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The Rhetorical Triangle

The Rhetorical Triangle

The Rhetorical Triangle

Definition: The Rhetorical Triangle is a method - devised by the Greek philosopher Aristotle - to explain how to communicate in the most persuasive manner possible.

The Rhetorical Triangle is based upon communicators expressing themselves by means of three methods: Ethos, Logos and Pathos.


Ethos is a derivative of the ancient Greek word Etho, which means habit, character, behaviour. Consequently, Ethos now refers to the character, behaviour and habits of the speaker.

More specifically, it means that effective communicators strive to establish their credibility with audiences, by referring to their past relevant experiences, qualifications and learning.

In practice, it is better to have someone else tell the audience of the fine qualities of the speaker, since, if speakers spend too much time telling audiences how brilliant they are, it can make them sound egotistical.

If speakers want to prove their own authority, then they should put limits on Ethos, and give audiences only sufficient evidence to conclude that the speaker is worthy of respect.


Logos is the logic that underpins a speaker's content. Logic is the method of reason. If speakers want their audiences to believe their message is true, then they must provide reasons to believe.

There are four ways to present good reasons for your views. By reference to:

  1. Observed facts, and statistical evidence.
  2. Appeals to agreed moral and scientific laws.
  3. Appeals to historical precedent.
  4. Painful and pleasurable consequences associated to the application or violation of the speakers' conclusions.

By using one or more of these methods, effective speakers give logical justifications for their views.


Pathos is the emotional component of messages. Human minds possess strong emotional elements, and Pathos is designed to appeal directly to them.
Effective speakers use colourful language, to spice up their content and to make it more emotionally dramatic, and therefore more interesting and memorable.

Pathos can be added by using:

  • Colourful adjectives. "The noble gases are haughty and don't like to mix with the common elements"
  • Emotional adjectives. "Climate change activists paint pictures of fearful futures"
  • Metaphorical phrases, "The Calvary cut through the enemy lines, like a hot knife through butter"
  • Personal discloser, "My favourite Band is Freddie Mercury and Queen,"

Combine Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.

Effective communicators take conscious note of all three elements of communication and build them into their plans. Failure to do so causes failure.

A failure to build ethos causes a lack of credibility which causes the speaker to be ignored.

A failure to build Logos causes a lack of intellectual rigor which causes the speaker to make errors.

A failure to build pathos causes a lack of excitement, which causes the speaker to be boring.


When considering what you are going to say or write, consciously build in elements of Ethos, Logos and Pathos.

Communication Skills Training.

To learn more about effective communication techniques, please check out our Communication Skills training course.

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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