Definition of Hypophora

A hypophora is a figure of speech in which the speaker both asks a question and immediately answers it. Therefore, a hypophora is not the same as a rhetorical question—which does not necessarily have an answer—as the speaker frames the hypophorical question in order to answer it. Hypophora is often a way of reasoning aloud.

Hypophorical questions can also be split into two parts, the question being called hypophora and the immediate answer called anthypophora. However, the definition of hypophora has more recently merged with that of anthypophora and either word can be used to refer to both the question and answer.

Common Examples of Hypophora

We use examples of hypophora in everyday speech all the time. People use hypophora in presentations at work, in academic lectures, and in song lyrics, to name just a few examples. Here are some examples of hypophora from famous speeches:

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.

—“I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

So what does middle-class economics require in our time? First, middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change. That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement. And my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.

—State of the Union Address 2015, by Barack Obama

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?

We choose to go to the moon. 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, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

—“We choose to go to the moon” speech by John F. Kennedy

There are also some humorous uses of hypophora, such as the following quote from Kevin Mitchell:

Do I get annoyed when people ask themselves their own questions and answer them (rendering the interviewer irrelevant)? Yes I do. Should we allow this virus in the paper? No we shouldn’t.

Significance of Hypophora in Literature

Authors and orators may use hypophora for a few different uses in their works. One of the primary reasons is show the direction of their thinking. An author may also pose a question that he or she assumes the reader is wondering about and answer it immediately to preempt the reader’s doubts. An author or orator also may use hypophora examples to guide the narrative in a new direction, and thus ask questions as a sort of transition. For example, orators especially may present several issues and make a transition to their proposed solutions by asking something like, “How can we tackle these problems?” Alternately, a writer may choose to present questions that the reader has not yet thought of, guiding the reader’s thoughts in unexpected directions.

Examples of Hypophora in Literature

Example #1

FALSTAFF: 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. And so ends my catechism.

(Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare)

Shakespeare used the fictional character of Falstaff in three different plays (Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and in The Merry Wives of Windsor). Falstaff is principally a buffoonish character who is often drunk and is both boastful and cowardly. In this example of hypophora, Falstaff shows his comic nature in announcing a question that sounds like it will have a serious answer, but to which Falstaff can only find ridiculous answer. To his question “what is honor?” Falstaff answers only “A word.” He clearly does not believe much in the concept of honor, which this short excerpt proves.

Example #2

“Why candles?” objected Daisy, frowning. She snapped them out with her fingers. “In two weeks it’ll be the longest day in the year.” She looked at us all radiantly. “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.”

(The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby contains an interesting hypophora example. Nick Carraway is visiting his cousin Daisy, who often tries to put on a girlish and foolish persona in the company of others. She asks the question, “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?” only so as to proclaim that this is what she herself does. She could have just stated that this is something she does, but she uses hypophora to build a brief bit of interest in what she’s about to say. However, the very close repetition only makes her sound silly and her observations trivial.

Example #3

Atticus was saying, “With people like us—that’s our share of the bill. We generally get the juries we deserve. Our stout Maycomb citizens aren’t interested, in the first place. In the second place, they’re afraid. [..] Well, what if—say, Mr. Link Deas had to decide the amount of damages to award, say, Miss Maudie, when Miss Rachel ran over her with a car. Link wouldn’t like the thought of losing either lady’s business at his store, would he? So he tells Judge Taylor that he can’t serve on the jury because he doesn’t have anybody to keep store for him while he’s gone. So Judge Taylor excuses him. Sometimes he excuses him wrathfully.”

(To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

Atticus Finch has plenty that he wants to teach his children, the narrator Scout and her brother, Jem. Atticus is deeply bothered by the racial injustice of their society, and wants to instill an amount of frustration with this injustice in his children. In the above excerpt, Atticus explains the nature of the jury and asks the leading and hypothetical question about a certain member of the town serving on a jury between two women that he wouldn’t want to upset. His purpose of using this hypophora example is to get the children to imagine why exactly Link wouldn’t want to serve on the jury, and what he would do instead.

Test Your Knowledge of Hypophora

1. Which of the following statements is the best hypophora definition?
A. A figure of speech in which someone asks a question which has no answer.
B. A statement that answers a paradoxical question.
C. A rhetorical device in which the speaker asks and answers a question in quick succession.
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #1″]
Answer: C is the correct answer.[/spoiler]

2. Which of the following quotes from famous politicians does not include an example of hypophora?


You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, there is no survival.

—Winston Churchill


But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and our businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen?

—Barack Obama


I’ll just do one statistic on this: From 1980 to 2012, GDP continued to rise, but how much of the income growth went to the 90% of America – everyone outside the top 10% – black, white, Latino? None. Zero. Nothing. 100% of all the new income produced in this country over the past 30 years has gone to the top ten percent.

—Elizabeth Warren
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #2″]
Answer: B is the correct answer. Both Winston Churchill and Elizabeth Warren ask questions that they then immediately answer, while Barack Obama’s question is a rhetorical one. He asks why the USA would let something happen, knowing that they would not, actually, want it to happen.[/spoiler]

3. Why might a writer use an example of hypophora?
A. To ask and answer a question that the reader might already have.
B. To frustrate the reader by posing an unanswerable question.
C. To prove how intelligent the writer is and how foolish the reader is.
[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #3″]
Answer: A is the correct answer.[/spoiler]