What Are the Different Uses of Rhetoric?

Lee Johnson

There are many different uses of rhetoric; the device is perhaps most commonly used when a person or organization is trying to convince others to act or think a certain way, but it is also frequently used as a form of argument and a general style of presentation. Put differently, it can be used basically any time someone wants to convince other people of something or convey a certain argument on a subject. Two of the most popular places rhetoric can be found are political speeches and advertisements. In these situations, rhetoric is aimed at getting the listening public to agree with the points the arguer is making, without necessarily offering information of any intellectual value. For example, a politician may describe an opposing party as a "cancer" on society, which has negative connotations but no intrinsic meaning. Many pieces of writing also employ rhetoric in order to get the reader to agree with the view being presented.

Aristotle theorized that rhetoric could be employed in the art of persuasion.
Aristotle theorized that rhetoric could be employed in the art of persuasion.

Understanding Rhetoric Generally

Rhetoric is, in its simplest sense, the study of effective methods of writing and speaking. An argument presented in basic, skeletal form may not be a particularly attractive prospect, but employing rhetoric can make that same argument much more persuasive. There are a couple of ways to do this. Speakers and writers usually rely various techniques such as metaphor, hyperbole, and anaphora to make the idea seem more attractive to listeners or readers. The different uses of rhetoric all stem from this ability to dress up otherwise questionable arguments or distract the audience from the actual reasoning behind the argument. For this reason, students of logic spend a lot of time learning to deconstruct rhetoric efficiently.

Politicians often use rhetoric to convince the public to support certain measures.
Politicians often use rhetoric to convince the public to support certain measures.

As a Persuasive Tactic

Rhetoric is normally employed to convince people to think something in particular, or to take a certain side in a debate or discussion. The main value of rhetoric for an advertiser, for example, are to convince potential buyers that a certain product is superior to those of the competitors. Politicians also use rhetoric to convince the public that they are going to be better at running the country or state than their competitors.

The editorial or comment sections of a newspaper employ rhetoric in order to get the reader to agree with the view being presented.
The editorial or comment sections of a newspaper employ rhetoric in order to get the reader to agree with the view being presented.

A person in ordinary life can also use rhetoric to do things like convince friends and coworkers of certain thoughts, allegiances, or ideals. Newspaper column writers also use it to convince readers to take their view on a particular issue or event. The tactic is particularly common in the editorials section, for instance.

Relationship to Metaphor

Specific uses of rhetoric can be partially determined by the rhetorical device itself. For example, metaphor is one commonly used form of rhetoric, in which two different things are compared by referring to one as if it were the other. Metaphor can be used by a politician to insinuate that his or her opponent shares characteristics with anything of their choosing. An example of this would be a politician who isn't currently in power referring to the White House as his opponent's "playground," to suggest that the incumbent is childlike and therefore unsuited to power. Likewise, an advertiser might use metaphor to insinuate that its product is superior or an opponent's is inferior by associating it with something else, ideally something with a commonly negative association.

Overlap With Other Devices

Other techniques such as anaphora and hyperbole can show the different uses of rhetoric and how they are applied to different situations. Hyperbole is basically exaggeration, and it can be used in everyday life to make a situation seem more extreme than it really is. For example, a contender for a position in a workplace might say "there are hundreds of reasons I'm suited to this position" to make themselves look like the obvious choice, when in actuality the reasons might be counted on one hand.

Anaphora, which is the repetition of a words or phrase at the beginning of successive utterances, can often evoke an emotional response in the listener and can be an effective rhetorical tool. For example, a politician could say "oppression is when people are afraid to speak up; oppression is perpetuated by totalitarian governments; oppression is something we have to fight." The repetition works for the speaker by lodging in the listener or reader’s mind, and helps make the overarching message more effective.

Salespeople often use rhetoric to promote products.
Salespeople often use rhetoric to promote products.

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Discussion Comments


@MrsPramm - I'm not about to advocate for removing laws about libel and slander, or statements about products, but I do think the general public is in a pretty good position these days compared to what it used to be like, even a hundred years ago.

Every time I see a politician make a major speech or a company make a controversial claim, or any kind of rhetorical device used in public at all, there are a dozen or more analyses available online to figure out what is being said, what they are trying to convince you of, and how they are doing it.

A good example is how often I see feminists deconstruct the negative rhetoric that surrounds rape victims. This kind of discussion and analysis would not have been nearly as wide-spread even twenty years ago, because there simply wasn't the means to do so.


@clintflint - This is basically why I don't think libertarianism would work in the real world. There are so many ways in which advertisers, the media and politicians can use rhetoric to slant the meaning of things and they sure don't use it to benefit the greater public.

It's already bad enough without taking away every single law governing what can and can't be said about a product or a situation.


I hate the way that rhetoric is used in advertising. Just the other day I was thrilled to have found what I thought was a cheaper supply of A2 only milk, which is supposed to have fewer allergens and is better for you than milk with A1 (the most common type).

But one of my friends just pointed out to me that the bottle only says that the milk contains A2, not that it's free from A1.

Since all A1 milk has A2 proteins in it, basically I just bought ordinary milk that was being sold for a higher price because the company used specific, misleading words to describe it.

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