Isocolon: Definition and Examples for Writers

I remember one of my teachers at one point in my schooling mentioning that there is a balance between the good days and the bad days you’ll get. The exact phrasing used to express this idea was “Some days you get the elevator, some days you get the shaft.” Morbid, perhaps, but it’s a saying that has stuck with me since then. I really like similarly structured euphemisms and turns of phrase, and I just learned the name for them: isocolon.

Isocolon: Veni, Vidi, Vici

The saying, “Veni, Vidi, Vici; I came, I saw, I Conquered,” is one of the most famous isocolons.

Definition of Isocolon

An isocolon is a rhetorical device that comes from the Greek “isos”, meaning equal, and “kolon”, meaning member or clause.

An isocolon is a sentence or series of sentences composed of two or more phrases of similar structure and length.

The most famous isocolon is probably that triad of Latin words attributed to Julius Caesar: Veni, vidi, vici. I came, I saw, I conquered.

Fun fact: the plural of isocolon can be either isocolons or isocola.

3 Types of Isocola, with Famous Examples

There are three subsets of isocola, depending on the number of phrases in the isocolon.

1. Bicolon

If an isocolon is split into two phrases, then that’s known as a bicolon. For example, in C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, Orual makes the observation, “Nothing that’s beautiful hides its face. Nothing that’s honest hides its name.” The book of Psalms in the Hebrew Bible is full of bicola, in which the second line of poetry mimics the first in structure. JFK used this as well when he famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

2. Tricolon

If a third phrase comes to the party, it’s known as a tricolon. These have made their appearance in several significant historical speeches, such as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, in which he stated that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Winston Churchill also used this in his comments regarding the Battle of Britain when he said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

3. Tetracolon

And when there’s a fourth phrase joining in, you have what’s known as a tetracolon. Many of Shakespeare’s plays make use of the tetracolon, and since the rhythm is pleasing to the human ear, political figures have made use of it in their speeches as well, including Lincoln in his aforementioned Gettysburg Address.

Why bother with isocola?

There is something appealing to the rhythms established by isocola, both visually and aurally. Additionally, the parallels created by the isocola, both in content and in structure, add a smoothness to the written word.

Obviously, every other sentence does not need to be written as an isocolon, because the language then becomes forced instead of fluid, but looking for opportunities to use isocola could very well enhance your writing, and maybe even reduce your word count in the editing stages.

What’s your favorite isocolon?


Write for fifteen minutes, using as many isocola as you can. Mix in the three subtypes: bicolon, tricolon, and tetracolon, and try to use one of each. Post your practice in the comments and check out the work of your fellow writers.

About Liz Bureman

Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.

  • We need to be serious but we want to have fun! And why not? Fun is joy; fun is laughter; fun is enjoying life. Even work can be fun. My father always told me, do what you love and the money will come. (I wait for the money, or maybe the money waits for me) His words stuck and now it seems I can’t do what I don’t like for very long. In me, a little voice starts whining and my little ears hate whining, so I have to make changes before my little head goes crazy. It feels like fun is nature’s law. Look at how trees grow, reaching for the sun, waving to the stars. The sun returns its warmth and the stars twinkle with glee. The leaves dance upon the wind, sing into the air, whisper sweet dreams, and breathe with presence. Fun is our birthright, our destiny, and should be our modus operandi.

    • What a fun piece of writing! 😀

      • Thank you! My first thought was I couldn’t do it. Then, the first phrase came out and then the next and then one more. Almost any thought can be edited into the structure. I was fun to do. Try it, Joy! 🙂

    • 709writer

      Very pretty prose! I especially liked “how the trees grow, reaching for the sun, waving to the stars.”

    • Nice sharing Dawn.

    • Luther

      This is beautiful.

    • Really liked this.

  • EndlessExposition

    One of my favorite sayings is a tricolon: Do not not walk behind me, I may not lead. Do not walk before me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me, and be my friend.

    • That’s a fantastic saying. Thanks for sharing.

    • Good one!

    • 709writer

      Wow. This is so true. Thanks for sharing!

    • Yes a fave of mine too.

  • To me, this seems sort of like a poem. Maybe I didn’t follow the prompt exactly, but here’s my attempt… 🙂

    Love is life; and life is love. I miss your voice. I miss your face. I miss your quiet presence. Do you still remember me, think of me, smile at the thought of me? Or am I hidden in the past, shrouded by forgetfulness, buried in shame. The world is fast, but love is slow. Forget the clock, the years that have passed. Forget the tears, the searing of your heart. Remember me, and I’ll remember you. Return to me, and I’ll return to you. You are the sunshine, the summer, the music. Without you the world is grey and cold and dead. The stars don’t twinkle. The birds don’t sing. Love is life; and life is love. So be my life again.

    • Why, that’s lovely! Ah, lost love, it lends itself to poetic writing. And there’s something in the rhythm of isocolons that gives a feeling of poetry.

      • Thank you. It was a fun prompt. 🙂

    • 709writer

      Your piece is sad in a way, but also beautiful.

      • Thank you. 🙂

    • Oh Joy!
      That is the sweetest isocolonic verse ….
      Thanks for sharing.

      • Aw…Thank you, Dawn.

    • Jay Warner

      beautiful, that’s all I have to say.

      • Thank you, Jay.

    • Love it.

  • C.T.H.

    A newly married man once told me, “To love is to live a thousand times in one moment,” to this I say, “Living should be loving a thousand times in one moment.” We carry on through life with such set goals of romance, but is romance a goal, should it be? People see this miracle as an ending point in life or a stepping stone, I see it for what it is. A truly beautiful thing that can happen everyday if you allow it. Why say I do in a wedding ceremony, rather say I did, and I will continue to do. When the love fades as it will, fade with it. Leave a trail of ex-lovers behind you all turned poetic genius from the blissful days you spent and more so by the heart wrenching breakup. With each new boring sigh from your lover, a tinder match should follow. Vow to say never, in hopes that you will not have to say never again tomorrow. Have a drink to this thought with a pretty young thing and recite my favorite toast: “Here’s to the stork that brings good babies, the crow that brings bad babies, and the swallow that brings no babies.”

    • 709writer

      I like your version of the quote much better. I get so irritated when people tell me love is a feeling. Anyone who says that has never loved before, and has no clue what love really is. Love is absolutely not a feeling. It’s a conscious effort, a choice, to lay down and sacrifice what will make you happy to make the person you love happy instead. And it’s doing that over and over and over, day after day after day, every single day of your life. And when we can find joy in sacrificing for others, then that is the purest form of love, and we should hold on to it in a death grip. Yeah, it’s hard to love sometimes. But the best things in life don’t come easy, and are well worth fighting for.

  • Hi, not sure if I’ve quite grasped this, but I just let go and and had a go.


    She spoke to me in riddles. Even though I listened, I didn’t hear. She described to me her world. She told me that although she was in it , she was not of it. I wondered if this was a lesson in philosophy.

    She told me that although we were here, that we really aren’t , and never truly had been.

    I felt restless. I confessed that everything I do is not what I am nor will it ever be.

    She let a small curl of smile escape her rosebud lips. I saw her take a breath so deep the air around her paused.

    I told her I could see that time was not a movement, nor moment, or matter. Never in this world has time stood still, nor could it, nor was it then, nor will it ever be.

    She grabbed a fist of air and set it free. She told me that we are caught, yet we will always be free.

    And as I stared into the mirror I could see me, looking at me, looking back at me, not seeing me. I miss you, who are you, I only see me. Some of me is not all of me I now see.

    • Your writing always flows so beautifully, Dawn. Thanks for sharing once again.

      • Thanks Joy.
        What I love about these prompts is the opportunity to let go for 15 minutes or so. Something percolate its way forth. And most often it offers me a little gift to talk way and explore a little more.

        And feedback or comments are encouraging to say the least.
        Love Dawn

    • Poignant and sweet.

      • Thanks Dawn.
        Re-reading it this morning I can ‘see’ more and I am going to have a play with this, perhaps extend it to a personal inquiry about whole ness.
        Love Dawn

    • I like it a lot.

  • 709writer

    This is the quote that came to mind, by Martin Niemoeller: “In Germany they came first for the Communist, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists,and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came
    for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

    A chilling truth that is happening today, in our own American culture.

    • Oh! That quote…Yes…It makes you shiver!

    • Excellent cautionary wisdom.

  • Luther

    My fly line whipped forward then whipped back and I, waiting for the rod to load, held for a split second at the standard 10 o’clock position, and in that split second I saw three 6 or 8 pound trout explode out of the water about 20 yards to
    the left of where I had intended to cast my line, consume some type of insect,
    and land with a large splash. Were they dancing? Could I change my cast location in the middle of a cast, I ask myself? So many decisions to make, so few seconds to decide, so
    many fish to catch!