What is the Purpose of a Rhetorical Question?

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  • 0:03 Questions Without Answers
  • 0:42 Draw Attention
  • 1:15 Identifying the Negative
  • 1:36 Identifying the Positive
  • 2:08 Literary Devices
  • 2:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lindsy Frazer

Dr. Frazer has taught several college level Science courses and has a master's degree in Human Biology and a PhD in Library and Information Science.

Why do we ask questions? Usually we ask a question to obtain information, but not all questions are meant to be answered. In this lesson, you'll learn the purpose and explore examples of rhetorical questions.

Questions Without Answers

We mostly ask questions to get information. So when we ask questions we are usually looking for an answer. What will the weather be today? What would you like to eat for dinner?

Unlike information seeking questions, rhetorical questions are questions that are not meant to be answered. Why ask a question that is not really a question? Rhetorical questions are used to make a point or draw attention to something important.

When we ask a rhetorical question we want people to really think about what we are saying. Since they don't need an answer or the answer is obvious, or clear, the real meaning of rhetorical questions is often implied, suggested, and not directly said.

Draw Attention

If you wrote a note to a friend and wanted to show them that the information was important, how would you do that? Would you underline the important words or maybe circle them? Rhetorical questions work just like a highlighter pointing out important parts of a message.

Imagine you are running late to meet a friend for lunch. When you finally make it to the restaurant your friend asks, ''Do you know what time it is?'' This is a rhetorical question. Your friend doesn't want you to look at the clock and tell him the time, he just wants to draw attention to the fact that you're late! The implied meaning is that being late is not good.

Identifying the Negative

Rhetorical questions are often used to show that a situation or circumstance is bad or to communicate that someone is in a bad mood. When people get frustrated and things don't seem to be going their way they might ask, ''What's the point?'' or ''Where did I go wrong?'' These rhetorical questions are a way of expressing difficulty and telling others you are having a hard time.

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