What is Hypophora? Definition, Usage, and Literary Examples

Hypophora Definition


A hypophora (hi-PAH-for-uh) is when a speaker or writer asks a question before following with an answer; the answer is known as an anthypophora. Hypophoras differ from rhetorical questions in that the latter doesn’t provide a response.

The term hypophora comes from the Greek ipofora, meaning “carrying or putting under.”


Examples of Hypophora


In each of these examples, the speaker presents the question only to answer it right away for emphasis.

  • “What’s the benefit of completing the optional exercises? They will help you study.”
  • “What’s one way to unwind after finals? The beach!”
  • “What did I tell you? No shoes in the house.”


Why Writers Use Hypophora


Hypophoras have a few different uses. They anticipate and answer the reader’s questions; emphasize a point; present and answer a question the reader may not have considered; stimulate the reader’s curiosity; show the reader the direction of the writer’s logic; or transition to a different topic. In all cases, hypophoras exist to engage the reader, pulling them directly into the text or speech.


Hypophora Outside of Literature


Hypophora in Advertising

Ads often use hypophoras to emphasize their product, capturing the viewer’s interest. Consider the following brands:

  • Old Spice employs hypophoras often. Their ad “Questions,” featuring Isaiah Mustafa, uses several: “Does your man look like me? No. Can he smell like me? Yes. Should he use Old Spice body wash? I don’t know. Do you like the smell of adventure? Do you want a man who smells like he can bake you a gourmet cake in the dream kitchen he built for you with his own hands? Of course you do.”
  • A classic Tootsie Pop ad depicts a boy asking an owl, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” The owl tries the candy, but he is unable to get past three because the candy is so irresistible he bites into it.
  • An 80s ad for Chicken of the Sea depicts the tuna can and a cartoon mermaid, with the jingle stating, “Ask any mermaid you happen to see: What’s the best tuna? Chicken of the Sea.”

Hypophora in Political Speeches

Hypophoras appear in politics to answer the public’s questions in an impactful, persuasive manner. Consider this excerpt of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech:

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.

The hypophora leads into a long list of injustices visited upon African Americans and King’s desire for this treatment to cease, emphasizing and justifying exactly what inspired him and the thousands of other activists who have come to watch the speech.


Examples of Hypophora in Literature


1. E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

Charlotte’s following statement to Wilbur sums up the novel’s central message with a hypophora:

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.

The literary device helps emphasize the pattern of life, which is made significant to Charlotte because she helped improve Wilbur’s life.

2. William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I

Falstaff views honor as pointless, and he uses hypophoras to sum up honor as a mere word, emphasizing how useless it is for the dead while pointing out the contradiction that one is honorable only in death:

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.

3. Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory

When Buddy uses a hypophora, he emphasizes his and his cousin’s isolation within their stern household:

Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on window sills and shelves.
Who are they for?
Friends. Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all.

Making fruitcakes together allows the cousins to feel close to each other and to those outside the home.


Further Resources on Hypophora


Clare Lynch’s video on hypophora provides additional examples.

Brendan McGuigan’s textbook Rhetorical Devices: A Handbook and Activities for Student Writers has a section with activities for further practice.


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