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

wild and woolly, threatening throngs

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

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

this giant of 3 feet 4 inches

Antonomasia: the use of a proper name to designate a member of a class (such as a Solomon for a wise ruler)

also : the use of an epithet or title in place of a proper name (such as the Bard for Shakespeare)

Apophasis: the raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it

we won't discuss his past crimes

Aporia: an expression of real or pretended doubt or uncertainty especially for rhetorical effect

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

Cacophony: harshness in the sound of words or phrases

Chiasmus: an inverted relationship between the syntactic elements of parallel phrases

working hard, or hardly working?

Dialogism: 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: 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: 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 noun : emphatic repetition [this definition is taken from the 1934 edition of Webster's Unabridged dictionary]

Hypallage: 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: a transposition or inversion of idiomatic word order

judge me by my size, do you?

Hyperbole: extravagant exaggeration

mile-high ice-cream cones

— Hypophora noun : 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: understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary

not a bad singer

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

Metaphor: 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

drowning in money

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


Oxymoron: a combination of contradictory or incongruous words

cruel kindness

Pleonasm: 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: 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: 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: 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

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