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Curriculum and Student Achievement

Repetition and Redundancy

Author/Creation:  Nick  Jobe and  Sophia  Stevens, April  2009.
Summary:  Discusses the use of repetition for rhetorical effect and  three specific types of repetition (isocolon,  anaphora, epistrophe) and  the  need to avoid redundancy and  two types of redundancy (rhetorical tautology and  RAS syndrome).
Learning Objectives: To understand the difference  between  repetition and  redundancy.  To understand the  different types of repetition and  redundancy.  To understand how repetition adds  meaning to a sentence and  why redundancy should  be avoided.


There is a fine line between  repetition and  redundancy. Repetition, if used well, can be a good tool to use in your writing. It can add emphasis to what  you are trying to say and  strengthen a point. There are many  types  of useful  repetition.


Redundancy, on the other  hand, cannot be a good thing. Redundancy happens when the repetition of a word or idea does not add anything to the previous  usage; it just  restates what has already  been said,  takes up space, and  gets in the way without adding meaning.


There are many  types of useful  repetition, including isocolon,  anaphora, and  epistrophe.


Isocolon  is a structural repetition technique that can give academic  and  business writing—as much  as literature and speech—momentum, rhythm, and emphasis.


Essentially, isocolon  involves repetition of the same grammatical structure in two or more phrases or clauses.  This means  that the grammatical structures are parallel  forms, typically  with the same number of words.


The  easiest  way to identify this  form of repetition is to line up sentences or phrases vertically. Label each word according to its grammatical classification (article, adjective, noun, verb, adverb,  etc.).  If all the sentences match up in the number and  class of words, the sentences use isocolon.


Ex.   “…that we shall  pay any price,  bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure  the survival  and the success of liberty.” –John  F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20,  1961


The  repetition pattern for this  particular form is verb – any – noun: 

Repition pattern

pay any price

bear any burden

meet any hardship

support any friend

oppose any foe

This use of isocolon  strengthens Kennedy’s  speech,  not  only because of the grammatical repetition and the rhythm that results, but also because of the increasing intensity of the nouns. Price changes  to burden. Burden changes  to hardship. Hardship changes  to foe. Friend is thrown

in, seemingly, to showcase the contrast between  the two names  (friend and  foe) in order  for foe to strike  harder at the end.


Likewise,  the verbs are similar in definition and  intensity. Pay, bear, and meet all share  the general  definition of to suffer; undergo ( To use the repetition of these synonyms increases their  intensity and  drives  forward  the strength of the speech.  Oppose foe and support friend intensify by contrast.


Isocolon  can also mean  two or more completely parallel  sentences (independent clauses). Ex. Today,  I will be working ’til midnight.  Tomorrow, I will be sleeping ’til noon.

Ex. Bears wield their claws; cheetahs use their speed; snakes inject their venom. Clearly,  predation is action.


Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase  at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses,  or sentences. Most  often writers use this form of repetition for its dramatic effect in speech or writing. In  fact, the most  common  examples  of anaphora can be found  in well-known  speeches. While anaphora’s effectiveness  may depend  on its delivery  in a speaking situation, remember that speeches are drafted in writing. Written anaphora has many  of the same effects as spoken anaphora.


Ex. “It  was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom,  it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season  of Darkness, it was the spring  of hope,  it was the winter  of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct  to Heaven, we were all going direct  the other  way…” –Charles  Dickens, A Tale  of Two Cities


Notice  the repetition of the opening  phrases it was the, we had, and  we were all. This  is the powerful  and famous  opening of Dickens’  A Tale  of Two Cities, illustrating that repetition in the form of anaphora can be used effectively.


In  this  instance, the use of contrasting words following the repeated elements strengthens the passage.

It was the

best of times – worst of times

age of wisdom – age of foolishness epoch of belief – epoch of incredulity season  of Light – season of Darkness spring of hope – winter of despair

we had

everything – nothing

we were all

going direct  to Heaven – going direct  the  other  way

(Hell,  implied)


Notice  that the italicized words in each paired  phrase  are opposites, but  the other  bits  (with  two exceptions) are repetitious (age and  age, season  and  season).  The  two exceptions are best and worst, spring and  winter, which contrast.


As a fun side note,  notice  that the movement of the words’ transitions creates  a type of intensity

(and  the end is always despair--Darkness, Hell,  etc.).  Times transitions to age which transitions

to epoch (an epoch is an extended period  of time  characterized by a memorable series of events  or development). Similarly, season transitions to spring and  winter.


Anaphora can also be effective for listing, or writing in which you want to emphasize a subject (noun), an action  (verb), or really, any word you’d like to stress. This can be effective when trying to make a point or to make sure a reader  focuses on or remembers a particular word or phrase. Repetition naturally sears what  is repeated into  the readers’  minds, so repeated content will both  grab their attention and  stick  with  them  long after  it is read.


Ex. Some tips  for effective research  papers:

         -     “Good” research  papers  include  a clear thesis  statement.

        -     “Good” research  papers  use a topic  sentence in everybody paragraph.

        -     “Good” research  papers  make  sure every sentence supports its paragraph’s topic sentence and the paper’s  thesis.


Because  of their  primary placement and  consistent wording, anaphoric words or phrases  can ensure  that a certain idea is driven  into  the reader’s  head,  that a set of ideas are clearly tied together, or that a passage sounds more dramatic or poetic.


Epistrophe is the repetition of a word or words at the end of a phrase  or clause.  Its  placement in a sentence is the opposite of anaphora’s placement of words or phrases. Quite  similarly, though, its rhetorical function is to provide  dramatic or poetic emphasis on an idea or a passage.


Ex. “…and  that government of the people,  by the people,  for the people shall  not  perish  from the earth.” –Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address


The  repetition in this  case is the people, which comes at the end of each clause.


Sometimes, it is quicker  to avoid epistrophe and  write in a simplified form,  but  in a paper  of only a single style,  this simplification may actually diminish the effectiveness  of certain points.


For  example,  look back at Abraham Lincoln’s address. Imagine it in simplified form. Ex. “…government of, by, for the people shall not  perish  from the earth.”

Clearly,  the sentence still  makes  sense,  with  each of the three  prepositions corresponding to the shared  object (the people). But what  it lacks is the repetition that makes  each prepositional phrase  such an important element of the sentence.


(Note: Lincoln’s sentence could also be used as an example  for isocolon.  Each  clause is a prepositional phrase  and follows the same pattern: preposition – the people.)


Sometimes, we use epistrophe naturally, not  only in poetic  or literary situations. Its  usefulness in more formal  writing situations, however, is to add that literary effect to writing that may otherwise sound  plain.


Ex. If the bear population declines  and  the raccoon  population declines, scientists fear a destructive increase  in the number of fish migrating upriver.


There are several other  forms  of repetition, all of which can be equally  successful  in usage,  such as Epizeuxis,  the repetition of the same word without an interruption in between  (“Never, never, never quit” –Winston Churchill).  What  they all have in common  is that they emphasize meaning through repetition in such a way that the emotional power of the sentence is much  stronger.


Redundancy is the repetition of a word or phrase  that does not  add anything to the previous meaning; it just  restates what has already  been said.


Ex. If we are going to see the movie on opening  night, we will have to get there  early. We have to get to the movie early, because it’s opening  night.


Both  sentences of this example  say the same things, just  with different words.  This  isn’t the only form of redundancy, however. Like repetition, there  are many  different types of redundancy.


Rhetorical Tautology
A tautology is a phrase  that repeats a meaning with  different words.


Ex. There was a variety of different foods at Thanksgiving. Ex. As an added bonus, the food was all really good.

Ex. There was an unconfirmed rumor that the Superbowl was going to be canceled.

Ex. However,  past history proved that it would continue no matter what. Ex. But  if it were true, the household would be far from a safe haven.


Notice  the redundancy of the meanings. A rumor is a rumor because it is unconfirmed  by definition. A haven  is a haven  because it is safe by definition.


RAS Syndrome
RAS syndrome stands for Redundant Acronym  Syndrome syndrome. It is an example  of what it defines:  Acronyms  or initials that are followed by a word that uses a word that is within the acronym.


Ex. Automated Teller  Machine Machine (ATM  Machine) Ex. Personal Identification Number Number (PIN Number)


Notice  that the final  word following  the acronym is redundant because  it is already  used within the acronym itself.


While there  are many  other  types of redundancy, the ones listed  here are the most  common  ones.