Three part list: what are you saying?

HAVE YOU EVER been asked which three things you’d take with you to a desert island? Have you ever dreamed of asking a genie for three wishes? Have you ever tried to describe your personality in three adjectives? I assume you have. We usually come across these questions in everyday interaction and conversation. But have you ever had a problem in coming up with the third noun, wish or adjective?

The number three has ‘mystery’ features. We use this number to create effective persuasion and rhetorical formats. This principle is called the ‘three part list’. Things which appear in threes seem to be more easier to remember, more persuasive and satisfying. What’s more, coming up with three things, ideas or phrases in your statement will be more catchy as you bring a rhythm to it. Additionally, the ‘three part list’ enables one to condense pieces of information. Thanks to this principle your statement will be clear. Yet, in everyday conversation we are not aware of using this principle.

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So when do we actually use the ‘three part list’ principle? First, in everyday conversation. A mother asks her child, ‘which animals have you seen at the zoo?’ The child replies, ‘I saw (1) a tiger, (2) a giraffe and (3) an elephant!’.] The child responds with an effective answer which fulfils the mother’s question. The second example is between two students at at the University of York. The first student asks the second, ‘did our tutor ask about the text we were supposed to read?’ The second student answers, ‘No, our tutor was (1) talking, (2) talking and (3) talking for the whole hour’. Using the ‘three part list’ in this case allows the second student to show his irritation, humour and satisfaction for the first student. And the third example? You may never find out; you were expecting to be given a third and this is indeed the essence and the catch of the ‘three part list’ principle.

What would happen if a person can’t come up with the third part of the list? There are two possible solutions. The first is to generalise the third part. If we look at a conversation between two girls about their makeup. The first girl asks, ’What do you use to do your make up?’ The second says, ‘I use (1) mascara, (2) foundation and (3) …’ If the second girl is unable to come up with a third cosmetic she can use generalisation. So the answer would be, ‘I use (1) m a s c a r a , (2) foundation and (3) those types of t h i n g s ’ . Don’t get stressed if you can’t end a list you have started. Your partner in conversation can come up with a third component of your list.

It is an involuntary reaction as there are social expectations and uncon – scious collective efforts to keep the list completed. Everyday conversations are highly patterned. The way in which we use the ability to communicate is significant. It can be a tool in solving conflicts, persuading or simply causing laughter. The ‘three part list’ is a principle which can help with communication, but first you have to be aware that you use it all the time. This article gives you something really valuable: awareness of your everyday unconscious verbal choices. Something that you use in everyday life now will make you a conscious and mature partner in everyday communication. The fact that you have this awareness would not always be practical. From now you will hear the ‘three part list’ in your lecture, in films, and during conversation with your parents. As you can see, I just used the ‘ t h r e e part list’ to make you feel satisfied with my explanation.

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