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Updated Jun 25, 2023

Understanding the Power of Dehortatio: A Rhetorical Device that Persuades and Dissuades

When it comes to persuasive writing, mastering the art of rhetoric becomes crucial. Rhetorical devices are powerful tools that can captivate an audience, influence their opinions, and drive them towards action. In this article, we'll explore the rhetorical device of dehortatio, a technique that seeks to dissuade or discourage the audience from a particular course of action. Understanding how dehortatio works and recognizing its various forms can help both writers and speakers effectively convey their message. Let's dive in.

Defining Dehortatio

Dehortatio, derived from the Latin word "dehorrere" meaning "to discourage," is a rhetorical device that seeks to dissuade or discourage the audience from a particular action, belief, or course of conduct. It aims to convince the listener or reader against pursuing a certain path, often by highlighting its negative consequences or the potential dangers involved. Dehortatio can be employed in various forms, such as through warnings, admonishments, or even appeals to emotion.

Examples of Dehortatio in Action

To better understand dehortatio, let's examine some examples of how this rhetorical device can be effectively employed:

Example 1: Health and Fitness

Original Sentence: "If you continue to neglect your physical well-being, you will face a myriad of health issues in the future."

Dehortatio: "Beware the consequences of neglecting your physical well-being. A sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary choices will pave the way for a host of health issues, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Take charge of your health today!"

In this example, the speaker uses dehortatio to discourage the audience from neglecting their physical well-being. By vividly painting a picture of the potential health issues that await, the speaker hopes to persuade the listeners to take action.

Example 2: Environmental Conservation

Original Sentence: "Using plastic products is convenient, but it harms our environment."

Dehortatio: "Think twice before reaching for that plastic straw or disposable bag. Every plastic product we use contributes to the mounting pollution in our oceans, endangers marine life, and disrupts fragile ecosystems. Let's make a conscious effort to protect our environment by reducing our dependence on single-use plastics."

Here, dehortatio is employed to dissuade individuals from using plastic products. By emphasizing the negative impact on the environment and appealing to the audience's sense of responsibility, the writer aims to influence their behavior and promote sustainable alternatives.

Example 3: Academic Pursuits

Original Sentence: "Choosing a challenging major will require hard work and dedication."

Dehortatio: "Beware the demanding path of a challenging major. Countless late nights, rigorous coursework, and constant pressure will test your resolve. Are you truly prepared to sacrifice your leisure time and endure the relentless pursuit of academic excellence?"

In this instance, dehortatio is used to discourage individuals from pursuing a challenging major. By highlighting the difficulties and sacrifices involved, the writer aims to provoke reflection and encourage the audience to carefully consider their decision.

The Power of Dehortatio

Dehortatio can be a highly effective rhetorical device when used appropriately. By presenting the audience with the negative consequences or potential dangers associated with a particular course of action, it appeals to their sense of self-preservation, morality, or responsibility. However, it is important to strike a balance between discouragement and outright fear-mongering. Employing dehortatio excessively or without providing alternative solutions may lead to disengagement or resistance from the audience.


Dehortatio, as a rhetorical device, can be a valuable tool in persuasive writing and public speaking. By dissuading or discouraging the audience from a particular action or belief, it provokes thought, evokes emotions, and ultimately shapes opinions. Understanding the power and nuances of dehortatio allows writers and speakers to effectively craft their message, influence their audience, and drive them towards desired outcomes. So, next time you find yourself aiming to dissuade or discourage, remember the strength of dehortatio and use it wisely.


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