Home » Career Resources » Advice » Commonly Used Rhetorical Strategies

Commonly Used Rhetorical Strategies

commonly used rhetorical strategies

As less and less of the world’s work is done manually, and more and more of it is done through communications systems, communication skills have become paramount. If you want to succeed in just about any field, it’s more or less mandatory to achieve a level of mastery in your ability to communicate.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, in other words, convincing others to come around to your ideas. And masters of rhetoric use a host of rhetorical devices to persuade their audiences to come around to their way of thinking.

Learning to use these devices or techniques can help you to provoke an emotional response in your listeners or readers and to get them to see things from your perspective.

So in this article, we’ll look at some of the most commonly used rhetorical strategies in writing and speaking.

Some you may vaguely remember from high school, while others will hopefully give you some great new ideas to include in your communications.

commonly used rhetorical strategies

The Most Commonly Used Rhetorical Strategies in English


Alliteration is simply the intentional choice of neighboring words with similar sounds in them. While this can mean a repetition of the initial sounds of the words, it can also involve final or middle sounds as well. Alliterations comes in two different flavors.

Consonance is the repetition of a consonant sound, as in the phrase weird and wonderful. Something about this repetition can make a phrase sound right as rain. However, using an awful lot of consonance can create questions and cause confusion. If you repeat a consonant sound enough times, it will stand out to the reader or listener as not random and therefore intentional and somewhat strange. This will certainly grab attention.

Assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound, either a single vowel sound or a dipthong (double vowel sound). In the phrase no one knows how far he’ll go, the ‘o’ sound is repeated. This helps the phrase to rhyme, but also gives it a certain feeling which could demonstrate discovery (oh ho!) or lamentation (oh no).


Anadiplosis is using the last word of a phrase or sentence again as the first word of the next phrase or sentence.

When Master Yoda, the great orator and Jedi, explained the dark side to Luke Skywalker, he used a great example of Anadiplosis that smacks of the Buddhist canon.

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

This rhetorical technique works to lead the listener from one important term to the next, connecting them and building logical steps in the listener’s mind.

It worked for Yoda.


If you want to relate current events to something that happened in the past, you can use analepsis. This rhetorical strategy interrupts the flow of a narrative intentionally by interjecting past events into it. In other words, analepsis is flashback.

However, while a flashback in a movie or book might go on for ages, analepsis can be used within a single sentence or paragraph. Its main purpose is to link what’s happening now to something important in the past. Here’s an example of a single sentence:

He was walking to work, patchy memories of last night’s events rolling around in his head, when a passing van nearly took that head off for him.


If you repeat the same word at the beginning of a set of phrases or sentences, you’re using anaphora. You’ll recognize anaphora in the often quoted Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

We normally just quote the first part, but Dickens was paid by the word!

What does anaphora do? More than anything else, it can help to focus on differences in sentences by keeping the beginnings the same.


This is a pretty fancy word for a specific type of wordplay we might commonly call a pun. Antanaclasis is when you use a word twice within a phrase or sentence, but you use two different meanings of the same word.

Some examples of antanaclasis make for clever quotes:

“Your argument is sound… all sound.” – Benjamin Franklin

“If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.” – Vince Lombardi

“We must hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.” – Benjamin Franklin, again

This rhetorical device works a lot better in writing as it gives the audience some time to ponder and understand your wordplay.


Finally, we get a rhetorical device that sounds like what it is. Antiphrasis is saying the opposite of the thing you mean and is sort of like sarcasm. However, it’s normally used for comic effect to stress the actual meaning. Check out these examples:

My boss left me a tiny little heap of work to do while she was away.

He stepped up to Little John, the biggest among them.

What a lovely short jog this marathon is!

the commonly used rhetorical strategie


If you cheated and skipped ahead, you’ll realize there are a lot more a-words than any other letter. Well, never mind – this is the last of them. It’s also probably my favorite.

Apophasis basically means bringing something up by saying you’re not going to mention it. In other words, you point your audience towards an issue by saying you’re not going to talk about it.

There’s no need to mention his drinking. It would only discredit him.

I’m not going to tell you which airline treated me so unfairly. But the initials are KLM.

Both of these examples are, of course, just sneaky, playful ways to say something yet pretend not to. This is one device commonly used by comedians when they want to get a laugh without having to actually tell you the punchline.


Finally, we’re through the A’s and off to the races! A chiasmus is a statement that flips around parts of a sentence.

You can swap the subject and the object, as in the famous 3 Musketeers’ slogan…

“All for one and one for all!”

Or swap around main verbs and infinitives, as in the example…

One should eat to live, not live to eat.

And of course the most well-known example…

“Working hard or hardly working?”

… which flips around the verb and adverb to create one of the worst dad jokes on the books. Chiasmus can be clever or just annoying. Take your pick.


You certainly know was a euphemism is – but what about a dysphemism? Since ‘dys’ is always bad, you’ve probably guessed that a dysphemism is using a more negative term to talk about something normally agreeable.

So a flophouse is a dysphemism for a hotel, and a dive can mean a bar, while a greasy spoon means a restaurant.

The old ball and chain is a dysphemism for your spouse, and a cancer stick is another name for a cigarette.

Basically, a dysphemism paints something in a negative light, either to point out its real flaws or to make it sound worse than it really is.


Do you know any people who really like to repeat themselves? They may actually be using epistrophe as a rhetorical strategy! Not to be confused with an apostrophe, epistrophe is repeating the same word at the end of a series of phrases. You’re going to be familiar with a few of these well-known examples:

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

“…and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth.” – Honest Abe

I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Epistrophe is a really effective and memorable way to emphasize a single subject or object. Its use can cause your audience to consider the final word you choose in several different ways.


Even though it’s pronounced “hi PER buh lee,” “hyper bowl” kind of makes more sense. Hyperbole is a deliberate and extravagant exaggeration used to really emphasize or over emphasize what you’re talking about. It can help you add a whole lot more feeling to your writing or speech and pull your audience into a feeling of wonder and enchantment.

That’s why you might talk a mile a minute until you’re blue in the face. You can be so happy you’re over the moon and have a smile a mile wide.

the commonly used rhetorical strategies


Litotes, on the other hand, is a deliberate understatement using a negative phrasing to actually say something positive. Does that make sense? I hope so because we actually use litotes all the time in our everyday conversations.

“How are you doing?” “Oh, not too bad.”

We got the job done, thanks in no small part to Rob’s networking skills.

“Hey, that was great!” Meh, it was no big deal.”

So rather than just understating something, we just soften it by using a negative. Kind of takes the wind off your sails, right?


And speaking of understating things, meiosis is a figure of speech that intentionally downplays how significant something is. This is also one of the most commonly used rhetorical strategies in modern politics. Consider these examples:

collateral damage instead of killing our allies

The Troubles is the name the British gave to a period of bloody violence in Northern Ireland

across the pond means crossing the Atlantic Ocean


These days it seems like the whole world has gone meta. Well, metaphor started it all. This is a very commonly used rhetorical device used in both speech and writing to add emphasis or to paint a poetic picture of something. In fact, while common metaphors can become clichéd figures of speech, it’s the use of fresh, creative, and unique metaphors that can really make an author or orator stand out.

While a simile compares two things by saying one is like another, a metaphor uses one word or phrase in place of another to show how they are similar. A metaphor says this thing is that thing.

My girlfriend is the devil. You get an idea of how naughty she is from this direct statement!

The sky is a coat of diamonds. Sounds pretty, doesn’t it?

Life is a journey. Poetic, right?

commonly used rhetorical strategie tips


If you call businesspeople suits and America Uncle Sam, you’re already using metonymy. This figure of speech is a very common rhetorical device. You call something by the name of something associated with or related to it.

In the sentence, “The White House issued a statement in favor of the new trade deal,” White House stands in for the government spokesperson who actually made the statement.

And in, “The knights fell to their knees and swore allegiance to the crown,” the knights really swore allegiance to the king or queen in that crown.

In both examples, a strong symbol is used to represent a person. That’s metonymy.


While it might sound like something you put on your zits, an oxymoron is actually a seemingly contradictory statement. If you put two words together that don’t seem to fit or that make a phrase that seems not to agree with itself, you’re using oxymorons. Here are some of my favorite examples:

It’s a well-known secret.

Night of the Living Dead

deafening silence

original copy

jumbo shrimp


Simile always makes me smile, especially when I spell it wrong.

Like a metaphor, a simile compares two things to add emphasis or make a poetic connection. But while metaphor says one thing IS another, a simile uses words such as ‘like’ or ‘as’ to show a comparison. This is one of the most common rhetorical strategies used in songwriting. To honor that, let’s get some song simile examples like…

“I’m in love with the shape of you. We push and pull like a magnet do.” –Ed Sheeran

“A complete unknown, like a rolling stone.” – Bob Dylan

“Like a virgin.” –Madonna

“I came in like a wrecking ball.” – Miley Cyrus

“Shine bright like a diamond.” -Rihanna

“Like a diamond in the sky.” -Twinkle Twinkle, baby!


A synechdoche is another figure of speech that replaces one name with another. However, in this case, you can use a part for a whole as in 100 head for 100 animals, or the whole thing to mean just one part as in “the country mourns her loss” to mean some or many of the people in the country.

But that’s not all…

Synechdoche can also swap out a category for an example, like when we say thieves but really mean all sorts of criminals. Or you can say an example instead of a whole category, like when you call a human being a “curious creature.”

You can even use a material to represent something made from that material. Some actors still call a stage “the boards,” and sailors can call their sails “cloth.”


We started with A, and what a disappointment it would be if we didn’t finish with a Z. A zeugma isn’t a Mongolian wrestling move. Instead, it’s when you use one word that has multiple meanings to modify or relate to two others so that the different meanings both get expressed.

I don’t know why, but almost all examples of zeugma I can think of apply to the heart:

He smashed her car and her heart.

She stole his heart and his wallet.

They opened the country and their hearts to the new immigrants.

Sigh. I guess I’m just a hopeless ol’ romantic.

Fascinated and Want To Take The Subject Even Further?

Then check out these fantastic books… Rhetoric: A Very Short Introduction, Aristotle’s “Art of Rhetoric”, Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric, Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama, or the excellent The Elements of Rhetoric — How to Write and Speak Clearly and Persuasively.

Or how about Let’s Talk…: A Pocket Rhetoric, American Literature and Rhetoric, Trivium: The Classical Liberal Arts of Grammar, Logic, & Rhetoric, Ancient Rhetoric: From Aristotle to Philostratus, or for a great read, How Highly Effective People Speak: How High Performers Use Psychology to Influence With Ease.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed my in-depth look at rhetorical devices as much as I did. I have to say that I moved heaven and earth (hyperbole) to bring you these precious gems of ideas (metaphor), and it was no small feat (litotes) to accomplish.

These different devices can be used to spice up your writing or speech to make it more entertaining, more colorful, and more emotionally complete. OR, at the very least, you can impress your friends with some fancy Greek-derived words!

Happy rhetoricising!

5/5 - (35 votes)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top