Three Is A Magic Number I Oxford Open Learning
Helene Meyer

Three Is A Magic Number

Omne Trium Perfectum: everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete.

There are three very important three letter words. They may only have three letters but they are giants in the world of teaching and learning. Blink and you can miss them – but miss their significance at your peril. Here are the three game changers: little linguistic nuggets of loveliness.


`And’: this little chap is the link in the chain. It can compound ideas in a sentence and help you construct and extend an argument. In exam questions it can also trip you up. If the question says: “How does Shakespeare present Hamlet’s thoughts and feelings at this point in the play?” and you only focus on his ‘thoughts’ or his ‘feelings’ then it’s only half marks for you. Never has using key words from the question been more relevant. You might have been told never to start a sentence with ‘And’. Good advice… until you want to break the rules. And if a writer breaks the rules, it is always worthy of comment. They will have made a conscious decision to break the rules – mavericks that they are!


‘But’: Yes, but… This three letter number is the king of counter argument. You can really enhance any argument you are making by acknowledging the view from the other side. So, you might support your view with three reasons (Because… because… because) but your opinion is only strengthened when you declare ‘but’, highlighting your view through the acknowledgement of another. ‘But’ is the language of debate, of making connections and links. In short, ‘but’ is a top player in the world of analysis and evaluation .

Before I get to the last three letter word, I’m going to break the rules and go shorter… the two letter word that needs to be in your tool kit. And that word is ‘So’. Such a tiny word and yet so powerful in progressing or concluding an argument. ‘So’ arrives late to the party but my, what an entrance!


And so to our final three letter word: ‘Yet’. This implies something for the future but also something not quite there… yet. This time it’s not the language of examination but rather the language of the mind. When the going gets tough it’s a good card to play: when you think you can’t do something, will never get it and never grasp the concept, just try adding ‘yet’. I can’t do this… yet. It suggests hope, it suggests faith and it speaks volumes about your determination to succeed.

So, if ‘everything that comes in threes is perfect’ then ‘and, but, yet’ is a perfect combination!

See more by

Sarah Russell is an experienced Secondary School English Teacher. She has worked in a variety of roles, from classroom teacher to Key Stage Manager, to Head of Department. Sarah specialises at Advanced Level and is a firm believer in bringing more creativity into the classroom.

Stay Connected