Rhetorical Devices

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Rhetorical Devices

  • Tricks of the writing trade to help you meet and exceed writing expectations.
  • Ideas developed by Mary Ellen Ledbetter
  • PowerPoint created by Gwen S. Thibadeau
  • Revised and Edited by T. Bowman

Why use Rhetorical Devices?

  • Are common tools that ALL authors use
  • Proven to add clarity, voice, style, effectiveness, and interest

Rhetorical Devices for Balance

  • Good writing has structure and balance that make it easy to read and understand.
  • Best appreciated if you read the examples aloud to get a feel for the effect


  • Several ideas of equal importance written in the same kind of grammatical structure
  • Parallelism provides:
    • Clarity
    • Balance
    • Rhythm
    • Elegance/Interest


  • Parallelism specifically using three words, phrases, or clauses written in parallel form and in succession


  • Tricolon - sometimes called the 'Rule of Threes
  • For some reason, the human brain seems to absorb and remember information more effectively when it is presented in threes.
  • There's a reason there were three Musketeers, why Goldilocks didn't meet four bears in the woods, why Charlie didn't employ only two Angels and why Curly, Larry & Mo didn't have 'and George' tagged on.


  • After school each day, I typically drive home with my children, complete housework, and talk about the day.
  • Please note: All three phrases begin in the same way – with a present tense verb.

One Of President Obama's Favorites

  • There are twenty-two Tricolon examples used in his inauguration speech alone and fourteen in his speech in Prague (to take two speeches at random)! Here are a few:
  • “I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.
  • “Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."
  • “Few would have imagined that the Czech Republic would become a free nation, a member of NATO, a leader of a united Europe.”
  • “Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.”

Tricolon – Example

  • Before: We watched the confetti.
  • After: “We watched the confetti fall from the sky, skip across the ground in the breeze, and tumble into the canal.” (Green, The Fault in Our Stars, 163)
  • Your Turn: We watched.

Tetracolon Climax

  • A series of four words,phrases, or clauses usually in parallel form
  • “I write the humor the way a surgeon operates, because it is a livelihood, because I have a great urge to do it, because many interesting challenges are set up, and because I have the hope that it may do some good.”
  • (James Thurber, letter to E.B. White, Apr. 24, 1951)

Repetition for Effect

  • As a rhetorical device, it could be a word, phrase, or clause, repeated to emphasize its significance in the entire text.


  • Anaphora: A rhetorical device that repeats the same word or words at the BEGINNING of two+ successive phrases or clauses, often alongside PARALLELISM and using a TRICOLON.
  • For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and ploughed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn” – (Barack Obama)


  • "But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land" – (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Epiphora (also known as Epistrophe):

  • Definition: A rhetorical device that repeats the same word or phrase at the END of two+ successive phrases or clauses.
  • "A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break the bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day. This day we fight!" - King Aragorn (from the movie 'The Return of the King’)

Epiphora (also known as Epistrophe):

  • "It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can. It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can. It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.
  • (Barack Obama)


  • When all of my friends made fun of me for falling down the stairs, you didn’t. When everyone else had left me out of the game, you didn’t. When the team made me sit on the bench, you didn’t. When all of the soldiers came home from the war, you didn’t.

Rep. for Effect

  • Your turn: Use anaphora & epiphora to add emphasis to your writing.
  • Describe a someone who is a hero to you.

Rhetorical Devices for Emphasis

  • Not every idea is as important as every other idea.
  • Many ideas serve to support the key ideas being developed.
  • Effective writing, then, helps the reader distinguish between the more and less important ideas by emphasizing the more important ones.


  • Definition: a stylistic device used to intentionally omit conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses.
  • Function:
    • Helps in speeding up the rhythm of words
    • Suggests the list is incomplete
    • Creates immediate impact
    • Unique emphasis to the text


  • “He was a bag of bones, a floppy doll, a broken stick, a maniac.” (Kerouac, On the Road)
  • This is the villain among you who deceived you, who cheated you, who meant to betray you completely…”
  • (Rhetoric, by Aristotle)


  • Definition: a stylistic device in which several coordinating conjunctions are used in succession in order to achieve an artistic effect.
  • Function:


  • “Let the white folks have their money and power and segregation and sarcasm and big houses and schools and lawns like carpets, and books, and mostly – mostly – let them have their whiteness.” (Maya Angelou, I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS)


  • Definition: the presentation of ideas (in words, phrases, clauses, etc.) in the order of increasing importance.
    • At an essay level, climax is commonly used for arranging the points presented to produce the effect of increasing strength and emphasis.
    • The same effect of turning up the volume works at the sentence level, too.


  • “Consider the potential effect of just a small increase in the earth’s atmospheric temperature. A rise of only a few degrees could melt the polar ice caps. Rainfall patterns would change. Some deserts might bloom, but lands now fertile might turn to desert, and many hot climates could become uninhabitable. If the sea level rose only a few feet, dozens of coastal cities would be destroyed, and life as we know it would be changed utterly.” (Toby Fulwiler and Alan Hayakawa, The Blair Handbook. Prentice Hall, 2003)

Rhetorical Question

  • Definition: A rhetorical question is asked just for effect or to lay emphasis on a point discussed with no real answer expected
  • Function:
    • Subtly influencing the kind of response one wants to get from an audience
    • Arouses curiosity

Rhetorical Question

  • “What made you think of love and tears and birth and death and pain?” (Stewart, Creation)
  • If practice makes perfect, and no one is perfect, then why practice?” (Billy Corgan)
  • “Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do ‘practice’?” (George Carlin)

Hyphenated Modifier

  • A compound adjective or adverb created by hyphenating multiple words together that work as one word.


  • Some of her students sat in their why-do-I-have-to-be-here postures while others exuded eagerness.

Hyphenated Modifier

  • Literary Example: “I slumped seated against a wall, heaving watered-down coughs.” (Green, The Fault in Our Stars, 200)
  • Your turn: I slumped.

Figurative Language

  • This technique finds new and creative ways to describe people, places, things, and ideas.
  • Similes—metaphors—hyperbole—personification, etc.
  • It incorporates fresh and creative similes and metaphors, not clichés.

FL- Example

  • She graduated. It was not until then that she realized what freedom really was. Finally, she was soaring through the air, wings spread wide.

Figurative Language

  • “Night came walking through Egypt swishing her black dress.”  ― Zora Neale Hurston, Moses, Man of the Mountain

Figurative Language

  • Your turn:
  • -Write a sentence personifying one of the following:
  • peace
  • death
  • morning


  • Writers use humor for many reasons... not only to create a connection with the reader and cause him/her to laugh, but also to lighten the mood in a tense or serious situation.


  • “Fame changes a lot of things, but it can’t change a light bulb.” ~Gilda Radner
  • “Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” ~ Zora Hurston, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”


  • Exercise: Write a paragraph that places a character in an environment or situation you wouldn't expect him to be.  Example: A city boy in a ballet class or a pig in a chicken coop.  Exaggerate the circumstances to create humor.

Full Circle Ending

  • Writers will often begin a piece of writing with a key word or phrase, develop the piece, and will bring the reader back to the key word or phrase at the ending.

Full-Circle Ending

  • Title: Seeing With the Heart
  • Concluding sentence: “You never realize how terrific a moment can be until you see it with your heart.” (Meeker, Seeing with the Heart)

Full-Circle Ending

  • Introduction: “One of the cool things about being Mike Weir is that you get to do whatever you want on Mike Weir Day, which Utah governor Michael Leavitt declared on May 12, 2003.”
  • Conclusion: “Weir was happy with his game as he left Chicago, but he was happier to be heading home, where every day is Mike Weir Day.”(Sports Illustrated)

Full-Circle Ending

  • Your turn:
  • Revise a Quick Write in your working portfolio to include a full-circle ending.

Works Cited

  • Harris, Robert A. Writing with Clarity and Style: A Guide to Rhetorical Devices for Contemporary Writers. Los Angeles, CA: Pyrczak Pub., 2003. Print.
  • Nordquist, Richard. “Rhetorical Terms by Type – Tropes and Figures of Speech.” N.p., n.d. Web.

Practice Makes Perfect!!!

  • ASSIGNMENT: Write a descriptive narrative essay about a time in your life when you made a choice that did or did not make you feel good. You may want/need to embellish (to improve by adding details; often fictitious details) the story a bit. The idea is for you to tell a story that is both descriptive and entertaining. Use 5-7 rhetorical devices in your essay. Have fun with this. Remember, the first step in writing an essay is to BRAINSTORM.

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