31 Useful Rhetorical Devices

'Simile' and 'metaphor' are just the beginning

What Is a Rhetorical Device and Why are They Used?

As with all fields of serious and complicated human endeavor (that can be considered variously as an art, a science, a profession, or a hobby), there is a technical vocabulary associated with writing. Rhetoric is the name for the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion, and though a writer doesn’t need to know the specific labels for certain writing techniques in order to use them effectively, it is sometimes helpful to have a handy taxonomy for the ways in which words and ideas are arranged. This can help to discuss and isolate ideas that might otherwise become abstract and confusing. As with the word rhetoric itself, many of these rhetorical devices come from Greek.


Ready, set, rhetoric.

List of Rhetorical Devices and Examples
  • alliteration | see definition»

    The repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables

    wild and woolly, threatening throngs

  • anacoluthon | see definition»

    Syntactical inconsistency or incoherence within a sentence especially : a shift in an unfinished sentence from one syntactic construction to another

    you really should have—well, what do you expect?

  • anadiplosis | see definition»

    Repetition of a prominent and usually the last word in one phrase or clause at the beginning of the next

    rely on his honor—honor such as his?

  • analepsis | see definition»

    A literary technique that involves interruption of the chronological sequence of events by interjection of events or scenes of earlier occurrence : flashback

  • anaphora | see definition»

    Repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect

    we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground

  • antanaclasis | see definition»

    The repetition of a word within a phrase or sentence in which the second occurrence utilizes a different and sometimes contrary meaning from the first

    we must all hang together or most assuredly we shall all hang separately

  • antiphrasis | see definition»

    The usually ironic or humorous use of words in senses opposite to the generally accepted meanings

    this giant of 3 feet 4 inches

  • antonomasia | see definition»

    The use of a proper name to designate a member of a class (such as a Solomon for a wise ruler) OR the use of an epithet or title in place of a proper name (such as the Bard for Shakespeare)

  • apophasis | see definition»

    The raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it

    we won't discuss his past crimes

  • aporia | see definition»

    An expression of real or pretended doubt or uncertainty especially for rhetorical effect

    to be, or not to be: that is the question

  • cacophony | see definition»

    Harshness in the sound of words or phrases

  • chiasmus | see definition»

    An inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases

    working hard, or hardly working?

  • dialogism | see definition»

    A disjunctive conclusion inferred from a single premise

    gravitation may act without contact; therefore, either some force may act without contact or gravitation is not a force

  • dysphemism | see definition»

    The substitution of a disagreeable, offensive, or disparaging expression for an agreeable or inoffensive one

    greasy spoon is a dysphemism for the word diner

  • epistrophe | see definition»

    Repetition of a word or expression at the end of successive phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic effect

    of the people, by the people, for the people

  • epizeuxis | see definition»

    Emphatic repetition [this definition is taken from the 1934 edition of Webster's Unabridged dictionary]

  • hypallage | see definition»

    An interchange of two elements in a phrase or sentence from a more logical to a less logical relationship

    you are lost to joy for joy is lost to you

  • hyperbaton | see definition»

    A transposition or inversion of idiomatic word order

    judge me by my size, do you?

  • hyperbole | see definition»

    Extravagant exaggeration

    mile-high ice-cream cones

  • hypophora

    The putting or answering of an objection or argument against the speaker's contention [this definition is taken from the 1934 edition of Webster's Unabridged dictionary]

  • litotes | see definition»

    Understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary

    not a bad singer

  • meiosis | see definition»

    The presentation of a thing with underemphasis especially in order to achieve a greater effect : UNDERSTATEMENT

  • metaphor | see definition»

    A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (Metaphor vs. Simile)

    drowning in money

  • metonymy | see definition»

    A figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated

    crown as used in lands belonging to the crown

  • onomatopoeia | see definition»

    The naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it


  • oxymoron | see definition»

    A combination of contradictory or incongruous words

    cruel kindness

  • pleonasm | see definition»

    The use of more words than those necessary to denote mere sense : REDUNDANCY

    I saw it with my own eyes

  • simile

    A figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by "like" or "as"

    cheeks like roses

  • syllepsis | see definition»

    The use of a word in the same grammatical relation to two adjacent words in the context with one literal and the other metaphorical in sense

    she blew my nose and then she blew my mind

  • synecdoche | see definition»

    A figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole (such as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (such as society for high society), the species for the genus (such as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (such as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (such as boards for stage)

  • zeugma | see definition»

    The use of a word to modify or govern two or more words usually in such a manner that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one

    opened the door and her heart to the homeless boy

    MORE TO EXPLORE: Rhetorical Devices Used in Pop Songs