If you’ve ever read a persuasive essay or listened to someone give a speech, you have seen the power of rhetorical devices.
Rhetorical devices are techniques that authors and speakers use to try to persuade their audience to take their side and agree with their point of view.
Politicians, for example, use rhetorical devices to help their constituents engage with their platform and to increase the likelihood that their constituents will vote in their favor. Authors who write persuasive essays use rhetorical devices to help readers connect with their work and encourage their readers to complete certain actions.
When used effectively, rhetorical devices can be incredibly persuasive.
This is why colleges and universities want to know that their students have the ability to recognize and use these devices.
They want to make sure that their students aren’t easily swayed and that they can think critically about the decisions they make even after hearing a persuasive speech or reading a persuasive essay.
They also want to make sure that their students have the tools necessary to communicate and write effectively, which often includes using rhetorical devices.
As such, your English courses in high school and college will likely emphasize the use of rhetorical devices.
This guide will help you learn the most useful rhetorical devices and how you can use them to think critically and sharpen your writing skills.
Most useful rhetorical devices
While there are many rhetorical devices that authors and speakers use to persuade their audiences, there are a few particularly important ones that you should know:
Alliteration involves the repetition of consonant sounds with two or more words that are close together in a speech or paper.
For example, there is alliteration with the “b” sound with the sentence brave baboons bring bananas to the beach.
Alliteration is a useful rhetorical device because it grabs the audience’s attention, and it highlights the importance of the particular statements and shows how words work together to form a cohesive theme or idea.
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he frequently uses alliteration. An example would be his line, “Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation.”
Anaphora is a rhetorical device that involves the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences or phrases.
In Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, he uses anaphora when he says, “But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.” His repetition of the words “we cannot,” help emphasize and drive home his argument.
Oftentimes speakers use anaphora to get their audiences to focus on a particular point in their speech and recognize the importance of a specific idea.
Hyperbole is the use of extreme exaggeration to make a point. When speakers and authors use hyperbole, they are not trying to deceive their listeners, they are simply emphasizing the importance of their argument.
An example of hyperbole would be if a politician says, “I will fight for you until the end of time.” While they won’t be alive to fight for their constituents until the end of time, the heart of their statement is true. They are simply showing their audience that they care and that they will work toward their audience’s best interests for as long as they are able to do so.
A metaphor is a direct comparison between two separate ideas. Typically, an idea is standing in place of another.
This technique is used to help readers and listeners understand the impact and importance of a particular idea, especially if the original idea is abstract.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. uses a banking metaphor when he describes America “defaulting” on a promissory note for African Americans. By giving his audience a familiar example of a check that cannot be cashed, he is better able to explain his argument.
Metaphors are helpful because they can help make abstract examples more concrete and truly paint a picture of the idea that a speaker or author is trying to get across.
Rhetorical questions are questions that are not meant to be answered. This rhetorical device is useful because it causes listeners to reflect on the question that is being asked and to think deeply about what the speaker is trying to convey.
In John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address in 1961, he asked the audience, “ Will you join in that historic effort?” He is not expecting his listeners to shout out in agreement or disagreement, rather he is simply trying to get his audience to think about the question he posed and whether or not they will play a particular role.
People use rhetorical questions all of the time (did you notice my use of hyperbole here!) to get their point across.
For instance, if a parent asks their misbehaving child, “Do you want to lose your chance to get ice cream later?” They don’t want their child to actually respond. Obviously, the child wouldn’t want to miss out on this opportunity. All they are trying to do is to get the child to look inward and think about their behavior and the consequences of continuing to act out.
A simile is a comparison between two things using the words “like” or “as.”
For example, you might say, “This room is like a sauna,” if one of your teachers has a warm classroom.
Similes are important rhetorical devices because they help emphasize points by comparing them to more familiar concepts.
Telling someone that not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle is “like leaving your most prized possession in a house while keeping the doors open,” makes a bigger impact than simply telling someone to wear a helmet.
In this way, similes work to help people fully understand a point that the speaker or author is trying to emphasize.
Learning to use rhetorical devices
While this guide is a starting point, there are many more rhetorical devices that you will want to learn how to use to strengthen your writing.
You can start learning how to master the use of all of these rhetorical devices by working with a private tutor.
At Prep Expert, we only hire expert instructors who have the skills and experience necessary to teach complicated concepts, including rhetorical devices and other writing techniques. When you work with one of our tutors, you will not only learn new rhetorical devices that weren’t covered in this guide, but you will also receive tips and tricks about how to use these rhetorical devices effectively.
Sign up for private tutoring through Prep Expert today when you visit our website.