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Literature Glossary

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Rhetorical Question

Definition:

Are you nuts?

Aren't you just the cutest?

War. (Hunh!) What is it good for?

A rhetorical question is a persuasive one. It's not meant to get an answer, per se. It's meant to get the listener (or reader) to think a certain way, to come around to a certain point of view, or to arrive at a certain conclusion.

Somewhere along the way, someone probably told you that a rhetorical question is a question that doesn't have an answer. That someone was, well, wrong. A rhetorical question often does have an answer, or at least an answer that the asker believes in. For example, the answer to "War. What is it good for?" is, according to the asker, "Absolutely nothing." By asking that question, he's trying to get you to come around to his point of view.

In many cases, we don't need to take a rhetorical question literally. They're figures of speech. For example, if someone asks, "Aren't you just the cutest?" they're not actually trying to figure out if you're the cutest person in the world. They're just paying you a compliment. So take it and keep moving.

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