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English Literature

Have you ever considered the effect that repetition has on a piece of work, whether a speech, a novel, a song or a poem? Have you ever wondered if there are different types of repetition? Have you ever heard of anaphora? Well, this article will shine some light; you might even find some examples of anaphora in this paragraph!

What is anaphora?

Anaphora is the repetition of phrases and words at the start of successive phrases, clauses, sentences or lines.

What are some examples of anaphora?

Anaphora is most often found in poetry; however, it is found in other literary forms as well as it can be helpful to reinforce ideas and concepts.

His mother was frustrated and turned to him with a disappointed look before saying, “Timothy, you are going to finish your food this instant, you are going to brush your teeth and you are going to, then, go straight to bed”

Here the words “you are going to” are being repeated by Timothy’s mother to emphasise the commands she is giving him, creating an authoritative voice.

Tick, tock the clock sounded. Tick, tock it chimed to me. Tick, tock when will it stop. Tick, tock, tick tock. Tick, tock it continued ceaselessly.

In this example the repeated sound of the clock adds a sense of mundanity as time passes, but also may express frustration on the part of the narrator.

Clock gears, by Pavlofox,

Anaphora in poetry

A poem you may be familiar with is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 'Sonnet 43', from Sonnets from the Portuguese, also known as How do I love thee, which uses anaphora in a dramatic explanation and confession of love.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day's

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death. 1

Anaphora in fiction

There are numerous examples of anaphora in literature, but a brief example is from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. At the beginning of chapter 4, the narrator is descending into a moment of paranoia and she contemplates the potential results of her actions by using “perhaps” with anaphora to consider each of them.

“Perhaps he was merely being friendly. Perhaps he saw the look on my face and mistook it for something else. Really what I wanted was the cigarette. Perhaps it was a test, to see what I would do.

Perhaps he is an Eye” 2

Anaphora in speeches

An famous example of anaphora is found in Martin Luther King’s 'I have a dream speech' speech.

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 colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today…” 3

Image of Martin Luther King Jn, by Wikimages,

The whole speech is filled with anaphora. King starts repeats phrases like “we cannot be satisfied”, “we refuse to believe”, “now is the time” and “I have a dream” to try and inspire political reform. These phrases convey the general gist of the speech (a general unhappiness, a need for change and a potential for a better society) allowing it to be more memorable.

Similarly, Winston Churchill’s 1940 speech also uses anaphora to reinforce his message, using the repetitive phrase “We shall fight”.

“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." 4

Despite the fact that these examples were spoken over fifty years ago, they are still remembered and quoted today. The memorability of these speeches perhaps stems from the fact that the predominant anaphoric phrase acts as a summary for the speech. For example, King's speech is about the specific hopes he has for the future ("I have a dream").

The effects of anaphora

Anaphora reinforces a point being made by a narrator or writer. The word anaphora comes from the Greek words ana (meaning 'back') and pherein ('to bear'). Anaphora bears a narrative back to a theme, concept or idea. That said, different uses of anaphora also tone to a narrative. This tone may indicate authority, strength, mundanity, affirmation, desperation, frustration, fear, or even hope.

Confusions with Anaphora

Anaphora is easily confused with numerous other linguistic devices, such as...

Anaphora vs repetition

Repetition and anaphora are linguistic devices that overlap because anaphora is a specific type of repetition, where it occurs at the beginning of phrases, clauses and sentences. The way that anaphora is used in a sentence implies that it is intentional, whereas repetition might not be.

Anaphora vs Epistrophe

Epistrophe is also known as epiphora and antistrophe and is another type of repetition. However, epistrophe is the direct opposite to anaphora, as the repetition is placed at the end of phrases, clauses and sentences, rather than the beginning.

An example that uses both is Maya Angelou’s poem 'Still I Rise', as the choral repetition of 'I rise' is epistrophe, while the challenges the narrator faces are introduced with anaphora “you may”, “does” and “but still”. The narrator's voice is depicted as powerful and strong in the simultaneous cross over between the anaphora and epistrophe as it makes it seem like she continually resurfaces despite difficulty.

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops,

Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

Anaphora - Key takeaways

  • Anaphora is the repetition of words, or a word, at the beginning of sentences, clauses or phrases.
  • Anaphora is a type of repetition that is intentional.
  • Anaphora can be confused with epistrophe as they are the opposites of each other.
  • Anaphora can be used in any text with words whether a speech, a poem, a novel or a song.

1: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Sonnet 43: from Sonnets from the Portuguese", 1850.

2: Margaret Atwood, "The Handmaid's Tale", 1985.

3: Martin Luther King, "I Have a Dream" speech given on August 28th, 1963.

4: Winston Churchill, "We Shall Fight on the Beaches" speech given on June 4th, 1940.


Anaphora is a type of repetition where words (or a word) are repeated at the beginning of a phrase, clause or sentence.

An example of anaphora could be the chorus to Rick Astley’s song Never Gonna Give you Up, as he repeats “never gonna” throughout it:: “never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down…”

Anaphora is an effective tool for hammering a central idea into a listener or reader. However the content of this central idea adds a different tone to the narrative.

Anaphora is a successful way to centralise a  reader and listener to a key point of a narrative, whether to persuade and convince them or to reinforce a point.

Anaphora can be achieved in a sentence by starting each phrase and clause with the same series of words. It can also be achieved through multiple sentences by introducing them with the same words/word.

Final Anaphora Quiz


What is anaphora?

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Anaphora is a form of repetition when words are repeated at the beginning of clauses, phrases and sentences.

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How do you make anaphora?

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Anaphora is created by repeating a series of words or a word at the start of several clauses, phrases or sentences repeatedly.

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What is anaphoric?

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Anaphoric is a word that means something is related to anaphora.

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Why might you use anaphora?

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Anaphora helps you reinforce and reestablish a point you are trying to make, by repeating words like a chorus.

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What is the relationship between anaphora and repetition?

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Anaphora is a type of repetition that is intentional, and only occurs when things are repeated at the beginning of sentences, phrases and clauses.

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What is the relationship between epistrophe and anaphora?

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Epistrophe and anaphora are opposites. Anaphora is the repetition at the beginning of clauses, phrases and sentences and epistrophe is the repetition at the end.

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In order for something to be anaphoric, when must words be repeated?

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Words, in order to be anaphora, must be repeated at the beginning of phrases, clauses and sentences.

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Can you think of an example of a speech with anaphora?

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Both Martin Luther King and Winston Churchill used anaphora in their speeches to try and convince the people to a perspective and inspire them to help them achieve their goals.

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What is the effect of anaphora?

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Anaphora reinforces a point in a text as well as adding a potential tone to the narrative, depending on how it is used.

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Why does anaphora reinforce a point?

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Anaphora reinforces a point because it returns to a phrase like a chorus, forcing it to stick with a reader.

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How many words need to be repeated for it to be anaphora?

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Anaphora can be made by repeating a series of words or a singular word!

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