B.A. North American Studies

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Rhetorical Figures: Figures of Repetition and Tropes

Rhetorical figures are a staple of literature. They are widely used in poetic language to provide emphasis and novelty of expression, but also to move beyond the literal meaning of words and phrases. Figures of repetition and tropes thus serve to intensify language and to give aesthetic pleasure. When interpreting literary texts, the ability correctly to identify rhetorical figures thus comes in very useful indeed.

Rhetorical figures come in many shapes and forms. Two very common types are figures of repetition and tropes (figurative language). Here are definitions of two figures of repetition and two tropes:

Figures of Repetition:

  • anaphora: repetition of the same word at the beginning of successive clauses or verses;

  • polyptoton: repetition of words from the same root but with different endings.


  • synecdoche: substitution of a part for a whole, or the other way round;

  • hyperbole: the use of exaggerated terms for emphasis;


Try to find the rhetorical figure that you think best fits each example by dragging it into the appropriate box.

*Note: replace image at right with a shorter image, to avoid blank space before the task becomes visible 

It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,

It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;

(Walt Whitman, "A child said, What is the grass?")


There is an anaphora, because both lines start with the word "It".

"The things you own end up owning you."
(Brad Pitt in the movie Fight Club)


The use of "own" and "owning" is a polyptoton, because both words have the same root but different endings.

I'll love you, dear, I'll love you

till China and Africa meet,

and the river jumps over the mountain

and the salmon sing in the street,

(W. H. Auden, "As I Walked Out One Evening")


To say that you love somebody "till Africa and Asia meet", etc., is very romantic indeed, but clearly a blatant exaggeration.

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe nand strong,

(Walt Whitman, "I hear America Singing")


"America" in the very first line represents American workers. It thus substitutes the whole of America for a part of its population.









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