Is there a name for the rhetorical device whereby you ask a question and then list the rejected answers? For example:

"What was it then? It wasn't x, nor y, nor z. No, in fact it was . . .."

The Cicero De Imperio passage is as follows:

How was it, do you suppose, that he was able to display that excessive rapidity, and to perform that incredible voyage? For it was no unexampled number of rowers, no hitherto unknown skill in navigation, no new winds, which bore him so swiftly to the most distant lands; but those circumstances which are wont to delay other men did not delay him. No avarice turned him aside from his intended route in pursuit of some plunder or other; no lust led him away in pursuit of pleasure; no luxury allured him to seek its delights; the illustrious reputation of no city tempted him to make its acquaintance;

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    Depends on what the variables are, and in which order. Could be e.g. a paradiastole, or an auxesis, or something else, or all of the above.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 15:27
  • A good example for what I'm talking about is Cicero, De Imperio, section 40, last half of paragraph. Fine the English if you don't know Latin, it will be evident in both languages.
    – Will Croft
    Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 15:57
  • If you have that passage, why don't you incorporate it into your question? It will make answering much better. Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 16:22
  • As with many figures, it's hard to know where one leaves off and another begins. They comprise a mélange of several figures. So it is with Cicero's extended figure. In addition to RegDwigHt's paradistole and auxesis, there's also an element of climax (gradatio), simple repetition ("no . . . no . . . no . . . no) and perhaps others. Operationally, the device functions to refute other possible--but incorrect--theories about how the person in question was able to perform his "incredible voyage." It also serves to delimit "all" possible theories, both incorrect and, of course, THE correct one! Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 17:21

1 Answer 1


From rhetoric.byu, apophasis means “The rejection of several reasons why a thing should or should not be done and affirming a single one, considered most valid”. Of rhetorical terms I've seen, this term is closest in sense to what the question asks for.

Note, however, that rhetoric.byu's definition conflicts (or, at least, gives a different sense) with wikipedia's Apophasis article, which says “Apophasis ... is a rhetorical device wherein the speaker or writer brings up a subject by either denying it, or denying that it should be brought up.”

The terms paradiastole and auxesis (and also epiploce) seem less relevant, as they don't indicate rejection of several alternatives followed by acceptance of another.

However, prolepsis (“a rhetorical device by which objections are anticipated and answered in advance”, Collins) and synchoresis (“(rhetoric) A concession made for the purpose of retorting with greater force”, wiktionary) seem relevant. Also see procatalepsis (“Refuting anticipated objections”, rhetoric.byu), anthypophora (“A figure of reasoning in which one asks and then immediately answers one's own questions (or raises and then settles imaginary objections)”), and expeditio (“After enumerating all possibilities by which something could have occurred, the speaker eliminates all but one (=apophasis)”, rhetoric.byu).

  • +1 for a well-written, comprehensive answer. // Note that the relevant WikiProjects have rated the Apophasis article as 'Start Class', so I wouldn't consider it authoritative. Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 1:50

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