rhe·​tor·​i·​cal | \ ri-ˈtȯr-i-kəl How to pronounce rhetorical (audio) , -ˈtär- \
variants: or less commonly rhetoric \ ri-​ˈtȯr-​ik How to pronounce rhetoric (audio) , -​ˈtär-​ \

Definition of rhetorical

1a : of, relating to, or concerned with rhetoric
b : employed for rhetorical effect especially : asked merely for effect with no answer expected a rhetorical question
2a : given to rhetoric : grandiloquent
b : verbal

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from rhetorical

rhetorically \ ri-​ˈtȯr-​i-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce rhetorically (audio) , -​ˈtär-​ \ adverb

Rhetorical Language vs. Rhetorical Questions

Rhetorical has several meanings which are close enough in meaning that they may easily cause confusion. It can refer to the subject of rhetoric ("the art of speaking or writing effectively") in a broad sense, and may also refer to that same subject in a somewhat deprecatory sense ("given to insincere or grandiloquent language"). But perhaps the most common use of rhetorical today is found in conjunction with question. A rhetorical question is not a question about the art of speaking effectively; it is a question that is asked for effect, rather than from a desire to know the answer. “Would it kill you to stop chewing your food with your mouth open?” is a rhetorical question.

Examples of rhetorical in a Sentence

McKinney made her name in Georgia politics as a rhetorical bomb-thrower. Colleagues in the statehouse dubbed her "Hanoi Cynthia" after a 1991 speech denouncing the Persian Gulf War. — Bill Turque, Newsweek, 29 Nov. 1993 Clinton's acceptance speech evidenced some of the classical rhetorical devices such as paronomasia, or punning, and anaphora, or repetition of key words or phrases. — Leo McManus, English Today, October 1993 "Take that river down there, for instance. It conforms pretty much to the map, doesn't it?" I assumed he was asking a rhetorical question and kept my mouth shut. — Marshall Harrison, A Lonely Kind of War, 1989 … he [Thomas Wolfe] crammed his novels with lavish apostrophes to Life and Death and Loneliness and Sorrow, covering page after page with grandiose rhetorical flourishes …  , pseudo-Homeric epithets …  , wooden dialogue and pious homilies about "the brevity of our days." — James Atlas, New York Times Book Review, 2 Dec. 1979 My question was rhetorical. I wasn't really expecting an answer. you can skip over the rhetorical passages and still get the gist of the essay
See More
Recent Examples on the Web That question is hardly rhetorical for small and large medical centers, which have reported staggering declines in revenue. Reed Abelson, New York Times, "Hospitals Struggle to Restart Lucrative Elective Care After Coronavirus Shutdowns," 9 May 2020 These invocations mostly adopt a rhetorical style reminiscent of Pentecostal pastors but maintain a broad, inclusive focus on God (Mungu). Benjamin Kirby, Quartz Africa, "Pentecostals are in a “spiritual war” against coronavirus in Africa—as are some political leaders," 1 May 2020 Sensory and rhetorical turns of phrases will change. Mark M. Smith, The Conversation, "Welcome to your sensory revolution, thanks to the pandemic," 27 Apr. 2020 Two experts -- one in governance and economic studies, another in propaganda and rhetorical studies -- told cleveland.com that the virus exposed and in many ways was strengthened by those disparities. Cory Shaffer, cleveland, "How the pressure to reopen Ohio amid coronavirus pandemic avoids a chance to address longstanding inequity," 26 Apr. 2020 Del Maestro said his call to violence was not imminent, but was also not entirely rhetorical. Richard Ruelas, azcentral, "DPS looking into man who suggested shooting Democrats during rally to reopen Arizona," 23 Apr. 2020 Wednesday was not the first time Brenner made a rhetorical reference to Nazi Germany while making a political point. Andrew J. Tobias, cleveland, "Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine denounces state senator for comment on post that equated anti-coronavirus measures with Nazi Germany," 23 Apr. 2020 North Korean media stepped up their rhetorical attacks on South Korea and joint military exercises with the United States, warning Tuesday that a budding detente could be in danger. Eric Talmadge, The Christian Science Monitor, "As summit approaches, North Korea's media sharpens its tone," 22 May 2018 Abbott has felt pressured by Patrick and President Donald Trump’s supporters to tread carefully on stay at home orders, and give at least a rhetorical wave at concerns the economy is tanking. Robert T. Garrett, Dallas News, "Built in tensions, rocky past fuel Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins’ spat with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott," 6 Apr. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'rhetorical.' 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 rhetorical

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for rhetorical

see rhetoric

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about rhetorical

Time Traveler for rhetorical

Time Traveler

The first known use of rhetorical was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Statistics for rhetorical

Last Updated

27 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Rhetorical.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rhetorical. Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for rhetorical


How to pronounce rhetorical (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of rhetorical

: of, relating to, or concerned with the art of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people
of a question : asked in order to make a statement rather than to get an answer

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on rhetorical

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


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

May 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • a blooming wisteria tree
  • Which is a synonym of exiguous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Dictionary Devil

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!