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What's Epiphora?

Take an example of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address (November 19, 1863), when he said;

“… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

First, even without knowing the context of his speech, it is obvious that whatever he is saying is solely meant for “the people”. Why? Because of the repetition of the word “people” in his speech. Now, this is not just his style of talking. And even if it were, doesn’t it do well with emphasizing and creating remembrance and awareness about what he is addressing? This style of repetition is called epiphora.

What is the definition of epiphora?

Epiphora is a literary device in which a phrase or a word is repeated at the end of successive clauses or sentences. This is usually for rhetorical effect. In case you see or hear the words “epistrophe” or “antistrophe”, don’t panic and start thinking about how little English vocabulary you know; they both are synonyms for epiphora.

Examples of sentences with the use of epiphora

Allow me to dig back into history and use some of the speeches made by famous leaders in history just to show you how epiphora is used.

“Our brothers and sisters in Asia, who were colonized by the Europeans, Our brothers and sisters in Africa, who were colonized by the Europeans, and in Latin America, the peasants, who were colonized by the Europeans, have been involved in a struggle since 1945 to get the colonialists, or the colonizing powers, the Europeans, off their land, out of their country.”

(Malcolm X, The Black Revolution, 1963)

The repetition of the word “Europeans” in Malcolm X’s speech is epiphora. He uses it to emphasize the impact of the “Europeans” on the races he mentions.

“With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

(Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream, August 28, 1963)

“There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here tonight as Americans - not as Democrats or Republicans - we are met here as Americans to solve that problem.”

(Lyndon B. Johnson, March 15, 1965)

In both the speeches above, the repetition of “together” and “problem” respectively emphasizes togetherness.

Examples of the use of epiphora in literature

“Sweet Portia,

If you did know to whom I gave the ring,

If you did know for whom I gave the ring

And would conceive for what I gave the ring

And how unwillingly I left the ring,

When nought would be accepted but the ring,

You would abate the strength of your displeasure.”


“If you had known the virtue of the ring,

Or half her worthiness that gave the ring,

Or your own honor to contain the ring,

You would not then have parted with the ring.”

(Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare)

Shakespeare repeats “the ring” to emphasize its importance.

The difference between epiphora and anaphora

While epiphora is the repetition of words or phrases at the end of successive clauses or sentences, anaphora is the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences.

How to use epiphora

Choose words that are key to your message

This will help in emphasizing your message to your audience.

Don’t overdo it

Just like any other literary device, if you overdo or overuse epiphora, it makes your work boring and will not produce the desired effect on your audience.

The uses of epiphora

Epiphora emphasizes the idea you are addressing and at the same time provides rhythm to your work.


Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Keith Mbuya