Know the Rhetorical Modes: Beware the Nine!

Yes, I’m a J.R.R. Tolkien fan, so the nine here means the Black Riders or else the Nine Walkers bringing the Ring to its destruction. Seriously, though, nine is a significant number in many cultures, and hopefully we can remember the nine modes.






–These are the building blocks, the ones we experience all the time.  Your day is a story.  Teens are protagonists in a melodrama where “stuff happens” to them. Going with these basics, we can move into the other modes that rely upon these foundations.

comparison and contrast

cause and effect

classification and division

Think on this: For 2,500 years, the rich have been studying these, using these to get or keep power.  Now we are using them.  That’s powerful.  Stuffy old rhetoric is still valuable, still relevant.  The three appeals are Greek (logos, ethos, pathos). Each has advantages and disadvantages.  Appealing to ethos may make one look biased–especially if the audience doesn’t share the writer’s characters and values.  Emotions are strong and immediate, which can backfire–but, then again, so can appearing coldly objective through overuse of logos.

These last three modes involve two things or groups of things (note the and) and are obviously more complex.  Cause and effect, I’d argue, is the toughest mode to master.  Why?  That’s right!  Anytime you ask “Why?” or “What happened because of X?”, you’ll be doing cause/effect.  It’s arguable.  There are direct and indirect causes.  There are ultimate causes.  Some cultures call their god(s) “the ultimate cause.”  There are proximate causes, close to us.  There are effects with these same names.  There are visible and hidden causes and effects.  Wow!  It’s likely that cause and effect is the toughest mode.


Speaking of logic, the last mode is argument.  With this, we deal with appeals (hopefully to logic, but more often in pop culture we get the appeals to emotion or to ethics, which is character and values).

There they are: Nine different modes which writers use in concert, often without an awareness that they are switching from one to the other:

Lego Nazgul (Ringwraiths), by Adam Purvis

What do you make of this very old system we continue to teach and use?