Spice Up Any Speech or Essay by Using Rhetorical Devices

If we think about some of the greatest speeches in history, we can see that there are certain devices used to push a point home. These devices give any piece of writing an impact that leaves us breathless and saying, “Wow!” They are simple and effective, if used wisely and sparingly. One or two of these devices in a strong essay or speech will make the piece even stronger. Although these elements have been used in nonfiction writing dating back to Socrates and Plato, many can easily be utilized in fiction.


The first sentence model utilizes the element of Repetition. Transforming a basic sentence into a stylistic one is as simple as repeating a key word. The key word repetition of a noun, verb, or adjective, etc. occurs in a separate phrase or clause. Sentences with a single key word repetition usually occur in a short effective saying to help the writer convey what he considers an indisputable or important truth.

“A friend in power is a friend lost.” Henry Adams

“If your readers dislike you, they will dislike what you say.” F. L. Lucas

“Perpetual devotion of what a man calls his business is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things.” R. L. Stevenson


Epizeuxis achieves a stylistic sentence using the repetition of the same word in close proximity, which emphasize the importance of particular words. This intense emphasis tends to give a sentence a certain focus and often results in a rhythmical quality.

“For to mean anything high enough and hard enough is to fail, fail joyously.” John Ciardi.

“They hire English nannies, if possible, always nice middling women with sensible hairdos, sensible clothes, and sensible shoes.” Tom Wolfe


Anaphora is the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginnings of successive clauses. In this type of model, it is certain that the writer used it purposely. Since its use produces a rhythm in the sequence of clauses, the use of this type of model is reserved for passages where the author wants to achieve a strong emotional effect.

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing-grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.” Winston Churchhill

“Why should white people be running all the stores in our community? Why should white people be running the banks of our community? Why should the economy of our community be in the hands of the white man?” Malcolm X

“It is a luxury, it is a privilege, it is an indulgence for those who are at their ease.” Edmund Burke


Next is the structured series is a Tricolon, a three part series with units of equal length. This device is dramatic and one of the most popular stylistic constructions. Keep in mind, this is so effective, that it can easily be overused.

“I came, I saw, I conquered.” Julius Ceasar

“He was, indeed, in every sense of the word, a wise, a good, and a great man.” Thomas Jefferson

“âÂ?¦and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Abraham Lincoln

When using the items in a series, it is important to give them some order of purpose. The most common order is the climactic one, an order where the arrangement of words, phrases or clauses are written in increasing importance.

“I think we’ve reached a point of great decision, not just for our nation, not only for all humanity, but for life upon the earth.” George Wald

“Broken hearts, broken hopes, broken homes.” Billboard


Parallelism is the most basic principle of grammar and rhetoric. The principle demands that equivalent things be written in coordinate grammatical structures. That is to say, nouns with nouns, prepositional phrases with prepositional phrases, adverb clauses with adverb clauses. Violations of this are serious, because they disrupt communication and illustrate disorderly thinking. The parallelism device is used when we are specifying and clearly stating pairs or series of like things.

“They tried to make the law clear, precise, and equitable.”

“I remember the place, I remember the date, I remember the moment.” Cindy Clark

“He was respected as an officer, liked as a city employee, and trusted as a person.” John Lockwood.


When the parallelism is not only similar in length, but is also similar in the number of words and syllables.

“His purpose was to impress the ignorant, to perplex the dubious, and to confound the scrupulous.”

Since this style element contributes heavily to the rhythm of the sentence, the writer should not strive for isocolon every time they use parallelism.

The Structured Series (four-part)

The four-part series can have units of approximately the same length. It is a series of involvement, which indicate a more emotional, human oriented or subjective attitude. It shows that the writer is emotional and/or concerned enough to add another example beyond the usual three that is average for the sake of making sure the reader grasp and comprehend the situation. In this series, the units may be words or phrases or even clauses.

“Logic, eloquence, wit, taste, all those things which are generally considered as making a book valuable, were utterly wanting to him.” Thomas Babington Macaulay

“London was hideous, vicious, cruel and above all overwhelming.” Henry James

“They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stuck, they will even stand still.” Robert Louis Stevenson

Five or more parts in a series

Although the four-part series is indicative of a human, emotional, subjective, involved attitude, each additional lengthening of the series increases and magnifies this attitude and begins to add an element of humor.

“There is not a more mean, stupid, dastardly, pitiful, selfish, spiteful, envious, ungrateful animal than the Public.” William Hazlitt

“By the self-momentum of a power or a system I mean the blind, unconscious, irresponsible, uncontrollable, and unchecked momentum that is no longer the work of the people, but which drags people along with it and therefore manipulates them.” Vaclav Havel


Antithesis is the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, often in a parallel structure. It creates a tension that is achieved by presenting balanced elements in a direct opposition of each other. This is one of the most popular of the intensifying devices in style. It is especially useful when the writer wishes to highlight discrepancies and contrasts, or wish to magnify unlikely relationships. This device can produce an effect of a truism and can win the author a reputation for wit.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong

“It is the best of times, yet the worst of times: we live in unparalleled prosperity, yet have starvation; modern science can perform miracles to save lives, yet we have war; we balance ourselves delicately on the moon, yet destroy the delicate balance of earth. Young people search for the meaning in life, yet are confused, demoralized, frustrated.” Jesse E Hobson and Martin E Robbins

“The loftiest edifices need the deepest of foundations.” George Santayanna

“Life is a comedy for those who think: a tragedy for those who feel.” Rousseau

“Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my hand and heart to this vote.” Daniel Webster

“Our knowledge separates us as well as it unites; our orders disintegrate as well as bind; our art brings us together and sets us apart.” J. Robert Oppenheimer

Negative-Positive Sequence

The negative-positive sequence is another device that helps to create tension in a piece of writing. In this sequence, the writer presents a two part series in a form that reads “not this, but that.” The negative-positive construction is used when the writer wishes to communicate certainty and at the same time, gives the second part of the series special importance. By presenting it this way, the writer suggests that he is not only certain, but is taking into consideration any contrary argument, so that the certainty will become imperative.

“A tragic writer does not have to believe in God, but he must believe in man.” Joseph Wood Krutch (note that Krutch also added intensity by the repetition of the word “believe”)

“He suddenly saw the fields, not as solid flat objects covered with grass or useful crops and dotted with trees, but as colour in astonishing variety and subtlety of gradation.” Joyce Carey

“Writing is not getting things down on paper, it is getting things inside someone else’s head.” Peter Elbow

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy

Positive-Negative Sequence

High-tension sentences can also be created by presenting two items in a positive-negative order. When the positive is presented first, however, the sentence takes on a certain negative note. This type of sentence relays more of a complaint or criticism. When the writer writes in “this, not that” form, he is giving stress to the negative, the absent, the weak, the unfortunate within the content.

“I was told about missionaries, but never about pirates; I was familiar with humming-birds, but never heard of fairies.” Edmund Gosse

“Reason can dissect, but cannot originate; she can adopt, but cannot create; she can modify, but cannot find.” Horatio Greenough

“The real sources of hope are personal and spiritual, not public and political.” Wendell Berry

With this knowledge of the speechwriters, any writer can add emotional impact and emphasis to his speeches, nonfiction and fictional work. However, it is important to remember, the trick to using them properly is that they should be used intentionally without seeming to do so, and sparingly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

6 × two =