Figures of pathos

Below is an assignment I have used every Valentine’s week for the last 8 years or so. Students have a lot of fun writing their “love” letters and writing using the figures of pathos. My plan is to expand this assignment into a Google Doc, with students using Vocaroo or something similar to record figure as written followed by the definition of the figure. This will help me to fit in a little more “Memory” and “Delivery” aspects of rhetoric.


Though great persuasive appeal will incorporate all three types of rhetorical appeal, today, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we will primarily be concerned with pathos, the appeal to emotion.

Below is the Forest of Rhetoric explanation of how figures of pathos work to make up a full rhetorical appeal. Write and craft a love letter (serious, comical, tongue-in-cheek) that employs at least 14 of the figures listed below. Identify the figures in the margins.

In addition to the letter you must also write a descriptive, detailed paragraph about the person to whom the letter is addressed. This will influence how I grade the persuasiveness of your essay.

Be creative, but above all BE PERSUASIVE. Write a good argument and support it well. That’s what you get graded on.

This is due at the end of the class period.

figures of pathos

Although any figure of speech may be employed to evoke an emotional response, many figures are specifically designed to do so, or else are themselves functions of the emotional state of the speaker.


Why are you so stupid?

This use of epiplexis, a kind of rhetorical question, does not seek the information it ostensibly asks for, but is likely an attempt to provoke anger in the listener.

Figures used to provoke emotional response (pathos)

1. adhortatio

A comandment, promise, or exhortation intended to move one’s consent or desires.

2. adynaton

The expression of the inability of expression —almost always emotional in its nature.

3. aganactesis

An exclamation proceeding from deep indignation.

4. apagoresis

A statement designed to inhibit someone from doing something.

5. aposiopesis

Breaking off suddenly in the middle of speaking, usually to portray being overcome with emotion.

6. apostrophe

Turning one’s speech from one audience to another, or addressing oneself to an abstraction or the absent—almost always as a way of increasing appeal through emotion.

7. cataplexis

Threatening/prophecying payback for ill doing.

8. conduplicatio

The repetition of a word or words in adjacent phrases or clauses, either to amplify the thought or to express emotion.

9. deesis

The vehement expression of desire put in terms of “for someone’s sake” or “for God’s sake.”

10. descriptio

Vivid description, especially of the consequences of an act, that stirs up its hearers. (See enargia, below)

11. diacope

Repetition of a word with one or more between, usually to express deep feeling.

12. ecphonesis

An emotional exclamation.

13. enargia

Enargia, or vivid description, can be inherently moving, especially when depicting things graphic in nature.

14. energia

Energia, the vigor with which one expresses oneself, can obviously be emotionally affecting.

15. epanorthosis

Amending a first thought by altering it to make it stronger or more vehement.

16. epimone

Persistent repetition of the same plea in much the same words, a direct method for underscoring the pathetic appeal.

17. epiplexis

Asking questions in order to chide, to express grief, or to inveigh.

18. epitrope

A figure in which one turns things over to one’s hearers (often pathetically).

19. excitatio

To excite an audience, especially out of a stupor or boredom.

20. exuscitatio

Stirring others by one’s own vehement feeling.

21. inter se pugnantia

Using direct address to reprove someone before an audience openly.

22. mempsis

Expressing complaint and seeking help.

23. ominatio

A prophecy of evil. As the term’s name connotes, this can be “ominous” in tone.

24. paenismus

Expressing joy for blessings obtained or an evil avoided.

25. pathopoeia

A speech or figure designed to arouse emotion.

26. perclusio

A threat against someone, or something.

27. synonymia

The use of several synonyms together to amplify or explain a given subject or term. A kind of repetition that adds force.


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