Rhetorical Question (Literary Term)

Basic Facts:
  • A rhetorical question is a figure of speech.
  • It is in the form of a question posed for its persuasive effect.
  • There is no expectation of a reply.
  • The use of a rhetorical questions is mostly to encourage the listener to think about what the (often obvious) answer to the question must be.
  • The answer to a rhetorical question is quite often obvious.
  • Rhetorical questions can therefore be used as a device by the speaker to assert or deny something.
Forms of rhetorical questions include:
  • Metaphors
  • Negative assertions
Rhetorical Question History:
  • Henry Denham in the 1580s invented a "rhetorical question mark" for use at the end of a rhetorical question.
  • The symbol was the reverse of an ordinary question mark - the main opening pointing away from the question (pictured).
Rhetorical Question Examples:
  • Does a bear shit in the woods?
  • For what can war but endless war still breed? (Milton)
  • If practice makes perfect, and no one's perfect, then why practice? (Billy Corgan)
  • Is the Pope Catholic?
  • Is the sky blue?
  • Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution? (H. L. Mencken)
Tags: 1580s - Figure of Speech - Henry Denham - Metaphor - Negative Assertion - Rhetorical Question - Question - Question Mark
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