rhetorical questions
The rhetorical question is usually defined as any question asked for a purpose other than to obtain the information the question asks. For example, "Why are you so stupid?" is likely to be a statement regarding one's opinion of the person addressed rather than a genuine request to know. Similarly, when someone responds to a tragic event by saying, "Why me, God?!" it is more likely to be an accusation or an expression of feeling than a realistic request for information.

Apart from these more obviously rhetorical uses, the question as a grammatical form has important rhetorical dimensions. For example, the rhetorical critic may assess the effect of asking a question as a method of beginning discourse: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" says the persona of Shakespeare's 18th sonnet. This kind of rhetorical question, in which one asks the opinion of those listening, is called anacoenosis. This rhetorical question has a definite ethical dimension, since to ask in this way generally endears the speaker to the audience and so improves his or her credibility or ethos. The technical term for rhetorical questions in general is erotema.

Related Figures

  • erotema
  • anacoenosis
    Asking the opinion or judgment of the judges or audience.
  • anthypophora
    A figure of reasoning in which one asks and then immediately answers one's own questions. Reasoning aloud. Anthypophora sometimes takes the form of asking the audience or one's adversary what can be said on a matter.
  • dianoea
    The use of animated questions and answers in developing an argument
  • aporia
    Deliberating with oneself as though in doubt over some matter; asking oneself (or rhetorically asking one's hearers) what is the best or appropriate way to approach something.
  • epiplexis
    Asking questions in order to chide, to express grief, or to inveigh.
  • exuscitatio
    Stirring others by one's own vehement feeling (sometimes by means of a rhetorical question).
  • pysma
    The asking of multiple questions successively (which would together require a complex reply).
  • ratiocinatio
    Reasoning (typically with oneself) by asking questions.
See Also

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
Please cite "Silva Rhetoricae" (rhetoric.byu.edu)

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