Rhetoric: Definition, Types & Device (2023)

We make choices when deciding to write something, whether we're aware of them or not. Everything you read and listen to – a novel, a news article, a podcast – is peppered with rhetoric. In all forms of communication, you have an underlying message to understand.

Picture the writing you consume each day. You're probably seeing social media posts, scholastic material, books, articles, blogs, and so on. Given how much we consume, it's beneficial to understand the purpose behind that content and the rhetoric used.

Rhetoric Definition

Rhetoric is any word choice a communicator makes to persuade the intended audience.

Rhetoric is at the heart of effective communication. As a writer or speaker, you will be making choices using rhetoric that has an intended effect on your audience. Understanding rhetoric can help you know which choices will be best.

The concept of rhetoric dates back to the Greeks when Aristotle came up with three modes that can be used to convince someone to do something. These are known as Aristotle's Rhetorical Appeals. They are pathos, logos, and ethos. We'll go over these below, but first, picture your own experiences with writing.

Rhetoric: Definition, Types & Device (1)Fig. 1 - Aristotle's appeals help you to persuade

What is your thought process before and while you are writing? What do you hope your audience will do with the information you give your audience? Do you want your audience to learn something, feel a certain way, or take action?

Rhetoric is about understanding your target audience. Knowing your audience is essential because it allows you to decide how to write something based on the particular audience and particular situation – this is what we call the rhetorical situation.

Rhetoric and Rhetorical Situations

A rhetorical situation is a circumstance, timing, or location that can influence a piece of writing. In other words, what is the background context of the rhetoric? To understand the rhetoric involved, you'll need to identify the context first.

Rhetoric and the Target Audience

Let's look at some situations you might encounter when trying to understand the audience.

You are sending a private text to a friend:

  • You have one audience member.

  • You are close with them.

  • You might not think about grammar.

  • It's a text about a personal life story.

Rhetoric: Definition, Types & Device (2)Fig. 2 - You text a friend informally

You are sending a private message to a boss:

Notice the potential differences between those two situations. Obviously, you need to have a different tone for each situation.

In other words, your rhetorical situation will influence your rhetorical choices.

A rhetorical situation is the situation of your communication: the time, audience, and purpose for your communication.

A rhetorical choice is what tools you, the writer or speaker, decide to use when composing something (an essay, speech, etc.).

So how do you tell the difference between a rhetorical situation and a rhetorical choice?

Identifying a Rhetorical Situation

Here are some questions to ask.

  • Who is in my audience?
    • Is it my teacher?
    • Is it a small or large crowd?
    • What are the needs of the crowd?
  • Where is this situation taking place?
    • Is it a speech in front of a group?
    • Is it in a classroom?
    • Will it be posted online?
  • What is the purpose of this paper/speech?
    • Am I trying to convince my audience to do something?
    • Am I trying to educate my audience?
    • Is it a paper for just one or for more people to read?

Identifying a Rhetorical Situation

Here's how you start to make a rhetorical choice.

  • How should I start this text/speech?
    • Would using jokes work with my audience?
    • Would a quote work best?
  • What should my tone of voice be?
    • Should I be loud and assertive?
    • Should I present facts over emotion?

Rhetorical Analysis

After identifying the rhetorical situation and making some rhetorical choices, you could conduct a rhetorical analysis.

A rhetorical analysis is an essay where you identify and break down each element of rhetoric within that writing and examine if those elements were useful in persuading the audience.

A rhetorical analysis aims to explain the what, how, and why those rhetorical choices will affect the audience.

You will probably have to write or have already written a rhetorical analysis essay. An essay might be the standard for rhetorical analysis, but it isn't the only method. A rhetorical analysis could be presented on a video, a podcast, or in some other writing format besides an essay. Whatever the mode being used in a rhetorical analysis, here's how you can analyze it for any rhetoric that might be used:

  1. Identify the rhetorical situation. Remember, this is the context!

  2. Identify the choices made by the writer. You can start by asking yourself how the writer is addressing the audience. Do they use facts? Are they emotional? What is the tone?

  3. Identify what the effects of those choices are. Why is the person making these choices with this audience?

After you've looked at these three things, you can determine if the communication from the writer was effective. For example, if you listen to a politician giving a speech, you'll know that the rhetorical situation is a crowd of potential voters.

Pay attention to their choices, such as the types of words used or the tone of voice. Then you can ask yourself if those choices will be effective for the target audience.

Types of Rhetoric

When looking at the choices the writer makes when addressing their audience, you will look for the rhetorical devices they use.

A rhetorical device is a particular method of rhetoric.

A writer can use figurative or metaphorical speech, repetitions, or tone of voice among other things to influence the audience.

A rhetorical device will come in several different forms. Three common types of rhetoric used are pathos, logos, and ethos, but there are others. These are all deliberate techniques used to convey a specific audience message.

Each kind of rhetoric aims to appeal to the audience in a fundamentally different way.


Pathos appeals to the empathy of a reader. Using pathos might get a reader to feel certain emotions like fear, anger, or sadness. Stories that utilize pathos can be personal experiences such as memoirs or testimonials. Using photos is a rhetorical device that is effective for evoking empathy. These devices are meant to appeal to the human side of a story. Stories about refugees or animal shelters often rely heavily on this tactic. It's not a bad thing, but you can use it negatively.


This type of rhetoric is used for logical arguments and appeals to an audience's reason. In this scenario, you're trying to persuade someone with statistics and data. Logos might include charts and graphs to display information. Providing a heavily fact-based article is used to persuade people that their argument is strong. This type of rhetoric also tries to appeal to common sense or prove a point.

Rhetoric: Definition, Types & Device (3)Fig. 3 - Logos appeals to logic


Ethos shows the credibility of the writer. For example, a writer might show their area of expertise by mentioning their degrees, employment history, any publications they've written, or hands-on experience. This information helps convey that they are qualified to talk about a topic.

After finishing my master's degree in Environmental Science, I became more and more passionate about water rights and activism. After working on a toxic spill site for five years, I've realized that it's not just a contamination problem; it's a human rights problem and we all have a responsibility to do something about it.

The writer is using their degree in Environmental Science to show that they have the credentials to give an opinion about this issue. Presenting information that makes you more credible is a form of rhetoric that convinces people to trust you more easily.1

Think about ways you use this in everyday life. Say you need to write a resume for a job. You might list classes you've taken or any experience you've had to convince the employer that your credentials fit the bill. You can find ways to use each type of rhetoric daily.

Other Types of Rhetoric and Rhetorical Devices

There are many other types of rhetoric, but kairos, simile, and hyperbole are some of the popular ones that can be used.


This type of rhetoric means that the writer must consider the timing. A writer should consider when and in what context they will deliver information. A writer should also consider the appropriateness of the information. Is it the right time to deliver that particular message? For example, you could save a juicy tidbit of a story for the end of an article or use appropriate comedic timing in your speech.


A simile is an extremely common rhetorical device, and for a good reason. It draws a simple comparison between two unrelated things using "like" or "as". Using a simile emphasizes something, making a subject interesting and descriptive.

His excitement was like a dog wanting to go for a walk.


Hyperbole is a figure of speech that uses an exaggerated claim or story to get a reaction from the audience.

This rhetoric device is another popular one because it strongly emphasizes something. Hyperbole can add a shock factor to a piece of writing that draws in the audience, but it is not meant to be taken literally.

My computer is older than a dinosaur.

Different types of rhetoric motivate everyone differently. It's important to understand what kind of rhetoric will inspire your audience.

Rhetoric and the Rhetorical Question

Another popular rhetorical device is the rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is a type of question that is usually a persuasive tool to get a reaction, but not an answer, from the audience.

Since rhetoric is used to persuade someone to do something, what can you persuade someone to do by asking a rhetorical question? This type of question is asked to prove a point, not to get an answer; asking a rhetorical question might spark a discussion. The critical point here is that the answer to the question is implied.

A rhetorical question draws attention to something.

Here's an example.

Don't you love when everyone is late for your party you spent hours planning?

The opposite is true in this case, but it was asked to point out that it's annoying when people show up late.

Examples of Rhetoric

Rhetoric surrounds every day. When you open a book, click on a news article, or turn on the TV, rhetoric is there.

Every day, dozens of people become homeless. They are people just like you and me, and they need your help. Submit your donations online to help make a difference for even just one person!

What types of rhetoric do you see in this ad? Does it make you sad or make you want to help someone? Notice the phrasing. Saying that they are just like you appeals to that human connection and empathy. This is Pathos rhetoric.

You might have heard something like this.

"I would never ruin this country, but your other candidate will! Trust me!"

This type of quote from a politician is designed to convince people that they should be scared of something happening. This is an example of how pathos can be used another way – invoking fear to get people to act.

Understanding rhetoric isn't just important for things you may write in the future. It's also important because it allows you to recognize when rhetoric is being used on you. Next time you read a book or article online, see if you can notice some of the rhetoric used for you, the target audience. Did they achieve their goal?

Rhetoric - Key Takeaways

  • Rhetoric is the choice a communicator makes to persuade the intended audience.
  • Types of rhetoric include pathos, logos, and ethos. These are rhetorical devices.
  • A rhetorical question draws attention to something.
  • A rhetorical situation is the circumstances surrounding an event, issue, and audience.
  • A rhetorical analysis identifies the rhetorical situation, the choices made by the writer, and the effects of those choices.

1. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Aristotle's Rhetoric. 2002.


What is rhetoric definition devices and examples? ›

rhetorical devices

A rhetorical device is a use of language that is intended to have an effect on its audience. Repetition, figurative language, and even rhetorical questions are all examples of rhetorical devices.

What is the type of rhetorical device? ›

Types of rhetorical devices

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

What are the 3 types of rhetoric? ›

Aristotle taught that a speaker's ability to persuade an audience is based on how well the speaker appeals to that audience in three different areas: logos, ethos, and pathos. Considered together, these appeals form what later rhetoricians have called the rhetorical triangle.

What is rhetoric short answer? ›

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion through communication. It is a form of discourse that appeals to people's emotions and logic to motivate or inform. The word “rhetoric” comes from the Latin “rhetorica,” which comes from the Greek “rhetorikos,” meaning “oratory.”

What are the 4 types of rhetorical? ›

The four rhetorical appeals are logos, pathos, ethos, and kairos.
  • Logos - appeals to logic.
  • Pathos - appeals to emotion.
  • Ethos - appeals to ethics.
  • Kairos - appeals to time/timeliness of an argument.

What are the five types of rhetoric? ›

In De Inventione, he Roman philosopher Cicero explains that there are five canons, or tenets, of rhetoric: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

Is irony a rhetorical device? ›

Irony is a rhetorical device and literary technique that is incredibly useful when used correctly. Simply put, irony is when something that is said or done is in contrast to reality or to what is expected.

What are the 6 characteristics of rhetoric? ›

Rhetorical discourse characteristically is (1) planned, (2) adapted to an audience, (3) shaped by human motives, (4) responsive to a situation, (5) persuasion-seeking, and (6) concerned with contingent issues.

What are the six example of rhetorical? ›

Examples can be quotations, facts, narratives, statistics, details, analogies, opinions, and observations, and examples provide your writing with a firm foundation.

What are the 3 rhetorical appeals examples? ›

Advertisements, academic papers, and even tweets may use these three appeals. A car advertisement may point out the safety record of its vehicle (logos), mention how long its brand has been around and its reputation (ethos), as well as have humor to help persuade you to buy the car (pathos).

What is rhetoric summary? ›

A rhetorical summary, or rhetorical précis, is a structured summary of an argument, revealing the. student's understanding of the author's purpose, the audience, and how the author constructs. his/her argument.

What is the main idea of rhetoric? ›

Rhetoric Defined

Classically, "the art of persuasion". “About using language purposefully, in order to get something done in the world" (“What is Rhetoric").

What are the basics of rhetoric? ›


An introduction to the five central elements of a rhetorical situation: the text, the author, the audience, the purpose(s) and the setting.

What are the 7 rhetorical mode of writing? ›

Oftentimes, exposition is subdivided into other modes: classification, evaluation, process, definition, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect.

What are the 5 rhetorical appeals? ›

  • appeal to purpose. You may want to think of telos as related to "purpose," as it relates to the writer or speaker or debater. ...
  • appeal to credibility. ...
  • appeal to emotion. ...
  • appeal to logic. ...
  • appeal to timeliness.

What are the 9 rhetorical strategies? ›

Nine rhetorical strategies are generally recognized: Narration, description, comparison, example, illustration, definition, process, causal analysis and argument. Most writing will use a variety of strategies in a single essay.

How many rhetorical devices are there? ›

There are three different rhetorical appeals—or methods of argument—that you can take to persuade an audience: logos, ethos, and pathos.

What's the difference between rhetoric and rhetorical devices? ›

Rhetoric is language used to motivate, inspire, inform, or persuade readers and/or listeners. Often, rhetoric uses figures of speech and other literary devices, which are known as rhetorical devices when used in this manner.

What device is a rhetorical question? ›

Definition of a Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is a device used to persuade or subtly influence the audience. It's a question asked not for the answer, but for the effect. Oftentimes, a rhetorical question is used to emphasize a point or just to get the audience thinking.

Can you give me an example of a rhetorical question? ›

Another famous example of rhetorical questions comes from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?

What are the 3 rhetorical situations? ›

The rhetorical situation has three components: the context, the audience, and the purpose of the speech.

What are the 8 rhetorical modes? ›

  • Illustration.
  • Description.
  • Narration.
  • Definition.
  • Comparison/Contrast.
  • Cause/Effect.
  • Division/Classification.
  • Argumentation.

What are the two definitions of rhetoric? ›

Scholarly Definitions of Rhetoric. Plato: [Rhetoric] is the "art of enchanting the soul." (The art of winning the soul by discourse.) Aristotle: Rhetoric is "the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion."

What is personification in rhetoric? ›

Personification is a literary device that uses non-literal language to convey abstract ideas in a relatable way. Personification is a type of metaphor that gives human characteristics to inanimate objects and animals, such as emotions and behaviors.

What rhetorical device is satire? ›

Satirical Rhetoric is a literary device used in literature, art, media, speech, and music to ridicule various aspects of popular culture, most commonly a political topic, in order to draw attention to social or cultural criticism and bring about change, and/or improvement.

Is an oxymoron a rhetorical device? ›

As this origin suggests, oxymoron is itself an oxymoron; it is a rhetorical term that describes words or phrases that, when placed together, create paradoxes or contradictions. These contradictions seem foolish but, when we think about them a bit, often turn out to be sharp observations about our world.

What are the 10 elements of rhetorical situations? ›

Elements of a Rhetorical Situation
  • Writer. The writer (also termed the “rhetor”) is the individual, group, or organization who authors a text. ...
  • Audience. The audience includes the individuals the writer engages with the text. ...
  • Purpose. ...
  • Exigence. ...
  • Subject (or Message) ...
  • Context & Constraints. ...
  • Genre.

What are the four aims of rhetoric? ›

Rhetoric is the study and art of writing and speaking persuasively. Its aim is to inform, educate, persuade or motivate specific audiences in specific situations.

What are all 5 elements in the rhetorical situation? ›

The rhetorical situation can be described in five parts: purpose, audience, topic, writer, and context. These parts work together to better describe the circumstances and contexts of a piece of writing, which if understood properly, can help you make smart writing choices in your work.

What is ethos pathos and logos? ›

Logos appeals to the audience's reason, building up logical arguments. Ethos appeals to the speaker's status or authority, making the audience more likely to trust them. Pathos appeals to the emotions, trying to make the audience feel angry or sympathetic, for example.

What is example of ethos? ›

Ethos refers to authority and credibility. It highlights the credibility and trustworthiness of your argument that can help you persuade your audience to buy your product or service. Example: As a three-time Olympic gold medalist, I can assure you that this energy drink will improve your fitness and stamina.

What are the 3 pathos? ›

Empathy, sympathy and pathetic are derived from pathos. Pathos is to persuade by appealing to the audience's emotions.

What are the three main points of a rhetorical essay? ›

Thesis, Body, and Conclusion

After brainstorming and doing the actual analysis, you are ready to write a thesis. Remember to choose the three (or four) techniques for which you can make the strongest case.

Why is rhetoric important? ›

Rhetoric gives you a framework to think critically about your writing and reading choices. Knowing how to use the tools of rhetoric can improve your communication and can help more people to agree with your perspective.

Which is the best example of a rhetorical device? ›

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."

What are the 5 components of rhetoric? ›

The rhetorical situation can be described in five parts: purpose, audience, topic, writer, and context.

What is a major rhetorical device? ›

Since the scope is big, some rhetorical devices overlap with figures of speech, thus employing the use of figurative language to persuade the audience. Rhetorical devices that use figurative language are potent persuasive devices that include metaphor, hyperbole, personification, etc.

What are the 4 elements of rhetoric? ›

A rhetorical analysis considers all elements of the rhetorical situation--the audience, purpose, medium, and context--within which a communication was generated and delivered in order to make an argument about that communication.

What are the 6 functions of rhetoric? ›

Rhetorical discourse characteristically is (1) planned, (2) adapted to an audience, (3) shaped by human motives, (4) responsive to a situation, (5) persuasion-seeking, and (6) concerned with contingent issues.

What are three reasons for rhetoric? ›

Rhetoric is the study and art of writing and speaking persuasively. Its aim is to inform, educate, persuade or motivate specific audiences in specific situations.

How do you use rhetoric in a speech? ›

6 Tips for Writing Persuasive Rhetoric
  1. Use general logic. Aristotle believed that a logical appeal to reason can be the basis of persuasive arguments. ...
  2. Use syllogism. ...
  3. Avoid logical fallacies. ...
  4. Craft an emotional appeal. ...
  5. Apply an ethical appeal. ...
  6. Use rhetorical devices.
Nov 18, 2021

What are the 9 common rhetorical patterns? ›

Rhetorical Patterns are ways of organizing information.
Specifically, it focuses on:
  • Mechanism Description.
  • Process Description.
  • Classification.
  • Partition.
  • Definition.
  • Comparison/Contrast.
  • Ascending/ Descending Order.
  • Situation-problem-solution-evaluation.


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