Rhetorical Device: Polyptoton

Polyptoton is an important rhetorical device that can be used to add emphasis and variety to writing. It involves the repetition of words with a slight difference in form, such as adjective, nouns, verbs and adverbs. This technique draws the attention of the audience and allows for a smooth transition between ideas. As it is easily understood by listeners and brings about an emotional reaction, polyptoton has been used by speakers worldwide to emphasize key points or ideas during speeches.


You're afraid to bleed. I said you're afraid to bleed. [As] long as the white man sent you to Korea, you bled. He sent you to Germany, you bled. He sent you to the South Pacific to fight the Japanese, you bled. You bleed for white people. But when it comes time to seeing your own churches being bombed and little black girls be murdered, you haven't got no blood.Malcolm X, “Message to the grassroots” (10 November 1963)

Not as a call to battle, though embattled we are. John F. Kennedy, "Inaugural Address" (20 January 1963)

I propose to you then that, here by the grave of this unrepentant Fenian, we renew our baptismal vows; that, here by the grave of this unconquered and unconquerable man, we ask of God, each one for himself, such unshakable purpose, such high and gallant courage, such unbreakable strength of soul as belonged to O’Donovan Rossa. Padraig Pearse, "Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s Funeral" (1 August 1915)
WeWriteSpeeches rhetorical device explainer card on polyptoton

The healthy man does not torture others—generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers. Carl Jung, "Du magazine" (May 1941)

Yet at the last moment, when Belgium was already invaded, King Leopold called upon us to come to his aid, and even at the last moment we came. He and his brave, efficient Army, nearly half a million strong, guarded our left flank and thus kept open our only line of retreat to the sea. Suddenly, without prior consultation, with the least possible notice, without the advice of his Ministers and upon his own personal act, he sent a plenipotentiary to the German Command, surrendered his Army, and exposed our whole flank and means of retreat Winston Churchill, "We Shall Fight On the Beaches"(4 June 1940)

Here was a scion of an incredible family who brushed away the possibility of privilege for the harder, better reward of earning his own way. Here was a soldier who dodged glory, and exuded true humility. A prosecutor who defended the defenseless. The rare politician who collected more fans than foes, and the rarer public figure who prioritized his private life above all else. Barack Obama, "Eulogy for Beau Biden III" (6 June 2015)

Further reading

  • LiteraryTerms.net article on polyptoton Visit
  • Silva Rhetoricæ: The Forest of Rhetoric Visit
  • Wikipedia: Polyptoton Visit
  • Florman, Ben: "Polyptoton" LitCharts Visit