What Is a Rhetorical Question? (with Examples)

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What Is a Rhetorical Question? (with Examples)

A rhetorical question is a question posed for effect. It is not asked to elicit an answer. A rhetorical question is most often asked to make a point or to introduce a new idea.

A rhetorical question is a good way to encourage your audience to start thinking about an issue. It is also a good way to present an idea that might be challenged if it were presented as a statement.

Rhetorical questions are a form of figurative language (i.e., unusual or imaginative word constructions).

Examples of Rhetorical Questions

Below are some examples of rhetorical questions, each with a reason for its use.

A rhetorical question used to make a positive point:
  • Who doesn't love pizza?
  • (This question is making the positive point: "Everyone loves pizza!")
A rhetorical question used to make a negative point:
  • What have the Romans ever done for us? (Monty Python's Life of Brian)
  • (This question is making the negative point: "The Romans have done nothing for us.")
A rhetorical question used to introduce a topic:
  • Who Was Responsible for the Genocide in Srebrenica?
  • (This question was used as a title within a document. The author thought it more engaging than the title: "Responsibility for the Genocide in Srebrenica," and he thought it would encourage the reader to consider the answer before reading.)
A rhetorical question used to introduce an idea does not have to be a title. It could equally be a standard sentence in the middle of a paragraph. For example:
    Sir Edmund Hillary is credited for being the first man to conquer Mount Everest. But, who did reach the summit first? Some believe that Englishman George Mallory, who led an expedition to Everest in 1924, reached the summit first. However, Mallory died on the mountain, and it is unknown whether he reached the top.
A rhetorical question used as a soft statement:
  • Today's Lecture: Who was the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest?
  • (Imagine this lecture were to be given at the University of Auckland (the university attended by Sir Edmund Hillary). If it were entitled "Sir Edmund Hillary was second, not first, to conquer Mount Everest," it would run the risk of alienating the audience from the outset, and they might not listen with an open mind. This is why the rhetorical question is useful in this example. It has the effect of a soft statement.)

A rhetorical question is a cross between a question (an interrogative sentence) and a statement (a declarative sentence).

We judge that the overwhelming majortiy of your readers would expect a question mark at the end of a rhetorical question, but some might not. They consider the statement aspect of the question to override the need for a question mark. Omitting the question mark is not a popular convention, but be aware that some allow it.