What is Repetition?

What is Repetition

Reiterating a word or phrase to add emphasis and make it more memorable.

Martin Luther King Jr. stated the phrase "I have a dream" eight times in his most famous speech, virtually imprinting it on listeners’ minds for nearly 60 years and counting.

Use repetition to add poetic rhythm to your writing. It differs from assonance, alliteration, and consonance because it repeats words or phrases rather than just sounds.

Beware, however, of unintentional repetition or echoing. Unless you’re doing it for emphasis, echoing can distract.

Author CR Hodges cites these examples: Use of the word I or she or he to begin consecutive sentences.

Obviously this happens occasionally even in good writing, but watch for excessive frequency.

Using a character’s name too often is another common example.

Hodges adds that the repetition of an uncommon word can also unnecessarily jar your reader, such as: “I really liked Steven’s umber eyes,” followed three paragraphs later by “The spaceship was the color of burnt umber…”

Examples of Good Repetition

  • Intentionally using the same word or phrase at the beginning of consecutive sentences. In the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, the main character repeats “I hate” to begin each clause of her poem.
  • Repeating a word or phrase at the end of each successive sentence. In Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, he repeats the word together in each clause.
  • Repeating a word or phrase at the beginning and end of a line.
  • Repeating the same word, but using a different meaning. Vince Lombardi said: “If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired, with enthusiasm.”
  • Repeating words or phrases for emphasis, i.e., “You should be sorry for being such a sorry example…”
  • Stating the same idea twice, first in a negative light, then in a positive one. From The Picture of Dorian Gray: “The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.”
  • Repeating the last word of a clause as the subject of the next: “Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task.

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