Please explain the literary term "Rhetoric question," with examples.

1 Answer | Add Yours

wordprof's profile pic

wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

A “question” is a speech-act, an utterance whose meaning and function is to elicit a response from the listener or reader.  “Rhetoric” is the discipline of persuasion by means of language.  When a rhetorical strategy (a series of arguments, supporting data, logic, and the like) includes a rhetorical question, the speaker is not performing the speech-act of asking for information, but instead is evoking from the listener an admission of a self-evident fact.  Example:  “You don’t want the state to make it legal to kill babies, do you?”  Although phrased in a question form, the rhetorical question is really making the listener (who is defending legal abortion) admit that abortion is killing babies.  Another example:  “Are you trying to tell me that the icebergs are melting because I bought an SUV?”  Here the speaker is claiming that the opponent is making a direct link between  global climate change and his personal buying habits.  The question is not meant to be answered—it serves a rhetorical purpose, exposing the arguer’s false logic.  In casual conversation, rhetorical questions simply keep the conversation going from one to another: “Wasn’t that movie terrific?”  “Can you believe that hairdo?” etc.

We’ve answered 318,994 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question