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The Most Important Rhetorical Devices for AP Lang

Do you feel overwhelmed because you just started your AP Language and Composition course, and your teacher gave you a very long list of rhetorical devices to memorize?


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Don’t worry. I’m going to give you a much shorter list that can carry you through the course and help you excel on the Rhetorical Analysis Essay (Q2). It can also serve as a starting point, a focused list that you can continue to build as you learn more about rhetoric:


The Most Important AP Lang Rhetorical Devices

  • Repetition: Anaphora, Parallel Structure

  • Allusion: Historical, Religious, Biblical

  • Ethos, Logos, Pathos

  • Rhetorical Question & Hypophora

  • Lit Crossover: Imagery, Symbolism, Simile, Metaphor, personification

  • Personal Anecdote

  • Juxtaposition

  • _____ Tone

  • ——— Diction

In my experience, these are the devices that are the most common and helpful for students when they are getting started with rhetorical analysis. This is not an exhaustive list, and you may want to keep adding to it throughout your course!


Now, let’s quickly review rhetoric and rhetorical devices. This exam is testing 1) your ability to analyze rhetoric and 2) your ability to use rhetoric yourself. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, the ability to convince others of your viewpoint or persuade them to act in a certain way. Authors use rhetorical devices, such as the ones on the list below, in order to make their persuasion more convincing and increase the chance you will align with their views.


For example, a very common rhetorical device is repetition, and a kind of repetition that is commonly used is called anaphora.


Anaphora example:

Anaphora example










Anaphora, the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of consecutive sentences or phrases, can help instill in the audience the speaker’s message. This is commonly used, especially by activists, because it helps repeat the author’s message in a powerful way. Repeating the same word or phrase helps the audience remember the key nugget of information the author wants to imprint in our minds. Additionally, it contributes to a strong and powerful tone that empowers and emboldens the audience to take action and create change in the world.


Another common rhetorical device that I think is very helpful and often overlooked is juxtaposition.


Juxtaposition (visual) example:


juxtaposition example








Juxtaposition is the act of placing two different or opposing concepts, ideas, and feelings close together in order to highlight their contrasting effect. In a rhetorically based text, the author often juxtaposes their opinion with the opposing opinion that they disagree with. Therefore, juxtaposition gives us direct insight into the author’s main message, which is key for your thesis statement and your analysis in Q2.


Here is a great example of juxtaposition in Madeline Albright’s first line of her commencement speech from the 2018 AP Lang Exam. She says, “As individuals, each of us must choose whether to live our lives narrowly, selfishly and complacently, or act with courage and faith” (2018 AP Exam). Here, Albright juxtaposes the choice we all have to live our lives focused on ourselves or to live our lives focused on helping others in order to contribute to changing our world for the better. This immediately alerts the audience that as a woman in the Clinton Administration, as the Secretary of State, she believes that the graduates from Mt. Holyoke should live and act with courage and faith in order to help others, not only ourselves. Therefore, Albright’s juxtaposition helps the reader or listener ascertain her point of view and the message she will be elaborating on throughout the speech.



Now that we have gone over two examples let’s define the rest of the rhetorical devices on the list.


The Most Important AP Lang Rhetorical Devices

  • Repetition: Repeating a word or phrase

  • Anaphora: Repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of consecutive sentences or phrases

  • Parallel Structure: a grammatical construction having two or more clauses, phrases or words with similar grammatical form and length

  • Historical Allusion: a reference to some historical events of the period

  • Biblical Allusion: references are taken from the Holy Bible

  • Religious Allusion: brief reference to a person, event, place, or phrase from religious texts or traditions

  • Ethos/Appeal to credibility: means of convincing others of the character or credibility of the persuader

  • Logos/Appeal to logic: a rhetorical device used to convince or persuade the targeted audience by employing reason or logic

  • Pathos/Appeal to emotions: a rhetorical device that is designed to inspire emotions from readers

  • Rhetorical Question: A rhetorical question is asked just for effect or to lay emphasis on some point being discussed when no real answer is expected.

  • Hypophora: a figure of speech in which a writer raises a question and then immediately provides an answer to that question.

  • Imagery: is a literary device that refers to the use of figurative language to evoke a sensory experience or create a picture with words for a reader

  • Symbolism: is a literary device that refers to the use of figurative language to evoke a sensory experience or create a picture with words for a reader

  • Simile: a comparison that uses like or as

  • Metaphor: a comparison that does NOT use like or as

  • Personification: a figure of speech in which an idea or thing is given human attributes and/or feelings or is spoken of as if it were human

  • Personal Anecdote: a short and interesting story, or an amusing event, often proposed to support or demonstrate a point

  • Juxtaposition: placing two things close together for a contrasting effect

  • _____ Tone: the author’s attitude toward the subject matter or audience; always use a descriptor to describe the author’s tone

  • ______Diction: the author’s choice of words; always use a descriptor to describe the author’s diction

To reiterate, from my experience, these are the devices that are the most common and helpful for students when they are getting started with rhetorical analysis. This is not an exhaustive list, and you may want to keep adding to it throughout your course!

**If you need further help, I highly suggest starting AP Lang Test Tutoring now, so you have enough time to ensure you can achieve a 4 or 5 on the exam!

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