Repetition is the act of repeating or restating something more than once. In writing, repetition can occur at many levels: with individual letters and sounds, single words, phrases or even ideas. Repetition can be problematic in writing if it leads to dull work, but it can also be an effective poetic or rhetorical strategy to strengthen your message, as our examples of repetition in writing demonstrate.
Choosing words that repeat the same consonant or vowel sounds can help to make your writing more memorable. Many sound repetition techniques were first developed by scops, Old English poets, who memorized lengthy stories and poems to pass down orally in an age when most people were illiterate. Because repetition of sounds serves as a powerful mnemonic device, careful use will help your readers remember your point more easily.
Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds, often at the beginning of a word:
Alliteration can also occur in the middle of the word, provided it's on a stressed or accented syllable in normal pronunciation:
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds, which can occur at any point in the word:
Consonance is a more general repetition of consonant sounds, where the sounds can occur at any point in the word:
Rhyme is a highly specialized repetition of sound in which the sound of the final accented syllable in a word or line, and everything that comes after it, is repeated in another word or group of words:
Repeating the same word several times in writing can serve to emphasize its importance. There are several rhetorical devices that writers use to make their point clearer and more memorable. These devices can be used in both poetry and prose.
Anaphora is the repetition of a word or short phrase at the beginning of several lines of sentences:
Antistasis is the repetition of a word or phrase in which the second meaning is the opposite - or at least very different - from the first:
Conduplicatio is the repetition of a word in several different places within a paragraph, often to explain a concept's meaning or importance:
In a diacope, the repeated words are separated by the addition of new words placed between them, which can either alter or enhance the meaning:
Epanilepsis is the repetition of a word at the beginning and at the end of a line or sentence:
Epimone is the repetition of a word, phrase or idea to dwell on its larger significance:
Epiphora, also known as epistrophe, is the repetition of a word or short phrase at the end of a series of sentences or clauses:
Epizeuxis is the repetition of a word or very short phrase one right after the other:
A negative-positive restatement repeats an idea in a similar sentence structure, but changes it to make a contrast. These are often "not this, but that" statements:
A polyptoton is the repetition of the same root word but with different endings or forms:
Sometimes repetition in writing is not used intentionally. It may be that the writer has a limited vocabulary or added phrases or clauses that repeat a word or idea without adding to the overall meaning or impact of the piece. In these cases, repetition should be avoided, as they can bog down your writing and make it dull or difficult for your reader to follow. For example:
In this sentence, it is not necessary to mention the grocery store twice. Either one of the underlined phrases can be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence.
In this sentence, "Eleanor" is used too may times. This excess repetition can be addressed by substituting pronouns or using a short phrase to replace the name as needed.
Careful writers use repetition to enhance their work without overusing words and phrases to the point of boring their readers. Careful writers also know that repeating a strong word is better than replacing it with a weak one that doesn't work as well.
If you're not sure if your writing is using repetition well, try reading it out loud. You ear will catch too much repetition, and you can reword your work with pronouns, synonyms or even a whole new sentence to smooth out the flow before you share it with others.
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