Rhetorical Question: Quick Summary
A rhetorical question is a question that is not meant to be answered, but is asked to make a point or create a desired effect.
Pretend you’ve worked on a puzzle for three days. You finally finished, and then your teenage brother destroys it in a second. You might ask:
- Are you crazy?
This is a rhetorical question because you aren’t expecting a response. Instead, you’re emphasizing shock or confusion (and maybe heartbreak).
If it looks like a question and sounds like a question, it must require an answer, right?
Well, no, not always.
Rhetorical questions aren’t meant to be answered. Below, we’ll explain what they are and how to use them.
What’s a Rhetorical Question?
A rhetorical question is a statement that’s formulated as a question that is not meant to be answered. Instead, it creates an effect or emphasizes a point.
Consider the following scenario: You’re watching the news with a friend and hear that someone in your town has won the lottery. You might say to your friend
Can you imagine?
It’s technically a question, but you aren’t expecting a “yes” or “no” response. Instead, the point you’re trying to make is more similar to stating “Imagine that.”
The real meaning of rhetorical questions is often implied or suggested, but not explicitly stated.
Rhetorical questions are extremely common. They can be found in everyday speech and writing, but also in literature and persuasive texts, like debates, speeches, essays, and marketing advertisements.
What Are the Different Types of Rhetorical Questions?
There are different types of rhetorical questions, with each of them serving a distinct purpose.
Hypophora (also known as anthypophora) is when a speaker or writer poses a question and then immediately provides an answer to it. It engages the audience or reader by anticipating their questions and addressing them directly.
What’s the easiest way to improve our public education system? Pay teachers more.
What is the key to success in business? Forming strong relationships with your customers and clients.
How can we improve income inequality in our society? Easy—raise the minimum wage.
It should be noted that there is disagreement among scholars regarding the precise definition of hypophora and anthypophora. The Century Dictionary defines hypophora as the inquiry, while anthypophora refers to the response. Nowadays, both terms have come to encompass both the questioning and answering elements of the technique.
Epiplexis is a type of rhetorical question that is used to rebuke or reprimand the audience. It challenges and engages the audience in a pointed and sometimes confrontational manner. This type of rhetorical device is meant to persuade (or shame) the audience into accepting the speaker’s perspective.
I can’t believe you skipped class. Do you not care about your education or future?
That’s horrible. How could you think such a thing?
Are you really going to let fear stop you from reaching your fullest potential?
As a rhetorical device, erotesis is asked to elicit a strong response, either in affirmation or denial, but they typically anticipate a negative response.
Do you really think it’s okay that basic healthcare is only accessible to those who can afford it?
Is it really worth it to risk your career just to impress someone?
Do you actually think it’s a good idea to stay up all night before the big exam?
How Do You Punctuate a Rhetorical Question?
That’s a good question, and one that doesn’t have a definitive answer. The punctuation used for a rhetorical question can vary depending on the context. Some options include using a question mark, period, or exclamation mark. However, some experts argue that a question mark should always be used for any type of question, whether it’s rhetorical or not.
We’d recommend punctuating rhetorical questions with a question mark.
Here’s a fun fact for you: In the 1580s, Henry Denham proposed using a reverse question mark for these particular types of questions. Known as a percontation mark, it never became standard.
Examples of Rhetorical Questions
Below, you’ll find several examples of rhetorical questions.
Rhetorical Questions Found in Literature
William Shakespeare often used rhetorical questions in his writing. A few of them are:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (Sonnet 18)
Was he not born of [a] woman? (Macbeth)
Can one desire too much of a good thing? (As You Like It)
Common Rhetorical Questions Used in Everyday Speech
Are you kidding me?
Isn’t that the craziest thing you’ve ever seen?
Did you really think I would believe that?
Can’t you take a joke?
What’s the harm in trying?
Do you think I was born yesterday?
Who do you think you are?
Using Rhetorical Questions in Your Writing
Keep in mind that rhetorical questions can:
- Keep readers engaged.
- Draw attention to something important.
- Encourage reflection.
In short, rhetorical questions can be a powerful tool for writers to use to engage their audience and emphasize their ideas. Another great tool for writers to use is LanguageTool—a multilingual spelling and grammar checker that goes above and beyond to elevate your writing.
Wasn’t this the most helpful, easy-to-understand guide on rhetorical questions you’ve ever read?