What is rhetoric and why is it used?

The art of persuading, Rhetoric is the art of speaking or writing effectively. It can also mean skill in effective speaking or writing.

According to Princeton's online dictionary:


  • using language effectively to please or persuade
  • grandiosity: high-flown style; excessive use of verbal ornamentation; "the grandiosity of his prose"; "an excessive ornateness of language"
  • palaver: loud and confused and empty talk; "mere rhetoric"
  • study of the technique and rules for using language effectively (especially in public speaking)


Knowing this, it should be obvious why an author or speaker would wish to use it! Being able to speak or write effectively makes you a better writer or speaker.

Here's what the dictionary has to say:


Rhetoric is used in any piece of writing that you wish to make more effective. Rhetorical speech or writing is most effective in argumentative or persuasive pieces, because you can make a connection to the reader or listener and convince them of your opinion.



Here are some of the more common types of rhetorical writing - a complete list is linked below:

  • Alliteration - using the same sound to begin several words in sequence, such as "Vini, Vidi, Vici" or "Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers."
  • Anaphora - the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of several successive clauses, phrases, or lines. One of the best examples is Winston Churchill's famous speech: "We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender."
  • Antithesis - contrasting opposite ideas or words in a balanced construction, such as Charles Dickens' famous quote from 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."
  • Assonance - the repetition of the same sound in words close to each other, such as in The Lord's Prayer: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done."
  • Cacophony - a harsh joining of sounds, such as "We want no parlay with you and your grisly gang who work your wicked will," from another of Churchill's speeches.
  • Climax - arranging words or phrases in order of ascending power, such as "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield," from Tennyson's Ulysses.
  • Euphemism - substituting a more agreeable or less offensive phrase for one which might be unpleasant or embarrassing, such as "going to powder my nose" instead of "going to the toilet," or "passed away" instead of "died."
  • Hyperbole - exaggeration for effect or emphasis, such as "I could eat a horse," or "I'll die if you ever leave me."
  • Irony - saying one thing but meaning another; the expression of something contrary to the intended meaning. The most quoted example is from the speech of Marc Anthony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Yet Brutus says he was ambitious, and Brutus is an honorable man." Verbal irony can also depend on tone of voice, especially in sarcasm.
  • Litotes - understatement, such as "War is not healthy for children and other living things."
  • Metaphor - implied comparison achieved through a figurative use of words; you show how two things are alike, such as Shakespeare's famous quote from Macbeth, "Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage."
  • Metonymy - substitution of one word for another meaning which it suggests, such as "The pen is mightier than the sword," ("pen" stands for writing and "sword for war").
  • Onomatopoeia - writing out the sound you hear, such as "achoo," or "ahem."
  • Oxymoron - an apparant paradox achieved by the juxtaposition of two statements which seem to be opposite, such as Hamlet's "I must be cruel only to be kind," by Shakespeare.
  • Paradox - an assertion which seems to be at odds with common sense, but usually makes sense if you think about it, such as George Bernard Shaw's quote "What a pity that youth must be wasted on the young."
  • Personification - attributing human characteristics to inanimate objects or impersonal ideas, such as Lord Nelson's speech, "England expects every man to do his duty."
  • Simile - an explicit comparison between two things; you usually use the words "like" or "as." Examples include "My love is like a red, red rose," and "as alike as two peas in a pod."
  • Tautology - repetition of an idea in a different word, phrase, or sentence, such as Abraham Lincoln's famous quote, "With malice toward none, with charity toward all."