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Title: Tricolon  
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Subject: Hendiatris, Rule of three (writing), Glossary of rhetorical terms
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For the unicode character tricolon (ie.⁝), see unicode.

In rhetoric, a bicolon, tricolon, or tetracolon is a sentence with two, three, or four clearly defined parts (cola), usually independent clauses and of increasing power. (The plural may be '-colons' or '-cola'[1])


The bicolon, or incomplete tricolon, is standard in Biblical poetry.[2] It is a pair of adjacent lines of poetry in which the second echoes the meaning of the first.[2] For example:

  1. When Israel came out of Egypt, | Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,
  2. Judah became God’s sanctuary, | Israel his dominion.
  3. The sea looked and fled, | the Jordan turned back;
  4. the mountains leaped like rams, | the hills like lambs.
  5. Why was it, sea, that you fled? | Why, Jordan, did you turn # back?
  6. Why, mountains, did you leap like rams, | you hills, like lambs?
  7. Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, | at the presence of the God of Jacob,
  8. who turned the rock into a pool, | the hard rock into springs of water
--Psalm 114


A tricolon is a sentence composed of three clearly defined parts called cola. It is closely related with the literary device hendiatris. The plural of tricolon is either tricola or tricolons.[3]

Veni, vidi, vici
— (Julius Caesar)
"I came; I saw; I conquered."

A tricolon that comprises parts that increase in size, magnitude, intensity, or word length[4] is called a tricolon crescens, or an ascending tricolon.

Nec tē noster amor nec tē data dextera quondam
nec moritūra tenet crūdēlī fūnere Dīdō?
Aeneid Book IV by Virgil
"Does our love not hold you, nor does my right hand having been given hold you, nor does Dido about to die with a cruel death hold you?"

A tricolon that comprises parts that decrease in size, magnitude, intensity, or word length is called a tricolon diminuens, or a descending tricolon. Sometimes, two short cola are followed by a long colon.

Abraham Lincoln used tricola in many of his speeches. His Gettysburg Address has the following phrase: "We cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow..." Lincoln wrote in his second inaugural address, "with malice toward none, with charity toward all, with firmness in the right...", which became the most famous expression in the speech. Winston Churchill also used the device frequently, perhaps most famously in August 1940 when referring to the Battle of Britain with the line "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." In this instance, a frequent literary device of making the third cola stand apart in meaning from the other two for emphasis is employed (much/many/few).

British Prime Minister Tony Blair set out his priorities for office in 1997 with a far more simple tricolon: "Education, Education, Education". This reflects the clichéd real estate tenet of "Location, location, location" as the three most important features when buying a house. This latter phrase has been said to have been coined by Harold Samuel,[5] though it appears in print as early as 1926.[6]

The tricolon is also encountered in popular culture, from Meat Loaf's line "I want you, I need you, but there ain't no way I'm ever going to love you" in the song "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" to the title of classic spaghetti western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The Simpsons character Homer Simpson bungles a tricolon when he states "I can't let that happen, I won't let that happen, and I can't let that happen!"


Tetracola are sometimes called "quatrains" (cf. the usual meaning of quatrain).[2]

See also


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