Education and Information Site VirtualSalt A Handbook of Rhetorical Devices, Page 3 Robert A. Harris
January 5, 2010

To go directly to the discussion of a particular device, click on the name below. If you know these already, go directly to the Self Test. Of course, I modestly recommend my book, Writing with Clarity and Style, Second Edition, that contains all 60 of the devices discussed below, and many sidebars on style and writing effectiveness. Get a copy from here: Writing With Clarity and Style, Second Edition. The book has been newly updated, expanded, and improved for 2018. As a bonus free gift to purchasers of the book, a supplement is available for download that contains hundreds of examples of the devices as used in the Bible. Get the supplement here (requires Adobe Reader).

Alliteration Antithesis Climax Epizeuxis Metanoia Polysyndeton
Allusion Apophasis Conduplicatio Eponym Metaphor Procatalepsis
Amplification Aporia Diacope Exemplum Metonymy Rhetorical Question
Anacoluthon Aposiopesis Dirimens Copulatio Sentential Adverb Onomatopoeia Scesis Onomaton
Anadiplosis Apostrophe Distinctio Hyperbaton Oxymoron Sententia
Analogy Appositive Enthymeme Hyperbole Parallelism Simile
Anaphora Assonance Enumeratio Hypophora Parataxis Symploce
Antanagoge Asyndeton Epanalepsis Hypotaxis Parenthesis Synecdoche
Antimetabole Catachresis Epistrophe Litotes Personification Understatement
Antiphrasis Chiasmus Epithet Metabasis Pleonasm Zeugma

13. Conduplicatio resembles anadiplosis in the repetition of a preceding word, but it repeats a key word (not just the last word) from a preceding phrase, clause, or sentence, at the beginning of the next.

Like anadiplosis, conduplicatio serves as an effective focusing device because with it you can pull out that important idea from the sentence before and put it clearly at the front of the new sentence, showing the reader just what he should be concentrating on. Since keeping the reader focused on your train of thought is critical to good writing, this device can be especially helpful as a transitional connector when the previous sentence has two or more possible main points, only one of which is to be continued in the discussion. Suppose, for example, you have this sentence: Now, the next sentence could begin with, "Previous campaigns . . ." or "The strength of the appeal to selfish interests . . . "or "Therefore constitutional amendments are best left . . ." all depending on which concept you wish to develop. If you began the next sentence with, "But there certainly can be no doubt that the general referendum will continue to be exploited by those whose issues are aided by the innate selfishness of human beings," the reader would have to go a considerable distance into the sentence before he would find out exactly which idea is being carried forward and developed.

14. Epanalepsis repeats the beginning word of a clause or sentence at the end. The beginning and the end are the two positions of strongest emphasis in a sentence, so by having the same word in both places, you call special attention to it:

Many writers use epanalepsis in a kind of "yes, but" construction to cite common ground or admit a truth and then to show how that truth relates to a more important context: 15. Hypophora consists of raising one or more questions and then proceeding to answer them, usually at some length. A common usage is to ask the question at the beginning of a paragraph and then use that paragraph to answer it: This is an attractive rhetorical device, because asking an appropriate question appears quite natural and helps to maintain curiosity and interest. You can use hypophora to raise questions which you think the reader obviously has on his mind and would like to see formulated and answered: Hypophora can also be used to raise questions or to introduce material of importance, but which the reader might not have the knowledge or thought to ask for himself: And hypophora can be used as a transitional or guiding device to change directions or enter a new area of discussion: Notice how a series of reasonable questions can keep a discussion lively and interesting: In the above example, the writer went on for several paragraphs to discuss the case which "didn't work very well." It would also be possible for a writer to ask several questions and then answer them in an orderly way, though that has the danger of appearing too mechanical if not carefully done.

16. Rhetorical question (erotesis) differs from hypophora in that it is not answered by the writer, because its answer is obvious or obviously desired, and usually just a yes or no. It is used for effect, emphasis, or provocation, or for drawing a conclusionary statement from the facts at hand.

Often the rhetorical question and its implied answer will lead to further discussion: Several rhetorical questions together can form a nicely developed and directed paragraph by changing a series of logical statements into queries: Sometimes the desired answer to the rhetorical question is made obvious by the discussion preceding it: When you are thinking about a rhetorical question, be careful to avoid sinking to absurdity. You would not want to ask, for example, "But is it right to burn down the campus and sack the bookstore?" The use of this device allows your reader to think, query, and conclude along with you; but if your questions become ridiculous, your essay may become wastepaper.

17. Procatalepsis, by anticipating an objection and answering it, permits an argument to continue moving forward while taking into account points or reasons opposing either the train of thought or its final conclusions. Often the objections are standard ones:

Sometimes the writer will invent probable or possible difficulties in order to strengthen his position by showing how they could be handled if they should arise, as well as to present an answer in case the reader or someone else might raise them in the course of subsequent consideration: Objections can be treated with varying degrees of seriousness and with differing relationships to the reader. The reader himself might be the objector: Or the objector may be someone whose outlook, attitude, or belief differs substantially from both writer and reader-though you should be careful not to set up an artificial, straw-man objector: By mentioning the obvious, and even the imaginatively discovered objections to your argument, you show that (1) you are aware of them and have considered them and (2) there is some kind of reasonable response to them, whether given in a sentence or in several paragraphs. An objection answered in advance is weakened should your opponent bring it up, while an objection ignored, if brought up, may show you to be either ignorant or dishonest. Indeed, it might be better to admit an objection you cannot answer than to suppress it and put yourself on the side of darkness and sophistry: Finally, note that procatalepsis can be combined with hypophora, so that the objection is presented in the form of a question: 18. Metabasis consists of a brief statement of what has been said and what will follow. It might be called a linking, running, or transitional summary, whose function is to keep the discussion ordered and clear in its progress: The brief little summary of what has been said helps the reader immensely to understand, organize, and remember that portion of your essay.

Metabasis serves well as a transitional device, refocusing the discussion on a new but clearly derivative area:

It can also be used to clarify the movement of a discussion by quickly summing up large sections of preceding material: One caution should be mentioned. Metabasis is very difficult to use effectively in short papers: since it is a summarizing device, it must have some discussion to sum up. In practice, this means something on the order of five pages or more. Thus, metabasis could be very handy in the middle of a ten or twenty page paper; in a three page paper, though, both its necessity and its utility would be questionable. But use your own judgment.

Words used to signal further discussion after the summary include these: now, next, additionally, further, besides, equally important, also interesting, also important, also necessary to mention, it remains. You can also use words of comparison and contrast, such as these: similarly, on the other hand, by contrast.

19. Distinctio is an explicit reference to a particular meaning or to the various meanings of a word, in order to remove or prevent ambiguity.

Many of our words, like those of evaluation (better, failure high quality, efficient, unacceptable) and those referring to abstract concepts which are often debated (democracy, justice, equality, oppression) have different meanings to different people, and sometimes to the same person at different times. For example, the governments of both Communist China and the United States are described as "democracies," while it could be argued rather convincingly that neither really is, depending on the definition of democracy used. Semanticist S. I. Hayakawa even goes so far as to claim that "no word ever has exactly the same meaning twice," and while that for practical purposes seems to be a substantial exaggeration, we should keep in mind the great flexibility of meaning in a lot of our words. Whenever there might be some doubt about your meaning, it would be wise to clarify your statement or terms. And distinctio is one good way to do that.

Some helpful phrases for distinctio include these: blank here must be taken to mean, in this context [or case] blank means, by blank I mean, that is, which is to say. You can sometimes use a parenthetical explanation or a colon, too: Is this dangerous (will I be physically harmed by it)?

20. Amplification involves repeating a word or expression while adding more detail to it, in order to emphasize what might otherwise be passed over. In other words, amplification allows you to call attention to, emphasize, and expand a word or idea to make sure the reader realizes its importance or centrality in the discussion.

But amplification can overlap with or include a repetitive device like anaphora when the repeated word gains further definition or detail: Notice the much greater effectiveness this repetition-plus detail form can have over a "straight" syntax. Compare each of these pairs: 21. Scesis Onomaton emphasizes an idea by expressing it in a string of generally synonymous phrases or statements. While it should be used carefully, this deliberate and obvious restatement can be quite effective: Scesis onomaton does have a tendency to call attention to itself and to be repetitive, so it is not used in formal writing as frequently as some other devices. But if well done, it is both beautiful and emphatic.

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Now You Can Buy the Book
If you enjoy learning rhetorical devices, you should get the book. Writing with Clarity and Style: A Guide to Rhetorical Devices for Contemporary Writers takes you far beyond the material here, with full discussions of 60 devices, what they are, and how to use them effectively in modern writing. The book includes more than 390 examples, as well as practice exercises, review questions, sample applications (six appendices), and more. Learn how to use these devices in your own writing.  Get a copy from here: Writing With Clarity and Style, Second Edition. The book has been newly updated, expanded, and improved for 2018. As a bonus free gift to purchasers of the book, a supplement is available for download that contains hundreds of examples of the devices as used in the Bible. Get the supplement here (requires Adobe Reader).

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