Rhetorical Question

Definition of Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is asked just for effect, or to lay emphasis on some point being discussed when no real answer is expected. A rhetorical question may have an obvious answer, but the questioner asks it to lay emphasis on the point. In literature, a rhetorical question is self-evident and used for style as an impressive persuasive device.

Broadly speaking, a rhetorical question is asked when the questioner himself knows the answer already, or an answer is not actually demanded. So, an answer is not expected from the audience. Such a question is used to emphasize a point or draw the audience’s attention.

Common Rhetorical Question Examples

Rhetorical questions, though almost needless or meaningless, seem a basic need of daily language. Some common examples of rhetorical questions from daily life are as follows:

  • “Who knows?”
  • “Are you stupid?”
  • “Did you hear me?”
  • “Ok?”
  • “Why not?”

Mostly, it is easy to spot a rhetorical question because of its position in the sentence. It occurs immediately after a comment made, and states the opposite of it. The idea again is to make a point more prominent. Some rhetorical question examples are as follows. Keep in mind that they are also called “tag questions” if used in everyday conversation.

  • “It’s too hot today, isn’t it?
  • “The actors played the roles well, didn’t they?

How to Punctuation Rhetorical Questions?

It is not very difficult to tell how to punctuate a rhetorical question. It either ends on a question mark or a period. However, it is to be kept in mind that if the question occurs in the middle of a simple or complex sentence, it does not require any punctuation mark. If, on the other hand, it occurs by the end of the sentence or text, then it needs a question mark. Sometimes writers use an exclamation mark instead of a question mark. That is entirely a contextual requirement that the writer understands and wants to convey to his audiences.

Rhetorical Question and Hypophora

A rhetorical question is a rhetorical device, while a hypophora is a figure of speech. Whereas in a rhetorical question, the person does not need an answer, nor does he/she answers that question, in hypophora, the person posing a question gives its answer as well. It is a simple question with a simple and single sentence answer.

 Rhetorical Question and Aporia

Similar to the rhetorical question, aporia is also a rhetorical device. However, it only expresses skepticism to prove something. Therefore, it becomes a question when expressing that uncertainty. On the other hand, a rhetorical question does not express any uncertainty as it does not require an answer and is posed often with the attention to stress upon the idea about which it is posed.

Use of Rhetorical Questions in Sentences

  1. i am obviously angry. Will you be okay if I punch you?
  2. Do you wonder why Harry is such a dumb person like he’s lost his mind? Oh well!
  3. The Earth revolves around the sun. Why? Because rest the of the planets do too.
  4. Looking at the clock, the father asked his son, ‘What time do you think it is now?’
  5. Isn’t he the master of deceptions? Alas, you knew that too?

Examples of Rhetorical Questions in Literature

Rhetorical questions in literature are as important as they are in daily language, or perhaps even more so. The reason is the significant change a rhetorical question can bring about. The absence or presence of a rhetorical question in some of the most famous lines in literature would change the impact altogether. Some examples of rhetorical questions in the literature show that writers sometimes ask questions and then go on to answer them to produce the desired effect.

Example #1: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

” ’Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

A very good example of a rhetorical question in literature is from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Here, Juliet makes a statement that a man’s name does not define him as a person. She draws attention to this issue by asking two important rhetorical questions, as noted in bold.

Example #2: Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley ends his masterpiece Ode to the West Wind with a rhetorical question:

“…O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

In this excerpt, Shelley achieves the desired effect by asking a rhetorical question, rather than making a statement. The answer to this question is not sought; rather, an effect is successfully created giving a fine finishing touch to the ode.

Example #3: Creation by Hladia Porter Stewart

Mrs. Hladia Porter Stewart in her poem Creation employs rhetorical questions to create effect and achieve the desired appeal of the poem.

“What made you think of love and tears
And birth and death and pain?”

Without rhetorical questions, it might have been impossible for the poet to express herself as impressively as she does here.

Example #4: The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth

“Will no one tell me what she sings?”

Notice, that an answer is not expected to this question. The poet prefers a rhetorical question to a plain statement to emphasize his feelings of pleasant surprise. Thus, the poem’s meaning is enhanced by the use of a rhetorical question.

Example #5: The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

“If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

The character Shylock, in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, asks a series of rhetorical questions in this excerpt. The questions don’t necessarily need answers. They are neither questions nor plain statements, but rather something in between the two.

Function of Rhetorical Question

Writers employ rhetorical questions for rhetorical effects, and we cannot easily quantify the impact rendered by a rhetorical question. The idea becomes all the more powerful, and our interest is aroused to continue to read and enjoy the technical and aesthetic beauty that a rhetorical question generates. Moreover, it is a requirement in persuasive speeches.

Synonyms of Rhetorical Question

There is no equivalent meaning to a rhetorical question. The following words may come close in meanings such as explanation, question, inquiry, rebuttal, question, inquiry, and query.