Can I ask a rhetorical question

Rhetorical question

The rhetorical question is a stylistic device of rhetoric. Externally, a rhetorical question is no different from an ordinary question. The main difference is that it doesn't ask the other person to answer. It assumes that the answer is obvious. In this way, she can anticipate a statement and influence the conversation.

Example and function

Who asks a rhetorical question, does not ask for information, but tries to influence the other person. Thus, the stylistic figure can at best be interpreted as a question at first glance and its function comes closer to an assertion or a statement. Let's look at an example.


Eva broke up with me yesterday.
Didn't I tell you

The above example nicely shows what this style figure is basically about. The first sentence is a clear statement that informs the interlocutor that Eva ended the relationship yesterday. Obviously, this is followed by a question that is actually not a question at all.

In principle, there could also be: “I told you that!”, Which makes it clear that the question is merely disguised as such and is therefore itself a statement.

The rhetorical question is thus a sham question and basically already contains the answer itself. It is used to make a statement particularly emphatic. The answer to the question is determined by the questioner, which means that it is taken for granted.

Note: That is why the rhetorical question is also called spurious question denotes because it does not aim at an answer, but serves to emphasize the positive or negative emphasis of a statement.

Questions and rhetorical questions

As described, a question is usually used to obtain information and thus to close a knowledge gap. We differentiate between direct and indirect questions.

A direct question (“Who are you?”) Ends with a question mark and can be clearly distinguished from other sentences. The indirect question is asked in the subordinate clause and not formulated as an independent question mark ("I would be interested in who you are."). So it gets by without a question mark.

The rhetorical question acts like a direct questionthat was asked to obtain information. In contrast to the direct question, however, it is not intended to close a knowledge gap and can therefore not be considered a question in the actual sense. It only reminds you of a real question through the question mark.

The rhetorical question is not a question and also does not form a question sentence type. It is actually a statement and has only the question mark in common with ordinary questions.

Examples of the rhetorical question

To illustrate the stylistic device, we would like to give you a few more examples. Let's start with one of the most common examples of the style figure: the first Speech against Catiline by Cicero


For how much longer, Catiline, you willto abuse our patience?

This sentence is the beginning of the first speech against Catiline and consists of the simple question of how long the patience should be strained. There is basically no answer here. The author, in this case Cicero, is saying that our Patience was abused by Catiline and hides this statement in a direct question, which we consequently identify as a rhetorical question.


Can you still clean this up, honey?
Do I look like I'm your cleaning lady?

The above example itself implies the answer: namely a no. The questioned person could certainly answer that he thinks that the person asking the question looks like his cleaning lady, but of course that's not the point. The questioner does not want to have an answer or there is no real choice, whereby the "no" is demanded and the questioned person is almost put in the mouth.



Let's assume that for this examplethat the question is asked in a specific context. Imagine a teacher entering the classroom and seeing that the entire student body has devastated the classroom when he arrives. The rhetorical question from the teacher is not particularly polite, but it does include his opinion. Consequently, the teacher could simply say, “You are nuts!” Which would not change the statement.

Further examples (unfold!)
  • Who is perfect?
  • How many more people have to die?
  • Are you still sane?
  • Do you want to miss this opportunity?
  • Doesn't everyone make mistakes?
  • Who still believes that?

Effect of the rhetorical question

Basically, it is extremely difficult to assign a unique function to a stylistic device. Then there is the danger of simply breaking it down to this function and no longer paying attention to the overall context. However, there is often a reason for using it.

Function, effect and impact of the rhetorical question
  • statement: The rhetorical question is actually a statement. Through the indirect formulation, the counterpart can be influenced and your own opinion can be forced.
  • Neutrality: However, this also means that the rhetorical question is not neutral, such as a factual assertion, but always a little suggestive.
  • rhetoric: In ancient rhetoric, the rhetorical question was mainly used to express displeasure, amazement, spite or pity.