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What is Anaphora?

    what is anaphora

    Find yourself wondering, “What is anaphora?” Before you can think about teaching anaphora to your students, it’s important to understand the basics of this figure of speech. If you’re looking to unpack what anaphora is, understand how it’s used in writing, and look at classic examples in famous literature and speech, you’re in the right place.

    Anaphora Definition

    Anaphora is the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple sentences or clauses in a row. The repetition can include exact phrases or slight variations in wording. In either case, this specific patterned use of language creates an echo-like effect for emphasis and added rhetorical impact. While writers use this style of repetition in poetry and prose, it is most notably used for effect in speeches, especially in politics.

    The term “anaphora” traces its origins back to the ancient Greek language, stemming from the words “ana”  (meaning “again” or “back”) and “phorá” (meaning “to carry” or “to bear”). Therefore,  anaphora quite literally means “to carry back”  or to repeat. 

    Anaphora Pronunciation

    Anaphora is a four-syllable word beginning with a short “a” sound. 

    The correct pronunciation for anaphora is as follows: uh-naf-er-uh

    What is the Purpose of Anaphora?

    Writers employ this form of repetition to emphasize key ideas, create rhythm, and evoke a certain emotional response in the audience. While unintentional repetition can make a piece of writing seem boring and bland, anaphora involves the intentional placement of repeated words and phrases for special effect and added emphasis. 

    By strategically repeating key words or phrases, writers can enhance the impact of their writing and guide the reader’s attention to important messages, themes, or concepts.

    Let’s break down some of these key uses:

    • To add emphasis: Anaphora allows writers to emphasize specific ideas, themes, or emotions through repetition. As a result, the audience’s attention is drawn to important concepts, making them stand out more prominently in the text.
    • To establish rhythm and flow: By creating a rhythmic pattern through repetition, anaphora enhances the flow of writing. This rhythmic structure can capture an audience’s attention, keeping them engaged throughout the piece of writing.
    • To create structural coherence: Authors can use anaphora to link together related ideas or concepts, reinforcing the overall theme or message. Conversely, anaphora can be used to highlight stark contrasts for added emphasis and effect.
    • To enhance rhetorical effect: Anaphora is a powerful rhetorical device that can be used to persuade, inspire, or elicit a particular emotional response in an audience. Writers can use this to establish a sense of urgency, passion, or conviction, making their writing more persuasive and impactful.
    • To increase memorability: The repetitive nature of anaphora can make certain phrases or passages more memorable to readers. By echoing key words or phrases throughout the text, writers can leave a lasting impression on their audience.

    What it’s NOT: Anaphora vs. Epistrophe vs. Symploce

    It’s easy to get confused between anaphora, epistrophe, and symploce. After all, all three devices involve repetition. However, each device takes a slightly different approach to how and where that repetition is used, creating varying effects.

    Let’s break down the difference:

    • Anaphora is a rhetorical device where a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences. Its purpose is to emphasize ideas, create rhythm, and guide the reader’s attention. For example, in Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the repetition of the phrase “I have a dream” at the beginning of multiple sentences in a row is an example of anaphora used to emphasize his vision for equality.
    • Epistrophe is the opposite of anaphora, in which the repetition of words or phrases occurs at the end of successive clauses or sentences. Like anaphora, epistrophe is used to create emphasis, rhythm, and rhetorical impact. For example, Abraham Lincoln repeats the word “people” at the conclusion of his Gettysburg Address, stating, “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” to emphasize the democratic ideals of the nation.
    • Symploce is a technique that combines elements of both anaphora and epistrophe by repeating a word or phrase at both the beginning and end of successive clauses or sentences. This allows writers to emphasize key ideas from multiple angles, amplifying their overall message.

    How Do You Use Anaphora in Writing?

    Incorporating anaphora into your writing involves more than simply repeating words or phrases at the start of several sentences. It’s a strategic component of the author’s craft that is employed with purpose and planning. Therefore, it’s imperative to consider the following steps when using anaphora in writing:

    1. Determine Why

    Before you even think about what you are going to repeat, it’s important to think about why you want to incorporate repetition in your writing. Determine the effect you want the repetition to have on the audience. This will empower you to use anaphora more purposefully and effectively throughout your writing.

    2. Determine What

    Choose words or phrases that are central to your theme, underscore your overall message, or elicit the targeted emotional response. Aim for words and phrases that are impactful and memorable, aligning with the overall purpose of your writing.

    3. Determine Where

    Decide where in your writing you want to use anaphora. Consider which sentences and clauses would benefit most from emphasis and repetition. Whether you plan to use anaphora in one section or throughout the entire piece, think about what makes the most sense to enhance the flow, coherence, and overall impact of your writing.

    4. Write and Revise

    As you write, structure your sentences so that the chosen word or phrase appears at the beginning of each one. Ensure that the repetition feels natural and enhances the flow of your writing. Repeat this step as necessary (no pun intended).  Continue to revise and refine your work, playing around with placement and variations until you achieve the desired effect.

    Tips for Teaching Anaphora

    Here are some tips to help you effectively teach this literary device:

    • Start Simple: Before asking your students to dig through an entire text to identify and analyze anaphora, introduce the concept using excerpted examples. Find clear instances of anaphora from literature, speeches, poems, or songs.
    • Explain the Purpose: Students may not be familiar with this literary device, so it’s important to provide explicit instruction to help students understand why writers use anaphora. Discuss how anaphora can emphasize key ideas and add a rhetorical effect.
    • Use Guided Analysis: Start by analyzing examples together, guiding students’ discovery of how the repeated words or phrases enhance the meaning and impact of a text. Students will gain confidence in understanding the purpose and effect of anaphora.
    • Utilize Visual Cues: Encourage students to use highlighting and underlining to visually identify repeated words or phrases at the beginning of sentences or clauses. This hands-on approach helps students actively engage with the text while providing a visual representation of anaphora.
    • Analyze Famous Speeches: Analyze famous speeches together as a class, focusing on how anaphora is used to convey powerful messages and inspire audiences. Consider speeches by historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, or John F. Kennedy, discussing the impact of strategic repetition.
    • Connect to Real-World Examples: Help students see the relevance of anaphora beyond the classroom by encouraging them to make real-world connections while reading. Look for examples of anaphora in advertising, political speeches, or social media posts.
    • Encourage Written Practice: Have students experiment with anaphora in their own writing. Provide prompts, creative writing challenges, or assignments that allow students to explore how anaphora can enhance the clarity, coherence, and impact of their writing.

    Examples of Anaphora

    1. Anaphora in Prose: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

    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.”

    In the opening paragraph of his classic novel A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens repeats the phrase “it was” again and again. Right out of the gate, Dickens establishes an entrancing rhythm that draws the reader in. Furthermore, this use of anaphora is full of repetition and intriguing juxtaposition, piquing the reader’s curiosity about the setting of the novel. Each repetition emphasizes the stark contrast between “the best of times” and “the worst of times,” creating a sense of tension while setting the tone for the rest of the story.

    2. Anaphora in a Famous Speech: “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” by Winston Churchill

    We shall not flag or fail… 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. We shall never surrender.”

    Winston Churchill’s famous “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech was geared toward rallying and inspiring the British people as they faced the threat of invasion by Nazi Germany. Throughout his speech, Churchill employed anaphora as he repeated the phrases “we shall” and “we shall fight” to emphasize his call for unity in the face of adversity. By repeating this phrase, he successfully underscores the collective strength of the nation. As a result, the speech created a sense of inspiration, unity, strength, and conviction among the audience.

    3. Anaphora in Poetry: “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

    “… We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,

    we will rise from the windswept northeast

    where our forefathers first realized revolution

    We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,

    we will rise from the sunbaked south

    We will rebuild, reconcile and recover…”

    Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” is a great modern example of anaphora in poetry that highlights the significant impact and effect the figure of speech can have on an audience. Written for and recited at the 2021 presidential inauguration ceremony, the poem begins by reflecting on the challenges and divisions facing the country. However, as the poem continues, Gorman expresses a sense of hope for the future, calling for unity, healing, and resilience. The repeated phrase “We will rise” toward the end of the poem encourages a sense of hope and possibility in the audience. With each repetition, Gorman reinforces the message of perseverance and resilience in the face of challenges, inspiring the audience to overcome obstacles and strive for a better future for all.

    Additional Resources for Teaching Anaphora

    Explore a curated database of examples of anaphora in political speeches.

    Let students explore using anaphora with these engaging argumentation and persuasion activities.

    This LinkedIn post helps make the case for using anaphora in daily speech

    Help your students understand anaphora  with the following videos:

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