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

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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web Surely this, and not Biden’s rhetorical flourishes, is what Americans need to try to think through and agree to a position on. David Rieff, The New Republic, 24 May 2022 Over the series’ multiple interviews, the members of the Betzner family tell the same story over and over again, often using identical phrases and rhetorical flourishes. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 Apr. 2022 Judge Walker, who was appointed in 2012 by President Barack Obama, spared few rhetorical flourishes in declaring that Republicans sought to limit Black Floridians’ access to voting. New York Times, 31 Mar. 2022 And Joe Biden, as a veteran of the Obama administration, obviously, understood how presidents can get tripped up by rhetorical flourishes. ABC News, 27 Mar. 2022 We’re being warned off by Putin using all these rhetorical flourishes about war without recognizing that his difficulties on the battlefields in Ukraine reduce his appetite for a conventional confrontation with the West. Kk Ottesen, Washington Post, 23 Mar. 2022 China hawks hailed the rhetorical shift as a welcome burst of clarity. Doyle Mcmanuswashington Columnist, Los Angeles Times, 29 May 2022 What began as a rhetorical talking point on the fringe right is now an article of faith for some in the Republican grass roots, and a tool to stoke outrage and boost fundraising. Rosalind S. Helderman, Amy Gardner And Emma Brown, Anchorage Daily News, 4 Apr. 2022 Puth thrives in this type of snappy post-heartbreak pop songwriting, but Jung Kook sounds just as comfortable, providing a warmth to his woeful rhetorical questions and keeping up with Puth’s melodic bounce in time with the drum thwacks. Jason Lipshutz, Billboard, 24 June 2022 See More

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.

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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rhetorical accent

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Last Updated

12 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Rhetorical.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rhetorical. Accessed 13 Aug. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on rhetorical

Nglish: Translation of rhetorical for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of rhetorical for Arabic Speakers


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