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Rhetoric and Rhetorical Devices

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March 2010
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“Rhetoric is the art of ruling the minds of men,” said the Plato, the famous philosopher.

Rhetoric and rhetorical devices are what a writer or speaker can use to evoke an emotional response and to persuade the reader/audience to view or consider an idea, concept, or point of view from a new perspective.

Rhetoric and rhetorical devices require an understanding of what the writer or speaker communicates through language and how the writer or speaker communicates the content or language. This difference was stated by Aristotle who pointed out that rhetoric is based on logos (the logical content of a speech) and lexis (the style and delivery of a speech).

According to Aristotle, the writer or speaker can persuade his/her audience by providing proof. There are three kinds of proof:

  • Logos. The appeal to reason by using logical proof.
  • Pathos. The appeal to emotions of the audience.
  • Ethos. The appeal to one’s character, using good will, wisdom, and virtue.

Some popular rhetorical devices include analogy, alliteration, hyperbole, metaphor, simile, and personification. A creative nonfiction writer can use these devices to present the facts.

This article discusses many of the most common rhetorical devices that a creative nonfiction writer can use.


It involves repeating a word or phrase and adding detail to it for emphasis. Use amplification to expand a definition, explanation, or argument.


I was exhausted from the hike up the rocky slope, exhausted from a lack of sleep, exhausted from the damp, chilly weather.

Antithesis Sentence

It is a type of parallel construction in which two parallel grammatical structures and contrasting ideas are juxtaposed within a sentence. The writer can juxtapose two opposing ideas by using phrases or clauses.


To err is human; to forgive, divine. –Pope

That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. –Neil Armstrong

Love is an ideal thing, marriage is a real thing.—Goethe


It is a word or phrase that renames the noun that precedes it. The appositive is set off with enclosing commas. Most appositives are non-restrictive and aren’t required to identify the noun.


Steve, who wrote the novel, is now attempting to write poetry.

Periodic Sentence

This is also known as the climatic sentence. It is highly emphatic. The writer adds details, one after the other, and then finishes the sentence with the main idea. The key point to remember is to present the main idea at the end of the sentence in an independent clause.


After writing for twelve months, editing for another three months, and contacting various publishers for several weeks, he was final able to sell his first novel to a publisher.

I came, I saw, I conquered. –Julius Caesar

Loose sentence or Cumulative Sentence

It is the most common sentence structure in English. The most important idea is placed at the beginning of the sentence, followed by a series of details. The key point to remember is that information accumulates after you present the main idea in an independent clause at the beginning of the sentence.


He published his novel after traveling to the destination and conducting research for two months, and after writing full-time for 2 years.


It is used to emphasize a point. The writer repeats key words or phrases. There are several ways to repeat key words or phrases. Here are two popular methods:

  • Repetition at the beginning of sentences.  (Anaphora) It is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of two or more clauses or sentences.



“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender.”—Winston Churchill

  • Repetition at the end of a sentence. (Anadiplosis) The writer repeats the last word of a preceding clause in the clause that follows. In essence, the writer uses word or phrase at the end of a sentence and then uses it again at the beginning of the next sentence.



“What I present here is what I remember of the letter, and what I remember of the letter I remember verbatim (including that awful French).” — Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita



The writer uses equivalent grammatical form to express ideas of equal importance. The writer can make word, phrases, or clauses parallel.


  • Verbs that are parallel in structure but equal in importance. He studied created writing, wrote poetry, and published a memoir.
  • Phrases that are parallel in structure and equal in importance. He wants to compose poetry and to write fiction.
  • Clauses that are parallel in structure and equal in importance.


Rhetorical Question

It is a question posed explicitly or implicitly by the writer, but not answered. In essence, the answer is already known. The rhetorical question is used to for provocation or emphasis. It is also used to ask a question that cannot be answered.


When will human kind end human suffering?

When will our leaders bring peace to the world?



The writer emphasizes an idea by expressing it in a series of synonymous phrases or statements.


May God arise, may his enemies be scattered, may his foes flee before him. –Psalm 68:1


Sentence Fragment

It is a word, or phrase, or dependent clause that is punctuated with a period. It is not a complete sentence, which includes a subject or predicate. Use a sentence fragment to create emphasis or suspense.


Snow. Ice. Frigid temperatures. Grey skies. These are the reasons I loathe winter.

Friendly people. Beer. Wine. Chips and dip. Pizza. Dancing.  Music. These are the ingredients of a good party.


It is the comparison of familiar idea, concept, or thing with the unfamiliar, in order to explain or clarify the unfamiliar. Sometimes the comparison is short, consisting of a few points. Other times the comparison is long, taking up several paragraphs. An analogy is often used to explain a complex or abstract concept or topic.


It is a short, interesting, usually true story that is designed to make an important point.  The anecdote is useful because readers enjoy reading interesting stories. It also enables the writer to add a human element, which enables your reader to connect with you. You can use an anecdote to support an opinion or to provide support to your argument or claim. You can also use the anecdote to inform or persuade.


I think the public transit provides poor service. The other day, I paid my fair, but the clerk at the ticket wicket refused to say hello. Then, while riding the subway, I waited between stops for 25 minutes without explanation. On my way out of the subway, I attempted to use the escalator to the street—but it was out of service.

Induction/Inductive Reasoning

Inductive reasoning or argument is different than a deductive argument in that it cannot guarantee the conclusion. It can only provide a reasonable amount of support to an argument. It is used to provide new knowledge, and so it is a much more powerful form of argument or reasoning. The writer can only strongly suggest that a claim is “probably” true.

Inductive reasoning, or induction, is reasoning from a specific to the general claim or statement. It draws inferences from observations in order to make generalizations.

Inference can be done in four stages:

  1. Observation: Collect facts and evidence to support your claim.
  2. Analysis: Review and classify the evidence and then identify patterns.
  3. Inference: From these patterns, make a generalization that can be argued.
  4. Confirmation: Test your inferences by engaging in additional observation.

There are three inductive forms of reasoning a writer can use:

  • Inductive generalization
  • Statistical syllogism
  • Induction by confirmation


Inductive Generalization

Suppose you wanted to know how many people are atheist in Canada. It would be impossible to ask every person in Canada. So you would select a sample. Using the sample, you could engage in inductive reasoning.


55% of those citizens we surveyed are atheist. Therefore, it is probable that 55% of all Canadians are atheist.

Statistical Syllogism

It moves from the general to the particular.


55% of Canadians believe in atheism.

Dave is a Canadian.

Therefore, he is .55 likely to be an atheist.

Induction by Confirmation

This is the most common type of inductive reasoning, and used to support a hypothesis. The writer begins by stating a hypothesis, and then uses statistics, facts, and evidence to support his/her hypothesis. Again, the writer cannot guarantee the truth of the hypothesis, only that it is probably true.

Deduction/Deductive Reasoning

Deductive reasoning argues from the particular to the general. It is a method of reasoning in which the conclusion follows from several premises. Moreover, deductive arguments are those whose premises guarantee the truth of the conclusion. A writer can use deduction to prove or demonstrate the truth of a claim.

The syllogism is the most common form of deductive reasoning. It has three components:

  1. If p, then q.
  2. If q, then r.
  3. Therefore, if p then r.


  1. All men are mortal.
  2. Socrates is a man.
  3. Therefore,  Socrates is mortal.

There are more than 100 rhetorical devices that you can learn and use. For starters, learn the devices that are defined in this article. These are some of the most popular. Once you have learned them, use them in your creative writing to expressive your views persuasively, to provide better depth of meaning, to write logically, and to appeal to the emotions of your readers.




  1. Tyler says:

    This was not helpful for me at all. I am a college student and need help and you didn’t give me any.

  2. walrissa says:

    Reblogged this on English Techie and commented:
    This article is an excellent overview of rhetoric and how it applies to writing creative nonfiction.

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