From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Isocolon is a rhetorical scheme in which parallel elements possess the same number of words or syllables. As in any form of parallelism, the pairs or series must enumerate like things to achieve symmetry.[1] The scheme is called bicolon, tricolon, or tetracolon depending on whether they are two, three, or four parallel elements.[2] A well-known example of tricolon is Julius Caesar's "Veni, vidi, vici" ("I came, I saw, I conquered").[3]


The term, a compound of ἴσος ísos 'equal' and κῶλον kôlon 'member, clause' was used in the classical Greek rhetorical literature:

...εἶδος δὲ τοῦ παρομοίου τὸ ἰσόκωλον, ἐπὰν ἴσας ἔχῃ τὰ κῶλα τὰς συλλαωάς...
Under the heading of symmetry of members comes equality of members, which occurs when the members contain an equal number of syllables...

— pseudo-Demetrius of Phalerum, Περὶ ἑρμηνείας (On Style)[4]

The Greek plural is 'isocola', but 'isocolons' is also used in English.[5]


An example of bicolon is the advertising slogan "buy one, get one free" (you pay for one item but you get another free).[2]

In Biblical poetry it is standard to see a pair of adjacent lines of poetry in which the second echoes the meaning of the first.[6] This can be considered a bicolon.[6][need quotation to verify] For example:

  1. When Israel went out of Egypt, * the house of Jacob from a barbarous people:
  2. Judea made his sanctuary, * Israel his dominion.
  3. The sea saw and fled: * Jordan was turned back.
  4. The mountains skipped like rams, * and the hills like the lambs of the flock.
  5. What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou didst flee: * and thou, O Jordan, that thou wast turned back?
  6. Ye mountains, that ye skipped like rams, * and ye hills, like lambs of the flock?
  7. At the presence of the Lord the earth was moved, * at the presence of the God of Jacob:
  8. Who turned the rock into pools of water, * and the stony hill into fountains of waters.
Psalm 113:1-8 (Psalm 114 Hebrew)


Veni, vidi, vici
— (Julius Caesar)
"I came; I saw; I conquered."[7]
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?"
...or the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property.
John Locke, 1689, Two Treatises of Government, Second Treatise, §123

A tricolon that comprises parts in increasing size, magnitude or intensity is called a tricolon crescens, or an ascending tricolon.[8] Tricolon can sometimes be a hendiatris.

Similarly, tricolon that comprises parts that decrease in size, magnitude, intensity, or word length is called a tricolon diminuens, or a descending tricolon.

Abraham Lincoln used tricola in many of his speeches.[citation needed] 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 colon stand apart in meaning from the other two for emphasis is employed (much/many/few).

Repeating the same thing multiple times is a special case of an isocolon, as a way of saying that only one thing is important, and it is very important. In about 1500, when Louis XII asked Giangiacopo Trivulzio what was necessary to win the war against Ludovico Sforza, Trivulzio answered: "Three things, Sire, Money, money, money!"[9] In the 20th century, the cliché "Location, location, location" was said to enumerate the three most important attributes of real property. This phrase appears in print in Chicago as early as 1926,[10] but is nonetheless frequently credited, incorrectly, to the British real estate magnate Lord Harold Samuel.[11][12] British Prime Minister Tony Blair set out his priorities for office in 1997 with "Education, education, education".


Tetracola are sometimes called "quatrains" (cf. the usual meaning of quatrain).[6]

An example is Gabriele D'Annunzio:[2]

Era calcina grossa, e poi era terra cotta, e poi pareva bronzo, e ora è cosa viva.

It was raw mortar, and then it was terra cotta, and then it looked like bronze, and now it is a living thing

Special cases[edit]

A special type of collocation known as an irreversible binomial is a bicolon that is both short and so well known that it becomes a fixed expression. Not all irreversible binomials are bicolons or tricolons, however. Irreversible binomials generally consist of only a few words at most.

Examples of irreversible binomials that are bicolons or tricolons:

Examples of irreversible binomials that are not bicolons or tricolons:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Corbett and Connors, 1999. p. 45
  2. ^ a b c Dizionario di retorica e stilistica, UTET, Toino, 2004. ISBN 9788877508850
  3. ^ Forsyth, 2014. p. 98
  4. ^ W. Rhys Roberts, Demetrius On Style, Cambridge, 1902, p. 80, at
  5. ^ Google ngrams frequency chart of isocola vs. isocolons
  6. ^ a b c Tremper Longman, Peter Enns, Dictionary of the Old Testament: wisdom, poetry & writings 3, p. 520
  7. ^ Forsyth, 2014. p. 98
  8. ^ Latina ad Vitam: Poetry Device of the Day: Tricolon Crescens
  9. ^ John Aikin, William Johnston, General Biography, 1814, p. 477
  10. ^ On Language: Location, Location, Location Safire, William; 26 June 2009.
  11. ^ Brodie, Sophie (14 November 2007). "It's location, location, location for Land Secs". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  12. ^ William Safire, "On Language", New York Times Magazine, June 26, 2009 [full text]


  • Corbett, Edward P.J. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. Oxford University Press, New York, 1971.
  • Smyth, Herbert Weir (1920). Greek Grammar. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. p. 680. ISBN 0-674-36250-0.