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Tricolon - examples & definition

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Rhetorical techniques are designed to help sear your words into your audience's brains and are just as powerful today as when they were created, over 2,500 years ago. In fact, they're one of the major reasons President Obama is in the White House. Despite this, some people are put off using them because they fear they'll sound 'false' or 'dramatic.' So a great way to ease yourself into using them is by trying out one of the most effective (and easiest to use): TRICOLON.

What is a Tricolon?

A Tricolon (sometimes called the 'Rule of Threes') is really more of a general principle than a rhetorical technique, but it is very effective. For some reason, the human brain seems to absorb and remember information more effectively when it is presented in threes. There's a reason there were 3 Musketeers, why Goldilocks didn't meet 4 bears in the woods, why Charlie didn't employ only 2 Angels and why Curly, Larry & Mo didn't have 'and George' tagged on.

The best way to answer 'What is a Tricolon?' is to look at some Tricolon examples:

  • "Government of the people, by the people, for the people" ... President Abraham Lincoln
  • "Never in the history of human endeavor has so much been owed by so many to so few" ... Sir Winston Churchill
  • "Veni, vidi, vinci" ... Julius Caesar
  • Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I will learn” – Benjamin Franklin
  • "The few, the proud, the Marines" - advertising slogan, United States Marine Corps

It's one of President Obama's favorites. There are twenty two Tricolon examples used in his Inauguration speech alone and fourteen in his speech in Prague (to take two speeches at random)! Here are a few:

  • I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors”
  • “Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."
  • “Few would have imagined that the Czech Republic would become a free nation, a member of NATO, a leader of a united Europe.”
  • Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something”

Think how easy it is to use this in business presentations. All you need to do is look through your script for places you have used two nouns or two adjectives or two verbs, and add a third!

For example, let's say you've originally written, 'Our objectives this year are both stretching and ambitious'. A few strokes of the keyboard and a simple addition later this becomes, 'Our objectives this year are stretching. They're ambitious. Make no mistake - they're BIG.'

If you've written, 'Due to a mixture of complacency and arrogance,' you can simply add a third noun and change it to 'Due to a mixture of complacency, arrogance and wishful thinking’.

The Board gives this their unequivocal, 100% backing' easily becomes ‘The Board gives this their full, unequivocal, 100% backing’.

Related articles:

What is tricolon?
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