Rhetorical Devices: Anaphora

Anaphora involves repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. It is favoured by leaders because it is stirring, effective and memorable.

Anaphora can be found in all sorts of places, from great oratory to Twitter posts. It is effective because it:

  • creates rhythm that you can feel without music,
  • drives emphasis of the repeated words, making them more memorable,
  • links ideas through repeated phrasing,
  • and of course it gives structure to a list, making it sound less "listy"

Because anaphora helps create a rhythm, and rhythm can be built up towards a climax, it can help the orator create a strong emotional effect. Consequently, this rhetorical device is often found in passionate oratory, such as Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Anaphora explainer card

Examples

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania... Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream” (28 August 1963)

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.Elie Wiesel, "Night (Memoir)" (1960)

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.. Winston Churchill, “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” (4 June 1940)

Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism: The right to criticize. The right to hold unpopular beliefs. The right to protest. The right of independent thought. Margaret Chase Smith, "Declaration of Conscience" (1 June 1950)

Further reading

  • Silva Rhetoricæ: The Forest of Rhetoric Visit
  • Wikipedia Visit
  • Lorenz, Ben. "Anaphora." LitCharts Visit
  • Nordquist, Richard. "Anaphora in Grammar." ThoughtCo Visit
  • Manner of Speaking Visit
  • American Rhetoric Visit