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What Is Anaphora?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
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  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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Meaning "carried again" in ancient Greek, anaphora is a rhetorical device which uses the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of sentences to create a specific mood or stress a point. Often seen in poetry, anaphora is also used with success in prose. When used well, this device can create a startling intensity to a work. Used poorly or accidentally, however, this device tends to create dull, repetitive passages.

Anaphora has two strict requirements. First, the repeating word or phrase must be at the beginning of the sentences. Second, the word or phrase must appear in consecutive sentences. If phrases are repeated at the end of consecutive sentences, rather than the beginning, the writer is using another rhetorical device, called an epistrophe. Although it technically can be used at any time, anaphora is only successful when used in specific situations where the desired result is one of dramatic effect.

Often unskilled or careless writers will inappropriately or accidentally use anaphora. This leads to repetitive or lackluster writing. For example, the sentences, "Kim walked downstairs. Kim went into the kitchen. Kim poured herself a cup of coffee," fulfill the requirements for anaphora. They do not, however, have a dramatic effect. Instead, the technique inhibits the flow and merely makes the information dull and repetitive, particularly when compared to the sentence, "Kim walked downstairs, went into the kitchen, and poured herself a cup of coffee."

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When a skilled writer uses anaphora, however, the effects can be highly dramatic. In Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1941 Pearl Harbor address, the then president made use of anaphora to emphasis the range of the Japanese attack: "Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island."

Although it would have been more concise to say "Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippine Islands, and Wake Island," listing all four locations in the same sentence lacks the same impact. By using anaphora, Roosevelt created an intensity that was appropriate for the situation. Once hearing of the attack on Hong Kong, listeners would assume the second sentence would not be listing another attack. So their initial shock at the first attack was repeated with the second, and so on. Repeating "last night" drove home that these attacks happened in a single night, the repetition of "Japanese forces" made clear who the enemy in this case was, and reiterating the word "attacked" enforced the idea that the actor was, indeed, an enemy.

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umbra21
Post 2

@KoiwiGal - Do remember, though, that as it says in the article this technique can be easily misused. I think a lot of beginning writers think they should use every technique under the sun in order to make their writing the best it can be.

Less is almost always more when it comes to writing. You want the reader to be completely unaware of your presence, because you want them to be concentrating on the story.

If they are being bombarded by techniques, or worse, being bored by them, then you aren't doing it right.

KoiwiGal
Post 1

I've actually used this technique without realizing it, particularly in poetry. It's funny how you can know that something will have an impact without really thinking about how it does that.

That's one of the things I love about writing. I came to it, thinking that it was something that you just automatically know how to do, like eating or walking and practice just made you better at it by degrees.

But it really is such a complex craft, more like learning how to sculpt. You can learn how to do that by eye and you can even become good. But it's better if you learn how to make the underlying structure, if you study the history and the techniques. This is one more technique I can put under my belt.

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