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Rhetorical Devices — Rule of Three

The rule of three describes triads of all types — any collection of three related elements. Two more specific triad variants are hendiatris and tricolon.

Hendiatris

A hendiatris is a figure of speech where three successive words are used to express a central idea.

Examples of hendiatris include:

  • Veni, vidi, vici.” [Julius Caesar]
  • Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité [French motto]
  • Citius, Altius, Fortius” [Olympic motto]
  • Wine, women, and song” [Anonymous]

Tricolon

tricolon is a series of three parallel elements (words or phrases). In a strict tricolon, the elements have the same length but this condition is often put aside.

Examples of tricola include:

  • “Veni, vidi, vici.” [Julius Caesar]
  • Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” [Advice for speakers from Franklin D. Roosevelt]
  • Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation – not because of [1] the height of our skyscrapers, or [2] the power of our military, or [3] the size of our economy.” [Barack Obama, Keynote speech to Democratic National Convention, July 2004]

tricolon

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

A tricolon (pl. tricola) is a sentence with three clearly defined parts (cola) of equal length, usually independent clauses and of increasing power.

Veni, vidi, vici

— (Julius Caesar)
“I came; I saw; I conquered.”

Etymology:

From the Greek, “three” + “unit”

Examples:

  • “I require three things in a man. He must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”
    (Dorothy Parker)
  • “You are talking to a man who has laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom, and chuckled at catastrophe.”
    (The Wizard in The Wizard of Oz, 1939)
  • “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
    (Benjamin Franklin)

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