Rhetorical devices can commonly be found in essays, persuasive writing or even speeches. However, your overall communication may sometimes include the use of rhetorical strategies, whether you are aware of the usage or not. Rhetorical strategies can benefit communication by enhancing comparisons, making bold points and offering a way for people to connect with what you are talking about. In this article, we give you a rhetorical strategies list to explore some of the most commonly used devices that you may consider for both literary context as well as your everyday speech.
What are rhetorical devices?
Rhetorical strategies, or devices as they are generally called, are words or word phrases that are used to convey meaning, provoke a response from a listener or reader and to persuade during communication. Rhetorical strategies can be used in writing, in conversation or if you are planning a speech.
Rhetorical devices are frequently used in literature, though we oftentimes use these types of words in our everyday conversations without notice. Consider the exclamation "it's raining cats and dogs." This is a common metaphor that someone may use to describe a torrential downpour or heavy rainstorm. While we know cats and dogs are not literally falling from the sky, we use general phrases like this to describe, convey or sway someone to see the perspective we present
Commonly used rhetorical strategies
The following list includes some commonly used rhetorical devices, as well as examples to illustrate how the strategy can be used in speech or writing. Consider some of these strategies the next time you are planning a speech, writing a letter or having a political debate with your neighbors. Ultimately, the devices in this rhetorical strategies list can offer ways for you to enhance your communication skills, as well as enliven your conversations:
Alliteration uses repetition in the initial consonant sound of a word or word phrase. The consonant sound is repeated for most or all the words being used to convey a sense of lyricism. Here is an example:
Talking to Terri took too much time today.
In the example, the T consonant is repeated to turn a reader's attention to the event.
Amplification builds on a word, phrase or sentence, evoking a sense of urgency and intensity in the reader or listener. Take this example for instance:
They want a perfect house in a perfect neighborhood.
The repetitive use of 'perfect' in the example highlights the importance of finding the right home and place to live.
An anacoluthon is used to introduce a sudden change in ideas or sometimes seemingly unrelated topics in the middle of a sentence. This device is commonly used to add emphasis on the ideas or topics being expressed in a conversation. The following example from Shakespeare's King Lear showcases how you might use it in your communication.
"I will have such revenges on you both, that all the world shall―I will do such things, what they are, yet I know not."
Shakespeare's character interrupts himself in the middle of the sentence, almost seemingly into an unrelated topic. However, he is still speaking of revenge, but with the use of anacoluthon, the original idea is cut off, provoking the reader to guess at what the character may have been about to say.
This device uses the same word at the end of a sentence and the beginning of the next sentence. Used this way, the anadiplosis allows a chain of thought to carry through to the next idea, allowing your audience to follow along with the point you are presenting. Using a repetitive approach allows the listener to follow along the path of your ideas. Here is a famous example of anadiplosis as the character Yoda uses it in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back:
"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to fear. Fear leads to suffering."
Using this strategy can help to put more emphasis on the ideas being conveyed, allowing your conversation to stress the importance of your ideas.
An antanagoge uses a negative and positive statement in one. You can use this rhetorical device to present a problem and a subsequent solution. When used appropriately, this strategy can allow for a well-developed and persuasive approach to communication, whether in writing or everyday conversation. Consider the following, well-known example of antanagoge:
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
This quote conveys the negativity in having a bunch of lemons with its subsequent solution, making lemonade from all of it. Another example of common usage of the antanagoge device: The house is old and worn, but it's clean and sturdy. The device works here by presenting what could be considered a problem, and then providing a positive viewpoint (or solution) to the earlier negative statement. This can sometimes be a useful device in speeches.
Related: The Key to Successful Speech Writing
This device works in a similar way as irony, where you might say something while denying it. You might use a common phrase such as "I am not saying that..." but then follow it up with a statement that you just mentioned you were not saying. Consider the following example to help highlight how this strategy works:
I'm not saying that it is your fault, but you were the one who broke the vase.
Here, the speaker is not overtly blaming the listener for breaking the vase but is saying that the listener caused it in some way.
Chiasmus is a rhetorical technique where the speaker changes the order of the words or phrases in a sentence to invoke a sense of powerful emotion. This device works by allowing the listener to have an emotional thought response to what is being said. One of the most well-known and powerful examples of this rhetorical device can be heard in President John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech:
"Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."
He used this device to provoke deep thought as well as to make a personal connection between the population and their roles within the American nation.
Euphemism is a rhetorical device that uses a pleasant phrase or saying to convey a more familiar or less pleasant one. Consider the following examples of euphemisms at work:
"Culturally deprived environment" can serve as a stand-in for "slum" or "poor neighborhood."
"Domestic engineering" can be used as a euphemism for "house cleaning."
"Genuine imitation leather" can serve as a euphemism for "fake leather" or "vinyl."
This rhetorical strategy is used when a writer or speaker asks a question and then immediately provides the answer. You might have already found yourself using this device when in conversation or other communication. Here is an example:
Why is it important to eat healthy foods? It is important because you can heal illness and build your immune system.
Unlike a rhetorical question, a hypophora wastes no time in providing a direct answer to a posed question.
These devices work by invoking a sense of comparison between two like subjects. Similes work to provide a comparable point-of-view to a well-known or familiar subject. Consider the following examples:
He was as hungry as a lion.
She was as quiet as a mouse.
The children were as loud as a pack of wild dogs.
The use of rhetorical devices can serve to add animation to your conversations, and when you apply the use of strategies like these, you may also develop different approaches to your communication.