Ethos: Definition, Useful Examples of Ethos in Spoken Language & Literature

You may have heard of the technique called ethos, and you may also have wondered how it is used and when. In this article we are going to explore the meaning of ethos and how it can be used within both a literary context as well as in spoken language. We are also going to take a look at some examples in order to further broaden our understanding of how ethos might function.

What Is Ethos?

The use of ethos is to gain the trust and respect of audience by showing that one is credible and ethical, this causes an appeal to the audience and is known to be one of three different types of persuasion. Ethos is used in a modern sense as a way to instil customs and habits into any one group, for example a community or minority group by way of guiding beliefs.

When used as a literary device, ethos can give a writer much more credibility, and this can be in more than just one way. If the writer is penning a work about a specific subject, most notably a technical one, the use of ethos can assure the audience that the writer knows exactly what he or she is talking about, making the work much more reliable and credible. This puts the writer in a position of trust, respect and authority.

In spoken language, ethos can be used as a rhetorical device, which comes in particularly handy during situations such as debates or arguments. Ethos is used as a way to back up the argument of the speaker, therefore convincing listeners that they have a good knowledge of the subject and are likely a credible source of information on it.

What Are The Origins Of Ethos?

Ethos is a word which comes from the Greek language and tends to mean habit or custom. It can be originally attributed to the great Aristotle who coined the term in the way that we use it today. He came up with the ‘ingredients of persuasion’ otherwise known as the ‘appeals’ in which ethos was included, alongside logos and pathos.

In short, it is a means of convincing your audience of the credibility of a character, and for this reason can be used not only to convince readers about the credibility of the author but also of his or her characters within a story.

Ethos Examples

Ethos In Spoken Language

There are many examples of ethos being used in spoken language, this is especially true when it comes to speeches. Let’s take a look at some examples of how this might work.

  • In a speech made by Barack Obama in 2008, we see that he uses ethos to convince his listeners that he is in control of the situation. The language he uses demonstrates this. Here is a short excerpt from the speech. “I am going to responsibly end the war in Iraq and end our fight with Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I am going to build our army once again to meet any future conflict.” You can see that he is delivering a positive and affirmed message which appeals to the listener and puts him in a position of trust.
  • The common phrase “trust me, I am a doctor” is an excellent example of ethos. This phrase is often used in a humorous way to show irony but in a serious sense, when this phrase is said to you by someone you know to be a good doctor, ethos is at play and works perfectly in bringing credibility to the speaker.
  • In modern advertisements, we often see the use of ethos to convince an audience to buy a certain product. Common ways of doing this are to say things such as ‘nine out of ten dentists would recommend this toothpaste to their patients‘ or ‘90% of professional athletes trust our product.’ These sentences give the speaker credibility and reliability.

Ethos In Literature

As we mentioned, ethos is a very useful tool for an author and has been used throughout history as a way of persuading and appealing to an audience. We are now going to take a look at some examples of how ethos is used as a literary device.

  • An advertisement for a roofing company which shows ethos reads as follows “it is evidenced that we are experts in roofing contracting by our century of experience as well as our team of qualified roofing technicians but most importantly our many satisfied customers.” This wording has been used to show an authority in the area and gain the trust of the audience.
  • In The scarlet letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, we see a prime example of ethos in play as the writer uses a character who is trying to convince another character. Ethos can be used to get fictional characters to trust one another and bring a deeper meaning to the story.
  • East of Eden which was written by John Steinbeck features ethos as a way to talk to the readers about freedom and convince them on the writers thoughts surrounding this subject.
  • In Harper Lee’s To kill a mockingbird, the writer uses ethos as a way of giving credibility to one of the characters within the story who is a lawyer and is constantly having to bring respect to himself. The character employs ethos to appeal to the ethical emotions of the jury and convince them that his ideas of court and jury is to be real.


Ethos is a literary or rhetorical device used in both spoken and written language. It is a way to confirm that the writer is credible and this leads to the audience giving them more trust and authority over a subject. When a writer of speaker wishes to employ the use of ethos, it is important that they choose the correct words to have most dramatic effect on their audience, that being said having some expertise in an area can also serve as a form of ethos.

Ethos Infographic


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