rhetorical

adjective

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 rhetorical (audio)
-ˈtär-
1
a
: of, relating to, or concerned with rhetoric
b
: employed for rhetorical effect
especially : asked merely for effect with no answer expected
a rhetorical question
2
a
: given to rhetoric : grandiloquent
b
: verbal
rhetorically adverb

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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
Recent Examples on the Web Not even six full months have passed since the October 7 massacre, and already that act of unspeakable barbarity has been reduced to a passing aside in Democratic rhetorical assaults on Israeli perfidy -- that is, when it is mentioned at all. Noah Rothman, National Review, 5 Apr. 2024 The Democratic Progressives call that a rhetorical trap to advance China’s claim over Taiwan. Amy Chang Chien, New York Times, 31 Mar. 2024 Jude, wielding his own sometimes hilariously pugilistic sensibility, with its aesthetic feints and rhetorical jabs, slides in a pertinent question: What of cinema’s future? Justin Chang, The New Yorker, 22 Mar. 2024 Adjusting Western officials’ rhetorical emphasis in public statements would be a modest but important signal. Samuel Charap, Foreign Affairs, 5 Mar. 2024 The case became the first affirmative-action challenge decided by the Supreme Court and revealed just how successful the rhetorical exploitation of colorblindness could be. Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times, 13 Mar. 2024 Trump stuttered and repeated himself while talking about his conspiracy theory on Monday, which only seems notable because the former president ridiculed President Joe Biden for precisely that kind of rhetorical stumbling over the weekend. Matt Novak / Gizmodo, Quartz, 12 Mar. 2024 Serious people should know what an older version of antisemitic denialism was all about: a steady stream of factual nitpicks, logical inversions and rhetorical legerdemain meant to obfuscate and deny the greatest crime in history. Bret Stephens, The Mercury News, 8 Mar. 2024 Biden, in recent months, has sought to reframe the narrative by highlighting his decades of experience, making jokes about his age and taking jabs at Trump’s own rhetorical gaffes. Sara Dorn, Forbes, 29 Feb. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'rhetorical.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

see rhetoric

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near rhetorical

Cite this Entry

“Rhetorical.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rhetorical. Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

rhetorical

adjective
rhe·​tor·​i·​cal ri-ˈtȯr-i-kəl How to pronounce rhetorical (audio)
-ˈtär-
1
: of, relating to, or dealing with rhetoric
rhetorical studies
2
: used only for a colorful effect and not expected to be answered
a rhetorical question
rhetorically adverb

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