Rhetorical Devices: Anaphora

This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link.

Device: Anaphora

Origin: From the Greek ἀναφορά (anafora), meaning “to bring back” or “to carry back”.

In plain English: Repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences or clauses.

Effect:

  • Key words or ideas are emphasized, often with great emotional pull.
  • Repetition makes the line memorable.
  • The speaker’s words have rhythm and cadence.

Notes:

  • In English, an active sentence (“We developed the plan.”) is more effective than a passive sentence (“The plan was developed by us.”). Thus, anaphora is particularly effective when one wishes to emphasize the subject of an action.
  • Anaphora, like any rhetorical device, can be overused.
  • Speakers should be careful to limit the number of times a word or phrase is used in a single anaphora. For most speeches and presentations, three is an ideal number. Beyond three, a speaker risks sounding affected, theatrical or bombastic.
  • The examples below from Churchill, Kinnock and King are exceptions, delivered by exceptional speakers in exceptional circumstances. The examples from Jobs and Aylward are better suited for most presentations.
  • The counterpoint to anaphora is epistrophe.

Examples:

I came, I saw, I conquered.”

— Julius Caesar, shortly after the Battle of Zela, 47 BC

———

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 …”

 Winston Churchill, House of Commons, London, England, 4 June 1940

———

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington, D.C., 28 August 1963

———

“If Margret Thatcher wins, I warn you not to be ordinary, I warn you not to be young, I warn you not to fall ill, I warn you not to get old.”

— Neil Kinnock, Bridgend, Wales, 7 June 1983

———

“As you know, we’ve got the iPod, best music player in the world. We’ve got the iPod Nanos, brand new models, colors are back. We’ve got the amazing new iPod Shuffle.”

— Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007 Keynote Address

———

We have a new vaccine, we have new resolve and we have new tactics.”

— Bruce Aylward, TED Talk, March 2011

About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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32 Responses to Rhetorical Devices: Anaphora

  1. amanda says:

    Hi John, I am trying to reference your work, but cannot find the publisher/sponsor. Do you have an idea who it is?
    Thanks,
    Amanda

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Amanda,

      Could you be more specific? If it is from the blog, the URL and my name will suffice. If it is something specific, please let me know. Thank you for wanting to add a reference.

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  8. Salma says:

    Hey, Jon
    I’m trying to reference your work in my report, do you know the date which this page was published?
    Much thanks,
    Salma

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Salma. You can find the date for any post by looking at the long URL address. The date is always there. In the case of this post on anaphora, the date was 4 June 2011. Be careful when reading the dates, the order (which is not set by me) is year / month / day. It can be tricky when the day in question is the 12th or earlier because it is easy to confuse with the month.

      Hope this helps and good luck with your report.

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  28. Keith Davis says:

    Hi John
    “Rhetorical Devices: Anaphora”
    Well explained with great examples.

    I love a bit of rhetoric, but people seem reluctant to use it.
    Don’t know why.
    It can really lift a speech.

    I love Max Atkinson’s take on rhetoric.
    He explains things in a very easy to understand way – notice that you have a link to his blog.

    Got a very short video over on easyP.
    Would love to know what you think about it.
    I’ll say no more.

    Cheers John

    Keith

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hey, Keith. Thanks for the comment. I agree with you about rhetoric. It has managed to pick up a bad reputation over the years, which is a shame. I read Max’s blog all the time and he and I are in regular contact on Twitter. His book(s) is/are on my list of “must reads”. And I will certainly drop by Easy Public Speaking soon to check out the video. The last video was great, so you have a tough act to follow. But I’m sure you’ll be up to it.

      John

      • Keith Davis says:

        Hi John,

        Max’s book “Lend Me Your Ears” is a book I read about once a year. Always find something new in it.

        Don’t worry, this video is less than 4 mins.

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