Are you looking for rhetorical devices with examples? Take a look at a few of the most popular rhetorical devices below.
A rhetorical device is a specific stylistic or communication tool that is used to convince or persuade the reader or listener to think in a certain way. You probably became familiar with a few of them in English class, such as antimetabole, antiphrasis, and epistrophe. Even though a lot of examples of rhetorical devices are things that you would find in everyday communication, they are often given a name because of how they are phrased and their overall grammatical structure.
A lot of people who use rhetorical devices in their everyday speech do not plan it out ahead of time. Therefore, if you are a writer, you need to find a way to weave rhetorical devices into your work naturally. That way, it will have your intended effect on the reader.
There are countless types of rhetorical devices, and they can be used in all levels of communication. Some rhetorical devices are single words while others might be entire phrases or sentences.
Some rhetorical devices might be used so often that you don’t even think they are anything different from your standard writing. At the same time, it is important to understand some of the top examples of rhetorical devices because they can help you shape and craft your arguments more effectively. What are some of the top examples of rhetorical devices?
Amplification may be similar to alliteration or parallelism, but the repetition is much more direct. If you see a section in a literary work where the same word is repeated over and over again, the author is using amplification in an effort to increase the intensity of a specific moment.
You might think that the point will be clear after the first sentence; however, the repetition of the word helps to drive home the point to a greater extent. To effectively use amplification, you should not simply restate the same point. You need to use amplification to dive deeper to show just how important that moment is.
Here is an example of amplification from Charles Dickens’s work, Our Mutual Friend:
“Mr. and Mrs. Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneering was spick and span new. All their furniture was new, all their friends were new, all their servants were new, their place was new.”Charles Dickens
Anacoluthon is a rhetorical device that involves the unexpected shift or change in the syntax or structure of a sentence. Even though it could indicate that the character somehow misspoke, it simply means you have intentionally changed the expectations of the reader in an effort to make an important point. You might use this rhetorical device to indicate that the character has been suddenly overcome with a specific emotion. Or, you might intentionally use this rhetorical device to grab the reader’s attention and shift it in another direction.
Here is an example of anacoluthon in a poem called The Walrus and The Carpenter by Lewis Carroll:
“‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,Lewis Carroll
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
And cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.’”
We can see that the syntax of this poem is disrupted after the second line to make a powerful point.
Anadiplosis refers to a specific type of repetition that takes place at the end of a phrase the beginning of the next one. The goal of this device is to draw a line from one phrase to the next, forcing the reader to pay specific attention to the way an idea unfolds. Without a doubt, one of the most famous examples of this literary device comes from Yoda, when he says:
“Fear leave to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”Yoda
Notice that the end of each phrase is the beginning of the next one. It is easy for the reader or listener to follow the idea from one phrase to the next.
Antanagoge is the idea of purposefully balancing a negative idea with a positive one. You can think about this like yin and yang. If there is darkness somewhere, then there has to be light somewhere else. You can follow the same principle in your writing, balancing a negative idea with a positive one.
Even though there are a lot of examples of this specific literary idea, the most straightforward one is a common saying:
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
Now, lemons are not necessarily a bad thing for everyone, but the meaning of the saying is obvious. If life gives you a negative, use it to make a positive.
Apophasis is a literary device that creates irony. The reader will attempt to deny something while still saying that exact thing. For example, any phrase that begins with something such as, “it goes without saying,” or anything similar, that is followed up by the exact thing that the speaker says he or she is not going to say, is an example of apophasis.
For example, if a teacher says, “I’m not going to talk about your bad grammar,” and then proceeds to talk about bad grammar, this is an example of apophasis.
In writing, this can be used to create a sense of humor, but it can also be a powerful literary tool.
Alliteration is a rhetorical device where the author uses repeated initial consonant sounds at the beginning of words in an effort to make a point. They can give writing a sense of smoothness while also evoking certain emotions in the reader based on the sound of the specific consonant. Some consonants are more biting than others, so some forms of alliteration can have a slightly different effect. This does not necessarily involve the repetition of a word, but the repetition of consonant sounds.
Here is a classic example of alliteration:
“Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?”
We can clearly see the impact of the repeated “P” in this common nursery rhyme.
Read our alliteration guide
A euphemism is the substitution of something more pleasant for something that is significantly worse. For example, a lot of people say that someone passed away instead of saying that someone died. That is because the idea of someone passing away peacefully is much more pleasant than someone dying suddenly or traumatically.
Here is an example of a euphemism in the famous work by Ernest Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants:
“It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all.”Ernest Hemingway
The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.
“I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.”Ernest Hemingway
The operation being discussed above is an abortion. In the passage above, the phrase “letting the air in” is a euphemism that is used to make a character feel more comfortable prior to the procedure.
Assonance is a literary tool that repeats the same vowel in multiple words over and over again to add emphasis to a certain point. It can make a certain passage sound more musical. In essence, the repetition of vowel sounds draws more attention to a specific portion of the work.
As an example, someone might say that “he fell asleep underneath a cherry tree.” We can see in the phrase here that the “e” sound is repeated throughout the phrase to make it sound more rhythmic.
Read our guide to examples of assonance
Synecdoche is a literary tool where someone uses a small piece of something to represent the entire thing. For example, if someone says that Los Angeles won the NBA championship, they are likely referring to the Lakers (or Clippers) instead of the entirety of the city of LA, even though it might seem like the entire city won.
Here is a famous example of synecdoche from The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald:
“It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again.”F. Scott Fitzgerald
In this example, “the ear” is actually Nick. The ear is not moving, but the ear is used to represent Nick listening to the speaker.
Hyperbole is a specific type of rhetorical device that is intentionally exaggerated for the dramatic effect that it creates. The exaggeration might be so pronounced that the reader believes the exaggeration to be intentional. That is where the effect of this rhetorical device comes into play.
Here is an example of hyperbole from To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, that accentuates the dullness of living in that specific town:
“A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.”Harper Lee
Notice that we have probably gotten the point after the first example, but the exaggeration of the dullness paints a clearer picture.
Onomatopoeia is another common rhetorical device where someone uses the sound the word makes instead of the word itself. For example, if someone uses words such as sizzle, bark, meow, move, and oink in their work, they are using onomatopoeia. This is a way to make literary Works appear more lively and interesting. This is also a way to appeal directly to the senses of the reader.
Here is an example of onomatopoeia from the work titled For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway:
“He saw nothing and heard nothing but he could feel his heart pounding and then he heard the clack on stone and the leaping, dropping clicks of a small rock falling.”Ernest Hemingway
The words click and clack are examples of onomatopoeia that resemble the noises that the falling objects are making.
Anaphora is a rhetorical device where someone repeats the same word over and over again at the start of the sentence. This is a way to create a dramatic effect in writing while also emphasizing a specific point. There are plenty of examples of anaphora throughout literature and history, but one of the biggest examples comes from the Gettysburg Address, by Abraham Lincoln:
“We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.”Abraham Lincoln
The repetition of the word “we” at the start of each phrase draws attention to one of the most important moments of the Gettysburg Address.
Asyndeton is a rhetorical device where the writer omits conjunctions that would otherwise bring multiple phrases together. Even though conjunctions are grammatically correct, there are some situations where the small words might actually break up the intended point of that specific passage. Therefore, the writer may decide to omit the conjunctions all together to draw attention to what truly matters.
Here is an example of asyndeton used by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar:
“Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, shrunk to this little measure?”Shakespeare
Given that this is a long series, you would expect a conjunction somewhere in there; however, it is nowhere to be found. It draws emphasis on an important moment in the play.
A simile is a rhetorical device that compares two things using the word “like” or “as.” For example, if you wanted to say that something was as strong as an ox, you would be using a simile. You are drawing a comparison between that specific object and its strength as compared to an ox.
Even though this is one of the most straightforward ways of comparing two things, it is an important rhetorical device. You might also say that someone was white as a ghost or fit as a fiddle.
Read our guide to simile vs metaphor
An oxymoron is a literary device where two things are placed in direct comparison to one another even though they are complete opposites. If you have two contradictory terms that appear to be closely related, you have an oxymoron. This is a powerful figure of speech that can emphasize a specific point in your writing.
For example, you may have heard the phrase “parting is such sweet sorrow.” Because sorrow is not sweet, this is an oxymoron. You may have also heard the term “defeaning silence.” If something is deafening, it should be so loud that it is overwhelming. Therefore, silence should not be deafening. That makes this conjunction an oxymoron.
Read our list of oxymoron examples
Personification is the act of giving human-like characteristics to something that is not human. Even though personification can play a number of roles, it is usually done to demonstrate creativity and enhance imagination. If you want the reader to imagine something specific, then you might want to assign human characteristics that make it easier to picture.
There are plenty of examples of personification throughout literature, but here is an example of personification from The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros:
“But the house on Mango Street is not the way they told it at all. It’s small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you’d think they were holding their breath.”Sandra Cisneros
Because the house is not alive, it should not be able to hold its breath; however, that is the expression the author decided to go with it.
17. Rhetorical Question
A rhetorical question is another common literary device. A rhetorical question is a question that is not meant to be answered. By not answering the question, you insinuate that the answer is obvious, which draws emphasis to that specific point. Therefore, a rhetorical question is frequently used not only during public speaking but also in literature.
Here is an example of repeated rhetorical questions used by Shakespeare in his famous play, Merchant of Venice:
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? If you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”Shakespeare
This passage is used to demonstrate the shared humanity among the individuals in the play. The answers to the questions are obvious, but the questions make the point.
A metonymy involves substituting the actual name of that specific thing or object with another word, usually shorter. For example, you may have heard a business executive called a “suit” in the past. Or, you might have heard someone point to “the track” when they actually mean a race track.
For example, you have probably heard a famous example of metonymy that comes from the play Cardinal Richelieu, by Edward Lytton, when he says:
“The pen is mightier than the sword.”Edward Lytton
This is a phrase that has multiple examples of metonymy in it. In this play, the pen stands for the written word. Then, the sword stands for war or military force.
Zeugma is a specific figure of speech where there might be a single term that refers to multiple other terms in the same sentence that also appeals to multiple senses. For example, if you use the word “expired” in a sentence, it could refer to a specific document expiring, in addition to a food spoiling or a person passing away. This term applies to multiple other terms in the same sentence while also appealing to multiple senses. Zeugma is a Greek term that means “a yoking,” in essence linking a single word to two or more ideas.
As an example, if you were to say “He broke her car and her heart,” this is an example of zeugma. Both the car and heart are broken.
Anastrophe is the process of taking a phrase and inverting its usual order, completely flipping the syntax. This inversion of the word order can have a significant effect on the work. For example, a lot of poets invert the typical syntax of a sentence in an effort to maintain rhythm and rhyme. Even though anastrophe is far more common in poetry than it is in other forms of writing, it can also create a sense of depth that grabs the attention of the reader.
For example, if Yoda says, “powerful you have become with the dark side,” this is an example of anastrophe. The typical ordering of the phrase should be “you have become powerful with the dark side.” He inverts it, creating anastrophe, while also creating a sense of wisdom on the part of Yoda.
Polysyndeton is the practice of repeating multiple conjunctions in quick succession. In writing, you are supposed to Hughes, two separate things that form a series of three or more objects. Even though this might be grammatically correct, there are certain situations where you might want to remove the commas and use conjunctions instead. This could create a humorous effect, or it could be used to draw attention to an important point in the writing.
Here is an example of polysyndeton from the work After the Storm, by Ernest Hemingway:
“I said, ‘Who killed him?’ and he said ‘I don’t know who killed him, but he’s dead all right,’ and it was dark and there was water standing in the street and no lights or windows broke and boats all up in the town and trees blown down and everything all blown and I got a skiff and went out and found my boat where I had her inside Mango Key and she was right only she was full of water.”Ernest Hemingway
In the example above, we can see that the author repeatedly uses the conjunction “and” in an effort to draw attention to just how anxious the character feels at that specific moment. There are numerous ways that polysyndeton can be used in literature, which is why it is one of the most important rhetorical devices.
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