Rhetorical questions

August 3, 2011pdf

Rhetorical questions are those questions that do not expect an answer. These are used simply as a way of drawing attention to something.

Study the following sentences:

  • Do you know what time it is? (Meaning: You are late.)
  • ‘I can’t find my glasses.’ ‘What is this, then?’ (Meaning: Here it is, stupid.)

A rhetorical question is sometimes used to draw attention to a negative situation.

  • What is the use of asking her? (Meaning: It is no use asking her.)
  • ‘I can sing better than you.’ ‘Who cares?’ (= Nobody cares.)
  • ‘Have you lost your tongue?’ (= Why don’t you say anything?)
  • ‘Who do you think you are?’ (= You are not as important as you think.)

Questions beginning with ‘how’ or ‘why should’ can be used to reject suggestions or requests.

  • ‘She is really upset with you?’ ‘Why should I care?’
  • ‘Would she help us?’ ‘Why should she?’

The question ‘How should I know?’ (In American English: ‘How would I know?’) can be used as an aggressive reply to a question.

  • ‘What time does the train arrive?’ ‘How should I know?’

Negative yes/no questions are sometimes used to draw attention to a positive situation.

  • ‘Didn’t I tell you she would come?’ (= I told you that she would come.)
  • ‘Haven’t we had enough troubles?’ (= We have had enough troubles.)
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