Hypophora is a figure of speech that occurs when writing asks a question and then immediately follows that question up with an answer. It is often related to a rhetorical question, but the two aren’t the same.
There are examples of hypophora in multiple genres of literature, from non-fiction books to short fiction stories. There are a few examples below to give you an idea of various ways that this technique can be used. Often, this technique is referred to as a way of reasoning out loud, just as someone speaking might ask a group a question only to realize the answer as soon as they asked.
Definition and Explanation of Hypophora
Hypophora is also known as “antipophora” and “anthypophora”. It could include one question that is then answered with a single sentence, or that is answered with an entire paragraph or more. Hypophora is also used to refer to a series of questions that are answered in the following paragraphs. Often, examples of hypophora are mistaken for rhetorical questions. A rhetorical question is a question that’s posed and then left unanswered, or the reader is assumed to have an answer of some kind.
History of Hypophora
The word anthypophora came from the Ancient Greek and was used by Quintilian in his book Institutio Oratoria. It is identified in that volume as a device used to “verify the truth of something”. The term is described by another even earlier work as a device that’s used to present an argument and then refute it. The second definition is much closer to that which is used today.
Hypophora or a Rhetorical Question?
These two devices are often confused, but the two are quite easily distinguishable. With a rhetorical question, the writer does not provide the answer. It is implied that they are not actually looking for an answer as it is already known. Hypophora is used when a writer wants to or needs to follow the question up with an answer. It is used less for its philosophical impact and more as a rhetorically useful way to convey information or change topics.
Why Do Writers Use Hypophora?
Hypophora is used to engage a reader with the text. They might be stimulated to answer the question themselves before discovering the answer later on in the work. It helps to create interest and make the reader want to find out more about the topic. An unanswered question is often impossible to resist.
The figure of speech is also used as a transitional element, to help a writer take one subject to the next and/or connect two together. If a writer changes the topic with a question, it is easier for the reader to accept that change.
Examples of Hypophora in Literature
Example #1: Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
Unsurprisingly Shakespeare provides the curious reader with several examples of hypophora. In Henry IV, Part 1, there is an interesting speech in which Falstaff, one of the best-known Shakespearean characters, asks questions about honor. The lines are comedic and are as follows:
What is honor? A word. What is in that word ‘honor’? What is that ‘honor’? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ‘Tis insensible, then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore, I’ll none of it. Honor is a mere scutcheon
This passage is a joy to read. The questions come one after another in short burst and delivered correctly on stage, convey Falstaff’s almost continual state of drunkenness. The questions he poses about honor are serious ones, but he is unable to follow them up with serious answers. His character lightens the mood of the entire storyline.
Example #2: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
There is a wonderful example of this technique in White’s best-known work, Charlotte’s Web. The lines are spoken by Charlotte, the spider, about life.
After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.
These lines come in response to Wilbur, who had asked Charlotte why she took the time to help him when he’d need “done anything” for her. She replies simply, making the thematic point that you only have one life, and in it, one should do the best they can for others.
Example #3 The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In ‘The Great Gatsby,’ a reader can find several different examples of literary devices centered in Daisy’s speech and mannerisms.
“Why candles?” objected Daisy, frowning. […] “In two weeks it’ll be the longest day in the year.” […]
“Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.
This example of hypophora is an interesting one. In it, Daisy muses about time, light, and her own habits. The lines appear trivial at the outset but help to craft her character and encourage the reader to dig deeper into the kind of person that she is.
Examples of Hypophora in Speeches
“I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr.
In this well-loved and famous speech, King speaks the following lines:
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.
He asked the question, “When will you be satisfied?” in order to reference something that he has heard throughout his life. By posing another’s question and alluding to the racism at the heart of it, he emphasizes the broader point he wants to make. Immediately after asking, he answers the question, saying that Civil RIghts activists will never be “satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
“We choose to go to the moon” speech by John F. Kennedy
This speech is one of Kennedy’s most commonly quoted, and one that will likely remain in history books for the rest of time. Kennedy asks a series of questions and then follows it up with a paragraph that answers all of them.
But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
The answer comes in a direct paragraph with the famous line, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Some alternative words for hypophora are antipophora and anthypophora.
Related Literary Devices
- Aporia— a figure of speech where a speaker or writer poses a question. This question expresses doubt or confusion.
- Argument— a statement, towards the beginning of a work, that declares what it’s going to be about.
- Formal Diction–is used when the setting is sophisticated. This could be anything from a speech, to a paper submitted to a journal.
- Listen: John F. Kennedy’s “Why go to the moon” speech
- Read: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Watch: What is Hypophora?