Back Student Learning Tools


The Argument's Best Friends:

Ethos, Logos, and Pathos


Appropriate Connotative Words

Ethos, logos, and pathos are persuasional tools that can help writers make their argument appeal to readers; this is why they're known as the argumentative appeals. Using a combination of appeals is recommended in each essay. Make sure to consider carefully your audience and to stress the kind(s) of appeal that will be the most effective with each audience.

Ethos (think ETHICAL Appeal of the Writer)

This appeal involves convincing your audience that you are intelligent and can be trusted. Writers cannot simply say to their audience "I can be trusted because I'm smart and a good person." This appeal is perhaps the most difficult to establish; you have to prove yourself by demonstrating that you understand what you are arguing because:

you are providing

  • personal experience or
  • know someone else who has personal experience,

you are using expert support

  • through extensive research,
  • through up-to-date research
  • through recognized authorities in the field (this will also help to prevent your appeal from seeming too personal),

you are using appropriate writing style

  • by means of professional and strong words that carry appropriate connotations; be sure that you don't sound overly emotional,
  • by using mostly 3rd person. Only use 1st person when providing a specific personal experience

you are treating your audience with respect by

  • establishing some common ground in a refutation section.
    • Find some mutual ground for both sides of the argument by acknowledging that your opinion and the opinion of the opposite side agree on at least one aspect. This is essential in establishing your ethos (or credibility) and your ability to treat the topic fairly.
  • However, be careful not to over-do this; remember which side you are supporting.
Logos (think LOGICAL Appeal)

You appeal to logic when you rely on your audience’s intelligence and when you offer credible evidence to support your argument. That evidence includes:

  • FACTS- These are valuable because they are not debatable; they represent the truth
  • EXAMPLES- These include events or circumstances that your audience can relate to their life
  • PRECEDENTS- These are specific examples (historical and personal) from the past
  • AUTHORITY- The authority must be timely (not out-dated), and it must be qualified to judge the topic
  • DEDUCTIVE/INDUCTIVE- Deductive reasoning is when you pick apart evidence to reach conclusions, and inductive reasoning is when you add logical pieces to the evidence to reach conclusions.
Pathos (think PASSIONATE or emotional Appeal)

    This kind of appeal can be very effective if it’s not over-done, especially if your topic is an emotional one. Because your audience has emotions as well as intellect, your argument must seek to engage the audience emotionally. However, using emotional appeal alone is not as effective as when it is used in conjunction with logical and/or ethical appeals.

    The BEST way to incorporate pathos (or emotional) appeals is by using words that carry appropriate connotations.

Denotative vs. Connotative Words

Denotation refers to the dictionary definition of a word. Connotation on the other hand refers to words that carry secondary meanings, undertones, and implications. For example, if you were to ask a woman how she'd like to be described from the following list of words, what do you think her answer would be?


The answer to this is most likely the word slender. While all the words carry the same denotation (they all mean lean, and not fat), the word slender carries more positive undertones. A slender woman is graceful, elegant, and perhaps even sexy. Thin on the other hand is a fairly neutral word, and it leads women to prefer the word "slender" as it carries the more positive connotation. Finally, the word scrawny brings an unhealthy, overly thin, or bony person to mind, and women generally do not want to be described in this manner. Over time, words shift in their connotative meanings, and writers should be up-to-date on the current connotations of a word.

The BEST way to incorporate pathos (or emotional) appeals is by using words that carry appropriate connotations. Think back to the sample piece for the claims about fact/definition titled "A Case of Severe Bias"; the following is part of the first statement of that piece:

"I am not a crack addict. I am not a welfare mother. I am not illiterate..."

The words crack addict, welfare mother, and illiterate carry strong connotations. It makes the above statement (while already logical) more powerful. Imagine if the writer used words that carried weaker connotations:

"I am not a person who abuses substances. I am not a parent who needs government assistance. I can read."

Notice how the emotional appeal is weakened. Even though the logical appeal is present, the statement no longer carries the same strength.

Always Avoid Fallacies

Logical Fallacies. Click here to see my description of these.

Read more about logical fallacies at Stephen's Guide to Logical Fallacies