Rhetorical question

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The rhetorical question is considered a stylistic device of rhetoric . Rhetorical questions do not serve to gain information, but are linguistic means of influencing. Semantically , rhetorical questions are close to the assertions.

The questioner does not expect an (informative) answer to a rhetorical question, but rather the reinforcing effect of his statement. The speaker expresses his own opinion through the rhetorical question. The rhetorical question becomes recognizable through the context and the emphasis. The answer to a rhetorical question is therefore approval or rejection, but not the transfer of information.


Rhetorical questions are often used in lectures in order to strengthen the attention of the audience or to provoke them to a certain extent during long presentations. The rhetorical question is often used in discussions and dialogues to reinforce arguments. In factual discussions, rhetorical questions can reinforce unobjective arguments (e.g. "Don't you want to understand?").


A classic example of a rhetorical question is the beginning of the first speech against Catiline by Cicero : Quousque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra? ("How much longer, Catiline, will you abuse our patience?")

Further examples:

  • "Didn't I tell you?" (Emphasis on "have")
  • "Who's perfect?"
  • "Do you want to let the unique chance slip by?"
  • "Aren't we all making mistakes?"
  • "Are you stupid?"
  • "Are you still in your head?"
  • "How many more people have to die?"
  • "Are you serious?"
  • "Do you think I want to lose?"

Another rhetorical figure in the form of a question is dialogism .

Linguistic research

Linguistic interest in rhetorical questions has existed since the early 1980s. A prerequisite for researching the phenomenon was the establishment of linguistic pragmatics . Jörg Meibauer's fundamental work Rhetorical Questions from 1986 is the most extensive and comprehensive representation to this day. In a master's thesis from 2007, Sascha Bechmann examines rhetorical questions in the context of speech act theory and proves that these are indirect assertions.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: rhetorical question  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Jörg Meibauer: Rhetorical questions. Niemeyer Max Verlag GmbH, 1986, ISBN 3-484-30167-8 .
  2. ^ Sascha Bechmann: Rhetorical questions. Master's thesis, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, 2007 ( PDF)