4.2


Antanagoge involves "placing a good point or benefit next to a fault criticism, or problem in order to reduce the impact or significance of the negative point".[4]

Within the infant rind of this weak flower
Poison hath residence, and medicine power.

— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet 2.3[18]

One scenario involves a situation when one is unable to respond to a negative point and chooses instead to introduce another point to reduce the accusation's significance.

We may be managing the situation poorly, but so did you at first.

Antanagoge can also be used to positively interpret a negative situation:

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.[3]


Apophasis is the tactic of bringing up a subject by denying that it should be brought up.[19] It is also known as paralipsis, occupatio, praeteritio, preterition, or parasiopesis.

There's something tells me, but it is not love,
I would not lose you; and you know yourself,
Hate counsels not in such a quality.

— Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice 3.2


Aporia is the rhetorical expression of doubt.[4]

To be or not to be, that is the question.

— Shakespeare, Hamlet 3.1

When the rhetorical question posed is answered, this is also an instance of hypophora.


Rejecting an argument through ridiculous comparison.[20]


This involves setting up an opposing position to ridicule without offering a counterargument.[1][page needed]

You believe we should vote for him? I've got a bridge to sell you.


Syllogism which omits either one of the premises or the conclusion. The omitted part must be clearly understood by the reader. Sometimes this depends on contextual knowledge.

They say it takes hundreds of years to build a nation.
Welcome to Singapore.

(Modern Singapore is currently 58 years old.)


Hyperbole is deliberate exaggeration.[4] This can be for literary effect:

The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night

— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet 2.2)

Or for argumentative effect:

Her election to Parliament would be the worst thing to ever happen to this country! [1][page needed]


The use of hypophora is the technique whereby one asks a question and then proceeds to answer the question.[12][page needed]

Can honour set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word honour? What is that honour? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died a' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. 'Tis insensible, then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it.

— Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1 5.1


This device indirectly implies an accusation without explicitly stating it.[1][page needed] This can be combined with apophasis.

I know you aren't an alcoholic, but I did notice you've replaced all the bottles in your liquor cabinet.


Metanoia qualifies a statement or by recalling or rejecting it in part or full, and then re-expressing it in a better, milder, or stronger way.[4][5][page needed] A negative is often used to do the recalling.

All faults that may be named, nay, that hell knows...

— Shakespeare, Cymbeline 2.4


By anticipating and answering a possible objection, procatalepsis allows an argument to continue while rebutting points opposing it. It is a relative of hypophora.[12][page needed]

'All right!' you'll cry. 'All right!' you'll say,
'But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!'
We'll answer this by asking you,
'What used the darling ones to do?
How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?'


Understatement, or meiosis, involves deliberately understating the importance, significance or magnitude of a subject.[12][page needed]

The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage.

A subtype of understatement is litotes, which uses negation:

Heatwaves are not rare in the summer.

Irony and imagery[edit]


Irony is the figure of speech where the words of a speaker intends to express a meaning that is directly opposite of the said words.[3][4]

Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest -
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men -
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.

— Shakespeare Julius Caesar 3.2


Metaphor connects two different things to one another. It is frequently invoked by the verb "to be".[3][4] The use of metaphor in rhetoric is primarily to convey to the audience a new idea or meaning by linking it to an already familiar idea or meaning. The literary critic and rhetorician, I. A. Richards, divides a metaphor into two parts: the vehicle and the tenor.[21]

In the following example, Romeo compares Juliet to the sun (the vehicle), and this metaphor connecting Juliet to the sun shows that Romeo sees Juliet as being radiant and regards her as an essential being (the tenor).

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.

— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet 2.2

In the example below, John Green compares a toddler to the sun because they do not want to go to bed.

The sun was a toddler insistently refusing to go to bed: It was past eight thirty and still light.

— John Green, The Fault in Our Stars


Personification is the representation of animals, inanimate objects and ideas as having human attributes.[3][4]

The gray-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night

— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet 2.3


Simile compares two different things that resemble each other in at least one way using "like" or "as" to explain the comparison.[3][4]

I'll warrant him, as gentle as a lamb.

— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet 2.5


Metonymy is a figure of speech where a thing or concept is referred to indirectly by the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant. For example, "crown" to denote king or queen.


A synecdoche is a class of metonymy, often by means of either mentioning a part for the whole or conversely the whole for one of its parts. Examples from common English expressions include "suits" (for "businessmen"), "boots" (for "soldiers", a pars pro toto), and "America" (for "the United States of America", "totum pro parte").

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Crews-Anderson, Timothy A. (2007). Critical thinking and informal logic. Penrith: Humanities-Ebooks. ISBN 978-1-84760-046-2. OCLC 697474252.
  2. ^ "Rhetorical Strategies for Sound Design and Auditory Display: A Case Study". International Journal of Design. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "30 Rhetorical Devices — And How to Use Them". Reedsy. 2019-01-11. Retrieved 2020-03-12.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Harris, Robert A. (2013). "A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices". virtualsalt.com.
  5. ^ a b c d Harris, Robert A. (2003). Writing with clarity and style : a guide to rhetorical devices for contemporary writers. Los Angeles: Pyrczak Pub. ISBN 1-884585-48-5. OCLC 50825579.
  6. ^ "Consonance - Examples and Definition of Consonance". Literary Devices. 2013-11-03. Retrieved 2020-03-24.
  7. ^ "Cacophony Examples and Definition". Literary Devices. 2015-08-14. Retrieved 2020-03-24.
  8. ^ "Epistrophe Examples". YourDictionary. Retrieved 2020-03-29.
  9. ^ Nordquist, Richard (2018-12-25). "Rhetorical Repetition: Symploce". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2020-03-29.
  10. ^ "Antanaclasis - Definition and Examples of Antanaclasis". Literary Devices. 2014-05-05. Retrieved 2020-03-29.
  11. ^ Martin De Campo, Michel. "Antanaclasis Definition, Functions & Examples". Study.com. Retrieved November 29, 2023.
  12. ^ a b c d e McGuigan, Brendan (2011). Rhetorical devices : a handbook and activities for student writers. Moliken, Paul; Grudzina, Douglas (Revised [edition] ed.). Clayton, DE. ISBN 978-1-58049-765-7. OCLC 816509713.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  13. ^ a b c Farnsworth, Ward (2011). Farnsworth's classical English rhetoric (1st ed.). Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher. ISBN 978-1-56792-385-8. OCLC 369308749.
  14. ^ a b Miriam Joseph, Sister (2008). Shakespeare's use of the arts of language. Philadelphia: Paul Dry. ISBN 978-1-58988-048-1. OCLC 216936830.
  15. ^ "Oxymoron - Examples and Definition of Oxymoron". Literary Devices. 2013-06-26. Retrieved 2020-04-04.
  16. ^ Bernard Marie Dupriez (1991). A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradus, A-Z. University of Toronto Press. p. 440. ISBN 978-0-8020-6803-3. Retrieved 25 September 2013.
  17. ^ "Pleonasm - Definition and Examples of Pleonasm". Literary Devices. 2014-02-14. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  18. ^ O'Dell, Leslie. (2002). Shakespearean language: a guide for actors and students. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-00694-6. OCLC 51389694.
  19. ^ Baird, A. Craig; Thonssen, Lester (1948). "Chapter 15 The Style of Public Address". Speech Criticism, the Development of Standards for Rhetorical Appraisal. Ronald Press Co. p. 432.
  20. ^ Silva Rhetoricae, Diasyrmus, accessed 13 November 2020
  21. ^ Richards, I. A. (Ivor Armstrong) (1981). The philosophy of rhetoric. Oxford University Press. pp. 119–27. OCLC 8632866.

External links[edit]