Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Businesswoman giving a speech at a podium to a crowd
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Eloquence is the art or practice of using fluent, forceful, and persuasive discourse. Its adjectival form is eloquent and its adverb form is eloquently.


The word eloquence derives from the Old French word eloquent, which itself came from the Latin eloquens. That Latin word essentially had the same meaning as the modern eloquent and pointed to a talent for speaking well. Its Latin etymology points to this as well: e (a preposition meaning out or outwards) and loqui (the verb for to speak).


Eloquence is generally considered an asset when it comes to spoken and written language. The art of using eloquent language in a persuasive manner is called rhetoric, and the two often go hand in hand. However, eloquence differs from rhetoric in that rhetoric, by its very definition, has a purpose: convincing someone of something. Eloquence may be used in rhetoric, but it can also exist for its own sake of simply appreciating and using the possibilities of language.

Eloquence can be achieved in a wide variety of ways. There are some elements or techniques that are generally important. Things like interesting word choice, varied sentence structure, repetition, and logical progression of ideas all may play a role.

For more information on the elements of rhetorical style, try:


Writers, thinkers, and rhetoricians have had plenty of things to say about the virtues of eloquence over time. See some of their observations below:

  • "Talking and eloquence are not the same: to speak and to speak well are two things."
    (Ben Jonson, Timber, or Discoveries, 1630)
  • "They are eloquent who can speak low things acutely, and of great things with dignity, and of moderate things with temper."
    (Cicero, The Orator)
  • "In a word, to feel your subject thoroughly, and to speak without fear, are the only rules of eloquence."
    (Oliver Goldsmith, Of Eloquence, 1759)
  • "Today it is not the classroom nor the classics which are the repositories of models of eloquence, but the ad agencies."
    (Marshall McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride, 1951)
  • Denis Donoghue on the Gift of Eloquence
    "Eloquence, as distinct from rhetoric, has no aim: it is a play of words or other expressive means. It is a gift to be enjoyed in appreciation and practice. The main attribute of eloquence is gratuitousness: its place in the world is to be without place or function, its mode is to be intrinsic. Like beauty, it claims only the privilege of being a grace note in the culture that permits it. . . .
    "[T]he qualities of writing I care about are increasingly hard to expound: aesthetic finesse, beauty, eloquence, style, form, imagination, fiction, the architecture of a sentence, the bearing of rhyme, pleasure, 'how to do things with words.' It has become harder to persuade students that these are real places of interest and value in a poem, a play, a novel, or an essay in the New Yorker. . . .
    "It is regrettable that undergraduate education is already turned toward the professional and managerial skills on which students will depend for a livelihood. Those skills do not include eloquence or an appreciation of eloquence: each profession has its own ways of speech, corresponding to its pragmatic purposes and values."
    (Denis Donoghue, On Eloquence. Yale University Press, 2008)
  • Kenneth Burke on Eloquence and Literature
    "Eloquence itself . . . is no mere plaster added to a framework of more stable qualities. Eloquence is simply the end of art, and is thus its essence. Even the poorest art is eloquent, but in a poor way, with less intensity, until this aspect is obscured by others fattening upon its leanness. Eloquence is not showiness . . ..
    "The primary purpose of eloquence is not to enable us to live our lives on paper--it is to convert life into its most thorough verbal equivalent. The categorical appeal of literature resides in a liking for verbalization as such, just as the categorical appeal of music resides in a liking for musical sounds as such."
    (Kenneth Burke, Counter-Statement. Harcourt, 1931)
  • Sterne on Two Kinds of Eloquence
    "There are two sorts of eloquence. The one indeed scarce deserves the name of it, which consists chiefly in laboured and polished periods, an over-curious and artificial arrangement of figures, tinselled over with a gaudy embellishment of words, which glitter, but convey little or no light to the understanding. This kind of writing is for the most part much affected and admired by people of weak judgment and vicious taste. . . . The other sort of eloquence is quite the reverse of this; and which may be said to be the true characteristic of the holy scriptures, where the excellence does not arise from a laboured and far-fetched elocution, but from a surprising mixture of simplicity and majesty, which is a double character, so difficult to be united, that it is seldom to be met with in compositions merely human."
    (Laurence Sterne, "Sermon 42: Search the Scriptures," 1760)
  • David Hume on "Modern Eloquence"
    "It may be pretended, that the decline of eloquence is owing to the superior good sense of the moderns, who reject with disdain all those rhetorical tricks employed to seduce the judges, and will admit of nothing but solid argument in any debate of deliberation. . . . Now, banish the pathetic from public discourses, and you reduce the speakers merely to modern eloquence; that is, to good sense delivered in proper expression."
    (David Hume, "An Essay on Eloquence," 1742)
  • Pope on False and True Eloquence
    "Words are like leaves; and where they most abound,
    Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found:
    False Eloquence, like the prismatic glass,
    Its gaudy colours spreads on every place;
    The face of Nature we no more survey,
    All glares alike, without distinction gay;
    But true expression, like th' unchanging Sun,
    Clears and improves whate'er it shines upon;
    It gilds all objects, but it alters none."
    (Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1711)
  • Milton on Eloquence and Truth
    "For me, readers, although I cannot say that I am utterly untrained in those rules which best rhetoricians have given, or unacquainted with those examples which the prime authors of eloquence have written in any learned tongue; yet true eloquence I find to be none, but the serious and hearty love of truth: and that whose mind soever is fully possessed with a fervent desire to know good things, and with the dearest charity to infuse the knowledge of them into others, when such a man would speak, his words (by what I can express) like so many nimble and airy servitors trip about him at command, and in well-ordered files, as he would wish, fall aptly into their own places."
    (John Milton, An Apology for Smectymnuus, 1642)

Pronunciation: EH-le-kwents

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Nordquist, Richard. "eloquence." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-eloquence-1690642. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). eloquence. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-eloquence-1690642 Nordquist, Richard. "eloquence." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-eloquence-1690642 (accessed June 5, 2023).