Repetition of Ideas

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“Repetition cuts both ways: sometimes good, sometimes not.”

“You can say that again!”

“Repetition cuts both ways: some…”

“Okay, okay, you’ve made your point.”

Repetition can be annoying, but adroitly used, it adds clout to an idea. When your sweetheart says, “I love you. I love you very much,” the repetition intensifies the sentiment. If a coach admonishes his team, “Okay, guys, knock it off. I said knock it off,” you know he really means it.

The following paragraph may suggest that the writer has a one-track mind:

    In the fall Bethany will be going to college. She is psyched to get out of high school. She is psyched to break away from her small town and live in a big city. She is psyched for meeting new people from all over the country and the world, and she is psyched to get started on a program of studies that she expects will prepare her for law school. But first, she is psyched to take the SAT.

Every sentence but the first uses the same subject–verb combination. Yet, the overall effect is anything but monotonous. What’s memorable is not repetition, but relentlessness. Repeating the verb psyched five times emphasizes Bethany’s frame of mind. The point could not have been made as emphatically using a different verb in each sentence.

Or take this passage written by an incorrigible bagel freak.

    My taste for bagels knows no bounds. I stop at the bagel shop on my way to school each morning and grab an onion bagel and coffee. Lunch consists of an olive bagel and a couple of veggie bagels smeared with cream cheese. At snack time I’m not picky. Any style bagel will do, but I hate to have dinner without a buttered poppy-seed bagel. Before bed I wash down a plain toasted bagel with a glass of milk, and in case I have insomnia, I stash two or three garlic bagels on my nightstand for a tasty middle-of the-night pick-me-up.

The writer virtually beats you over the head with bagels. But the repetition won’t allow you to forget the point—that the writer has eyes not for pizza, not for burritos, not for onion rings, but only for bagels.

A word of caution: Restatements of a word or phrase can sometimes be distracting. Therefore, stay alert for accidental repetition:

    In a corner of the room stood a clock. The clock said four o’clock.

    Columbus made three ocean voyages. The voyages took him across the Atlantic Ocean.

Combining such sentences will keep you from ending one sentence and starting the next one with the same words:

    The clock in the corner of the room said four.

    Columbus made three voyages across the Atlantic.

Sentences can also be marred by words or sounds that draw attention to themselves:

    Maybe some people don’t have as much freedom as others; but the freedom they do have is given to them for free. Therefore, freedom is proof enough that the best things in life are free.

    The members of the assembly remembered that November was just around the corner.

These writers failed to listen to the sound of their words. Had they read their sentences aloud, they may have noticed that voices were stuck in a groove. In fact, reading your words aloud allows you to step back and examine word sounds. (Hold it! Those two words—aloud and allows—sound jarring and should not be permitted to stand side by side.) Hearing your written words spoken, you’re more are apt to notice unwanted repetition. Whenever possible, let each of your practice essays cool for a while. Then enlist a friend to read it aloud. Hearing it in another’s voice lends objectivity to the process of self-evaluation.