Rhetorical Device: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Tools of the Trade:…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Citlali Tolia
Rhetorical devices are used in language to communicate effectively and persuade. Here you'll discover more about rhetorical devices and learn how to put some of them to use in some persuasion of your own.

Tools of the Trade: Rhetorical Device Defined

Have you ever run for class president or had to convince your parents to let you go somewhere? If so, there's a pretty good chance you've used a rhetorical device or two, since the term describes a technique of language used to direct an audience toward a certain perspective.

The often ethereal notion of rhetoric can really be defined as simply the art of communicating effectively, and it has existed for about as long as humans have been able to talk. Why did we develop this set of communication techniques so early on? Because we humans - whether we're trying to rally a hunting party or support for legislation - have learned it's much easier and more efficient to persuade people to do things than to force them.

This cultivation of persuasion as an art form began in the streets of ancient Greece and Rome. Here, citizens of these earliest democracies and republics found it necessary to be able to voice their viewpoints effectively so as to bring about the political circumstances they desired. For this reason, rhetoric was formalized as an educational discipline, with lessons in effectual discourse forming the very foundation of Greco-Roman learning.

Over time, 'rhetoricians,' or students and practitioners specifically of the art of rhetoric, coined and codified a wide assortment of special techniques. These rhetorical devices, as they've come to be called, were identified as particularly useful in grabbing an audience's attention and directing it towards the speakers' perspectives. Many of these ancient techniques are still in use today, as we'll discuss!

Examples of Rhetorical Devices: Metaphor

A metaphor is a type of 'figurative' rhetorical device, meaning it uses comparison or symbolism to express certain shared characteristics. It is a highly prevalent rhetorical device, mostly because of its versatility: anything can be compared to practically anything else. Metaphors work by asserting that two usually non-related subjects have something in common: for instance, the vastness shared by the ocean and a pile of paper in this example:

'Rebecca sighed as she looked over the 'sea' of paperwork on her desk.'

Examples of Rhetorical Devices: Alliteration

The rhetorical device alliteration is a sonic one, which means it depends on the sounds of the words a speaker uses. With alliteration, we find a repetition of consonant sounds that can typically be quite emphatic and imitative (literally or figuratively) of the subject being discussed. However, alliteration can also be rather humorous, as we can see in a variety of tongue twisters, like:

Shelley sells seashells by the seashore. (Notice the repeated 's,' 'sh,' and 'l' sounds?)

Examples of Rhetorical Devices: Anaphora

Speaking of repetitions, anaphora is a rhetorical device that depends on the repetition of words or phrases. The Greek word by this name originally meant 'rising,' and the device creates a sense of rising emphasis each time the word or phrase is repeated. Take, for example, Abraham Lincoln's closing to the Gettysburg Address, where he desires to preserve '…government of the people, by the people, for the people…'

Examples of Rhetorical Devices: Polysyndeton

So as not to become too repetitive, this is the last of our examples to involve repetition. Polysyndeton (from the Greek for 'many conjunctions') represents the repetition of - you guessed it - conjunctions. Stringing conjunctions (i.e., and, or) this way can often express the variety of choices connected to a speaker's point, such as in the ending of the Lord's Prayer:

'For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory…'

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