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The Power of Repetition

The use of repetition can be very powerful in political speeches. There are six different forms of repetition that can be used to great effect. 

1. Epistrophe

The repetition of words at the end of a sentence.

A prime example is Obama’s ‘Yes we can.’ This is a brief extract from his 2008 speech at Nashua High School South.

“For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we’ve been told we’re not ready or we shouldn’t try or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people. Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation. Yes, we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights. Yes, we can.”

It was a simple phrase but became powerful through repetition. 

2. Anaphora

A rhetorical device where you repeat a phrase at the beginning of a sentence.

The classics include Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and Winston Churchill’s “we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields.”

3. Tricolon

Repetition in short form triplicate.

An example is Abraham Lincoln's “Government of the people, by the people and for the people”.

4. Antithesis

Repetition of clause structures to juxtapose contrasting ideas.

Charles Dickens “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

5. Antimetabole

This is rhetorical inversion, for example:

“It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” John F Kennedy

6. Epizeuxis

This is simply, despite the complex name, the same word repeated over and over.

For example Tony Blair said his priorities were “education, education, education.”