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English 121: Guide

Modules for each section of English 121

The Rhetorical Triangle

Rhetorical Situation

Rhetorical Situation


Rhetorical situation is everything that plays a role in shaping the rhetoric; it is the principal concept of rhetoric. In other words, rhetorical situation is everything and anything that surrounds and relates to the communication/text. Although there are many, the basic elements of a rhetorical situation are the rhetor, the audience, and the text because all messages are communicated by someone, intended for someone, and assume a specific shape or form.

For example, here is a basic rhetorical situation: we (the rhetor) can communicate with our body language (text) to the person sitting next to us (audience) that we are not interested in talking by simply turning our head away. Because no rhetoric can take place without these essential elements, they are usually depicted as a triangle, with each point labeled as one of the elements, and referred to as a Rhetorical Triangle.


  1. In addition to the Rhetorical Triangle, some other relevant elements of rhetorical situation are purpose, exigence, and constraints. If you search for images of the rhetorical situation, you will find images of two rhetorical triangles on top of each other but rotated enough so there are not three but six points, appearing more like a star, a rhetorical star, to accommodate the six elements, one at each point. There are even images of as many as three triangles on top of one another, all of these multiple triangles underscoring the complexity of rhetorical situation and showing a more realistic representation of how dynamic, shifting each act of communication is.
  2. No matter how many elements are identified within it, the rhetorical situation is always taking place in context; in other words, the context surrounds the rhetorical situation. The simplest way to think about context is to consider the circumstances in which the rhetor communicates to the audience: the time, the setting, the events, the people, the issues important at the time of the communication. In other words, what’s happening when the communication is being composed?