Sophisticated Rhetorical Questions

Students often find it easy to spot rhetorical questions in a text; however, frequently their comments on them lack precision or depth. Often their explanations are generic conveying how the writer’s use of a question ‘grabs attention’ or ‘makes the reader think’. There is much more that can be said about rhetorical questions, and they can be used in more ranging ways in written work also.

There are many types of rhetorical question.  ‘Rhetoric’ simply means a method of persuasion or argument, so it is important to remember that the effects of rhetorical questions that we note as readers, or aim for as writers, are more-often-than not going to be linked to the purpose of persuasion.

The terms we use for them are taken from the original ancient Greek or Latin – so considering etymology (the study of word origins – in these cases word meanings or morpheme meanings in ancient Latin or Greek) can help us understand the subtle differences in what each term means.

Seven Types of Rhetorical Question

Epiplexis: questions which are used to rebuke, chide or reproach.

  These questions are designed to censure (tell off) and imply that the audience or a specific action or belief is wrong.

Word origin: to rebuke

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Anaconenosis: questions which ask the audience to consider their opinion or viewpoint, implying a common interest. 

  These questions can often elicit empathy between the audience and the speaker / writer.   They can also help the reader to sympathise or understand the writer’s dilemma further.

Word origin: to communicate

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Hypophora: questions which are asked by the speaker / writer, which they then immediately answer.

These questions demonstrate that the speaker / writer is knowledgeable, in control and clear. They can also support the creation of empathy between them and the audience, suggesting that the writer / speaker understands and anticipates queries their audience may have.

Word origin: under + allegation

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Anthypophora: similar to hypophora, this type of question is different in that it often involves the speaker / writer using a question to challenge their own opinion and viewpoint, which they then immediately answer, settling the objections raised in their favour.

These questions demonstrate that the speaker / writer is knowledgeable, in control and clear. They can also help in the promotion of an argument as they suggest writer / speaker understands and has considered the opposing view in the process of forming their own argument; thus, their viewpoint appears more considered and well thought out.

Word origin: against + allegation

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Erotesis: questions which presuppose that their answer will be a strong and obvious positive or negative.

  These types of questions help to suggest that answers are obvious and, therefore, the subject cannot be debated.

Word origin: I question

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Ratiocinatio: here, the writer / speaker makes a statement, which they then question and immediately answer themselves.

  This form of questioning creates the impression of an internal dialogue; the audience gets the impression that they are hearing the argument being debated and rationalised. Through this, it feels  more balanced, well-considered and clearly explained.

Word origin: rationalise + conclude

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Aporia: questions which do not have a clear answer, commonly asked one after another.

  These questions suggest puzzlement, doubt and dilemma; they force the audience to see that the situation is complex and not easily resolved.

Word origin: impossible path

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