rhe·​tor·​i·​cal | \ri-ˈtȯr-i-kəl, -ˈtär-\
variants: or less commonly rhetoric \ri-​ˈtȯr-​ik, -​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, -​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

Now, days later, Musk has tweeted out a sarcastic message to the SEC: Musk has long waged a rhetorical war against shortsellers—investors who borrow shares of Tesla in order to profit if the price drops. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "Elon Musk isn’t on his Twitter leash yet, so he’s taunting the SEC," 4 Oct. 2018 But over the past year, there’s been a glaring exception: Apple CEO Tim Cook’s all-out rhetorical assault on Facebook and Google. Casey Newton, The Verge, "How China complicates Apple’s chest-thumping about privacy," 25 Oct. 2018 There’s a chasm between our rhetorical support for mothers and our policy support. Lyman Stone, Vox, "This Mother’s Day, honor Mom by backing parental leave," 11 May 2018 By undercutting it, and by his rhetorical support for autocrats, Trump is telling authoritarians and would-be strongmen that the U.S. won’t stand in their way. Jeet Heer, The New Republic, "Trump’s Disdain for Democracy Promotion," 6 Mar. 2018 Those attacks, though, were rhetorical: Trump talking tough. Brian Chasnoff, San Antonio Express-News, "Policy at border not a surprise," 19 June 2018 Much of the campaign’s vitriol was fueled by Rokita, who embraced Trump's brash rhetorical style and often used derogatory nicknames to refer to his opponents. Maureen Groppe, Indianapolis Star, "Indiana Senate race: Mike Braun wins GOP primary in huge upset over 2 sitting congressmen," 8 May 2018 Like many Americans, the country crooner conflates his crude, simplistic rhetorical style with sincerity. Stephanie Fairyington, The New Republic, "The Sham of Donald Trump’s Straight Talk," 3 May 2018 Giuliani, who was New York mayor during the Sept. 11 attacks, has known Trump for decades and his aggressive, hard-charging rhetorical style can at times mirror that of the president. Chad Day, chicagotribune.com, "Rudy Giuliani to join Trump legal team in Russia probe," 19 Apr. 2018

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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Last Updated

10 Dec 2018

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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).


living or existing for a long time

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