Classical Rhetoric: Schemes of Repetition

You like repeating yourself, I like repeating myself, we all like repeating ourselves right? Wrong. At some point, we have all found repetition to be a bugbear. Whether it’s repeating your drink order again and again at a noisy bar, rereading the same line of a book over and over, or your partner’s mother asking you to put your shoes in the shoe cupboard for the eightieth time, repetition can be annoying. So, what would you say if I told you that repetition (when used in the right way) can be a very powerful tool in written or verbal communication?

Repetition comes in many more forms than just the exasperation of a parent who has continually asked their child to tidy the bedroom for three weeks. The best known, and most commonly used, is called anaphora. Anaphora has been utilised in writing for as long as people have been engaging with the craft. Look at speeches and literature, and you will see this technique used liberally; Shakespeare used anaphora in many of his poems and scripts, Churchill’s famous speech ‘we will fight them on the beaches… .’ is filled with it, even John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath uses this technique. The beauty of anaphora is that it is easy to use, all you have to do is repeat the same word (or group of words) at the beginning of successive clauses.

Following on from last week’s post, in which I introduced you to the structure of Classical Rhetoric, this article will present you with a (by no means exhaustive) list of some schemes of repetition that you can use to enhance your writing. Here we go.


If Anaphora is the most common scheme of repetition, Epistrophe is a close second.

What is it? Epistrophe is the repetition of the same word (or group of words) at the ends of successive clauses.

Epistrophe is common in both prose and poetry. It is used to create a strong rhythm and pronounced emphasis. Used appropriately, the rhythm set up by this technique can provoke sympathy and enthusiasm in the reader.

An example in literature:

‘I’ll have my bond! Speak not against my bond! I have sworn an oath that I will have my bond.

Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice


Alliteration is one method on this list that needs little introduction. Alliteration is an incredibly well known and popular scheme of repetition.

What is it? Alliteration is the repetition of the same sounds – usually initial or medial consonants of words or stressed syllables – in two or more adjacent words.

This technique is more at home in poetry than in prose. It can work well, however, in association with tricolon (the power of three). This is very commonplace in book blurbs, advertising, and poetry.

An example in literature:

‘The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.’

Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


Assonance is an excellent little technique we often see in advertising, poems, and song lyrics (especially rap… yes, I am going to put Eminem as an example here.)

What is it? Repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds in the stressed syllables of neighbouring words.

Use this technique in prose carefully. Use to create a musical effect or to set up an internal rhyme.

An example in literature:

‘And if anybody identifies the guy in it, I hide for five minutes. Come back, shoot the eye witness. Fire at the private eye hired to pry in my business.’

Eminem, Criminal


Diacope is favourite out of the techniques on this list, and not because I used to love James Bond as a child (if you don’t get the reference the phrase ‘Bond, James Bond’ is a diacope.)

What is it? Repetition of a word or short phrase with one or two intervening words.

Can be used to great dramatic effect. Often comes in the form of an exclamation in a speech. ‘Education! What Education? All I see…’

An example in literature:

Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

Carry on Cleo 


Another favourite of mine which can be used to great dramatic effect.

What is it? A word used at the end of a clause, sentence, or stanza, and then used again at the beginning of the next.

This technique is used to create rhythm, cadence and poetic effect. Used often in advertising.

An example in literature:

‘Men often hate each other because theyfear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.’

Martin Luther King Jnr, Stride Toward Freedom (1958)


A fun word to say, polypopton is an incredible way to create a play on words. This is not often utilised.

What is it? Repetition of words derived from the same (etymological) root.

Like mentioned earlier, this is an underutilised was to write an interesting play on words.

An example in literature:

‘The Greeks are strong, and skilful to their strength, Fierce to their skill, and to their fierceness valiant.’


The last technique for this post, but by no means the last of the repetition techniques available in classical rhetoric.

What is it? The repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed order, or in reverse grammatical order.

This technique often produces neat and memorable phrases.

An example in literature:

‘Bad men live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live.’


That’s it for this post. I hope you have enjoyed reading about these rhetorical devices and schemes of repetition. Like I said, I am still learning about this. So, if you have anything to add, or indeed you think I missed out, please drop me a comment below.

Another post on classical rhetoric (focusing on balance) is coming next week.

If you missed the first post, you can find it here

Thanks for reading.

15 thoughts on “Classical Rhetoric: Schemes of Repetition

  1. And I thought Anadiplosis was a dinosaur!

    Wow – another superior language post. This is like taking a miniature degree for me. And as such I’ll probably miss all the rest of the lectures and crash out. But in the meantime I’m really enjoying these language posts. Someone should gather all of this up in a book! (please don’t mention the dictionary or grammar guides ok – I’m effortly challenged)

    Now I thought assonance was vowels, consonance was consonants, and alliteration was both. But I am usually wrong about anything nuanced or tricky to remember. Like how you work Easter out. Or which months have 31 days. Or which battery terminal to attach the jump leads to first. Or whether you zig-zag or zag-zig in skiing.

    Hey if you whisper Epistrophe over and over, it kind of sounds like Epistrophe!

    Keep em coming.


    1. I enjoy your fantastic comments! Thanks for pointing that out with Assonance, I checked this over a few times before posting, yet somehow missed that I put three unnecessary words after ‘repetition of similar vowel sounds.’ I have now amended this.

      As for months, the only one I know for sure is February… but then I have to take into account factors such as leap years and… I give up.

      I shall keep them coming, thanks for the message!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh seriously don’t take my word for it with assonance. If I say it’s that way, it’s likely the opposite! I look these things up a hundred times and still get it wrong. Born stoopid.
        Well I enjoy your fantastic posts.
        Oh I filed leap years under “Things I will never know” a looooong time ago. I wrote a poem about that somewhere.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well that’s a first! It’s damn hard to make a post without doing anything like that. Unless you dump it out roughshod, you end up too close to it to see the words any more. Big problem with poems I find. Every one I revisit looks awful. I think this is why they say to rest work before publishing it. I’m way too impatient though.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m with you there. Though I am getting better at doing posts in advance, sticking to schedule can sometimes cause one to rush a post out before it has had time to settle. Once I’ve finished writing, in my head everything is awesome and needs to be published immediately so I can be showered with adoration. In reality, it could most likely do with a couple of days at least.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Exactly. I recognise the problem yet seem impotent to do anything about it! I must say, your posts look very polished though. Good economy of words I think. Cos some of this stuff is easy to talk about at length. But in this day and age that loses you readers doesn’t it. So I think you’ve nailed it.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. You’re welcome mate. I promise this will be the last reply, but before I go I just had to add that I totally messed up my definition of alliteration. Your definition was spot on all along. Like I said – I am cursed with this kind of thing! Consonance and alliteration are so similar it actually makes me nauseous.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mandie Hines

    Even though I read this yesterday, my boss (me) didn’t allow enough procrastination time to respond to it. Apparently I’m actually supposed to dedicate some time to editing my novel. But I’m back. I liked the tie in and expansion on the repetition poetry prompts I saw floating around yesterday, whether intentional or accidental it worked well. It also caused me to re-examine some poems I’d read earlier in the morning with these techniques in mind. These classical rhetoric posts are proving to be quite interesting and informative. Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mandie. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was totally accidental, I had this post planned since last week’s, though I am glad it tied in with other posts in the community. I think it is amazing just how many of these techniques we all use without even knowing that they are a thing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, this was a really great post as I read this, then the one you linked for the previous post, had a really nice time with the in-betweens and got back here and read through again. But I’ll never quite understand it the way you do nor retain much of it however much I try. But now I have this ‘Exordium &narratio’ thing whirring, but at least it isn’t rocket science cos i can’t do quantum physics either but a Brief History of Time is well worth getting back to too. Distraction over then, hope you’re having a good weekend and look forward to your next one of these cos I will remember some of it – like ‘polemic’, that might stick too 🙂 cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you’re having a great weekend too! I’m still wrestling with all the terminology myself, but have a lot of reference books to make sure that I’m getting it all right (thank the lord!) :L It’s really nice to see you on here again, and thanks for the lovely comments! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Cheers Jordan. Nice to see you here again too. I’m struggling to get back to a routine and a lot of offline things to catch up with. Like making my pad look not quite so lived in! I get reader fatigue too soon so that’s quite annoying but I’m finding slight improvements for tolerance of that small exertion so progress of any increment has to be good. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Primary Education is Lacking! A Polemic – Jordan Reynolds

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