Essay Rhetorical Question Examples

Definition of Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is a question that is asked not to get an answer, but instead to emphasize a point. The word “rhetorical” signifies that the question is meant as a figure of speech. Though no answer is necessary for rhetorical questions, they are often used to elicit thought and understanding on the part of the listener or reader.

Rhetorical questions can work in several different ways, though the definition of rhetorical question remains the same. A rhetorical question may be intended as a challenge for which there is no answer or for which the answer is very difficult to come across. On the other hand, some rhetorical questions have such obvious answers that they are meant to emphasize how obvious the answer to a previous questions was. For example, if person A asked person B, “Are you going to John’s party?” and person B was definitely going, he might respond “Is rain wet?” Rhetorical questions can also raise doubt, such as in, “All was calm. Or was it?”

Common Examples of Rhetorical Question

There are many examples of rhetorical questions in famous speeches. Orators often use rhetorical questions to emphasize an important point or to prompt listeners to imagine the answer. One of the most famous examples of this strategy is from Sojourner Truth’s speech “Ain’t I a woman?”:

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

–Sojourner Truth, speech delivered at 1851 Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio

Rhetorical questions can also be used humorously. The character of Chandler on the TV show Friends often used rhetorical questions as his main source of humor:

Rachel: Guess what, guess what?
Chandler: Let’s see, the fifth dentist caved, now they all recommend trident?

Joey (making fun of Chandler): I’m Chandler. Could I BE wearing any more clothes?

We also use rhetorical questions in common speech, such as the following statements:

  • Sure, why not?
  • Who knew?
  • Does it look like I care?
  • Are you kidding me?
  • Do birds fly?
  • Is the sky blue?

Significance of Rhetorical Question in Literature

When used in literature, rhetorical questions may signify that a character is having a dialogue with himself or herself, and considering different options. In the famous speech from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hamlet begins “To be or not to be – that is the question.” In this case, Hamlet is sincerely weighing the benefits and costs of staying alive. (Note that not all rhetorical questions end with a question mark, as in this case). Rhetorical questions may also prompt the reader to further consider different theoretical possibilities, such as in Example #4 below.

Examples of Rhetorical Question in Literature

Example #1

JULIET: Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…
(Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare)

Shakespeare used many rhetorical questions in his plays and poems. In these rhetorical question examples, Juliet wonders aloud the meaning of a name. She is not asking for an answer, but instead emphasizing the frustration she has that it is only a name that separates her from her greatest love.

Example #2

Yossarian attended the education sessions because he wanted to find out why so many people were working so hard to kill him. A handful of other men were also interested, and the questions were many and good when Clevinger and the subversive corporal finished and made the mistake of asking if there were any.
“Who is Spain?”
“Why is Hitler?”
“When is right?”

(Catch-22 by Joseph Heller)

This example of rhetorical question is meant to highlight the absurdity of war. The character of Clevinger asks if there are any questions, and the soldiers in Yossarian’s troop ask questions for which there are no answers. They do this to irritate the men who are higher in command, but also to bring attention to the fact that nothing ever really makes sense during wartime, and the reality of their lives is just as absurd as their questions.

Example #3

`Take some more tea,’ the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
`I’ve had nothing yet,’ Alice replied in an offended tone, `so I can’t take more.’
`You mean you can’t take less,’ said the Hatter: `it’s very easy to take more than nothing.’
`Nobody asked your opinion,’ said Alice.
`Who’s making personal remarks now?’ the Hatter asked triumphantly.

(Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)

Lewis Carroll used many rhetorical devices in Alice in Wonderland, especially when Alice encounters the Mad Hatter. In this rhetorical question example, the Mad Hatter says “Who’s making personal remarks now?” to insinuate that Alice is being the rude one of the group.

Example #4

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

(“Harlem” by Langston Hughes)

The many rhetorical questions in Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem” ultimately ask the reader to consider the possible implications of the primary question—“what happens to a dream deferred?” The reader may consider dreams deferred in his or her own life and compare the different metaphors with their own experiences.

Example #5

That spring, in the bustle of grooming
and riding and shoeing, I remember I let him go
to a neighbor I thought was a friend, and the following  
fall she sold him down the river.
Oh Jack, tethered in what rough stall alone
did you remember that one good winter?

(“Jack” by Maxine Kumin)

Maxine Kumin’s poem “Jack” concerns a horse she once owned. The poem describes a winter in which Jack, the horse, had everything he could want—warm stables, plenty of food. The final line of the poem in which Kumin asks, “did you remember that one good winter?” is tragic in that it shows her grief and remorse for letting him go. She is asking this question only to try to bring comfort to herself.

Test Your Knowledge of Rhetorical Question

1. Which of the following statements is the best rhetorical question definition?
A. A figure of speech for which no answer is necessary.
B. A falsehood meant to confuse the reader or listener.
C. A question for which there are numerous answers.

Answer to Question #1Show

Answer: A is correct.

What is the function of the following rhetorical question from Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18”?

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

A. Shakespeare wasn’t sure if a summer’s day was an appropriate comparison, and wanted validation that it would be a good metaphor.
B. This first line of the sonnet proposes a possible metaphor for the author’s beloved, and the rest of the sonnet carries out the implications of this possibility.
C. The lover described in the poem is so clearly the opposite of a summer day that the comparison is laughable.

Answer to Question #2Show

Answer: B is correct.

3. Which of the questions in this dialogue from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a rhetorical question?

What did they draw?’ said Alice, quite forgetting her promise.
`Treacle,’ said the Dormouse, without considering at all this time.
Alice did not wish to offend the Dormouse again, so she began very cautiously: `But I don’t understand. Where did they draw the treacle from?’
`You can draw water out of a water-well,’ said the Hatter; `so I should think you could draw treacle out of a treacle-well—eh, stupid?’

A. “What did they draw?”
B. “Where did they draw the treacle from?”
C. “Eh, stupid?”

Answer to Question #3Show

Answer: C is the correct answer. Alice’s two questions are both in earnest, as she wants to know the answer. The Mad Hatter’s rhetorical question is only meant to infuriate Alice.

Searching for Rhetorical Questions? Read on and find some interesting examples.

Figures of Speech : Rhetorical Questions Examples

Rhetorical Questions Examples

"Is the Pope Catholic?" It is easy not to see any sense when someone asks you a question like this. You might have come across many such questions in your casual conversation. However, these questions are recognized by English language and are grouped under the category of rhetorical questions. In simple words, rhetorical questions are those, which do not expect any answer from you. They are just used to provoke your thoughts. In some cases, it can be used to poke fun as well. Just think, how you will answer if someone asks you "Do your parents know that you are a dump? As a part of figures of speech, rhetoric questions have its own importance in language and literature. Though it might appear to be senseless and irrelevant, it nevertheless helps make any conversation lively and funny. Rhetorical questions are often used as a tool in a debate to avoid getting into immediate declaration. Again, it is also employed to put forward one's point i.e. a tentative statement in disguise of a question. Read on and find some interesting examples for rhetorical questions.

Examples of Rhetoric Questions

Common Rhetorical Questions

  • "If your friend jumped off the bridge would you do it too?"
  • "You don't think I'm that stupid, do you?"
  • "Are you kids still awake?"
  • "Who let the dogs out?"
  • "What is so rare as a day in June?"
  • "How did that idiot ever get elected?"
  • "What business is it of yours?"
  • "Aren't you ashamed of yourself?
  • "You're not really going to wear that, are you?"
  • "Are you stupid?"
  • "You don't expect me to go along with that crazy scheme, do you?"
  • "How much longer must our people endure this injustice?"
  • "Can you do anything right?"
  • "Is the sky blue?"
  • "Is the Pope Catholic?"
  • "Does a bear shit in the woods?"
  • "Yeah, why not?"
  • "What the hell?"
  • "The butler did it, or did he?"
  • "It is near not a good place to visit. Is it?"
  • "You are ashamed, aren't you?"
  • "You were at the scene of the crime, correct?"
  • "How corrupt is the government?"
  • "If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?"
  • "Are you kidding?"
  • "Why do I even bother?"
  • "Smoking causes lung cancer. Who knew?"
  • "Where are all the flowers gone?"
  • "What is so rare as a day in June?"
  • "Who's afraid of Virginia Wolf?"
  • "Would you like to swing on a star?"
  • "What shall we do with a drunken sailor?"
  • "What defense to the homeless has, if the government will not protect them?"
  • "How stupid is this new filing system we have?"
  • "Are you sure?"

Examples Of Rhetoric Questions From Literature

  • "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" - From Shakespeare's Sonnet No.18.
  • If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? - From 'The Merchant of Venice' by Shakespeare.
  • Mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low?
    Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
    Shrunk to this little measure? - From 'Julius Caesar' by Shakespeare.
  • Here was a Caesar! when comes such another? - From 'Julius Caesar' by Shakespeare.

Rhetorical Questions As Metaphors

  • "How do you solve a problem? Like Maria?"
  • "How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?"
  • "How do you keep a wave upon the sand?"

Funny Rhetoric Questions

  • "If a cow laughed real hard, would milk come out her nose?"
  • "If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?"
  • "Why are cigarettes sold in gas stations when smoking is prohibited there?"
  • "Why are there locks on the doors to the convenience store that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year?"
  • "Why do they call them apartments when they are all stuck together?"
  • "Why do you need a driver's license to buy liquor when you cannot drink and drive? And why do bars have parking lots?"
  • "Why do flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?"
  • "Why isn't "phonetic" spelled the way it sounds?"
  • "Why does Teflon stick to the frying pan, since nothing ever sticks to Teflon?"
  • "Crime doesn't pay... does that mean my job is a crime?"
  • "Do hummingbirds hum because they don't know the words?"
  • "Do pilots take crash-courses?"
  • "Can you cry under water?"
  • "What happened to Old Zealand? Does a man-eating shark eat women, too?"
  • "Why are highways build so close to the ground?"
  • "Can you cry under water?"
  • "Why do they call it 'life' insurance?"
  • "Why do we call them restrooms when no one goes there to rest?"
  • "If an African elephant comes to America, is it an African-American elephant?"
  • "Crime doesn't pay... does that mean my job is a crime?"
  • "Do fish get thirsty?"
  • "Do hummingbirds hum because they don't know the words?"
  • "How do you get off a nonstop flight?"
  • "If you pamper a cow, do you get spoiled milk?"
  • "Why do your feet smell and your nose runs?"
  • "Why do they call someone "late" if they died early?"
  • "Why don't they call mustaches "mouthbrows??"
  • "Do Man-eater shark eat women too?"
  • "Why do overlook and oversee mean opposite things?"
  • "Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?"
  • "Why is it called 'after dark', when it is really after light?"
  • "Can good looking Eskimo girls be called hot?"
  • "If the day before a holiday is called Christmas Eve, is the day after Christmas Adam?"
  • "Did Noah have woodpeckers on the ark? If he did, where did he keep them?"

Above mentioned were some examples for rhetoric questions. You might have come across many of them or used them in your day-to-day conversation. It is just the matter of understanding the concept and you will be easily able to identify them. Hope this article helped you understand this figure of speech better.

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