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Aspects of Public Speaking

Elision and Contraction

Brian Micklethwaite
© Wolverhampton Speakers Club 2017


‘Education! Education! Education!’ … or if you prefer … ‘Location! Location! Location!’ Repetition is a widely used technique in public speaking – and a very useful one to all of us.

Repetition of the main points of your speech is one way of keeping those main points in the audience’s mind, but here we are looking at something more specific: we’re looking at how you can use repetition of words or phrases to enhance your speech and make more of an impact.

Why use repetition?

Repetition of words or phrases immediately stands out in your speech and draws your audience’s attention to what you are saying. Repetition can:
  • Drive a point home using emphasis and power
    Increase understanding
    Create rhythm and momentum and so move the speech forward
    Bring a speech to life
    Help a point stand out and remain in the memory

Let’s take a closer look

Having said that repetition is a valuable technique we need to take a closer look at how to do it. There are two main ways – repetition at the beginning of a statement or repetition at the end of a statement.

Repetition at the beginning is known as ‘starting echo’ or, in Rhetoric, ‘Anaphora’. Here a word or short phrase is repeated at the beginning of each statement. Here are some examples:

We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them on the landing grounds, we shall fight them in the field and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender’.

Winston Churchill

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color (sic) of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today’.

Martin Luther King

Repetition at the end is known as ‘ending echo’ or, in Rhetoric, ‘Epiphora’. Here a word or short phrase is repeated at the end of each statement. Here is an example:

‘When I was a child I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child … when I became a man …’

New Testament 1 Corinthians 13

Occasionally both types can be combined:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of the shoe, the horse was lost. For want of the horse, the rider was lost. For want of the rider, the battle was lost. For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost’.


A few pointers

As you can see there is a lot of variation. Sometimes repetition is done in our favourite ‘threes’ but this is not a rigid rule – go for what sounds right.

Make sure that your use of repetition is intentional and that you have a point to make.

Make sure that your repetition is memorable, otherwise it won’t make an impact.

Repetition can often be used as part of a summary at the end of your speech.


Like a lot of terms in speaking, hyperbole derives from a couple of Greek words that, put together, mean something like ‘exaggerate’ or ‘excess’.

Hyperbole, then, is the use of extreme or ridiculous exaggeration in your speech so as to make a point or create an effect - it is a deliberate exaggeration that is not meant to be taken literally, for example: ‘I could eat a horse’ simply uses exaggeration to emphasise how hungry you are.

What is it used for?

Hyperbole can be used:
  • for emphasis or feeling
  • to create a strong effect
  • to enhance a description
  • to gain attention
  • to create humour.
It can separate your descriptions from the mundane, so you could say, for example, ‘He had a brain the size of a planet’ instead of ‘He was clever’. A potentially boring passage can come to life if you use hyperbole.

You probably use hyperbole in your everyday language and you will see it in poetry and other literature, and frequently when an organisation tries to ‘talk things up’ such as in advertising (in advertising the strict truth is often exaggerated by hyperbole to make the target audience feel a certain way).

You won’t normally find it in scientific, medical or technical writing!

Some examples of hyperbole

You can probably think of a lot of examples yourself, but here are a few to get you going:
  • I’ve told you a million times!
  • I’ve got tons of work to do.
  • They ran like greased lightning.
  • You could have knocked me down with a feather.
  • When I heard her voice the whole universe began to sing.
  • ‘Cooking doesn’t get better than this! (Greg Wallace - Masterchef).
  • I can smell the cooking five miles away.
  • Our Education Director has been doing the job since the Stone Age.
  • Those shoes were killing me.
  • Nothing can go wrong with this speech!
  • My granddaughter said ‘I love you as big as the sky’.

How to use hyperbole

Using hyperbole is straightforward - just use your imagination. You might follow this route:
  1. When writing your speech you get to a place where you want to enhance it or heighten the drama, feeling, description or humour.
  2. What is the characteristic of the thing you want to exaggerate? (Size, beauty, ludicrousness etc).
  3. Try out a few different ways of being creative with exaggeration.
  4. Select the one you think works best.
  5. Practise it - hyperbole spoken flatly won’t work.

Hyperbole will make you the finest orator in the history of mankind!


Alliteration is the repetition of sounds or letters in the same sentence or phrase, for example ‘She sells seashells on the seashore’ - although this tongue twister is a fairly extreme example!

Why use alliteration?

Alliteration is a bold and noticeable technique: because of the repetition of sounds alliteration captures the audience’s attention. This means that you can use alliteration to:
  • Draw attention to certain important phrases
  • Make a phrase easy to remember
  • Provide rhythm and musicality in an otherwise plain phrase
  • Create moods
  • Emphasise parts of your arguments
  • Craft a catchphrase
Again, don’t expect to see alliteration in technical texts.

Creating moods

You can create moods in your speech using alliteration. You do this by using the sounds of certain letters, for example:
  • S’ can give a soft, smooth sound (notice the alliteration?) but, depending on how it is used, it could also give a sinister sibilant sound
  • ‘L’ and ‘F’ can also add a hushed or peaceful mood
  • K’, ‘B’, ‘P’ and ’T’ are harsh sounds and can create tense or exited moods

How to use alliteration

In a similar way to using hyperbole:
  1. Identify important phrases where you want to make something memorable or create a certain mood
  2. Pick on an important subject word in your phrase and think of other words that begin with the same sound and are related to your key word
  3. Rewrite the phrase or sentence including your chosen words
  4. Read it through to check the fluency, rhythm and impact
  5. Modify and retry if you are not satisfied
  6. When you are satisfied, practise

Other places you will hear alliteration

Alliteration is used a lot in literature and especially with poetry. You will also see a lot in advertising and in company names.

Artistic alliteration affects your audience to your advantage.

Elision and Contraction

These two terms are very similar and each involves omitting an unstressed letter or syllable, often to make a word or words easier to pronounce.

Elision is the term for leaving out letters to form a shorter word - to make fewer syllables or to maintain the metre in poetry. The omitted sounds are replaced with an apostrophe, e.g. never becomes ne’er, cannot becomes can’t, and so on.

Contraction is a specific form of elision where two words are combined together and a syllable is left out. Again the omitted sounds are replaced with an apostrophe e.g. it is becomes it’s, shall not becomes shan’t, could have becomes could’ve (NOT could of), and so on.

These things are common in our everyday speech; they are usually unintentional and we just don’t (contraction) think about them when we speak. They are used a lot in poetry and in transcribing dialect, but should we use them in our speeches?

Using elision and contraction in speeches

Unless we are delivering a formal paper there is no reason why we shouldn’t use these in our speeches. The question is, how formal is your speech?

There is no reason to shun common elision/contraction - it can make your speech flow and can help to gain audience rapport. On the other hand you might want to use a longer form for more dramatic or emphatic effect e.g. cannot is stronger than can’t and has more emphasis.

The choice is yours depending upon what effect you want to make.