Is there a worse feeling than losing an argument? It’s always frustrating to not be able to articulate your viewpoint or leave a conversation feeling like you didn’t get your ideas across effectively. The art of persuasion is an art as old as time: for as long as humans have been talking, they’ve been arguing. Ancient Greeks in particular were obsessed with the methodology behind persuasion, and started to label the myriad ways we express ourselves when trying to get a point across. The resulting list of communication tools is commonly referred to now as rhetorical devices. Rhetorical devices are important for any writer to master; after all, what is writing if not expressing an idea and viewpoint? In this post we’ll define what a rhetorical device is, what are some of the many types of rhetorical devices, and how they have been used by storytellers for millenia.

Rhetorical Devices Definition

First, let’s define rhetorical devices

Articulating what a rhetorical device actually is is no easy task– it’s a broad term. Think of what its parts mean: devices used in rhetoric

So… anything we say in conversation? Not quite. What are rhetorical devices?


What Are Rhetorical Devices?

A rhetorical device is any linguistic tool used to deliver a point or idea. Often it is used in the context of persuasion, since that is what rhetoric literally means, but it can be used towards any goal.

Rhetorical Strategies List:

  • Alliteration
  • Aporia
  • Hypophora
  • Litotes
  • Parallelism
  • Synecdoche
  • Tmesis

As I’m sure you can tell just based on the types of rhetorical devices names, almost all rhetorical devices come directly from Ancient Greece – they may not have begun there, but it’s there where they were identified and labeled. Here’s a great TED talk on one of the most famous Greeks’ thoughts on rhetoric.

Camille A. Langston discusses Aristotle’s treatise on rhetoric  •  What are rhetorical devices?

Rhetorical Devices Examples

Popular Rhetorical Devices

Let’s look at a few of the most common rhetorical devices examples. This is far from an exhaustive rhetorical strategies list, but it’s a good sampling of tools that are helpful for any writer, novice or professional. If we wanted to cover all rhetorical devices, we’d never end. Without further ado, here is an abbreviated list of rhetorical devices definitions.


Ethos is a rhetorical device which makes an argument using credibility and past expertise. 

Say a dad is trying to convince his daughter to eat her broccoli. His daughter is biting. So the dad rings up Serena Williams, and she comes over and tells the daughter that eating broccoli made her the woman she is today. The daughter now wants broccoli for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The dad has used ethos. Commercials do this all the time via celebrity endorsement. Remember all those celebs who encouraged us to buy crypto?

Thanks Matt!


Irony is as misunderstood as it is widely used. There are many types of irony, including verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony, and all these types have one commonality: the reality is the opposite of what the audience may expect.

Let’s look at verbal irony, for example– this is when someone says something but means something else entirely. This can often take the form of sarcasm. Someone suggests a bad idea, someone else rolls their eyes and says, “Yeah, that’ll work.” They don’t think it will work.

Irony Explained  •  Subscribe on YouTube


Kairos refers to the timeliness of an argument. Kairos means a speaker is keenly aware of the zeitgeist. Take this sentence: “Our product, which is already as popular as the band Chumbawamba, will have the longevity of VHS.”

If you said this in 1997, investors would immediately want to hear more, if they could hear anything after blasting “Tubthumping.” If you said this today, an investor would walk out of the room before you got another word out.

It’s a great song


Logos is a crucial rhetorical device for persuasion. The term refers to appealing to an audience’s sense of reason and logic (yes, the two words are related).

Say you’re an anti-war politician trying to convince your colleagues that an impending conflict is a bad idea. If you brought out charts, facts and figures loaded with projected costs in both money and human devastation based on previous wars of a similar nature, you would be using logos to make your case.


A metaphor is a figurative comparison between two different subjects. Metaphors are incredibly popular. A few examples: “Love is war,” “Life is a highway,” “Life is like a box of chocolates.” How could life be both a highway and a box of chocolates? Through figurative comparison.

What is a Metaphor  •  Subscribe on YouTube


Pathos completes the so-called rhetorical triangle along with ethos and logos. Pathos refers to appealing to an audience’s emotions.

Let’s revisit our anti-war politician example. After presenting all the facts and figures backing up your case, you see that your colleagues' eyes are glazing over. Too many numbers; they’re reminded of their high school math class.

Time to pivot– you start a slideshow of photos showing teary-eyed families mourning victims of war, orphaned children, starving pets, and so on. Your colleagues’ eyes go from glazed to tearful. You’re using pathos. 


Satire is similar to irony, in that it’s a complex term with many forms. At its core, however, satire refers to a rhetorical device that critiques structures or people through exaggeration, humor, or, yes, irony.

Think of The Colbert Report, which used all of these techniques to create a satire of reactionary news programs.

Types of Satire  •  Subscribe on YouTube

What Are Rhetorical Devices 

Types of rhetorical devices

Let’s keep the ball rolling. Here are some more rhetorical devices that may not be as common or well-known, but can still be important for a writer to have in their arsenal.


Alliteration is the purposeful repetition of consonants in a phrase or sentence. For example: “Peter picked a peck of pickled peppers.” 

This is not to be confused with assonance, which is the repetition of vowel sounds no matter the letters involved.


Aporia is the insincere expression of doubt, usually expressed through questions. It’s often used to build up anticipation for the solution the audience knows is coming: “But there’s no way a device could fit all of these features, right? And certainly not for the low price of $100? Introducing [product which has all these features for the low price of $100].”


Like aporia, hypophora is one of the rhetorical elements which utilizes a question as a rhetorical tool. But instead of asking a question that casts doubt, hypophora raises a question that you as a writer or speaker intend to answer. Often hypophora is used to frame your argument. I could have started this definition of hypophora with hypophora by asking, “What is hypophora?”


Litotes is the deliberate use of understatement to emphasize the contrary point, often in the form of a double negative. For example, “you won’t regret it” to mean “you’ll be happy,” or “you’re not too bad” to mean “you’re really good.” If you want more examples, look at any Joss Whedon project.


One of the most common rhetorical devices examples, parallelism is when phrases in a sentence or sentences repeat the same or similar grammatical structure. There are examples of this in all sorts of writing, but lyrics in pop songs are particularly rife with parallelism.

Think, for example, of “Everytime We Touch” by Cascade: “Cause every time we touch, I get this feeling / And every time we kiss, I swear I could fly.” The grammatical structure in each line is almost identical, and, therefore, catchy.


Synecdoche is using the part of something to refer to its whole, or vice versa. For example, saying, “I just got some new wheels,” when referring to a car, or “I can lend a hand,” when referring to your whole body. For whole representing a part, think about how we often refer to sports teams: “Boston won that game last night.” The city of Boston didn’t win, a team representing the city did.


Here’s a fun one to round out our list of rhetorical devices. It’s hard to think of an example for tmesis that doesn’t involve expletives. Tmesis is when you interrupt a word with another word. When writing tmesis on the page, we usually use dashes: “fan-freaking-tastic,” “un-f***ing-believable.”

What Are Rhetorical Devices Definition

Rhetorical Devices in Action

We could spend all day listing rhetorical techniques because there’s an endless amount of them, but it’s probably more helpful to see how rhetorical devices manifest in almost every type of media we consume. Let’s further define rhetorical devices by looking at how writers, filmmakers and beyond use various devices in their own work.

Hypophora: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

The Monty Python team utilizes hypophora  •  What are rhetorical devices?

The Monty Python troupe was famous for its wit and wordplay, so it should be no surprise the team utilized countless rhetorical devices. In this scene, King Arthur is lectured by his servant: “Oh, a king. And how'd you get that, ay? By exploiting the workers! By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma…” The servant uses hypophora (asking a question he immediately answers) and also a bit of parallelism (“By exploiting… by hanging…”).

Synecdoche: Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Synecdoche, New York trailer  •  Rhetorical Devices Examples

The obvious choice for synecdoche, as Synecdoche, New York popularized the term and is an entire movie playing with its definition. In one of Charlie Kaufman’s most complex works, he follows a man who tries to represent his entire life in a play. A part (the play) representing a whole (life). It’s a great example of rhetorical devices storytelling.

Alliteration: “Big Yellow Taxi” Joni Mitchell (1970)

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Here’s an example of rhetorical devices in poetry. One of the greatest songwriters of all time, Joni Mitchell knows how to manipulate and play with rhetorical techniques like few others.

Here, she utilizes alliteration, repeating the P sound: paved, paradise, put, parking. The result is a catchy and memorable line.

Up Next

What is Conflict?

What are rhetorical devices? Now that you know the answer, and now you know how to use rhetorical techniques to strengthen your writing, it’s time to zoom out and think about how to structure the story you’re telling. A story without friction is no story at all, so dig into how to write a compelling arc with our guide to conflict.

Up Next: Conflict in Story →
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