Examples of Hypophora in Literature

Hypophora, derived from the Greek words “hypo” meaning “under” and “phora” meaning “speech”, is a rhetorical device wherein the speaker raises a question and then immediately proceeds to answer it themselves. It is a way of introducing one’s opinion on a topic by first asking a question about it.

The question is generally one that reflects common curiosities, objections, or criticisms regarding the issue at hand. The speaker then responds to their own question with their perspective. Hypophora allows the speaker to strengthen their argument by directly addressing potential counterpoints and clarifies their position for the audience.

Difference Between Hypophora and Rhetorical Question

Hypophora is often confused with the rhetorical question – another rhetorical device involving a question that is asked to make a point rather than get an answer. However, there are some key differences:

  • Purpose: The main purpose of a rhetorical question is to assert a point or get the audience thinking about an issue. A hypophora, on the other hand, raises a question to introduce and set up the speaker’s argument.
  • Answering: A rhetorical question is posed without an expected answer, but a hypophora is immediately followed by the speaker answering their own question.
  • Engaging the Audience: While a rhetorical question engages the audience by getting them to think about the implied answer, a hypophora goes a step further by directly addressing possible objections and concerns the audience may have.

Examples of Hypophora in literature


“The Federalist Papers” by James Madison

“What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?”

This hypophora contains a question about the nature of government, then asserts that government is essentially a reflection of human nature. Madison uses the hypophora to introduce his perspective on the relationship between human nature and systems of government.


“The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner

“What is pride? A whizz-bang. What is whizz-bang? A fancy cap. What’s a fancy cap? Curls. What are curls? Froth.”

In this hypophora , Faulkner diminishes the concept of pride through a series of increasingly trivial definitions. Each question trivializes pride further, with the hypophora drawing attention to the hollowness of vanity.


“The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas

“Can it be, is it possible, that Monsieur de Treville is a Gascon? that he has been in the musketeers? that he was a hundred times on the point of killing M. le Cardinal? that he has encouraged and supported us by a thousand proofs of his love and protection?”

Dumas uses a series of hypophora questions to convey his character’s disbelief upon learning Monsieur de Treville’s true Gascon roots. The repetitive hypophora emphasizes the shocking reveal through escalating questioning.


“London 1802” by William Wordsworth

“Where now is Britain? ….Where is that pride which once pervaded all England, when but naming the name of Britain, carried terror even to this globe alone?”

Wordsworth pens this nostalgic hypophora about Britain’s faded glory in his poem London 1802. He uses the hypophora to pointedly highlight the stark contrast between Britain’s past power and its current decline.


“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

“What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.”

In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses this hypophora to posit a philosophical question about the purpose of human existence. He first asks what defines a man if his only concerns are mundane pleasures. The hypophora setup allows Shakespeare to then assert that living only for base needs reduces man to a beast.


“Richard II” by William Shakespeare

“O, who can hold a fire in his hand
By thinking on the frosty Caucasus?
Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite
By bare imagination of a feast?
Or wallow naked in December snow
By thinking on fantastic summer’s heat?”

Shakespeare uses a series of rhetorical hypophora questions to argue that imagination and thoughts cannot match real sensory experiences. He first vividly poses imagination-based scenarios involving holding fire, satisfying hunger, and withstanding cold weather. Then the hypophora format allows him to declare the inability of mere thoughts to replicate physical sensations like heat and satiation. The series of questions invites the audience to visualize each scene before concluding that imagination fails to match reality. Through this hypophora, Shakespeare asserts the power of direct experience over fantasy or wishful thinking.

Functions of Hypophora

Hypophora serves several important functions:

Introducing an Argument

Starting with a hypophora allows the speaker to lay the foundation of their argument in a way that connects with the audience. By beginning with a question likely on the audience’s mind, it focuses their attention on a relevant issue and primes them to consider the speaker’s perspective as they proceed to answer their own question.

Addressing Counterarguments

Raising and then answering a question anticipates any objections, dissenting views, or skepticism the audience may have. By directly tackling potential counterarguments up front, the speaker weakens opposition to their main argument. This also conveys that the speaker has thoroughly considered varied viewpoints.

Making Content Accessible

Hypophora provides an easy-to-follow structure for complex ideas. By starting with a question, the speaker breaks down heavy subject matter into a more digestible format. The question-and-answer style helps guide the audience through nuanced discussions and makes the content more interactive and engaging.

Creating Rhythm

The back-and-forth nature of hypophora adds an engaging rhythm to the speaker’s words. This dynamic rhythm keeps the audience attentive and involved. Especially during longer speeches, the rise and fall of hypophora prevents monotony.

Highlighting Key Points

Raising a question about an important argument and then emphatically answering draws focus to the speaker’s main point. Hypophora allows the audience to actively think about the crux of the argument in the form of a question before hearing why the speaker comes down on their position.

Adding Style and Persuasive Power

Hypophora is an eloquent, compelling technique that demonstrates the speaker’s rhetorical skills. By crafting thoughtful, relevant questions, the speaker can showcase their consideration of the audience’s perspective. The ensuing forceful response persuasively drives their point home. This one-two combination makes for dynamic, stylized delivery.

Examples of Hypophora

Hypophora is a versatile rhetorical device used across contexts and mediums. Here are some examples that illustrate its effective use:

i- Political Speeches

“Will it be said of us that we lacked the courage and vision to preserve our civilization? No! I say to you that we will renew the promise of our country.”

This hypophora from a political speech acknowledges doubts about the country’s future but convincingly declares a strong vision in response.

ii- Advertising Slogans

“Bouncing back from every challenge life throws at you. What’s your secret power?”

This slogan for Secret deodorant uses hypophora to posit the brand as what gives women resilience.

iii- Literary Analysis Essays

“Is the protagonist selfish and immature or confident and determined? While there is evidence of both, her tenacity in the face of adversity suggests an inner strength consistent with the latter.”

In a literary essay, a hypophora reflecting different interpretations sets up an argument for one over the other.

iv- Persuasive Essays

“Are electric cars really better for the environment when you consider manufacturing impacts? Yes, most analyses still show net benefits over gas vehicles when looking at the full life cycle.”

Here, hypophora addresses a common objection to a pro-environment argument about electric cars.

v- Debates

“Is our current Congress effectively serving the American people? Let’s look at the lack of action on urgent issues like healthcare and immigration reform.”

During a debate, this hypophora calls out a weak Congress and sets up examples to support that claim.

Examples of Hypophora in Literature
Examples of Hypophora in Literature

To conclude, hypophora is a versatile rhetorical device. The speaker asks then answers their own question to introduce an argument, address counterpoints, highlight important ideas and add persuasive style. It allows speakers and writers to package their message in an attention grabbing and dialog driven format. The back and forth rhythm and anticipatory nature of the hypophora brings energy and rapport to arguments. It makes it an effective tool for persuasion and critical analysis.

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