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Imagine that two speakers are trying to convince a group of high school students to not smoke cigarettes. The first speaker says: “As a doctor with ten years of experience treating the horrible effects of lung cancer, I have seen firsthand how smoking destroys lives.” The second speaker says: “Although I’ve never seen the effects of smoking, I hear they are pretty bad.” Which argument is more effective? Why?

The first speaker makes a stronger argument because he seems more knowledgeable about the subject. He comes across as credible because he is using ethos to highlight his credentials. Ethos is a classical rhetorical appeal, or a mode of persuasion, that speakers and writers use to make strong persuasive arguments.

Ethos, No Smoking sign, StudySmarter Using ethos is an effective way to convince an audience to take important advice. Flaticon.

Ethos Definition

Ethos is a rhetorical appeal to credibility.

Over two thousand years ago, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle developed three appeals for rhetoric to explain the art of persuasion. These appeals are called logos, pathos, and ethos. The Greek word Ethos, or \ ˈē-ˌthäs\, means “character”. When applied to rhetoric, ethos is an appeal to the speaker’s own character or credibility.

Speakers and writers use ethos to gain the audience’s trust and thereby convince the audience their argument is the best. For instance, in the above example, the first speaker comes across as a more credible speaker on the topic of smoking, because he has firsthand experience with the topic. Students are thus more likely to listen to his argument. Speakers do not have to reference their own personal credentials in order to use ethos; they can also highlight how their values align with the audience’s values in order to show that they have good and trustworthy character. For example, imagine a politician is speaking at a rally against gun violence and mentions that he lost a family member to gun violence. This shows that his values align with those who are at the rally.

Ethos, politician example, StudySmarterPoliticians often use ethos to highlight their credibility. Flaticon.

Types of Ethos

There are two types of ethos. The first is extrinsic ethos. Extrinsic ethos refers to the speaker's credibility. For example, imagine that a politician who has a lot of experience in environmental policy gives a speech about the importance of caring about climate change. In the speech, he talks about all of his experience developing eco-friendly policies. This gives his argument extrinsic ethos.

The second type of ethos is intrinsic ethos. Intrinsic ethos is how the speaker comes across in the argument and how that impacts the quality of a speaker's argument. For example, imagine journalists ask this politician questions about environmental policies after the speech, and he seems clueless and is unable to answer the questions. Even though he is credible in theory and has extrinsic ethos, he does not come across as credible. His argument lacks intrinsic ethos and is therefore less persuasive.

It is important to critically examine ethos because sometimes a speaker uses an appeal to manipulate their audience. For example, sometimes a speaker claims to have credentials that they do not actually have, or a speaker may claim to value what the audience values when that is not the case. It is thus important to reflect on people's use of ethos and consider if it comes across as genuine.

Identifying Ethos

When identifying a speaker’s use of ethos, people should look for:

  • Places in which the speaker points to their own qualifications.

  • Ways in which the speaker tries to highlight their reputation or make themself seem believable.

  • Moments when the speaker tries to connect with the audience’s values or experiences.

Analyzing Ethos

When analyzing a speaker’s use of ethos, people should:

  • Consider whether the speaker comes across as a trustworthy source of information.
  • Consider whether the speaker really seems educated about the topic at hand.
  • Consider if the speaker seems to value the same values as the intended audience.

Using Ethos in Writing

When using ethos while writing an argument, people should:

  • Establish shared values with their readers.
  • Highlight personal experience or credentials related to the topic at hand.
  • Use credible sources and cite them appropriately to ensure a trustworthy argument.

The word ethos has the same root as the word ethical. This can be helpful in remembering the meaning of ethos. An argument that is trustworthy and credible is also ethical.

Ethos Examples

Ethos is evident in all types of writing including novels, biographies, and speeches. The following are some famous examples in which speakers and writers have used ethos.

Examples of Ethos in Speeches

Speakers have used ethos all throughout history. The appeal is often seen in political speeches—from candidates running for president of their high school class, to candidates running for president of the United States. For example, in 2015 the former United States President Barack Obama gave a speech to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the 1965 Selma March for African American Civil Rights. In the speech, he said that John Lewis, one of the leaders of the Selma March, was one of his “personal heroes.” By personally connecting to John Lewis, Obama showed his audience that he values the same ideals that they do, which in turn makes them trust him more.

Winston Churchill also used ethos in his 1941 address to a joint session of the United States Congress. He said:

I may confess, however, that I do not feel quite like a fish out of water in a legislative assembly where English is spoken. I am a child of the House of Commons. I was brought up in my father's house to believe in democracy. 'Trust the people.' That was his message.”

Here Churchill is using ethos to show that he is familiar with the environment he is speaking in. By addressing his personal experience with this environment and highlighting that he was brought up to appreciate the values of democracy, he aims to connect with listening Americans and earn their trust.

Ethos Writing Examples

Public speakers are not the only ones who use ethos. There are also examples of ethos in writing or literature. Writers use ethos for many reasons, including convincing readers of their credibility and crafting complex characters. For instance, at the beginning of his novel Moby Dick (1851), the author Herman Melville includes a long list of sources that discuss whales. By including this at the start of his book, Melville shows that he is educated about the topic that he is writing his book on.

Logos, Ethos, and Pathos in Rhetorical Analysis

The three main classical modes of appeal are ethos, logos, and pathos. An effective argument may use a mix of all three of them, but they are all distinct appeals.

EthosAn appeal to character and credibility
Logos An appeal to logic and reason
PathosAn appeal to emotion

Difference between Ethos and Logos

Logos is different than ethos because it is an appeal to logic, not credibility. When appealing to logic, the speaker must use relevant objective evidence to show that their argument is reasonable. For instance, they might make historical connections to show that their argument emerged from historical patterns. Or, the speaker might use specific facts and statistics to demonstrate the severity of an issue. Famous examples of logos are evident in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). In this text, the lawyer Atticus Finch argues that Tom Robinson, a man accused of rape, is innocent. Atticus uses logos in several places in his argument, like when he says:

The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence to the effect that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place" (ch 20).

By pointing out that there is no evidence that Robinson is guilty, Atticus is showing that it is only logical that Robinson is innocent. This is different from ethos because he is not pointing to his own credentials or values to make his argument, but rather cold, hard facts.

Difference between Ethos and Pathos

While a speaker uses ethos to speak to their own character, they use pathos to reach their audience’s emotions. To use pathos, speakers aim to connect with their audience and influence their feelings. To use this appeal, speakers use elements such as vivid details, figurative language, and personal anecdotes. For instance, the civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. used pathos in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech when he said:

...the life of the Negro is sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”

In this line, the words “manacles” and “chains” conjure up vivid images of the pain African Americans have had to endure throughout United States history. This generates the audience’s sympathy and helps them believe King’s main point that a more equitable society is necessary.

Teachers often highlight this speech by Martin Luther King Jr. because it is a prime example of ethos, logos, and pathos. He uses ethos when he talks about his own experiences, like his role as an African-American father, and therefore establishes credibility and connects with the audience’s values. He also uses logos to point out the illogical hypocrisy that African-Americans are supposed to be free but still are not. He even uses one of Aristotle’s lesser-known rhetorical appeals, kairos, which underscores the importance of making an argument at the right place and time. Over 200,000 people came to March on Washington in support of African-American civil rights, so MLK was appealing to a big, supportive audience at a pivotal moment in history.

Ethos - Key takeaways

  • Ethos is a classical rhetorical appeal to credibility.
  • Speakers use ethos by highlighting their credentials or values.
  • Extrinsic ethos is the speaker’s credibility, and intrinsic ethos is how credible a speaker actually comes across in the argument.
  • Ethos is different than pathos because pathos is an appeal to emotions.
  • Ethos is different from logos because logos is an appeal to logic and reason.

Frequently Asked Questions about Ethos

Ethos is a rhetorical appeal to credibility. 

Ethos is an appeal to credibility and pathos is an appeal to emotions. 

Writers use ethos to establish their own credibility or the credibility of their characters. Ethos helps writers earn their readers' trust.  

To write ethos, writers should establish shared values with the audience and highlight why they are a credible source on the topic. 

Extrinsic ethos is a speaker's credibility.  Intrinsic ethos is how they come across in their argument. 

Final Ethos Quiz


What is ethos?

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Ethos is a classical rhetorical appeal to credibility. 

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What are the three main classical appeals?

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Ethos, logos, and pathos

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Which Greek philosopher coined the term ethos?

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Show question


Which of the following is an appeal to emotions?

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Why does a speaker use ethos?

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To seem credible to the audience

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What does the Greek word ethos mean?

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Show question


True or False. People only use ethos when making public speeches. 

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False. Ethos occurs in writing as well. 

Show question


Which of the following do speakers use to appeal to credibility?

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Mention their own qualifications

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True or False. Ethos and Logos are the same things. 

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False. Ethos is an appeal to credibility and Logos is an appeal to logic. 

Show question


Spot the example of ethos

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"As a candidate with ten years of leadership experience, I can assure you I won't let you down."

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