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 rhetoric (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 rhetorically (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

Even by his own rhetorical standards, Donald Trump’s trade war policies don’t make a ton of sense. Gwynn Guilford, Quartz, "What Huawei tells us about Trump, trade, and technology," 5 July 2019 There were even two separate fireworks shows, along with plenty of rhetorical firecrackers being tossed where the two sides mixed. Peter Jamison, Washington Post, "Trump’s Fourth of July celebration thrills supporters, angers opponents," 4 July 2019 Knowing exactly which places are refusing to permit market-rate or affordable housing could be a useful rhetorical cudgel for housing advocates and politicians to use against NIMBYs. James P. Sutton, National Review, "YIMBYism Goes National," 1 July 2019 In this era of rising nationalism, institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and NATO have, in many circles, become rhetorical punching bags. Susana Malcorra, Time, "This Year’s G20 Summit Is a Major Test of International Cooperation in a Trying Time," 28 June 2019 Sadly, the situation at the border has become more of a rhetorical struggle than about really trying to fix the problem. Fox News, "Democrats, media change tune on border: No longer a ‘manufactured crisis’," 26 June 2019 These rhetorical associations continually cemented the idea that there was something central to American life about this particular identity, while other identities were marginal, fringe, extreme, or alien. Sarah Churchwell, The New York Review of Books, "America’s Original Identity Politics," 7 Feb. 2019 In order to shame churchmen and laypeople alike into being less focused on wealth and luxury, moralists mobilized all the rhetorical weapons at their disposal. Sara Lipton, The New York Review of Books, "A Terribly Durable Myth," 17 June 2019 Mayor Khan, a Muslim and the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver, has become the rhetorical leader of London’s resistance. The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "Trump tweets about ‘fantastic’ state visit with the Queen," 3 June 2019

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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Statistics for rhetorical

Last Updated

9 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for rhetorical

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

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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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Comments on rhetorical

What made you want to look up rhetorical? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


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