Hypophora Examples, Purpose, and Effect

A question with an immediate answer is a figure of speech called hypophora. While hypophora can be seen in famous speeches, it’s also used in movies, literature, and songs. Explore this figure of speech through famous hypophora examples.

MLK I have a dream 1963 hypophora statementMLK I have a dream 1963 hypophora statement

Hypophora Defined 

What is hypophora? Hypophora is where you raise a question and then answer it. Therefore, those two sentences are an example of hypophora. A question was raised and immediately answered. 

What’s an example of hypophora? There are a lot of them out there. Hey, there’s another hypophora example for you. A question was raised, then it was immediately answered. 

Now let’s look at some famous examples of hypophora found in literature, speech, and pop culture. 

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

Looking for a literary hypophora example, you can find one in A Christmas Memory. Notice the question is raised then immediately answered in the passage. 

Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on window sills and shelves.

Who are they for?

Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who’ve struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Charlotte’s hypophora is quite memorable as she talks to Wilbur about life. 

After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.

Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare

In Act V, Scene 1, Falstaff uses hypophora in Henry IV, Part 1 by Shakespeare. In this example, Falstaff poses several questions about honor, working to effectively voice his frustration about honor and violence. 

What is honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what

is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?

he that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.

Doth he hear it? no. 'Tis insensible, then. Yea,

to the dead. But will it not live with the living?

no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore

I'll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so

ends my catechism.

I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr. 

Martin Luther King Jr. had several famous speeches, but “I Have a Dream” is the most well-known. In this hypophora, he’s clearly providing his stance on civil rights. He will not be satisfied until Black Americans are treated equally. 

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

Commencement Address by John F. Kennedy

In his Commencement Address, John F. Kennedy clearly states his stance on his definition of peace. 

What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children--not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women--not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan

Hypophora doesn’t end with literature and speeches. You can find it in songs too like in the lyrics of this Bob Dylan song. The lyrics work to push his theme of suffering with the stark images of an innocent child set against various dangers. 

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?

Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?

I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it

I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it,

I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin',

I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin',

I saw a white ladder all covered with water,

I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken,

I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children,

And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,

And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Movies can use this figure of speech. Explore this hypophora used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The hypophora makes a social statement in this comedy. 

And how'd you get that [becoming King], eh? By exploiting the workers! By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society.

Purpose and Effect of Hypophora

Hypophora can be effective in capturing the curiosity of your audience. For example, in a speech, if you can anticipate the questions individuals are wondering and answer them, it works to captivate them. Think about it. A president poses a question, then after a well-timed pause, they give you the answer. And their answer is typically passionate. 

This figure of speech can also work to bring up new or important topics to readers. For example, Charlotte’s hypophora works to make readers contemplate the reasoning behind why she helped Wilbur. It also makes you think about the importance of doing something meaningful in your life. 

Hypophora vs. Rhetorical Questions

You might think a hypophora is just a rhetorical question. While similar, the two terms have one distinct difference. Rhetorical questions don’t give you the answer, but hypophora does. The answer to a rhetorical question in some instances is obvious like, “Do fish swim?” This question doesn’t need an answer if you look at the context of the question. However, a question like “What kind of peace do I mean?” is looking for an answer.

Hypophora: Question and Answer

In simplest terms, hypophora is a question with an immediate answer. However, when used in speech and literature, it can captivate an audience and get you thinking. Keep your study of literary devices going by looking at figures of speech.

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