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Examples of Rhetorical Devices in Famous Speeches


Alphabetically, by device:


“Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, ‘Give me a challenge, and I'll meet it with joy.’” -Ronald Reagan- The Space Shuttle "Challenger" Tragedy Address

Former President Reagan uses alliteration to highlight the spirit of the seven that died on the “Challenger”. His alliteration captures the audience’s attention and makes that statement more memorable. By alliterating special, special, spirit, and says, Reagan captures the audience’s attention and emphasizes that the seven that died on the “Challenger” were heroes.


“There's a coincidence today. On this day three hundred and ninety years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, ‘He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.’ Well, today, we can say of the “Challenger” crew: Their dedication was, like Drake's, complete.” -Ronald Reagan- The Space Shuttle "Challenger" Tragedy Address

Here, former President Reagan uses an allusion to reference the “Challenger” crew to Sir Francis Drake. He uses this allusion to connect one tragedy to another, but also to show that the “Challenger” crew should be honored in the same way as Sir Francis Drake because of their dedication.


“Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.” -JFK Inaugural Address

The repetition of “let both sides” in former President Kennedy’s speech amplifies his desire for peace and unity. When says “let both sides” for the first time, Kennedy explains that he wishes for unity instead of division. As he repeats the phrase for a second and third time, he adds on that all sides of the word should succeed together in scientific discoveries and other accomplishments. By using amplification on his first idea, he places greater emphasis on peace and unity: the big picture of what he is trying to say.


“To apply any other test -- to deny a man his hopes because of his color, or race, or his religion, or the place of his birth is not only to do injustice, it is to deny America and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom.” -Lyndon Baines Johnson- "We Shall Overcome"

Here, Johnson uses analogy to say that to deny a man because of race is to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom. He compares the two people in order to show the connection between the dreamer and the dead who gave their lives for American freedom. The people who fought for freedom died to give the dreamer rights, and Johnson uses analogy to show that by denying the dreamer, you dishonor the hero’s sacrifice.


“We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.” -Ronald Reagan- The Space Shuttle "Challenger" Tragedy Address

Former President Reagan uses anaphora here by repeatedly saying “more” before saying a different group of people. By putting “more” before every different group of people he mentions, he creates equal importance between all of them and to show that many more different kinds of people will go into space. By having the “more” repeated, Reagan emphasizes also that, despite this tragedy, the quest into space will not stop.


"Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." –JFK Inaugural Address

Here, former President Kennedyuses antithesis with inverting statements, to show that America will not be threatened by opposition, but at the same time, will be willing to negotiate. By inverting the first statement into the second one with an antithesis, he creates a very memorable and clever sentence and which is successful in displaying his view of what America should be.

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“And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's take-off. I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery.” -Ronald Reagan- The Space Shuttle "Challenger" Tragedy Address

By interrupting his address to speak directly to any schoolchildren who might have watched the “Challenger” tragedy, former President Reagan uses apostrophe. Instead of continuing with a normal address, Reagan speaks directly to schoolchildren in order to explain how bad things happen, but America must continue to explore and strive to discover new things even in the face of danger.


“I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn't stop there. –Martin Luther King Jr.- “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”

Here, King uses climax by increasing the importance of his words as he continues to speak. By continuing to add more in each paragraph, he keeps the audience interested and also excited to hear what else he is going to do. He continues to say “but I wouldn’t stop there.” By saying this and adding more details, he builds intensity in his words, which impact the reader on a deeper level.


“This much we pledge -- and more.” – JFK Inaugural Address

By saying “and more” instead of listing more ideas he believes Americans should honor, former President Kennedy uses ellipsis. His exclusion of additional words and phrases not only puts emphasis the ideas he said before, but also forces the reader to think of other ideas they should pledge to. Kennedy includes the ellipsis to keep the audience thinking, and because he tells them there are many more ideas to pledge to instead of listing them all, he is successful.


"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." –JFK Inaugural Address

Former President Kennedy uses hyperbole by exaggerating America’s strength. By exaggerating and saying that America can “pay any price” or “bear any burden,” Kennedy creates an exaggerated sense of pride in the reader for their country. Kennedy tries to convey that America has the strength to press through difficult times, and his use of hyperbole makes him successful. Instead of just saying that America is strong, he exaggerates to say that it can meet any hardship, and while the reader knows that in actuality this is not true, the hyperbole helps create an image of strength.


“Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,’ a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” –JFK Inaugural Address

Here, former President Kennedy uses metanoia by recalling statements he makes, and explaining them. Instead of having read the sentence, “Now the trumpet summons us again – not as a call to bear arms – not as a call to battle – but a call to bear the burden…”, Kennedy adds in the phrases with “though” to show that America needs many things, but above all we must concur “tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”


“The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” –JFK Inaugural Address

The metaphor former President Kennedy uses here compares the energy, faith, and devotion used to uphold freedom, to a fire that lights America. Kennedy then goes on to say also that this “fire can truly light the world.” He uses this metaphor to show Americans that their efforts to create unity and freedom will not only affect America, but the entire world as a whole.

Rhetorical Question

“Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?” –JFK Inaugural Address

Former President Kennedy includes this rhetorical question to call the audience to action. By asking if they will join in the historic effort, Kennedy forces the audience to think about what they are willing to do for their country and at the same time, he inspires them to be more American.


odette on November 15, 2016:

What is this speech called????

Odysseus Makridis from Netcong, NJ on July 23, 2014:

These are literary devices. Rhetoric also includes the study of fallacies. Are any of the examples above, do you think, also instances of some fallacy?

To have a fallacy, by definition, we must have an argument whose conclusion is "sold" even though it is not properly supported by the given premises. Hyperbole can be a fallacy if it amplifies to persuade the audience emotionally to accept a conclusion that can be shown not to follow from the given premises. If, however,the argument is good and hyperbole is used only as literary ornament, we don't have a fallacy.

Do you see what the stakes are here? Literary devices can be used to sway audiences toward accepting claims that have not been really proven! This is the job of speech writers and advertisers but should the consumer of the speeches be lost in rapt admiration of such devices?

yolt on April 15, 2014:

this is useful.

german on February 17, 2013:


Sevara on March 26, 2012:

That is very useful material. Thank you very much it helped me a lot!

maryland on March 07, 2012:

exactly what u 2 said i purposly didn't finsh my test 4 this tank goodness

nick on January 21, 2012:

damn this is really gona help on my essay

Germany on November 12, 2011:

Thanks for this:) i need it for a classroom test...

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