A rhetorical question is a question someone asks without expecting an answer. The question might not have an answer, or it might have an obvious answer. So, why would you ask a question and not expect an answer? Don’t the two go hand in hand?
Well, sometimes these questions are asked to punch up a point. If the answer is glaringly obvious, it will make that answer stand out. Sometimes it’s used to persuade someone. Other times, it’s used for literary effect.
When a writer poses a question to the reader, they can spend some time in thoughtful contemplation. Enjoy the following rhetorical question examples to see how many you’ve encountered in your own life.
Rhetorical Questions with Obvious Answers
Here are some rhetorical question examples that are very obvious, either because they’re discussing commonly known facts or because the answer is suggested in context clues. These rhetorical questions are often asked to emphasize a point:
- Is the pope Catholic?
- Is rain wet?
- You didn't think I would say yes to that, did you?
- Do you want to be a failure for the rest of your life?
- Does a bear poop in the woods?
- Can fish swim?
- Can birds fly?
- Do dogs bark?
- Do cats meow?
- Do pigs fly?
- Is hell hot?
- There’s no point, is there?
- Is there anyone smarter than me?
- Can we do better next time?
- Do you want to be a success in this world?
- Is this supposed to be some kind of a joke?
Rhetorical Questions That Have No Answers
Some rhetorical questions don’t really have an answer, at least not a clear and concise one. Rather, they’re meant to start conversations, spur debate, prompt contemplation, or illustrate someone’s current state of mind. Here are some rhetorical questions that may never be answered:
- What is the meaning of life?
- Why do we go on?
- What's the matter with kids today?
- There's no hope, is there?
- How much longer will this injustice continue?
- How many times do I have to tell you not to yell in the house?
- Why me?
- Who's counting?
- Who cares?
- Why bother?
- How should I know?
- Could I possibly love you more?
Rhetorical questions can be used to make a point; they’re asked without an expectation of a reply.
Rhetorical Questions in Literature
Writers love to prompt further thinking and reflection. Rhetorical questions are a great way to achieve that. Leaving a question lingering in the air will allow the reader to spend further time in contemplation. Here are some examples from literature:
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
“If you prick us, do we not bleed?What happens to a dream deferred?
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?
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?
Rhetorical Questions in Famous Speeches
One of the best ways to include the audience in your speech is to ask a rhetorical question. It opens up the floor to them, without actually having to open up the floor and let everyone speak. It simple serves as an opportunity to pique their interest and then continue to emphasize your points. Here are some rhetorical question examples in famous speeches:
Can anyone look at the record of this Administration and say, "Well done"?
Can anyone compare the state of our economy when the Carter Administration took office with where we are today and say, "Keep up the good work"?
Can anyone look at our reduced standing in the world today say, "Let's have four more years of this"?
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?
Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents' arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?”
When a Rhetorical Question Would be Asked
With all these what-if scenarios, you may be wondering when to ask a rhetorical question. Typically, they’re used in conversations where the speaker wants to drive an important point home.
Making your point in the form of a question is sometimes more striking than a flat statement. Let’s take a look at a couple possible scenarios when a rhetorical question would be asked:
- Your girlfriend asks if you love her. You say "Is the pope Catholic?" to imply that it is as obvious you love her as it is that the leader of the Catholic Church is Catholic.
- A parent is arguing with a child about the importance of good grades. The parent says "Do you want to live here in the basement for the rest of your life?,” hoping the child will realize that good grades lead to a better-paying job.
- Two men are having a disagreement in a bar. One says "Do you want me to punch you in the face?” The obvious answer to that is no.
- A woman tells her husband she is pregnant and shows him the pregnancy test. He says "Are you serious?” This emphasizes his surprise at the news.
- A child is asking for a very expensive toy. His parent says "Do you think that money just grows on trees?” This should make the child stop and think about how things are paid for.
Use Literary Devices to Stir Your Audience
So, the next time you’d like to push a point home or stir up an audience, consider opening or closing with a rhetorical question. It has the possibility to leave your opinions hanging in the air for further consideration.
And the fun doesn’t stop there. There are all kinds of literary devices available to the aspiring writer. Analogies, metaphors, and even onomatopoeias can heighten your writing. Enjoy these Examples of Rhetorical Devices to see which one you’ll explore next!