What Is Anaphora? Definition & 20+ Examples

Ever found yourself captivated by the mesmerizing repetition in a memorable speech or a stirring poem? That’s the magic of anaphora at work!

This potent literary technique, which involves repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines or sentences, is a key tool for writers and speakers. It’s used to create emphasis, build momentum, and stir up emotions in the listener or reader.

So, are you ready to delve into the entrancing realm of anaphora? Let’s unwrap its power and discover how it shapes our linguistic experiences.

Definition of Anaphora

Anaphora is a rhetorical device in which a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of successive sentences, lines, or verses. This repetition serves to emphasize a point or message and can create a powerful emotional effect.

Anaphora is commonly used in many forms of writing, including poetry, prose, speeches, and song lyrics. Its use can help to create a rhythmic pattern, making a piece of writing more engaging and memorable.

Origin and Etymology

The term anaphora is derived from the Greek word “ἀναφορά” which translates to “carrying back” or “reference.” In linguistics and rhetoric, it was first used to refer to the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences for emphasis and cohesion.

However, the concept of anaphora is much older than the term itself. Ancient Greek orators like Pericles and Demosthenes used anaphora in their speeches, as did Latin speakers like Cicero.

It’s also a common feature in religious texts such as the Psalms of the Bible, showing its long-standing use as a powerful rhetorical tool.


Over time, anaphora has evolved as a distinctive feature in written and oral language to improve the expressive quality of texts. As a potent stylistic tool, it has been employed by renowned playwrights, authors, and orators to evoke emotions and highlight specific subjects or themes.

Anaphora is not limited to speeches; it doubles as a literary device in poetry and prose. In literature, anaphora can bring attention to an idea, characterize emotions in a powerful way, or underscore a poetic pattern.

An anaphor, the word or phrase being repeated, is crucial for creating a sense of unity and cohesion in a literary work.

Examples and Usage in Literature

Anaphora is widely used in literature to provide emphasis and evoke emotion. Let’s explore a few notable examples:

Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities

In Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, anaphora—a rhetorical device characterized by the repetition of a word or phrase at the start of successive clauses or sentences—plays a vital role in establishing the novel’s overarching theme of contrast and duality. The novel’s famous opening line offers a sterling example of this device:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

William Shakespeare’s Richard II

William Shakespeare, the quintessential master of the English language and literary devices, frequently employed anaphora to deliver his profound thoughts and observations.

In his historical play, Richard II, anaphora is used effectively to amplify the emotional weight of the dialogue, underscore key thematic points, and lend a rhythmic, poetic quality to the text.

One of the notable instances of anaphora is found in Act 2, Scene 1, where John of Gaunt uses the device in his “sceptered isle” speech extolling England:

"This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea…"

In this example, Shakespeare uses anaphora through the repetition of “this” at the start of each line. This not only creates a strong rhythm but also emphasizes Gaunt’s deep passion and reverence for England. Furthermore, it underscores the speech’s overall theme of England’s unique nobility and grandeur.

William Blake’s The Tyger

William Blake, one of the central figures of the Romantic Age, is known for his imaginative and poignant poetry. In his famous poem, “The Tyger”, Blake uses anaphora as a structural and thematic device to underline the poem’s key motifs and to establish a consistent rhythm.

Anaphora in “The Tyger” is seen through the repetition of the phrase “What…?” at the beginning of several lines in the poem. For example, in the first stanza:

"Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

And it continues in the second:

"In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?"

This repeated questioning with “What…” adds to the awe and mystery surrounding the tyger, a symbol Blake uses to represent the fierce and terrifying aspect of creation.

Each question, initiated by the repeated phrase, seeks to understand the origin, nature, and implications of the tyger’s existence, underscoring the poem’s exploration of the dual nature of creation—its beauty and its terror.

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

In J.D. Salinger’s novel, The Catcher in the Rye, the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, frequently employs anaphora throughout his internal and external dialogues, notably through the repeated use of “You” at the start of his sentences. This is particularly evident in his attempts to communicate and connect with others around him.

Anaphora, as used in this context, reveals much about Holden’s character and his desperate need for understanding and connection. His repeated use of “You” underscores his tendency to reach out, to attempt to make his audience understand his perspective, his pain, and his disillusionment.

This is seen when he speaks with his sister Phoebe, his old teacher Mr. Antolini, or even when he addresses the reader directly:

"You don't know what I mean. You'd never understand. You just don't see it."

The repetition of “You” at the start of these sentences emphasizes the distance he feels from those around him. Holden’s use of anaphora conveys a sense of frustration, loneliness, and alienation, reflecting his struggle to express his emotions and to feel genuinely understood and heard.

Sylvia Plath’s Mad Girl’s Love Song

“Mad Girl’s Love Song” is a villanelle-style poem by American poet Sylvia Plath. The poem is recognized for its emotive language, vivid imagery, and the recurring use of anaphora.

In this poem, Plath uses anaphora with the recurring phrase “I think I made you up inside my head,” which appears at the end of several lines:

"I think I made you up inside my head."

The anaphora is not only a structural element dictated by the villanelle form, but it also underscores the poem’s main theme of the imagined or unattainable love that exists only within the speaker’s mind.

The repetition of the phrase “I think I made you up inside my head” emphasizes the speaker’s realization and acceptance of the love being a figment of her imagination, reflecting her despair, longing, and self-doubt.

Examples and Usage in Speeches

Anaphora is often used in speeches to add emphasis and rhythm, helping to make a speaker’s points more memorable. Here are a few notable examples:

Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered during the 1963 March on Washington, is one of the most memorable orations in history, thanks in no small part to his adept use of rhetorical devices, such as anaphora.

In this speech, King employs anaphora through the repeated phrase “I have a dream.” This phrase initiates a series of visionary statements about King’s hopes for the future of America, particularly regarding racial equality and justice. For instance, he says:

"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."

Through this consistent repetition of “I have a dream,” King emphasizes his vision for a more equitable society, casting it as an ideal that is both dreamlike and attainable.

This repetition serves to reinforce the message of equality and freedom throughout his speech, imbuing it with a rhythmic, almost chant-like quality that is both engaging and inspiring.

Winston Churchill’s House of Commons Address

Winston Churchill, one of the most eminent orators in history, frequently employed rhetorical devices like anaphora to add emphasis and dramatic impact to his speeches. His House of Commons address during World War II, known as the “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech, provides a powerful example of the use of anaphora.

In this address, Churchill repeats the phrase “We shall” to convey the British nation’s unyielding resolve in the face of adversity:

"We shall go on to the end, 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..."

This repeated use of “We shall” serves to underscore Britain’s determination to resist and overcome the challenges posed by the ongoing war. Each repetition emphasizes not just Churchill’s personal commitment, but the collective commitment of the British people to achieving victory, regardless of the trials to be faced.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, one of the most significant speeches in American history, effectively employs the rhetorical device of anaphora to underscore the importance of the sacrifices made during the Civil War and to inspire commitment to the nation’s ideals.

In this brief yet impactful speech, Lincoln repeatedly uses the phrase “we cannot” to draw attention to the weight of the moment and the shared responsibility that lies ahead:

"But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Through this repetition of “we cannot,” Lincoln emphasizes the profundity of the sacrifice made by those who fought at Gettysburg and acknowledges the inherent limitation in our capacity to honor them adequately.

This repeated phrase underscores that it’s beyond our power to sanctify this hallowed ground any more than the sacrifice of the brave soldiers already has.

Elie Wiesel’s ‘The Perils of Indifference’

Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, is renowned for his powerful speeches and writings that grapple with themes of memory, justice, and the responsibility of humanity.

In his speech, Wiesel repeatedly uses the phrase “What is indifference…” to force the audience to confront the consequences of apathy:

"What is indifference? Etymologically, the word means 'no difference.' A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil.

What is indifference? …Is it necessary at times to practice it simply to keep one’s sanity, live normally, enjoy a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the world around us experiences harrowing upheavals?"

This anaphora not only compels the listener to deeply consider the nature and implications of indifference but also sets the stage for Wiesel to introduce his own experiences and perspective.

The repetition of “What is indifference” serves to echo and amplify the core theme of the speech: the moral duty to resist indifference in the face of injustice.

Examples and Usage in Music

Anaphora is commonly used in song lyrics to create a memorable and emotional impact. Below are a few examples of anaphora in music.

Les Misérables

The musical “Les Misérables” employs the use of anaphora across several songs to emphasize certain themes, create memorable hooks, and underline the emotional states of characters.

I Dreamed a Dream

“Les Misérables” is one of the most popular musicals in history and “I Dreamed a Dream” is a signature song from the show. Anaphora is a type of rhetorical device where a certain word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of clauses or lines. This is often used to emphasize an idea and to provide rhythm and cadence.

"I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high and life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving"

The repetition of the phrase “I dreamed” at the beginning of these lines is an example of anaphora. This repetition underscores the protagonist’s longing for the dreams of her past, serving to highlight her sense of loss and regret at the turn her life has taken.

"He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came"

The repeated phrase here is “He,” which refers to a man who brought happiness into the protagonist’s life, only to leave her. This anaphora underscores the sense of loss and longing in the character’s heart.

In “I Dreamed a Dream,” the repetition of certain phrases contributes to the song’s dramatic structure, creates an emotional resonance, and adds a layer of melancholy that reflects the character’s shattered dreams and present despair.

Look Down

“Look Down” is a song from the musical Les Misérables. In this song, various characters, including prisoners, Gavroche, and Javert, describe the hardships and inequality prevalent in 19th-century France. The song employs the device of anaphora .

"Look down, look down
Don't look 'em in the eye
Look down, look down
You're here until you die"

Here, “Look down” is repeated multiple times, reflecting the prisoners’ internalization of their low status and their acceptance of a hopeless fate. It serves to emphasize their lack of dignity and freedom.

Wonder by Shawn Mendes

“Wonder” is a song by Canadian singer-songwriter Shawn Mendes from his album of the same name. The song explores the wonder, curiosity, and introspection of being in a relationship and navigating one’s personal growth.

"I wonder if I'm being real
Do I speak my truth or do I filter to how I feel?
I wonder, wouldn't it be nice
To live inside a world that isn't black and white?
I wonder what it's like to be my friends
Hope that they don't think I forget about them
I wonder"

Here, Shawn Mendes uses “I wonder” as an anaphora, repeating it at the beginning of each line. This device gives the song a contemplative, introspective feel. The repetition of “I wonder” helps to illustrate his curiosity and self-doubt about how he’s perceived by the world around him and how he navigates his relationships.

I Swear by All-4-One

“I Swear” is a well-known song covered by the American R&B group All-4-One. The original country song was performed by John Michael Montgomery. The song is a promise of enduring love and commitment. It employs anaphora throughout the lyrics to emphasize this message of devotion.

I swear
By the moon and the stars in the skies
I’ll be there
I swear
Like the shadow that’s by your side
I’ll be there

Here, “I swear” is repeated at the beginning of lines. This repetition helps to underscore the depth of the singer’s commitment. Each repetition of “I swear” reinforces the promise and makes it more potent, highlighting the assurance of love and devotion the singer is trying to convey.

Seasons of Love From Rent

“Seasons of Love” is a popular song from the musical Rent. It asks how one measures a year, and subsequently, life itself, suggesting that it should be measured in love. The song employs the use of anaphora in the lyrics to emphasize its key themes.

In the opening lines:

"525,600 minutes
525,000 moments so dear
525,600 minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?"

Here, is repeated at the beginning of these lines. This phrase, which signifies the number of minutes in a year, underscores the concept of time and its significance in our lives. The anaphora serves to emphasize the theme of time’s fleeting nature and the importance of cherishing every moment.

In the later part of the song:

"In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife"

Here, the preposition “in” starts each line, indicating different ways in which time can be experienced or measured. This anaphora stresses the varied experiences that make up our lives, from the mundane to the profound.

There’s a Fine, Fine Line from Avenue Q

“There’s a Fine, Fine Line” is a song from the Broadway musical Avenue Q. The character Kate Monster sings this number after Princeton, with whom she’s been developing a romantic relationship, gives her a mixed signal that leads her to question their relationship.

There's a fine, fine line between a lover and a friend;
There's a fine, fine line between reality and pretend;

Here, the phrase “There’s a fine, fine line” is repeated, initiating the anaphora. The repeated phrase underscores the confusion and ambiguity in Kate’s relationship with Princeton. It accentuates the fine distinction between different kinds of relationships (friendship and romance) and experiences (reality and pretense).

Matilda the Musical

“Matilda the Musical” is filled with songs that make use of different lyrical devices, including anaphora, to emphasize certain themes, create memorable hooks, and help to develop character arcs.

My House

“My House” is a song from Matilda The Musical. The song is sung by Miss Honey, a kind and gentle teacher who cares deeply for Matilda. The song emphasizes the idea of a home being a place of comfort, safety, and love, rather than a physical structure.

"This is my house!
This is my house!
It isn't much but it is enough"

“This is my house” is repeated, reinforcing the sentiment of comfort and safety associated with home. The repeated phrase underscores the importance of home as a space of autonomy, personal satisfaction, and comfort, regardless of its physical state or size.

"On this floor I can stand on my own two feet
On this chair I can write my lessons
On this pillow I can dream my nights away"

The phrase “On this” in each line refers to different objects in the house — the floor, the chair, and the pillow. These objects aren’t just functional items, but symbols of the character’s independence, education, and dreams, respectively. By starting each line with “On this,” the song emphasizes each object’s significance and the character’s relationship with them.

When I Grow Up

“When I Grow Up” is a poignant song from Matilda The Musical, capturing the innocent dreams and aspirations of childhood, as well as the more melancholic perspective of adults looking back on their own childhood hopes. The song makes use of anaphora for emphasis and to create a rhythmic pattern.

"When I grow up,
I will be tall enough to reach the branches
That I need to reach to climb the trees
You get to climb when you're grown up."

"And when I grow up,
I will be smart enough to answer all
The questions that you need to know
The answers to before you're grown up."

The phrase “When I grow up” starts several lines, establishing an anaphora. This repetition emphasizes the dreams and aspirations of the children. It also serves to contrast the naive and often unrealistic expectations of childhood with the reality of adulthood.

Revolting Children

“Revolting Children” is an empowering song from Matilda The Musical, during which the children decide to rebel against the tyrannical Miss Trunchbull. The song makes use of anaphora to emphasize this theme of rebellion and newfound resolve.

Never again will the chokey door slam
Never again will I be bullied, and
Never again will I doubt it when
My mummy says I'm a miracle
Never again will we live behind bars
Never again, now that we know

The phrase “Never again” begins several lines, establishing an anaphora. The repetition emphasizes the children’s determination to change their circumstances.

The phrase underlines the children’s collective refusal to endure their previous conditions and serves as a strong declaration of their decision to rebel against the oppressive environment that Miss Trunchbull created.

The Smell of Rebellion

“The Smell of Rebellion” is a song from Matilda The Musical, sung by Miss Trunchbull, the oppressive headmistress of Crunchem Hall. The song reflects her harsh and authoritative nature, and her distaste for any hint of disobedience or rebellion from her students.

The smell of rebellion!
The stench of revolt!
The reek of pre-pubescent plotting!
The whiff of resistance!
The pong of dissent!
The funk of moral fibre rotting!

Each line begins with “The”, followed by a sensory descriptor (smell, stench, reek, whiff, pong, funk) that connects to a form of rebellion. This anaphora helps to create a rhythmic pattern and gives a more dramatic emphasis to Trunchbull’s aversion to any form of dissent or rebellion.

It paints a vivid picture of her perception of rebellion as something physically foul and unpleasant, which reflects her intense desire for control and order.

He’s My Boy from Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

“He’s My Boy” is a song from the musical “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie”. This heartfelt song is sung by Margaret, Jamie’s mother, expressing her unconditional love and admiration for her son.

"He's my voice
He's my chance
He's my smile
He's my day
He's my life
He's my pain
He's my joy
He's my baby
He's my man
He's my boy"

The phrase “He’s my” begins each line, demonstrating the use of anaphora. This repetitive structure emphasizes Margaret’s deep connection to her son and the multiple roles he plays in her life. Each line offers a different facet of her relationship with Jamie, from her voice and chance to her joy and pain, and finally to her baby, man, and boy.

The use of anaphora in “He’s My Boy” underscores Margaret’s love for Jamie, her pride in him, and her commitment to him despite the challenges they face. This device effectively highlights the emotional depth of the song and offers a profound glimpse into the mother-son relationship at the heart of the story.

Function and Purpose in Writing

Emphasis and Rhythm

Anaphora is a rhetorical device used to give emphasis to the repeated words or phrases. It’s a method of strengthening an argument, creating a rhythm, and adding to the aesthetic quality of a piece of writing.


By repeating a word or phrase at the start of consecutive sentences or clauses, the writer or speaker can underscore the importance of a particular idea or theme. This repetition draws the reader’s or listener’s attention back to this central point again and again, helping to drive home the point.

The consistent reminder can leave a lasting impression and establish the repeated words or phrases as a key point in the argument or narrative.

Rhythm and Musicality

Anaphora introduces a rhythmic pattern to a piece of writing or speech. This can make the content more appealing and memorable. It’s similar to the way in which a catchy chorus can stick in your mind after listening to a song.

The repeated phrases can induce a sort of rhythm or melody, turning prose into a kind of verbal music.

Pathos and Persuasion

Pathos is a mode of persuasion, used in rhetoric, that appeals to the audience’s emotions. It is derived from the Greek word for “suffering” or “experience”. By evoking pathos, a writer or speaker aims to trigger feelings such as sympathy, empathy, anger, sadness, joy, or excitement, with the intention of influencing the audience’s perspective or spurring them to action.

Anaphora’s repeated words or phrases can tap into this emotional wellspring in several ways:

Building Emotional Momentum

The consistent recurrence of a phrase can create a rhythm that builds emotional intensity. As the repetition continues, the reader’s or listener’s emotional response may grow stronger. This can make the message more poignant and impactful.

Creating Empathy

When a repeated phrase or word reflects a deeply felt emotion or experience, it can help the audience to empathize with the speaker or writer’s point of view. This can be particularly effective in persuasive speeches or writing.

Encouraging Action

By stirring strong emotions, anaphora can also spur the audience to take action. The emotional impact of the repeated phrase can linger in the audience’s mind, influencing them to act in accordance with the speaker or writer’s intent.

Climax and Variations

Anaphora can be used effectively to build a sense of climax in writing, speeches, and poetry. By repeating a phrase or word, it can create a growing anticipation in the reader or listener. This anticipation then reaches its peak at a turning point — the climax — resulting in a powerful emotional payoff.

This technique works in a few key ways:

Building Tension and Expectation

As the repeated phrase or word appears over and over, the reader or listener may start to expect something significant to come out of this repetition. This expectation can create a sense of suspense or tension that keeps the audience engaged.

Creating a Climactic Moment

The climax usually breaks the repetition or introduces a significant revelation or event. This can be the point where the speaker or writer delivers a profound insight, reveals a truth, or calls for a certain action. The repeated phrase has prepared the audience for this moment, giving it a greater impact.

Enhancing Impact Through Variation

Occasionally, a variation of the repeated phrase or a complete break in the pattern can be used to create contrast or surprise. This can catch the reader’s or listener’s attention and emphasize the point being made. It can serve as a wake-up call or a punchline, making the climax even more impactful.

Other Related Literary Devices

Anaphora is one of many literary devices that authors use to create emphasis, rhythm, and a variety of effects in their writing. Other related literary devices include:

Epiphora (or Epistrophe)

This is the opposite of anaphora. Instead of repeating words or phrases at the beginning of sentences or clauses, epiphora involves repeating words or phrases at the end of sentences or clauses. This device can be used for similar reasons as anaphora — emphasis, rhythm, and emotional effect.


This is a combination of anaphora and epiphora. It involves repeating words or phrases at both the beginning and end of successive sentences or clauses. Symploce can be used to create complex rhetorical effects and to reinforce an argument or theme in a highly structured way.


This is a form of chiasmus, a figure of speech in which the order of words in one clause is reversed in the following clause. Antimetabole specifically involves the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed order. This device can create a striking or paradoxical effect.


This is the use of similar grammatical structures in a series of two or more items to create balance and rhythm. Anaphora often involves parallelism, as the repeated phrases usually have the same or similar structure.


This device involves repeating the last word or phrase of one sentence or clause at the beginning of the next sentence or clause. This can create a chain-like effect, linking ideas closely together and driving the narrative or argument forward.


This involves the repetition of a word in different cases, inflections, or forms within the same sentence or passage. It emphasizes the different meanings or nuances of the word in its different forms.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between anaphora and repetition?

Anaphora is a specific type of repetition. While repetition refers to the recurrence of words, phrases, or structures in a piece of writing or speech, anaphora is the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive sentences, lines, or clauses.

So, all instances of anaphora involve repetition, but not all instances of repetition are examples of anaphora.

Are there any pitfalls or mistakes to avoid when using anaphora?

The main pitfall to avoid when using anaphora is overuse. While the repetition can be effective for emphasis and rhythm, if used excessively, it can make the text monotonous or overly repetitive, reducing its impact.

Moreover, the chosen word or phrase should be significant to the overall message of the text.

Using anaphora with a word or phrase that is irrelevant or trivial might not achieve the desired emphasis and could confuse the reader or listener.

Are there any literary genres where anaphora is particularly common?

Anaphora is a versatile rhetorical device that can be used in many literary genres. However, it is particularly common in poetry, where it contributes to the poem’s rhythm, musicality, and thematic emphasis.

It’s also frequently used in speeches and persuasive writing to emphasize key points and make the argument more compelling.

Additionally, anaphora is often found in religious texts and hymns, where it helps create a meditative or ceremonial tone.


Anaphora is a dynamic rhetorical device, adding melody and emphasis to any piece of writing or speech.

Its essence lies in repetition, which brings a unique rhythm, reinforcing themes and driving home points. Evident in seminal literature and notable speeches, anaphora’s power to captivate and stir emotions remains unchallenged.

It’s more than a writing tool; it’s a conduit for making language memorable and impactful. As such, it offers anyone communicating through the written or spoken word a golden opportunity to truly resonate with their audience.

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Kyna is a writer and aspiring doctor. Besides writing, she likes discovering new music, immersing herself in interactive books, and engaging in multiplayer shooter games. She is passionate about chemistry, human biology, and pharmacology, and is always eager to learn more about these subjects.