adjective rhe·tor·i·cal \ ri-ˈtȯr-i-kəl , -ˈtär- \
variants: or less commonly rhetoric play \ri-ˈtȯr-ik, -ˈtär-\
|Updated on: 9 Jul 2018

Definition of rhetorical

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


play \ri-ˈtȯr-i-k(ə-)lē, -ˈtär-\ adverb

Examples of rhetorical in a Sentence

  1. 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 TurqueNewsweek29 Nov. 1993
  2. 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 McManusEnglish TodayOctober 1993
  3. "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 HarrisonA Lonely Kind of War1989
  4. … 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 AtlasNew York Times Book Review2 Dec. 1979
  5. My question was rhetorical. I wasn't really expecting an answer.

  6. you can skip over the rhetorical passages and still get the gist of the essay

Recent Examples of rhetorical from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of rhetorical

Other Grammar and Linguistics Terms

RHETORICAL Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of rhetorical for English Language Learners

  • : 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

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to beat or defeat soundly

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