Hypophora (Rhetoric)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

John F Kennedy


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Hypophora is a rhetorical term for a strategy in which a speaker or writer raises a question and then immediately answers it. Also called anthypophora, ratiocinatio, apocrisis, rogatio, and subjectio.

Hypophora is commonly regarded as a type of rhetorical question.

Examples and Observations

  • "What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured."
    (Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage. Random House, 1981)
  • "Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't."
    (Pete Seeger in Loose Talk, ed. by Linda Botts, 1980)
  • "Ask any mermaid you happen to see, 'What's the best tuna?' Chicken of the Sea."
    (television commercial)
  • "What made me take this trip to Africa? There is no quick explanation. Things got worse and worse and worse and pretty soon they were too complicated."
    (Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King. Viking Press, 1959)
  • "After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that."
    (E.B. White, Charlotte's Web. Harper & Row, 1952)
  • "How are we to survive? Solemnity is not the answer, any more than witless and irresponsible frivolity is. I think our best chance lies in humor, which in this case means a wry acceptance of our predicament. We don't have to like it but we can at least recognize its ridiculous aspects, one of which is ourselves."
    (Ogden Nash, commencement address, 1970; quoted by Douglas M. Parker in Ogden Nash: The Life and Work of America's Laureate of Light Verse, 2005) 
  • "Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on window sills and shelves.
    "Who are they for?
    "Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we've met maybe once, perhaps not at all. People who've struck our fancy. Like President Roosevelt. . . ."
    (Truman Capote, "A Christmas Memory." Mademoiselle, December 1956)
  • "Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it's the answer to everything. To 'Why am I here?' To uselessness. It's the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it's a cactus."
    (Enid Bagnold, Autobiography, 1969)

The Use of Hypophora by Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

"What is it about the Democratic Party that makes it the instrument the people use when they search for ways to shape their future? Well, I believe the answer to that question lies in our concept of governing. Our concept of governing is derived from our view of people. It is a concept deeply rooted in a set of beliefs firmly etched in the national conscience of all of us.

"Now what are these beliefs? First, we believe in equality for all and privileges for none. This is a belief, this is a belief that each American, regardless of background, has equal standing in the public forum--all of us. Because, because we believe this idea so firmly, we are an inclusive rather than an exclusive party. Let everybody come."
(Barbara Jordan, keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, 1976)

Dr. King's Use of Hypophora

"There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, 'When will you be satisfied?' We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by a sign stating 'For Whites Only.' We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
(Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream," August 1963)

President John Kennedy's Use of Hypophora

"What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children."
(John F. Kennedy, commencement address at American University, 1963)

Bob Dylan's Use of Hypophora (and Anaphora and Epizeuxis)

"Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it,
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin',
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin',
I saw a white ladder all covered with water,
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken,
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children,
And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard,
And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall."
(Bob Dylan, "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, 1963)

Hypophora in Paragraph Introductions

"Perhaps the most common use of hypophora is in a standard-format essay, to introduce a paragraph. A writer will begin the paragraph with a question, and then use the remaining space to answer that question. For example, 'Why should you vote for me? I'll give you five good reasons. . ..' This can be a good way to guide your readers from point to point to make sure they're able to follow."
(Brendan McGuigan, Rhetorical Devices: A Handbook and Activities for Student Writers. Prestwick House, 2007)

The Lighter Side of Hypophora

  • Harold Larch: What frees the prisoner in his lonely cell, chained within the bondage of rude walls, far from the owl of Thebes? What fires and stirs the woodcock in his springe or wakes the drowsy apricot betides? What goddess doth the storm toss'd mariner offer her most tempestuous prayers to? Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! ​
    Judge: It's only a bloody parking offense.
    (Eric Idle and Terry Jones in episode three of Monty Python's Flying Circus, 1969)
  • "The National Space Administration informs us that Uncle Sam's Com-Sat 4 satellite is in a rapidly decaying orbit. That's their way of saying a ton of angry space trash is heading back home at fifteen thousand miles an hour. What does that make me think of? Makes me think of a triceratops, innocently munching a palm frond when out of the sky, whammo, a meteor sucker punches old mother Earth. Next thing you know, that triceratops, along with a hundred and seventy-five million years of dinosaur evolution, is nothing but history. To that unsung triceratops and all its kin, here's a song for you."
    (John Corbett as Chris Stevens, Northern Exposure, 1992)

Pronunciation: hi-PAH-for-uh

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Nordquist, Richard. "Hypophora (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/hypophora-rhetoric-term-1690947. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Hypophora (Rhetoric). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hypophora-rhetoric-term-1690947 Nordquist, Richard. "Hypophora (Rhetoric)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hypophora-rhetoric-term-1690947 (accessed March 24, 2023).