Rhetorical Devices: Tricolon

Tricolon is a rhetorical scheme in which three parallel words, phrases, or clauses, come in quick succession and without interruption. It can be used to deliver your message in a memorable and pithy way. Tricolon is a sub-type of isocolon.

Julius Caesar's famous phrase "Veni, vidi, vici" is a true tricolon, but its English translation ("I came, I saw, I conquered") is not, because its verbs are not all the same length (i.e. not truly parallel). There are some special non-parallel variants of tricolon however:

  • tricolon crescens (a rising tricolon) comprises parts in increasing size, magnitude or intensity.
  • tricolon diminuens (a descending tricolon) comprises parts that decrease in size, magnitude or intensity.


But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicatewe can not consecratewe can not hallow — this ground.
... we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. Abraham Lincoln, “The Gettysburg Address” (19 November 1863)

I require three things in a man: he must be handsome, ruthless and stupid. Dorothy Parker

WeWriteSpeeches Tricolon explainer card
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Cross of Iron” (16 April 1953)

For my part, I want to finish with a simple thank you to New Zealanders for giving me this opportunity to serve, and to take on what has and will always be the greatest role in my life.
I hope in return I leave behind a belief that you can be kind, but strong. Empathetic, but decisive. Optimistic, but focused.
That you can be your own kind of leader – one that knows when it’s time to go. Jacinda Ardern, "Resignation Speech" (19 January 2023)

The following example isn't a perfect tricolon because of how Casement has brought the word 'ever' ahead of the word 'man', breaking the tricolon but driving emphasis using a technique called anastrophe.
The cause that begets this indomitable persistency, the faculty of preserving through centuries of misery the remembrance of lost liberty — this surely is the noblest cause ever man strove for, ever lived for, ever died for. Roger Casement, "Speech From The Dock" (3 August 1916)

Further reading

  • Silva Rhetoricæ: The Forest of Rhetoric Visit
  • Wikipedia: Isocolon Visit
  • Nordquist, Richard: "Tricolon Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo Visit
  • Manner of Speaking: Tricolon Visit