Rhetorical Devices: Erotema

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Device: Erotema

Origin: From the Greek ερωτημα (erotema), meaning “question”.

In plain English: A question that is asked without expecting an answer because the answer is strongly implied; a rhetorical question.


  • In Composition, Literary and Rhetorical, Simplified (1850), David Williams states that a rhetorical question is designed “to awaken attention to the subject of discourse, and is a mode of address admirably calculated to produce a powerful impression of the truth of a subject, as it challenges the impossibility of contradiction.”
  • A well-structured erotema will lead the audience to the conclusion that the speaker wants them to reach.


  • Erotema is similar to hypophora except that, in the case of the latter, the speaker answers his own question.
  • While rhetorical questions should not be overused in a speech, two or three can be strung together in rapid succession for added effect.
  • Erotema can be used as a direct challenge to someone. (See the quote from Cicero.)
  • Erotema is also known as erotesis.


How long, O Catiline, will you abuse our patience? And for how long will that madness of yours mock us? To what end will your unbridled audacity hurl itself?

— Cicero, 63 B.C.

Was I an Irishman on that day that I boldly withstood our pride? Or on the day that I hung down my head and wept in shame and silence over the humiliation of Great Britain?  I became unpopular in England for the one, and in Ireland for the other.  What then?  What obligation lay on me to be popular?

— Edmund Burke, Speech to the Electors of Bristol,  6 September 1780


“Another thing that disturbs me about the American church is that you have a white church and a Negro church. How can segregation exist in the true Body of Christ?

— Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., 1956


Isn’t that incredible?” … “Want to see that again?” … “Pretty cool, huh?

— Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007 Keynote Address, speaking about the iPhone


“Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution?

—  H. L. Mencken


Lisa Simpson and her grandmother (singing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”): “How many roads must a man walk down, before you can call him a man?”

Homer Simpson: “Seven!”

Lisa: “No, Dad, it’s a rhetorical question.”

Homer: “Rhetorical, eh? … Eight!”

Lisa: “Dad, do you even know what ‘rhetorical’ means?”

Homer: “Do I know what ‘rhetorical’ means?

— Homer Simpson, The Simpsons


“All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a freshwater system and public health … what have the Romans ever done for us?

— Monty Python, Life of Brian (1979)


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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5 Responses to Rhetorical Devices: Erotema

  1. Cleo Pindar says:

    Do you not think it is the same device as erotesis?

  2. Pingback: Analysis of a speech by Khizr Khan | Manner of Speaking

  3. Jerzy says:

    Isn’t this just another great article by John?
    (Sorry, couldn’t resist. 🙂 )

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