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-​ \

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

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Other Words from rhetorical

rhetorically \ ri-​ˈtȯr-​i-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce rhetorical (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
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Recent Examples on the Web But his rhetorical lightning bolts get far less attention from the media than did his presidential tweets. Los Angeles Times, "Facebook board’s decision to uphold ban is a major political blow to Trump — for now," 5 May 2021 While all four candidates offer similar views on the issues, Chase and Snyder's rhetorical styles are at times more appealing to those who favor a more combative tone. Matthew Barakat, ajc, "GOP governor race: Who's in first depends on who's in second," 5 May 2021 To understand the image’s rhetorical argument about ‘her worth,’ viewers must implicate reproducible, interchangeable, collaged bands of ‘the feminine’ within a specific social milieu. Matthew Carey Salyer, Forbes, "Lagos-Based Artist, Williams Chechet, Makes Nigeria Pop," 4 May 2021 For now, at least, Locsin doesn’t feel obliged to hold his rhetorical fire. Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner, "Philippines to China: ‘Get the f--- out’ after coast guard confrontation," 3 May 2021 Many of us are getting stuck in the same rhetorical cul-de-sacs. W. Kamau Bell, CNN, "What you need to know about 'defund the police'," 2 May 2021 Even the rhetorical turns of Anthony Trollope become conversational when read by Timothy West. Edward Rothstein, WSJ, "The Special Comfort of Audiobooks During Covid-19 and Trying Times," 28 Apr. 2021 Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen replied to the attorneys general and attempted to lower the rhetorical temperature. Michael Taylor, San Antonio Express-News, "Taylor: This time, the fight over 'states rights' is about money," 21 Apr. 2021 Beijing’s rhetorical flourishes concerning the Paris agreement are especially rich. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "John Kerry’s Climate Kowtow," 19 Apr. 2021

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.

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First Known Use of rhetorical

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

History and Etymology for rhetorical

see rhetoric

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Time Traveler for rhetorical

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

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Last Updated

8 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Rhetorical.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rhetorical. Accessed 17 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for rhetorical



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

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