For example: "I could tell he had had a great time at the circus."

If you're not repeating the word for emphasis, is there a term for the sequential usage, other than "coincidence"?

  • 3
    That one is just the past perfect. But there are eleven hads here, and even Wikipedia doesn't have a name for it. It's certainly not "coincidence" though. I'd call it "contrivance". Oct 31, 2011 at 5:18
  • Do you have any more examples other than "had had"?
    – Hugo
    Oct 31, 2011 at 6:50
  • 1
    @Hugo something like "She didn't know that that dog was dangerous" would fit, it seems.
    – user13141
    Oct 31, 2011 at 7:04
  • Is 'isisism' an accepted term yet?
    – Mitch
    Oct 31, 2011 at 12:26
  • 2
    @FumbleFingers it is perfectly possible to construct an arbitrarily long repetition with valid English. Consider a sign about a store that said "Smith, and, Jones." I write: "There is no comma between Smith and and and and and Jones." But then you question my punctuation and ask: "Isn't there a comma between Smith and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and and Jones?" And I can reciprocate by questioning your punctuation. Insanity ensues. And, yes, I think contrivance would be the mot juste.
    – Fraser Orr
    Oct 31, 2011 at 14:30

6 Answers 6


Tautonym, like Vulpes Vulpes, for red fox?



You might call this a homonymic phrase (or compound).

Since homonyms are words that sound the same (or are spelled the same) this might be a proper term do describe a phrase, or a part of a phrase, that includes them.

Reading through the closest article to the subject, that I could find in wikipedia did not reveal any specific terms that would cover this scenario.

  • I down voted because you said it was epizeuxis, and then you corrected yourself and said that it wasn't (because the author said it was a grammatical structure not for emphasis.) I'd be happy to reverse if you edit to correct.
    – Fraser Orr
    Oct 31, 2011 at 14:21
  • @FraserOrr, I was not clear - in rhetoric consecutively repeating the words is called epizeuxis. However, that is really a sidenote and not related to what OP asks, so I removed it.
    – Unreason
    Oct 31, 2011 at 14:36
  • fair enough, I reversed my downvote.
    – Fraser Orr
    Oct 31, 2011 at 16:55

There are plenty of contrived sentences allowing anything up to an infinite number of repetitions, but no-one has actually given an example where repeating a word serves to emphasise anything. So how about...

Me: I can see the appeal of Polanski's films if you're a paedophile.

You: I like Polanski's films, but I'm not a paedophile!

Me: I didn't mean you you. I mean if someone else was a paedophile.

Okay, maybe not the best example. But I do think it conveys emphasis.


Contrastive focus reduplication. " I like you, but I don't (like) like you."

  • 1
    That's certainly one good example of the phenomenon (and you also give a nice example), but contrastive focus reduplication (eg 'coffee coffee' has been specifically covered here elsewhere. Feb 7, 2015 at 15:27

Could it be termed a composite phrase? The French or Latin origin means "to put together". Composite implies joining. It's the first word that came to mind when reading a news article tonight and noticing unnecessary duplication of the word "that".


You can occasionally repeat a word for emphasis, usually in speech; for example:

She looked over her shoulder and said: 'He's very, very good ...'

But you can't repeat adjectives for emphasis; for example:

a red, red cloth

Is incorrect; whilst

a very red cloth

is fine. However, it is doable in certain languages, for examlle - Bengali; the forner translates as

lal (red), lal (red) kapor (cloth)

It's where the double not for emphases not comes from. I don't know the grammatical term that describes this, but there is likely to be one.

  • Better not tell Robert Burns that he couldn't write about his love being like a red, red rose.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 3, 2020 at 8:46

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