Rhetorical devices

What is a rhetorical device?

When you analyze a speech, it is almost always relevant to study the speaker’s use of rhetorical devices.

Note that the distinction between stylistic devices and rhetorical devices is somewhat debatable, so you may encounter a different division from the one we use in this guide. However, the most important thing is that you are aware of how each individual device works.

Rhetorical devices are language strategies that are used to make the speech more convincing. These devices are designed to make the message of the speech resonate with the audience, to engage their emotions and to make them think and act according to the speaker’s wishes. 

When you bring up these devices in your analysis, it is important to consider what their effect is in the particular speech you are studying. If you just make a long list of devices, your analysis will not be very interesting. It is important to say something about how and why they are used in the context of the speech. Generally, it is also a good idea to include specific quotations and examples from the text when you talk about rhetorical devices.

As you can see, we cover a lot of different devices below. It is important to note that you should not attempt to find all of them in each individual speech you are working with. Instead, we recommend that you simply use this page to look up any specific devices that you may need to study in your particular speech.

Repetition

Repetition of specific words and phrases can help add emphasis and make the central points of the speech easier to remember. Repetition is therefore a common device in political speeches.

Repetition is the overall term for this device, but there are also more specific terms for certain kinds of repetition. For example, if several sentences or paragraphs in the speech start with the same word or phrase, it is known as anaphora:

They voted to shape a brighter future for our country. They voted to leave the European Union and embrace the world. [1]

If several sentences or paragraphs end with the same word or phrase, it is instead known as epiphora:

If we turn back, all is lost. If we give up the fight, all is lost. If we do not stand together, all is lost.[2]

Repetition in these examples is used to suggest similarities between different ideas, or to suggest the certain hopelessness of acting in particular ways.

Tricolon

Tricolon means that the speaker lists things in threes. The number three has several important connotations in western culture and history, so mentioning things in threes can create a natural rhythm in the minds of the audience. Therefore, use of tricolon also makes it easier to remember the central points in a speech:

A country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology, discovery and innovation.[3]

Parallelism

Parallelism occurs when several sentences or phrases in the row h...

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