Definition and Examples of Repetition in Writing

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

(Cristian Baitg/Getty Images)

Repetition is an instance of using a word, phrase, or clause more than once in a short passage—dwelling on a point.

Needless or unintentional repetition (a tautology or pleonasm) is a kind of clutter that may distract or bore a reader. (The baseless fear of repetition is humorously called monologophobia.) 

Used deliberately, repetition can be an effective rhetorical strategy for achieving emphasis.

Types of Rhetorical Repetition With Examples

  • Anadiplosis
    Repetition of the last word of one line or clause to begin the next.
    "My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
    And every tongue brings in a several tale,
    And every tale condemns me for a villain."
    (William Shakespeare, "Richard III")
  • Anaphora
    Repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses.
    "I want her to live. I want her to breathe. I want her to aerobicize."
    ("Weird Science," 1985)
  • Antistasis
    Repetition of a word in a different or contrary sense.
    "A kleptomaniac is a person who helps himself because he can't help himself."
    (Henry Morgan)
  • Commoratio
    Emphasizing a point by repeating it several times in different words.
    "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space."
    (Douglass Adams, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," 1979)
  • Diacope
    Repetition that is broken up by one or more intervening words.
    "A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
    And no one can talk to a horse of course
    That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mister Ed."
    (Theme song of 1960s TV program "Mr. Ed")
  • Epanalepsis
    Repetition at the end of a clause or sentence of the word or phrase with which it began.
    "Swallow, my sister, O sister swallow,
    How can thine heart be full of the spring?"
    (Algernon Charles Swinburne, "Itylus")
  • Epimone
    Frequent repetition of a phrase or question; dwelling on a point.
    "And I looked upwards, and there stood a man upon the summit of the rock; and I hid myself among the water-lilies that I might discover the actions of the man. ...
    "And the man sat upon the rock, and leaned his head upon his hand, and looked out upon the desolation. ... And I lay close within shelter of the lilies, and observed the actions of the man. And the man trembled in the solitude;—but the night waned, and he sat upon the rock."
    (Edgar Allan Poe, "Silence")
    "The man who stood, who stood on sidewalks, who stood facing streets, who stood with his back against store windows or against the walls of buildings, never asked for money, never begged, never put his hand out."
    (Gordon Lish, "Sophistication")
  • Epiphora
    Repetition of a word or phrase at the end of several clauses.
    "She's safe, just like I promised. She's all set to marry Norrington, just like she promised. And you get to die for her, just like you promised."
    (Jack Sparrow, The Pirates of the Caribbean)
  • Epizeuxis
    Repetition of a word or phrase for emphasis, usually with no words in between.
    "If you think you can win, you can win."
    (William Hazlitt)
    "Will you ever be old and dumb, like your creepy parents?
    Not you, not you, not you, not you, not you, not you."
    (Donald Hall, "To a Waterfowl")
  • Gradatio
    A sentence construction in which the last word of one clause becomes the first of the next, through three or more clauses (an extended form of anadiplosis).
    "To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly."
    (Henri Bergson)
  • Negative-Positive Restatement
    A method of achieving emphasis by stating an idea twice, first in negative terms and then in positive terms.
    "Color is not a human or personal reality; it is a political reality."
    (James Baldwin)
  • Ploce
    Repetition of a word with a new or specified sense, or with pregnant reference to its special significance.
    "If it wasn't in Vogue, it wasn't in vogue."
    (Promotional slogan for Vogue magazine)
  • Polyptoton
    Repetition of words derived from the same root but with different endings.
    "I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation. But I'm the decider, and I decide what is best."
    (George W. Bush, April 2006)
  • Symploce
    Repetition of words or phrases at both the beginning and end of successive clauses or verses: a combination of anaphora and epiphora.
    "They are not paid for thinking—they are not paid to fret about the world's concerns. They were not respectable people—they were not worthy people—they were not learned and wise and brilliant people—but in their breasts, all their stupid lives long, resteth a peace that passeth understanding!"
    (Mark Twain, "The Innocents Abroad," 1869)

Needless Repetition

When a writer repeats a word or phrase for no meaningful or literary purpose it ends up being a distraction.

  • "Moore's sentence imposed the maximum 24-month sentence under federal sentencing guidelines." ("Man Sentenced to 24 Months in Paula Deen Extortion Bid." Savannah Morning News, September 17, 2013)
  • My favorite painting is the painting I did of my dog in that painting in my den.
  • "Johnson is currently serving as a scholar in residence at Savannah State where he is currently working on a book about his life." ("Still Sailing on the Winds of Change." Savannah Morning News, August 23, 2015)
  • "If you compare fly-fishing with ice fishing, you will find that fly-fishing is more exciting than ice fishing." (Stephen Wilbers in "Keys to Great Writing")
  • "Some text editors and reporters exhibit in their copy the kind of phobia that makes us go downstairs ten times to check that the light is off. They have a nagging doubt that the reader has not quite got the point--so they keep going on about it. Once is enough for most pieces of information. When the information is merely incidental its repetition is doubly irritating. Here's an example from The New York Times: A disappointment among the data is that while infant mortality has continued to decline, and is almost at the goal, there remains a great disparity between the rate for whites and for Blacks. The death rate among Black infants is about twice that for whites, Dr. Richmond said. 'and has been that way for decades.' The italicized words in the original story tell us nothing. So it boils down to: A disappointment is that while infant mortality has continued to decline, almost to the goal, the death rate among Black infants is about twice that for whites . . ." (Harold Evans, Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers, rev. ed. Pimlico, 2000) 



"[R]epetition skulks under numerous different names, one might almost say aliases, depending on who is repeating what where:

When parrots do it, it's parrotting.
When advertisers do it, it's reinforcement.
When children do it, it's imitation.
When brain-damaged people do it, it's perseveration or echolalia.
When disfluent people do it, it's stuttering or stammering.
When orators do it, it's epizeuxis, ploce, anadiplosis, polyptoton or antimetabole.
When novelists do it, it's cohesion.
When poets do it, it's alliteration, chiming, rhyme, or parallelism.
When priests do it, it's ritual.
When sounds do it, it's gemination.
When morphemes do it, it's reduplication.
When phrases do it, it's copying.
When conversations do it, it's reiteration.

In sum, the following alphabetical list of 27 terms covers repetition's commonest guises, though there are undoubtedly more to be found in specialized areas such as classical rhetoric:

Alliteration, anadiplosis, antimetabole, assonance, battology, chiming, cohesion, copying, doubling, echolalia, epizeuxis, gemination, imitation, iteration, parallelism, parrotting, perseveration, ploce, polyptoton, reduplication, reinforcement, reiteration, rhyme, ritual, shadowing, stammering, stuttering

As the numerous names suggest, repetition covers an enormous area. In one sense, the whole of linguistics can be regarded as the study of repetition, in that language depends on repeated patterns." (Jean Aitchison,  "'Say, Say It Again Sam': The Treatment of Repetition in Linguistics." Repetition, ed. by Andreas Fischer. Gunter Narr Verlag, 1994)

"Repetition is a far less serious fault than obscurity. Young writers are often unduly afraid of repeating the same word, and require to be reminded that it is always better to use the right word over again, than to replace it by a wrong one--and a word which is liable to be misunderstood is a wrong one. A frank repetition of a word has even sometimes a kind of charm--as bearing the stamp of truth, the foundation of all excellence of style." (Theophilus Dwight Hall, "A Manual of English Composition." John Murray, 1880)

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Repetition in Writing." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Definition and Examples of Repetition in Writing. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Repetition in Writing." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).