Rhetorical Device: Hendiatris

Hendiatris is a type of rhetorical device in which three words are used together to express a single idea. The three words in a hendiatris are linked together by a shared theme, concept, or emotion. For example, the phrase “blood, sweat and tears” is a hendiatris used to express the idea of hard work and dedication.

It is an effective way of conveying an idea quickly and succinctly, and is often used in speechwriting and public speaking. When experienced public speakers enthuse about the Rule of Three (or the Power of Three), hendiatris is one of the techniques they are thinking of. Hendiatris is also used outside the realm of public speaking, especially in advertising. It is at the root of many very powerful and memorable slogans such as the three Rs of waste management: reduce, reuse, recycle.


Here are several examples:
  • Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité: the motto of the French republic
  • Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness: a phrase from the American Declaration of Independence
  • Rum, sodomy and the lash: a phrase linked to the British Royal Navy that was used as an album title by The Pogues, the London-based folk punk band
  • Wine, women and song: a phrase by German classicist Johann Heinrich Voss
WWS rhetorical device explainer card on hendiatris

Examples from speeches

But this award is not intended primarily to honor a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code -- the code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent. That is the animation of this medallion. For all eyes and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier. That I should be integrated in this way with so noble an ideal arouses a sense of pride and yet of humility which will be with me always.
Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.Gen. Douglas MacArthur, "Sylvanus Thayer Award Acceptance Address" (12 May 1962)

Further reading

  • Wikipedia: Hendiatris Visit
  • ifioque.com: Hendiatris Visit
  • Andrew Dlugan: How to Use the Rule of Three in Your Speeches Visit