erotesis (rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Cain's question to God (in the Book of Genesis 4:9) is an example of erotesis. (Getty Images)


The figure of speech known as erotesis is a rhetorical question implying strong affirmation or denial. Also called erotemaeperotesis and interrogation. Adjective: erotetic.

In addition, as Richard Lanham points out in A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms (1991), erotesis may be defined as a rhetorical question "which implies an answer but does not give or lead us to expect one, as when Laertes rants about Ophelia's madness: 'Do you see this, O God?' (Hamlet, IV, v)."

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Greek, "questioning"

Examples and Observations

  • "Was I not born in the realm? Were my parents born in any foreign country? Is not my kingdom here? Whom have I oppressed? Whom have I enriched to other's harm? What turmoil have I made in this commonwealth that I should be suspected to have no regard to the same?"
    (Queen Elizabeth I, response to a Parliamentary delegation, 1566)
  • "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?"
    (Edmund Burke, Speech to the Electors of Bristol, Seprember 6, 1780)
  • "General, do you really believe that the enemy would attack without provocation, using so many missiles, bombers, and subs that we would have no choice but to totally annihilate them?"
    (John Wood as Stephen Falken in WarGames, 1983)
  • "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?"
    (Martin Luther King, Jr., "Paul's Letter to American Christians," 1956)
  • "Do you then really think that you have committed your follies in order to spare your son them?"
    (Herman Hesse, Siddhartha, 1922)
  • The Effects of Erotesis
    - "Erotesis, or Interrogation, is a figure by which we express the emotion of our mind, and infuse an ardour and energy into our discourse by proposing questions. . . . As these questions have the force of a climax, they ought to be pronounced with increasing force to the end."
    (John Walker, A Rhetorical Grammar, 1814)
    - "The design of the erotesis or interrogation is 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. Thus, 'How long, Cataline,' exclaims Cicero, 'will you abuse our patience?'"
    (David Williams, Composition, Literary and Rhetorical, Simplified, 1850)
  • The Lighter Side of Erotesis
    "You may think that you are not superstitious. But would you walk under a burning building?"
    (Robert Benchley, "Good Luck, and Try and Get It")
    D-Day: War's over, man. Wormer dropped the big one.
    Bluto: Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!
    Otter: Germans?
    Boon: Forget it, he's rolling.
    (John Belushi as "Bluto" Blutarsky in Animal House, 1978)

Pronunciation: e-ro-TEE-sis

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Nordquist, Richard. "erotesis (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). erotesis (rhetoric). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "erotesis (rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).