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

Synonyms & Antonyms for rhetorical


bombastic, fustian, gaseous, grandiloquent, oratorical, windy



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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

While Trump is using the trip to demand that NATO allies spend more on their own defense, trade and economics also played major roles in his rhetorical attack Wednesday on Germany. David Jackson, USA TODAY, "Even at NATO summit, President Trump presses trade complaints about Europe," 11 July 2018 Critics call it a solution in search of a problem—and a rhetorical attack against the Black Lives Matter movement. Karen Dolan, Fortune, "These 'Blue Lives Matter' Bills Send the Wrong Message on Race and Violence," 31 May 2018 The English Revolution was a time when spiritual, intellectual, and rhetorical foment began to wildly accelerate towards anarchy. Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, "The Death of the Public Square," 6 July 2018 Its political, rhetorical and psychological impact shouldn’t be underestimated. Justin Wm. Moyer, Washington Post, "‘The culture’s changed’: Gun rights supporters mark 10 years since landmark ruling toppled D.C. gun ban," 26 June 2018 There are formal and rhetorical puzzles in nearly every one of Hayes’s poems. Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker, "The Politics and Play of Terrance Hayes," 24 June 2018 Don't be surprised if the president seeks to use the meeting to rally opposition to California's sanctuary law as a diversion from the lingering crisis — real and rhetorical — over deadly violence in Gaza. John Myers, latimes.com, "Essential Politics: California’s sanctuary critics are meeting with Trump," 16 May 2018 Poetry draws on a long tradition of such commemorative verse, but there’s always a risk that the result will be rigid and rhetorical, sounding like a proclamation, not an intimate voice. Danny Heitman, The Christian Science Monitor, "'Wade in the Water' is poet laureate Tracy K. Smith’s most overtly political collection," 16 Apr. 2018 At a leadership retreat last year, organizers decided to spend less time on traditional protests and more on innovative rhetorical campaigns. Abraham Riesman, Daily Intelligencer, "Can the young activists of IfNotNow change the conversation about Israel and the Palestinians, or will their contradictions hold them back?," 12 July 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

15 Oct 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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