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How to Use Repetition in Writing

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

One of the earliest concepts we’re taught as writers is that we should avoid repetition. From an early age, teachers urge us to vary our word choice to avoid repeating the same words and phrases in our writing. While learning how to vary your word choice and avoid unnecessary repetition is an important part of growing as a writer, deliberate and skillful repetition can be used to great effect by skilled writers of all stripes, including novelists, poets, and orators.



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Why Use Repetition in Your Writing?

There are many instances in which word repetition or the repetition of a phrase can help strengthen your writing. Learning the types of repetition that writers use and exposing yourself to different famous examples of repetition can help you learn the technique and use repetition in your own work.

  • Repetition heightens poetic effect. You’ll find the repetition of words throughout poetry. Repetition of vowel sounds or words can be used to great effect in poetry to vary rhythm and underscore meaning. Two famous poets who often repeated words in their poetry are Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s poem “The Bells” provides a good example of how the repetition of a word in poetry can help provide a through-line for a long poem. In “The Bells,” Poe repeats the word “bell” but changes the context and mood around the repetition of the word. If you’re starting out as a poet or are just a fan of poetry, learning about repetition in poetry can deepen your appreciation of the form.
  • Repetition emphasizes themes in literature. Oftentimes authors will repeat a word or phrase that has thematic relevance to their larger piece. The repetition of different words throughout a novel or memoir can help reinforce themes and motifs in the minds of readers and make a piece more evocative and emotionally impactful.
  • Repetition elevates ideas in oration. There are many word repetition techniques used by orators including epimone, which involves the repetition of a phrase or question. Often epimone is used to hammer home an idea through frequent repetition. One of the most famous repetition examples in oratory tradition is in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In it, MLK repeats the titular phrase to lay out his vision for a more equitable and integrated society.

How to Use Repetition in Your Writing

There are many different methods of using repetition as a rhetorical device. The types of repetition you choose to use in your work will depend on the form and tone of your own work. The more you learn about repetition and expose yourself to different examples of repetition in literature, the better able you will be to incorporate it into your writing. Here are some types of repetition found in writing:

  • Negative-positive restatement: Negative-positive restatement is an example of repetition where the same idea is stated twice—first in negative terms, then in positive terms. Negative-positive restatement is a great way to use repetition in an argumentative or persuasive piece.
  • Anaphora and epistrophe: Anaphora and epistrophe involve the repetition of a single word or series of words in successive phrases or sentences. Anaphora involves the repetition of a word or words at the beginning of phrases, whereas epistrophe (also known as epiphora) repeats a word or words at the end of successive phrases.
  • Polyptoton: Polyptoton is a specific form of repetition wherein a writer repeats a different word with the same root. Oftentimes this involves words that sound similar but have different endings.
  • Repetition of sounds: Repeating a sound in your poetry or prose can be a great way of adding texture to your writing. There are several different techniques you can use to repeat syllabic sounds. Alliteration is the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of words. Assonance is the repetition of the same vowel sound or diphthong. Consonance is the repetition of the same consonant sounds.
  • Diacope: One way to vary rhythm through repetition is by using diacope. Diacope is the repetition of words with a few words interrupting the repetition. An example of a diacope can be found in Shakespeare’s Richard III: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
  • Epizeuxis: Epizeuxis is a literary device that involves the repetition of a word in rapid succession most often within the same sentence. Epizeuxis is often utilized in speeches or poetry. It can be a useful tool to vary sentence structure.
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