Tetracolon Climax (Rhetoric and Sentence Styles)

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
Library of Congress

Tetracolon climax (or simply tetracolon) is a rhetorical term for a series of four members (words, phrases, or clauses), usually in parallel form.

Adjective: Tetrcolonic. Also called a tetracolon crescendo.

Pronunciation: TET-ra-KOL-un cli-max

Etymology: From the Greek, "four limbs"

According to Ian Robinson, "Numbers of rhetoricians follow Quintilian in recommending four as the norm, the tetracolon, though Cicero preferred three, and Demetrius says four is the maximum" (The Establishment of Modern English Prose, 1998).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." (Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, 1863)
  • "I write humor the way a surgeon operates, because it is a livelihood, because I have a great urge to do it, because many interesting challenges are set up, and because I have the hope that it may do some good."
    (James Thurber, letter to E.B. White, April 24, 1951)
  • "He and we were a party of men walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and in two minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone—one mind less, one world less."
    (George Orwell, "A Hanging," 1931)
  • "I had seen so many begin to pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood into a kind of spiritual and physical semi-invalidism. In this they are encouraged by wives and relatives, and it's such a sweet trap."
    (John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley: In Search of America, 1961)
  • "Out of its wild disorder comes order; from its rank smell rises the good aroma of courage and daring; out of its preliminary shabbiness comes the final splendor. And buried in the familiar boasts of its advance agents lies the modesty of most of its people."
    (E.B. White, "The Ring of Time")
  • "The same government that you go abroad to fight for and die for is the government that is in a conspiracy to deprive you of your voting rights, deprive you of your economic opportunities, deprive you of decent housing, deprive you of decent education."
    (Malcolm X, "The Ballot or the Bullet," April 12, 1964)
  • "Reading is the best medicine for a sicke man, the best musicke for a sadde man, the best counsel for a desperate man, the best comfort for one afflicted."
    (John Florio, First Fruites, 1578)
  • "The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions."
    (E.B. White, "Here Is New York," 1948
  • "Life is truly known only to those who suffer, lose, endure adversity and stumble from defeat to defeat."
    (Ryszard Kapuscinski, "A Warsaw Diary." Granta, 1985)
  • "I got up promptly to tend some new chicks and was busy with them for a half hour before breakfast, thinking of palms and Christ and bombs and dry litter."
    (E.B. White, "Songbirds")

Tricolons vs Tetracolons"In the anti-math of writing, the number three [a tricolon] is greater than four [a tetracolon]. The mojo of three offers a greater sense of completeness than four or more."(Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools. Little, Brown, 2006)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Tetracolon Climax (Rhetoric and Sentence Styles)." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/tetracolon-climax-rhetoric-1692535. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Tetracolon Climax (Rhetoric and Sentence Styles). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tetracolon-climax-rhetoric-1692535 Nordquist, Richard. "Tetracolon Climax (Rhetoric and Sentence Styles)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tetracolon-climax-rhetoric-1692535 (accessed June 8, 2023).