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. Rhetorical devices evoke an emotional response in the audience through use of language, but that is not their primary purpose. Rather, by doing so, they seek to make a position or argument more compelling than it would otherwise be.
Modes of persuasion
- is an appeal to logic using intellectual reasoning and argument structure such as giving claims, sound reasons for them, and supporting evidence.
- is an appeal to the audience's emotions, often based on values they hold. By influencing their feelings, the audience can be pushed to take an action, believe an argument, or respond in a certain way.
- is an appeal based on the good character of the author. It involves persuading the audience that the author is credible and well-qualified, or possesses other desirable qualities that mean the author's arguments carry weight.
- is an appeal to timing, such as whether the argument occurs at the right time and in the ideal surrounding context to be accepted. It has been argued to be the most important since no matter how logical, emotionally powerful and credible the argument, if the argument is made in an unsuitable context or environment, the audience will not be receptive to it.
Rhetorical devices can be used to facilitate and enhance the effectiveness of the use of rhetoric in any of the four above modes of persuasion. Rather than certain rhetorical devices falling under certain modes of persuasion, rhetorical devices are techniques authors, writers or speakers use to execute rhetorical appeals. Thus, they overlap with figures of speech, differing in that they are used specifically for persuasive purposes, and may involve how authors introduce and arrange arguments (see the section on discourse level devices) in addition to creative use of language.
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.
Alliteration is the repetition of the sound of an initial consonant or consonant cluster in subsequent syllables. It is one of the most well-known and effective rhetorical devices throughout literature and persuasive speeches.
- From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,
- A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life. (R&J Prologue)
- Small showers last long but sudden storms are short. (R2 2.1)
- So keen and greedy to confound a man. (MoV 3.2)
- Blow wind, swell billow and swim bark! (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.
In the following example, the k sound is repeated five times.
- ...with streaks of light,
- And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels... (R&J 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.
- 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... (Edgar Allan Poe, "The Bells")
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.
Some examples include these: smek, thwap, kaboom, ding-dong, plop, bang and pew.
Word repetition rhetorical devices operate via repeating words or phrases in various ways, usually for emphasis.
To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream... (Hamlet 3.1)
Who alone suffers, suffers most in the mind... (Lear 3.6)
It is the stars,
The stars above us govern our conditions. (Lear 4.3)
Conduplicatio is similar, involving repeating a key word in subsequent clauses.
Thou quiet soul, sleep thou a quiet sleep! (R3 5.3)
There's no trust,
No faith, no honesty in men; all perjured,
All forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers. (R&J 3.2)
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. (R2 4.1)
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. (MoV 5.1)
That Angelo's forsworn; is it not strange?
That Angelo's a murderer; is't not strange?
That Angelo is an adulterous thief,
An hypocrite, a virgin-violator;
Is it not strange and strange? (Measure 5.1)
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. (George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion)
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! (H5 3.1)
Nothing will come of nothing. (Lear 1.1)
Words, words, words. (Hamlet 2.2)
O horror! Horror! Horror! (Macbeth 2.3)
Put out the light, and then put out the light. (Othello 5.2; first referring to extinguishing the candle, then referring to killing Desdemona.)
VIOLA: Dost thou live by thy labour?
CLOWN: No, sir, I live by the church. (12N 3.1)
We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. (Benjamin Franklin)
A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse! (R3 5.4)
Good queen, my lord, good queen, I say good queen. (Winter's Tale 2.3)
Farewell, my dearest sister, fare thee well:
The elements be kind to thee, and make
Thy spirits all of comfort! fare thee well. (A&C 3.2)
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. 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.
Scarce any joy
Did ever so long live; no sorrow
But killed itself much sooner. (Winter's Tale 5.3)
Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall. (Measure 2.1)
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones. (Julius Caesar 3.2)
QUEEN: Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue.
HAMLET: Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue. (Hamlet 3.1)
Antimetabole involves repeating but reversing the order of words, phrases or clauses. The exact same words are repeated, as opposed to antithesis or chiasmus.
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action. (Hamlet 3.2)
The setting sun, and music at the close,
As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last. (R2 2.1)
Cease to lament for that thou canst not help,
And study help for that which thou lament'st. (TGV 3.1)
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. 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! (Othello 3.3)
I might in virtue, beauties, livings, friends, exceed account... (MoV 3.2)
Accursed, unhappy, wretched, hateful day! (R&J 4.4)
Beguiled, divorced, wronged, spirited, slain! (R&J 4.5)
Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little measure? (Julius Caesar 3.1)
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news... (Lear 5.3)
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'er-sways their power... (Sonnet 65)
Today, today, unhappy day too late,
O'erthrows thy joys, friends, fortune, and thy state (R2 3.2)
Catacosmesis, the opposite, involves arranging them from most to least significant.
Nor brass, nor stone, nor parchment bears not one. (Winter's Tale 1.2)
Be certain what you do, sir, lest your justice
Prove violence, in the which three great ones suffer,
Yourself, your queen, your son. (Winter's Tale 2.1)
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. (Woody Allen)
His humble ambition, proud humility;
His jarring concord, and his discord dulcet;
His faith, his sweet disaster. (All's Well 1.1)
I could weep
And I could laugh, I am light and heavy. (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.
He caught the train and a bad cold.
This shirt attracts everything but men.
I held my breath and the door for you.
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".
Fred excelled at sports; Harvey at eating; Tom with girls.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. (Julius Caesar 3.2)
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. This allows one to call attention to and expand a point to ensure the reader realizes its importance or centrality in the discussion.
I heard it with my own ears.
I should have found in some place of my soul
A drop of patience. (Othello 4.2)
Swerve not from the smallest article of it, neither in time, matter or other circumstance. (Measure 4.2)
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.
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. (MoV 3.2)
To be or not to be, that is the question. (Hamlet 3.1)
Another example is in Antony's famous speech at Caesar's funeral, which includes examples such as:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept. (Julius Caesar 3.2)
When the rhetorical question posed is answered, this is also an instance of hypophora.
Rejecting an argument through ridiculous comparison.
This involves setting up an opposing position to ridicule without offering a counterargument, such as:
You believe we should vote for him? I've got a bridge to sell you.
No reason for why one should not vote for him is given. It is merely implied that it would be gullible to do so.
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.
Mark'd ye his words? He would not take the crown;
Therefore 'tis certain he was not ambitious. (Julius Caesar 3.2; the premise implied is that no ambitious person would refuse the crown)
They say it takes hundreds of years to build a nation.
Welcome to Singapore. (Singapore Tourism Board campaign; to arrive at the omitted conclusion that Singapore is exceptional, the visitor must know that Singapore has but a short history of 50-odd years as an independent nation)
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 (R&J 2.2)
His face was as the heavens...
His legs bestrid the ocean: his rear'd arm
Crested the world... realms and islands were
As plates dropp'd from his pocket. (A&C 5.2)
Or for argumentative effect:
Her election to Parliament would be the worst thing to ever happen to this country! 
The use of hypophora is the technique whereby one asks a question and then proceeds to answer the question. This device is one of the most useful strategies in writing essays to inform or persuade a reader.
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. (1H4 5.1)
I know you aren't an alcoholic, but I did notice you've replaced all the bottles in your liquor cabinet.
All faults that may be named, nay, that hell knows... (Cymbeline 2.4)
He was the best of men - no, of all humanity.
By anticipating and answering a possible objection, procatalepsis allows an argument to continue while rebutting points opposing it. It is a relative of hypophora. Procatalepsis can be used strategically to show that concerns have been thought through.
'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?' (Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
Understatement, or meiosis, involves deliberately understating the importance, significance or magnitude of a subject. This means the force of the description is less than what is expected, thus highlighting the irony or extreme nature of an event.
The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage. (The Jewel Voice Broadcast)
BENVOLIO: What, art thou hurt?
MERCUTIO: Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch. (R&J 3.1; Mercutio dies of his wounds shortly after.)
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.
A subtype of understatement is litotes, which uses negation:
Heatwaves are not rare in the summer.
Irony and imagery
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. (Julius Caesar 3.2; Antony attacks Brutus's character and that of his co-conspirators)
Metaphor connects two different things to one another. It is frequently invoked by the to be verb. 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.
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. (R&J 2.2)
In the following example Romeo personifies love as being blind yet able to enamour someone.
Alas that love, whose view is muffled still,
Should without eyes see pathways to his will! (R&J 1.1)
In another example:
The gray-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night (R&J 2.3)
In the following example, the nurse compares Romeo's manners and behaviour to a lamb.
I'll warrant him, as gentle as a lamb. (R&J 2.5)
Another example can be seen in a conversation between Emilia and Othello.
OTHELLO: She was false as water.
EMILIA: Thou art rash as fire,
To say that she was false. Oh, she was
heavenly true! (Othello, 5.2)
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.
- "crown" to denote king or queen.
- Oval Office or Washington to refer to the President of the United States of America.
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") (pars pro toto), and "America" (for "the United States of America", totum pro parte).
- Figure of speech
- Glossary of rhetorical terms
- Rhetorical modes
- Stylistic device
- Translation (rhetorical device)
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