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. 1993Clinton'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
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.