rhet·​o·​ric | \ ˈre-tə-rik How to pronounce rhetoric (audio) \

Definition of rhetoric

1 : the art of speaking or writing effectively: such as
a : the study of principles and rules of composition formulated by critics of ancient times
b : the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion
2a : skill in the effective use of speech
b : a type or mode of language or speech also : insincere or grandiloquent language
3 : verbal communication : discourse

Keep scrolling for more

Examples of rhetoric in a Sentence

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 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 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 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 a college course in rhetoric the mayor's promise to fight drugs was just rhetoric, since there was no money in the city budget for a drug program
See More
Recent Examples on the Web After Gray beat longtime Republican Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (Coles) in the GOP primary, Wheeler picked up moderate voters who might have supported Nohe but were turned off by Gray’s hard-line rhetoric on immigration and county finances. Washington Post, "Prince William election: Democrat Wheeler will succeed Stewart as board chair," 6 Nov. 2019 This is part of the violence that is being encouraged by the racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been used in Minnesota and on the federal level to divide us, win elections and maintain power. Letter Writers, Twin Cities, "Letters: Amen to Catholic Charities’ work on behalf of St. Paul’s homeless," 2 Nov. 2019 Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton echoed her rhetoric in her 1899 book The Woman’s Bible (Great Minds), explaining that the witch hunts targeted the most brilliant in society. Sofia Quaglia, Quartz, "Women are invoking the witch to find their power in a patriarchal society," 31 Oct. 2019 In the Amazon, deforestation is being driven by a sudden increase in demand for soy, and encouraged in Brazil by anti-environmental rhetoric. Kristina J. Anderson-teixeira, Smithsonian, "Yes, Tropical Forests Tragically Burned This Summer, But Here’s What You Can Do," 16 Oct. 2019 Symbols that once seemed clear are being reframed by ugly rhetoric and hateful claims. Los Angeles Times, "Column: I left the L.A. Times in an era of change in the U.S. What am I returning to?," 10 Oct. 2019 Environmentalists say these farmers have been emboldened by Bolsonaro's pro-business rhetoric. Jessie Yeung, CNN, "The Amazon wildfires are causing a spike in children's breathing problems," 3 Oct. 2019 The Topeka School trains the reader’s eye on the dramas and dangers of being a person—or a nation—enthralled, bombarded, and imprisoned by rhetoric. Jordan Kisner, The Atlantic, "Boy, Uninterrupted," 10 Sep. 2019 Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib, while critics say the fatal mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton were motivated by Trump's divisive rhetoric. Fortune, "Scaramucci Used to Praise Trump. Now, He Calls Him ‘Evil.’ What Happened?," 22 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'rhetoric.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of rhetoric

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for 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

Keep scrolling for more

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for rhetoric


How to pronounce rhetoric (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of rhetoric

often disapproving : 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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on rhetoric

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


concealed or difficult to comprehend

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Pass the Little Ribbons: A Pasta Word Quiz

  • pasta resembling wheels with spokes
  • Match the pasta to its meaning in English: Rotelle
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!