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We all know what repetition is.

I'm trying to construct the following sentence:

He called out her name in an earnest, helpless repetition.

or should it be

He called out her name in earnest, helpless repetitions.

or even

He called out her name in earnest, helpless repetition.

This "repetition" I have in mind is multiple in count.

Of course, I can rewrite this using an adverb.

He called out her name repeatedly.

But my goal here is to describe the way he called out her name: earnestly, helplessly, repeatedly.

I have a sense that "repetition" can mean the act of repeating, so in this case, it's not countable. But isn't repetition also countable too?

Thank you for shedding light on this confusing situation.

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Yes, 'repetition' can be both count (with plural 'repetitions') and non-count (when we don't speak of singular or plural; but, in this usage, taking a singular verb), as ODO says.

But I'd say that the construction you mention parallels 'did it in faith' which never takes the count usage (even though 'faith' of course does) as opposed to 'spoke in parables'. It's not a very commonly used construction, though

Kendrick rapidly chants these last lines in repetition

is an early example found in a Google search. The next example found in this search, 'Holding someone is truly believing there's joy in repetition', is a different construction, as are many others. Though 'in repetitions' is also found, it seems even rarer and sounds less natural to my ear.

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  • Thank you. What about using the preposition "with"? As in He called out her name with earnest, helpless repetitions. I imagine in this case you would need plural. Which is better? with or in
    – Zack Xu
    Nov 25, 2015 at 23:36
  • I'd use the 'in' variant for effect. The 'with' form sounds even less normal, more in need of a rewrite. Notice that, although the indefinite article is sometimes used with a non-count noun for style, it's usually better to avoid it, so 'He called out her name in earnest, helpless repetition' might be better. Nov 26, 2015 at 0:42

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