What Is a Rhetorical Question?
A rhetorical question is a statement that is expressed as a question in order to make the speaker’s point more persuasive. Because it is not a real question, but is only phrased as a question for effect, no answer is required, and in many cases none can be given.
People use rhetorical questions often in their daily lives. They are a deliberate form of exaggeration designed to evince strong emotions, especially frustration, angry, and incredulity. "Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately?" is a popular rhetorical question that means, "I don’t know how you can face yourself after the way you have been acting" or "You are acting like such a hypocrite."
Rhetorical questions are a powerful force in literature, particularly in elegiac poetry, drama, or opinion pages — anywhere that the speaker addresses an audience directly and with emotion.
Examples of Rhetorical Questions
1. What are you, insane?
2. "Was it light within light?" is a line from Theodore Roethke’s poem, "The Lost Son."
3. Where have you been all my life?
4. "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" asks Juliet in Shakespeare’s famous play.
5. From another Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice: "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" asks Shylock.
6. "If winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" concludes Percy Shelley’s poem, "Ode to the West Wind."
(View all literary devices)