Is there any better feeling than winning an argument? Fortunately, Aristotle gave us the key to doing just that millennia ago. The Greek philosopher laid out three key components to persuading an audience that continue to be relevant today. So what is the rhetorical triangle? And how can you use it?

What is the rhetorical triangle?

Define Rhetorical Triangle

Persuading an audience, whether it be through a speech, an essay, or something else entirely, can feel daunting. The rhetorical triangle can give you a good framework to start with.


What is the rhetorical triangle?

The rhetorical triangle is a term coined by Aristotle that refers to three rhetorical devices one can use to persuade an audience. These devices are logos, ethos, and pathos. Each device is a different angle a speaker can take in their argument.

Rhetorical triangle elements:

  • Logos
  • Ethos
  • Pathos

What is the rhetorical triangle?

The 3 Rhetorical Triangle Devices

Let’s look a bit closer at each of the three elements that go into Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle.


Logos is the appeal to reason. In other words, these are the facts that a writer is bringing to an argument.

Usually, logos is the real meat of the text. These are the examples and the statistics, as well as the thesis and how everything is laid out. A good use of logos is not just finding relevant facts; it’s organizing them in a coherent and compelling manner.

A great use of logos can be found in An Inconvenient Truth. Al Gore and his team methodically lay out the truths about climate change.

An Inconvenient Truth and Logos  •  What is the rhetorical triangle


Ethos refers to the credibility of the speaker. In other words– why are you the person to trust on this issue? This can refer to credentials, but it can also refer to personal connections. A person discussing their opinions on mental health care who has experienced mental health care will probably have more weight than someone who hasn’t.


Pathos is the appeal to emotion. This element is incredibly powerful, and, used deftly, can supersede logos and ethos. Think about the number of skilled orators there are who stretch or ignore the actual facts– these are people relying on manipulating emotion.

Rhetorical triangle examples

Rhetorical Triangle Deep Dive

With our definitions out of the way, let’s look at an example of a work which uses all three elements of the rhetorical triangle: The Big Short. Here’s how the film argues that Wall Street’s greed led to massive suffering.


The Big Short is stuffed to the gills with logos. Writers Adam McKay and Charles Randolph hit the audience with so many facts that they have to find increasingly creative ways to make those facts entertaining. The solution lies in celebrity:

Logos in The Big Short


Ethos is a bit trickier in The Big Short, since Adam McKay and Charles Randolph are screenwriters, not economists. But their film is based on the thoroughly researched book by celebrated author Michael Lewis, a fact which lends the film a bit of ethos.

They also use experts in the film. In the clip above, you’ll see Richard H. Thaler, who is the father of behavioral economics. He certainly brings ethos.


To bring the point home, The Big Short uses pathos, pulling at the audience’s heart strings. This happens numerous times. Brad Pitt’s character is the most pointed example, when he stops characters from celebrating and emphasizes the real human toll that this greed will take.

Brad Pitt and rhetoric  •  Ethos pathos logos triangle

The Big Short went on to win the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film shows us the power of the rhetoric triangle. It may be thousands of years old, but it still packs a punch.

Up Next

Logos Deep Dive

We only scratched the surface with each of these rhetorical devices. Learn more about how to persuade your audiences with facts by checking out our article on logos. 

Up Next: Logos explained →
Solution Icon - Screenplay and Documents

Write and produce your scripts all in one place.

Write and collaborate on your scripts FREE. Create script breakdowns, sides, schedules, storyboards, call sheets and more.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copy link