Rhetorical Devices for Public Speaking

Rhetorical devices are as useful in writing or public speaking as they are in life. Also known as persuasive devices, stylistic devices, or just rhetoric, rhetorical devices are techniques or language used to convey a point or convince an audience. These devices regularly in use by everyone especially politicians, business people and writers.

You may already know some of them: similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia. Others, maybe not such as bdelygmia. However, you’ve probably run into all of these devices some time or another. Perhaps, you’ve even used them yourself. Moreover, if you haven’t, don’t let their fancy Greek names fool you — they’re pretty easy to implement, too. However, before you dive in, let’s identify the different categories of rhetorical devices out there.

Types of Rhetorical Devices

Although there exists plenty of overlap between rhetorical and literary devices, there’s one significant difference between the two. While the latter is employed to express ideas with artistic depth, rhetoric is designed to appeal to one’s sensibilities in four specific ways:

  1. Logos, an appeal to logic;

  2. Pathos, an appeal to emotion;

  3. Ethos, an appeal to ethics; or,

  4. Kairos, an appeal to time.

These categories haven’t changed since the Ancient Greeks first identified them thousands of years ago. This makes sense, however, because the ways we make decisions haven’t changed, either: with our brain, our heart, our morals, or the feeling that we’re running out of time.

So without further ado, here is a list of rhetorical devices designed to tug at those strings, and convince a listener to give you what you want — or a reader to continue reading your book.

List of Rhetorical Devices

Of the hundreds of rhetorical devices currently classified, we've compiled 30 of the most useful ones, as well as some examples of these devices in action. Get ready to master the art of rhetoric for yourself, and your audience or readers.

1) Accismus

Accismus is feigning disinterest of something while desiring it or the rhetorical refusal of something you want.

Like in one of Aesop’s Fables:

Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leapt with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked 'Oh, you aren't even ripe yet! I don't need any sour grapes.' People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.

2) Adnomination

Many rhetorical devices are linguistic tricks that make statements sound more persuasive, like adnomination: the repetition of words with the same root in the same sentence. The difference lies in one sound or letter. A nice euphony can be achieved by using this poetic device.

  • This rhetoric is sure to somehow work on someone, somewhere, someday.

  • He is nobody from nowhere and knows nothing

3) Adynaton

Adynata are purposefully hyperbolic metaphors to suggest that something is impossible — like the classic adage when pigs fly.

Moreover, hyperbole, of course, is a rhetorical device in and of itself: an excessively exaggerated statement for effect. Or in simple terms, Adynaton is the simple art of exaggeration to gain more influence.

4) Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of consonants across successive, stressed syllables… get it? This most often means repeating consonants at the beginning of multiple words, as opposed to simple consonance, which is the repetition of consonants regardless of which syllable they’re placed on.

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven makes use of both: “And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain.” “Silken” and “sad” are alliterative, but the consonance continues into “uncertain” and “rustling.” And as a bonus, it contains assonance — the repetition of vowel sounds — across “purple curtain.”

  • Fair is foul, and foul is fair

  • Hover through the fog and filthy air.

5) Anacoluthon

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”

The opening sentence of Kafka’s Metamorphosis is famous because it ends somewhere entirely different than where it started. This means it is an anacoluthon, used to challenge a listener or reader to think deeply and question their assumptions.