What Are the Different Types of Rhetorical Tools?

Sandi Johnson

The term rhetorical tools could be construed to mean a great many things within the realm of rhetoric, depending on context. Meanings might including specific tools, such as rhetorical devices or specific means of persuasion like logos, pathos, and ethos. Furthermore, the term rhetorical tools can also refer to the five canons of rhetoric, including invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Most often, however, the term is used to describe the many rhetorical devices, such as alliteration, metaphor, allusion, or satire.

Winston Churchill frequently used alliteration such as "We shall not fail or falter".
Winston Churchill frequently used alliteration such as "We shall not fail or falter".

Some teachers and rhetorical theorists describe rhetorical tools as the three primary means of persuasion used in rhetoric. These means of persuasion were first described by Aristotle, who divided the concepts into logos, pathos, and ethos. Logos refers to the use of logic to persuade, while pathos refers to the use of emotion. Ethos establishes the ethical or moral correctness of an argument, orator or writer, as a means of persuading an audience. Each of these rhetorical tools serve a specific purpose, although all three tools may be used in a single rhetorical work.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined three forms of persuasive techniques.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined three forms of persuasive techniques.

Other theorists and instructors refer to the five canons of rhetoric as rhetorical tools, based on their use in the construction of rhetorical presentations. As an orator or writer constructs a work of rhetoric, the five canons can be used like a checklist of components needed to craft a persuasive piece. In this sense, the five canons are used as rhetorical tools to help the writer or speaker develop a road map for his persuasive work.

Invention, the first canon, involves finding an idea on which to speak or write. Arrangement, the second canon, refers to the logical order of the individual's presentation. Style is the art with which the individual chooses his words. Memory encompasses both the ability to memorize a prepared argument, as well as the ability to improvise based on knowledge of a topic. Delivery, the final classic canon of rhetoric, involves the specific choice of words or how an argument is stated.

Rhetorical devices, the most common understanding of the term rhetorical tools, fall under two different canons of rhetoric. Specifically, rhetorical devices involve both style and delivery. Alliteration, for example, involves style as it relates to the choice of words and delivery as it relates to how the words sound to an audience. By definition, alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in a sequence of words.

To illustrate alliteration, in a famous radio address during the 1940s, Sir Winston Churchill was quoted as saying, “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire....” This is an example of alliteration used in a rhetorical speech. As one of many rhetorical tools, alliteration seeks to persuade through the use of memorable, impacting and repetitious sounds. Similarly, assonance is another rhetorical device that uses repetitive vowel sounds, rather than consonants. Numerous other rhetorical devices are common, including the use of metaphors, satire, nostalgia, sarcasm, hyperbole and dozens more.

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