noun rhet·o·ric \ˈre-tə-rik\

Definition of rhetoric

  1. 1 :  the art of speaking or writing effectively: such asa :  the study of principles and rules of composition formulated by critics of ancient timesb :  the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion

  2. 2a :  skill in the effective use of speechb :  a type or mode of language or speech; also :  insincere or grandiloquent language

  3. 3 :  verbal communication :  discourse

Examples of rhetoric in a sentence

  1. The media almost never discuss what the sweeping dismantling of public services inherent in the rhetoric of the antigovernment movement would mean in practice. —E. J. Dionne, Jr., Commonweal, 20 Nov. 2009

  2. What they are in reality are the romantic words of a man who needs glorious rhetoric to cover up murderous reality. —Pete Hamill, Cosmopolitan, April 1976

  3. No speech could have been more thoroughly honest in its intention: the frigid rhetoric at the end was as sincere as the bark of a dog, or the cawing of an amorous rook. —George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1872

  4. Otherwise he might have been a great general, blowing up all sorts of towns, or he might have been a great politician, dealing in all sorts of parliamentary rhetoric; but as it was, he and the Court of Chancery had fallen upon each other in the pleasantest way, and nobody was much the worse … —Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1852-53

  5. a college course in rhetoric

  6. the mayor's promise to fight drugs was just rhetoric, since there was no money in the city budget for a drug program

Origin and Etymology of rhetoric

Middle English rethorik, from Anglo-French rethorique, from Latin rhetorica, from Greek rhētorikē, literally, art of oratory, from feminine of rhētorikos of an orator, from rhētōr orator, rhetorician, from eirein to say, speak — more at word

First Known Use: 14th century

Other Grammar and Linguistics Terms

RHETORIC Defined for English Language Learners


noun rhet·o·ric \ˈre-tə-rik\

Definition of rhetoric for English Language Learners

  • : language that is intended to influence people and that may not be honest or reasonable

  • : the art or skill of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up rhetoric? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to criticize severely

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.