Defining Kairos

Authors. Writers. Books. Poems. Literature History.

Do you have a friend or relative who says the right thing at the right moment all the time? Or, maybe, you have that one funny person in your life who just knows how to pick you up when it is appropriate? Or, maybe you read an article recently that perfectly summed up everything wrong with the world? Well, those are all examples of kairos, and today I am going to provide a brief definition and some examples.


As with most of rhetoric (where kairos comes from), you can define it a variety of different ways. For the purposes of this post, we are going to define it as “timeliness.”

Now, understandably (in a rhetorical sense) kairos is linked to ethos, pathos, and logos (credibility, emotion, and logic) and acts as a sort of extension of argument (it goes much deeper than this, but this is a post that speaks very generally). Mostly, it’s a matter of appropriateness of speaking or writing.

“Kairos is knowing what is most appropriate in a given situation; for our purposes, let’s think of it as saying (or writing) the right thing at the right time,” states writer Kate Pantelides for Writing Commons. “Appeals to kairos in written form try to make use of the particular moment—attempting to capture in words what will be immediately applicable, appropriate, and engaging for a particular audience.”

In other words, there is a time and place for something to happen (a certain message, phrasing, praise, retribution, etc.) and we can define that as kairos.


The example that is often given is Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” but I also recall reading the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” piece by King in a political science course that works just as well for describing a kairotic moment because it tapped into the political and intellectual zeitgeist of the time.

Here are a few more examples:

  • Comebacks
  • Wit
  • Adaptability
  • Anticipation (rhetorical velocity)

Works Cited

Pantelides, Kate. “Kairos.” Writing Commons. Web.

Spacey, John. “8 examples of kairos.” Nov. 28, 2018. Web.