Follow TV Tropes


Rule of Three

Go To

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true."
Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark

Sometimes called trebling, the Rule of Three is a pattern used in stories and jokes, where part of the story is told three times, with minor variations. The first two instances build tension, and the third releases it by incorporating a twist.

Three is the smallest number required to create and then diverge from a pattern, so it's especially common in storytelling.The third of three siblings succeeds after their older siblings each failed. The protagonist is given three tests and receives the prize after the third. It's fairly unusual to find a folktale that does not incorporate the Rule of Three in some form.

Following on from the oral tradition, speech-writers have learnt the 'Rule of Three' — listen to a political speech — the points come in threes, from 'Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer' to Tony Blair declaring 'Education, education, education' note  . In persuasive or educational speaking, it also is a foundational concept: "Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em; Tell 'em; Tell 'em what you told 'em" note 

The Rule of Three is also used widely in comedy. Many popular jokes are based on three Stock Characters (e.g. Priest, Imam, Rabbi), all in the same situation. The first two react normally, the third does something ridiculous (but stereotypically in character). In Britain, Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman jokes denigrate either the Irishman as stupid or the Scotsman as a tightwad, while the Englishman is usually the Straight Man of the gag. (Unless it's being told by the Scots or Irish. When an American tells it, Englishmen are stuffed shirts.) This is why most Americans have never heard of Wales. Another (geeky) variant is the engineer/physicist/mathematician series of jokes, however, these are virtually never considered offensive, largely because the stereotypes are often jokingly accepted by the members of those three groups. (e.g. The engineer is overly practical, the physicist makes large assumptions, and the mathematician comes up with a correct, but useless answer; these are played up for humorous effect, but have some valid basis.)

A more popular variation on the rule is to repeat the same joke or concept three times, but put a twist on the third one that makes it funny again. One version of this is The Triple, wherein a character lists three items - the first two logical and serious, and the third applying a twist or joke. For example, a character might say to a bald person, "Can I get you anything? Cup of coffee? Doughnut? Toupee?" (From The Dick Van Dyke Show.)

Alternatively, the twist can come during the second iteration (such as Chekhov's Skill) failing the first time it's used only to return to its original form on the third pass; this version tends to accompany Chekhov's tropes.

The Overly Long Gag could be seen as a subversion of the Rule Of Three, because it fails to deliver the expected twist.

Sometimes, an event needs to be shown three times to establish that a variation to the norm is happening. The first time the audience sees this event, they see it happening a certain way, but they don't yet know that this is typical. The second time they see it, it is the same as the first. This establishes that this is the standard way that things always happen. The third time they see the event in question, it is different, so the audience knows that this is a deviation from the norm. For example, in The Shawshank Redemption, we see Red appear before the parole board three times. The first two appearances are practically identical. The third instance is different, indicating how Red changed after Andy left.

The trope is also incredibly common in fairytales and ghost stories that are part of oral tradition. The reason above is important, as audiences don't have a good idea of how this ghost/gnome/witch would typically behave, and it works well for building tension too. But another reason is that it's easy to remember. You get three times the story padding for only having to remember one short story and some minor variations. This makes the story easier to remember than non-repeating tales of the same length, both for professionals who collect as many stories as possible, and for people that pass a story on pretty much because they happened to remember it.

In art, there's a rule of thirds where putting items in the intersections between thirds-lines draws more attention and is more visually appealing than plonking them right in the center, which is considered boring. In design, particularly three-dimensional design such as shop displays, groups of three objects, or objects arranged to form a triangle, are considered most attractive to the eye.

The Rule of Three may be a subtrope of a more general psychological phenomenon, as threes are well-noted in all forms of culture. Films, books and plays come in trilogies. They have a Three-Act Structure, a Beginning, Middle and End. Counts of three elements are used widely in rhetoric, writing and myth: "Ready, aim, fire", "Veni, Vidi, Vici", "Lights, camera, action", "Reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic," "rhetoric, writing and myth". Just try and think about how many times you've heard the phrase "On the count of three..."

A constructed phrase such as "Veni, Vidi, Vici." that has three grammatically and logically connected elements is known as a Tricolon. When the three elements increase in length, it's a Tricolon Crescens.

This is why there are Power Trios and Terrible Trios.

Variations on this trope include uses of 5, 7, 12, and convenient multiples of 5 afterwards (i.e., 25 or 50, but not 35 or 70).

See also Basic Conflicts and other plot devices which often come in 3s or 7s, and Three Rules of Three, a wiki guideline.

Sub-tropes include:


    open/close all folders 

  • Nick At Nite has run commercials for itself, emphasizing this type of comedy bit and going so far as to call it 'the triple'.
  • "HeadOn, apply directly to the forehead. HeadOn, apply directly to the forehead. HeadOn, apply directly to the forehead." And its lesser-known sister ad: "Freedom from hemorrhoids, FREEdHEM hemorrhoid cream. Freedom from hemorrhoids, FREEdHEM hemorrhoid cream. Freedom from hemorrhoids, FREEdHEM hemorrhoid cream."
  • A Toyota commercial has a hybrid car speeding along with three black horses, three white horses, three hang-gliders, and three fighter jets to show that soft and edgy can get along.
  • A series of Warburton's Bakery adverts in the UK used an extremely long-burning (the last ad came two years after the first two, which were six months apart) version of "the third is the punchline". The first one had Sylvester Stallone approaching Jonathan Warburton to propose an action movie about bread delivery. The second had The Muppets approach him about a musical extravaganza featuring crumpets. Both ended with a somewhat gobsmacked Warburton endorsing the concepts. Then the third one had Peter Kay suggesting a Costume Drama about the company's origins. This time, Warburton calls security.
  • A commercial for Energizer batteries has a live-action animator drawing three cartoon rabbits that come to life; an overly-cutesy baby rabbit, a goofy-looking clumsy rabbit that trips over his own ears, and the Energizer Bunny himself. The animator doesn't like any of the three rabbits, and while the first two get erased by a mechanical eraser, the Energizer Bunny doesn't, as the Supervolt battery in the mechanical eraser runs out of power at that point.

  • Medici Chapels: The sculptures in the "New Sacristy" are grouped into three groups. Two for the tombs of the Medici brothers, with each brother being flanked by two Anthropomorphic Personifications, and one solely composed of Christian saints —the Virgin Mary surrounded by the Medicis' two patron saints. However, this latter group comes with a twist because the Virgin Mary is holding an infant Jesus, which means that said group is made of four characters instead of three.
  • The Last Supper: The paintings contains several notable appearances of the number three, perhaps reflecting the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
    • The apostles are grouped into four groups of three.
    • There are three windows in the room.
    • Christ is depicted in a triangle shape, with his hands and his head as the corners of the triangle.

    Asian Animation 
  • BoBoiBoy: In Season 2 episode 6, Fang knows, somehow, to take three of Yaya's cookies to feed Crazy Cat so that he will be stunned and BoBoiBoy's gang can get across Cowboy Pete Monday's Alley without it attacking them.

    Comic Books 
  • Sláine: Characters constantly refer to things in groups of three: three great silences, three sorrows, etc.
  • Nancy: The simplicity of Ernie Bushmiller's art depends in part on the principle of "the three rocks".
    Scott McCloud: Art Spiegelman explains how a drawing of three rocks in a background scene was Ernie's way of showing us there were some rocks in the background. It was always three. Why? Because two rocks wouldn't be "some rocks." Two rocks would be a pair of rocks. And four rocks was unacceptable because four rocks would indicate "some rocks" but it would be one rock more than was necessary to convey the idea of "some rocks."
  • Alan Moore repeatedly employs a 9-panel grid - three wide, three high - in most of his comics. While the format in itself obviously predates Moore, Moore was one of the first to combine it with the Beat panel, lending a certain rhythm and gravitas to even the most rote conversations.
  • The Mighty Thor: There are the Warriors Three, three heroic Asgardians — Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg — who are lifelong friends and fighting companions.
  • Trinity (2008) essentially established Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman as the center of the DC Universe. They've used the term "trinity" to refer to the three characters since. After the reboot, the first major crossover for the Justice League was the Trinity War, in which three different Leagues (the main Justice League, the Justice League of America, and Justice League Dark) first clash then unite, then break into three groups, each led by a different member of the "trinity" and accompanied by a different member of the "Trinity of Sin" (New 52 versions of The Question and The Phantom Stranger, and new character Pandora). The events of the "war" are revealed to be part of a plot by the Crime Syndicate, Mirror Universe versions of the Justice League from Alternate Universe Earth-3
  • Iznogoud: Iznogoud once bought a magic catalogue that allows him to obtain items from the future but cannot use it more than three times.
  • Superman:
    • Superman's Return to Krypton is divided into three acts: "Part I: Superman Meets Jor-El And Lara Again!", where Superman goes back into time and meets his birth parents; "Part II: Superman's Kryptonian Romance!", where Superman starts a relationship with actress Lyla Lerrol and fails to put together a planet-wide evacuation plan; and "Part III: The Surprise Of Fate!", where Superman resigns himself to dying when Krypton blows up, but then he ironically gets blasted into space.
    • The Last Days of Superman is divided into three parts: "Part I: Superman's Death Sentence!", "Part II: The Super-Comrades of All-Time!" and "Part III: Superman's Last Day of Life!"
    • In Supergirl story arc Day of the Dollmaker, the titular villain kidnaps three children before Catherine Grant realizes that a child kidnapper is sending her clues.
    • Let My People Grow! is divided into three parts: "Chapter One: Let My People Grow", "Chapter Two: The Lilliput Problem!" and "Chapter Three: All Creatures Great and Small...!"
    • The Leper from Krypton: As he is dying, Superman ponders he has only loved three women: Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris and Lois Lane.
    • The Death of Lightning Lad: In the second issue, the Legion of Super-Heroes interviews three applicants: Antennae Boy, Dynamo Kid and "Marvel Lad". The latter must past three initiation tests to become a full-fledged Legionnaire.
    • The Legion of Super-Heroes!: Superboy bumps into someone who knows his secret identity three times. He then meets three time-travelers, travels to the 30th century and undertakes three tests.
    • Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends
      • Supergirl meets three super-heroines who want her to join their super-team.
      • Triplicate Girl, who can split herself into three exact duplicates, makes her debut in this story.
      • Supergirl finds three long-lost artifacts.
    • In The Other Side of Doomsday, villain T.O. Morrow abducts three women: Linda Danvers, Iris Allen and Jean Loring.
    • The Life Story of Superman: Superman's origin story is divided into three chapters: "Planet On The Edge Of Oblivion!" (which narrates Krypton's destruction), "A Legend Is Born" (Superman's childhood and adolescency) and "Call Me Superman" (his adult career).
    • "Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special": Bugs Bunny has three glowing special carrots which allow him to turn into Super-Bugs. He is forced to use them up through the story.
    • Taken to ridiculous levels in the 1998 crossover The Millennium Giants and its lead-ins: three emissaries from three god-like entities summon their deities, which Superman and the Justice League have to defeat in a 9-part crossover.
  • Batman: No Man's Land: The second issue has three interludes where a mugger unsuccessfully tries to hold up traders on their way to see the Penguin. His first intended victim walks away unmolested after realizing that the man's gun is empty, as if he had any valuable bullets, he wouldn't be wasting time trying to steal batteries. A passerby armed with a bow and arrow intervenes to protect his second intended victim (a young boy with bicycle tubes) in exchange for the boy becoming his trading partner. The third trader is Joker, and the mugger has just enough time to realize he's Mugging the Monster before becoming an Asshole Victim.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon):
    Three is sacred.
    • There are also notably and precisely three Russian women who've been forcibly impregnated with Ghidorah hybrids, and they're all found together, all but gift-wrapped for the humans to find and bring back to civilization as part of the plan for the hybrids.
    • The effect is heightened in Ghidorah's backstory one-shot in Abraxas: Empty Fullness. It's revealed there that the aliens who originally turned Ghidorah into its current form (before Ghidorah turned on and destroyed them) made it a three-headed creature using three specimens in mimicry or mockery of an alien text called the Ghee'haszhra, which states, "[t]hree times".
  • The Bugger Anthology: "The Bitch Fight of Canary Wharf" has the word "bugger" uttered three times in response to someone getting identified: twice by a Dalek and Cyberman when they accidentally identify their respective races, and once by a Dalek when Rose points out the Doctor.
  • Calvin & Hobbes: The Series uses this sometimes, like how there are three suspects in "The Case of the Rogue Water Balloon".
  • Danganronpa: Memento Mori: The first execution is outright named "Death Penalty Trinity" — the blackened is thus subjected to three different traditional methods of execution one after another: first the gallows, then the electric chair, and finally the guillotine.
  • Dangerverse: Triples seem to have significance in the Founder's magic.
    • The Founder's Oath must be spoken three times to be binding.
    • Wish magic is set in motion with a three-part invocation ("so I speak, so I intend, and so let it be done").
    • Severus Snape is asked three times who could command him to forgive himself for his past sins.
    • James and Lily return from the grave to visit Harry three times.
  • Dragonball Abridged:
    • In Episode 18 this exchange took place three times when another character says something with potential sexual connotations to Gohan.
      Gohan: I need an adult...
      Other character: I am an adult.
    • While fighting against Freeza during Season 2, Vegeta keeps on sprouting the exact same speech about having become a Super Saiyan over and over again much to Freeza's annoyance. The third time he gives it (this time not referring to himself, but to Goku), Freeza kills him.
    • Goku manages to get Freeza to respond to his Super Saiyan transformation with "what" three times in a row.
    • Their spoof of Broly had this line.
      Vegeta: First of all, I demand more towers. Second, I demand more towels. And third, I demand more trowels. The brickwork in this place is a shitshow.
  • In Forbiden Fruit: The Tempation of Edward Cullen, Jacob calls Tia a "HALF-BREAD!" three times, while jumping up and down.
  • An invoked negative example from the Adventure Time fanfic Half Past Adventure: If Macy has three Imagine Spots, then she thinks she'll lose something important.
  • Hellsister Trilogy is divided into three story arcs: "Hellsister", "The Apokolips Agenda" and "Hellspawn". There are also three main villains: Satan Girl, Mordru and Darkseid.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers fanfic Gankona, Unnachgiebig, Unità: Three main characters, three mean people, three people in a relationship.
  • In the second main story of Kara of Rokyn, Lex Luthor is aided by three female villains: his niece Nasthalthia, old Supergirl enemy Starfire -nothing to do with Teen Titan Starfire- and Wonder Woman villain Cyber.
  • At least suggested in Left Behind, as it would appear that there were three different versions of Crichton, D'Argo and Chiana created on Rohvu by Kaarvok's 'twinning' machine. Including the Crichton and Chiana that feature in the fic, Crichton knows for a fact that he saw Chiana on the transport pod back to Moya before she showed up behind him, and yet he found a dead version of her in a corridor during a search, he finds two different corpses of D’Argo while running through Rohvu, and is certain that he was only left behind because there was at least one version of him on the transport pod.
  • In Long Time No See, Asuka announces her third pregnancy to Shinji Ikari. Played for laughs when she says she is not naming it after him, and Shinji realizes she is referring to his old codename "Third Child".
    Asuka: "Either way, don't expect me to name it after you."
    Shinji: "Why should you...? Oh, because it's the 'Third'... (groaning) You know, you already had better jokes."
  • In the Hannah Montana fic "The Long Way"- when circumstances lead to Lilly joining Miley in the world where Miley was originally Hannah all the time- Lilly expresses concern that Miley's recent declaration of love for her was only because Lilly initially wished to be with Miley forever. However, Angel assures Lilly that love is one of three things nobody can wish for, the other two being killing people or bringing them back to life.
  • In Otimusya - Hokuto no Ken, phrases beginning with "Wow, Ken" appear 3 times in the article.
    True to the Hokuto no Ken lore, Kenshiro has plenty of enigmatic ways of dispatching his foes.

    A single high-kick sends the goons hurtling through the stratosphere.

    Wow, Ken - you are strong!

    One punch can burrow a hole through a man's chest - such is the strength of Hokuto Shinken.

    Wow, Ken - you are amazing!

    And if Ken succumbs to his foes, he flails through the air kicking like a baby.

    ... oh.

    Wow, Ken - that was pretty shitty!
  • A Raven Under the Starlight: The Trials of Fikutsu-shina, overseen by a spirit similar to the Storm Hawks source material's Oracle, consist of three magic tests.
  • Riding a Sunset: A recording of Prowl using his sirens and shouting "Come out with your servos up!" is used three times. The first time, it's used by Bumblebee to scare off thieves that would've otherwise robbed Charlie's house. The second time, it's used by Jazz to scare off a bunch of thugs who were about to hurt Charlie (and possibly 'Bee). The third time, it isn't a recording, it's actually Prowl who's just arrived on Earth with Bulkhead and Hot Rod. They arrive just in time to save Brawn, Charlie, and her family from Polar Claw.
  • Sixes and Sevens: Three times the Faustian Queen offers Emily a boon. Three times Emily refuses. At least, that's how Emily remembers it - there was a fourth offer that Emily accepted to save her father, but the Faustian Queen used it to lay claim to Emily's firstborn and then blocked her memory of such a deal.
  • The Harry Potter fic "The World As We Knew It" sees Harry become part of an ancient magic known as an 'Aperio', where three different people independently make the same wish at the same time and are thus transferred into a new world where their wish has come true. In this case, Harry, Remus Lupin and Severus Snape all wished that the prophecy had never been made and James and Lily were still alive, taking them to a world where the Potters were never killed but Voldemort never fell.

  • A joke in 2009 uses the Rule of Three to explain the three close celebrity deaths that year.
    Farrah Fawcett died and went to heaven. Saint Peter said "You were very good on Earth, so you have been granted one wish." Farrah thought for a bit and said "I wish for the safety of all children on Earth." Half an hour later, Michael Jackson arrived in heaven.
    Michael Jackson was surprised to find himself in heaven, but even more surprised that he was once again black. "Saint Peter," he said, "I worked pretty hard to lighten my skin over the years. Can you fix it?" Half an hour later Billy Mays arrived in heaven with some OxiClean.
  • Jokes in general tend to make very heavy use of the Rule of Three, especially those following the "Blonde/Brunette/Redhead" or "Nationality/Nationality/Nationality" formula.
  • The sarcastic snowclone "My (whatever) is (good thing), yours is (not so good thing), his is (even worse thing)."

  • PROTIP: A trio of characters from different games is a standard Game Pro cover.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Shows up all the time in religion:
    • Christianity does this so much that 333 is used by people being ostentatiously Christian:
      • The Bible: Three days pass between Jesus dying and returning to Earth. In fact, whenever a number is mentioned in the Bible, it's usually 3, 7, 12, or 40.
      • "Jesus answered (Peter), Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice". — John 13:38. And then, after his resurrection, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, extracting from Peter a promise to continue his work three times before he leaves him alone. This is often regarded as a symbolic reversal of Peter's thrice-denial of Jesus before his death. Also cf. the Fight Club example in the Film subpage.
      • The three Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, Love/Charity (Charity refers to agape or selfless love, as opposed to Eros as self-gratifying and/or sexual love).
      • Also, although the only reference to this event in the Gospels states that Jesus was placed "in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn", Nativity plays tend to show two innkeepers telling Mary and Joseph to go elsewhere because all the rooms are taken — before a third also says that there are no rooms, but that Mary and Joseph may use the stable, since Mary is pregnant.
      • The Gospel of Matthew, the only one that mentions the Wise Men or Magi, doesn't specifically state that there were three of them, only that they came "from the East". The gospel does mention that they presented Jesus with three symbolic gifts; gold (signifying Christ the King), frankincense (representing Jesus' divinity) and myrrh (an embalming incense, indicating that Jesus would die to save God's people).
      • When Jesus fasted in the desert, he was tempted three times by the Devil; 1) Turn the stones into bread, 2) Throw yourself from this cliff and let God save you, and 3) swear loyalty to me and the kingdoms of the world will be yours.
      • The Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The first sometimes is represented by an eye set in a triangle. (Although there are also nontrinitarian Christians).
      • The Kyrie: Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy upon us.
    • Examples from the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament:
      • The three sons of Adam and Eve: Cain, Abel, and Seth.
      • The three sons of Noah: Shem, Yaphet, and Ham.
      • The three patriarchs, also mentioned in the formula: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
      • The three kings of the united Israelite kingdom: Saul, David, and Solomon.
      • Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
  • Wicca has the "rule of 3" also known as the Three-fold law, meaning (depending on who you ask) that everything you send out into the world either returns to you thrice as strong in consequence, or comes back to you on the astral, mental and physical planes. Furthermore, when casting a Sacred Circle in Wicca, the typical procedure is to walk around the circle three times and say the incantation three times. (In some practices anyway.)
  • This pops up occasionally in Judaism, though generally not as centrally as in Wicca:
    • The world is sustained by worship, study and deeds of lovingkindness. Also known as love of Hashem, love of Torah, and love for your fellow human being.
    • These temper judgment's severe decree: prayer, repentance and charity.
    • In Kabbalah, the Tree of Life has 3 pillars: The pillar of rigor, the pillar of mercy, the pillar of balance.
  • Some religions divide reality into Heaven, Earth and Hell.
    • For the Norse, the universe was divided into nine (thrice three) worlds on three levels: the upper level had Alfheim (elves), Asgard (war gods and those who died in battle), and Vanaheim (fertility gods). The middle level has Midgard (humans), Jotunheim (giants) and Svartalfheim (dark elves/dwarfes), The bottom level has Helheim (those who died of disease), Nifleheim (land of ice and fog) and Muspell (fire demons).
    • There are a lot more examples in Norse mythology, mayby since as mentioned above thrice three is nine which is the holy Arc Number of Norse Mythology:
      • The third generation of Gods created the world, those are three (Odin, Vili, and Ve).
      • Three gods created humans: Odin, Hönir, and Lodur (Loki).
      • There are three norns: Skuld (Debt/Should, perhaps best understood as Future), Urd (Fate), and Verdandi (Happening, perhaps Present).
      • Yggdrasil has three roots.
      • Thor has three children: Thrud, Magni & Modi
      • Loki has three children with Angerboda: Hel, Fenrir & Jörmungandr.
      • The Fimbulwinter will last for three winters without summer in between.
      • The wolf Fenrir was bound by three fetters: Loeding, Drómi, and Gleipnir.
      • In the poem Völuspá, the description of Garmr's howl is repeated thrice.
      • Freyr anf Freyja has three magical items each.
      • Three of Odin's sons shall live after Ragnarök: Vidar Baldur & Hödr.
    • Mormonism recognizes three heavens/kingdoms of glory after the Final Judgement: The Celestial Kingdom (itself divided into three kingdoms), the Terrestrial Kingdom, and the Telestial Kingdom.
  • Subverted in Lakota mythology: Three is the number of imperfection, while four, far from its other implications, is the number of perfection.
  • Hinduism: Three gunas (modes) of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance.
    • Bhagavad Gita: Lust, Anger and Greed — three gates to hell. Also gross, subtle and spiritual existence.
    • Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva: The creator, the preserver and the destroyer. Shiva has three eyes and you’d better hope and pray that this third eye remains closed.
    • There have been three times three avatars of Vishnu. The most well known are the last three - Rama, Krishna and Buddha.
  • In one of the variants of the Arthurian Legend, Arthur has to ask whomever is present at the time (usually Bedivere) three times to return his sword to the Lady of the Lake.
  • In Classical Mythology:
    • The rites of the three-formed witch goddess Hecate usually involve three. This can be seen especially in the practices of Medea, the wife of Jason of the Argonauts.
    • The three major estates of the Cosmos are also divided into 3 equal parts, The Sky, The Sea, and The Underworld. These are in turn shared among the three brothers Zeus, Poseidon and Hades.
    • There are also Three Fates, Clotho Lakhesis, and Artepos, three Furies/Kindly Ones, Alecto, Megeara and Tisiphone, Three grey sisters, and three gorgon sisters.
  • The trope shows up three different times in the story of Saint Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio: (1) Three attempts are made to deal with the wolf—the first by shepherds, the second by guards, and the third by Francis. (2) Three shepherds are killed by the wolf—the first shepherd, then his brother, and then their father. (3) The mayor sends his three best guards to try to kill the wolf; the first two are killed but the third escapes.

  • Bally's Dr. Dude requires the player to get the three Elements of Coolness (a Magnetic Personality, the Heart of Rock and Roll, and the Gift of Gab) three times before starting multiball.
  • Two examples in Junk Yard:
    • "Save the Girl" requires you to hit Spike three times.
    • Hitting the Time Machine and pressing both flipper buttons three times when the clock shows 3:33 starts a secret mode.
  • One of the tasks in The Party Zone is to "Eat, Drink, & B. Merry".
  • Many of the goals in America's Most Haunted require hitting a target three times.
  • In a more general sense, most pinball games made from the '70s onward default to three balls per game.


    Professional Wrestling 
  • Professional Wrestling is fond of this in some forms, ranging from the three way dance 'Triple Threat' match (3 fighters) to audience chants; one of the most popular is to match 3 syllables (e.g. 'R V D! R V D!' for Rob Van Dam). The other popular chant format? Four syllables and five claps ('You're a loser!' * * *** ), which adds up to nine.
  • An infamous, horrifying 1981 match where El Santo suffered a heart attack against Los Misioneros de la Muerte, cemented three on three, which was already being established as Lucha Libre Internacional's most popular match type, as the main match associated with Mexican Lucha Libre. If a promotion has a "trios", "tercias" or "six man" division, it's probably due to LLI. Even when they don't, the wild three on three matches of trios like The Shield can ultimately be traced back to it.
  • Many a Power Stable, like nWo, began as and remained centered around a trio. Having at least three members also brings in the Freebird Rule, where a Power Stable wins the tag team belts and any two of them can defend it in a given match.
  • Ring of Honor celebrated its third anniversary with three back to back shows.
  • While there are many variations, it's common that a wrestling feud will consist of three matches. The wrestlers will trade wins in the first two matches, with the third as the blow off.
  • Every third anniversary year, Pro Wrestling Guerilla holds a show called Threemendous.
  • During The Authority angle, Triple H and his cohorts abused the Money in the Bank contract to get a champion under their control three times. The first time was at SummerSlam 2013, where Randy Orton cashed in on Daniel Bryan, the second was at WrestleMania 31, where Seth Rollins cashed in on Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar, and the third time was at Survivor Series 2015, where Sheamus cashed in on Reigns.
  • During the Ministry of Darkness storyline in the late 1990s, three attempts were made to rescue Stephanie McMahon from her unwanted wedding to The Undertaker. The first two, by Ken Shamrock and Big Show, failed; the third, by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, was successful.

  • Dead Ringers: Any time Andrew Neil (brought to you by Jim Henson's Children's Television Workshop) introduces his show, he lists two incredibly bizarre guests which usually aren't even human ("a jellyfish with an arts degree; Davros, creator of the Daleks"). The third is inevitably DIANE ABBOTT.
  • The character of Errol in The BBC series 15 Storeys High always answers a question truthfully, if asked it three times.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dark Eye — especially in its third edition (it's now into its fifth) is fond of using the (more or less completely alliterative) triad for titles. Notable examples include Tempel, Türme und Tavernen (temples, towers and taverns) and Kirchen, Kulte, Ordenskrieger (churches, cults, templars). Over time, it grated on the editors' nerves, and they promised to stop using them for the fourth edition. They maintained it for a while but ultimately succumbed to temptation, though, as titles such as Söldner, Skalden, Steppenelfen (soldiers, skalds, prairie elves), Granden, Gaukler und Gelehrte (nobles, buskers and scholars) or Krieger, Krämer und Kultisten (warriors, merchants and cultists) prove.
  • Dogs in the Vineyard is geared for groups of about three PCs, and Three In Authority is one of the most powerful rituals against demons (a two-PC group can pull it off with help from the NPC town elder).
  • In Dungeon, a board game published by TSR and developed by, among others, Gary Gygax, to open a door, you have to roll for it three times. After the third time, you can just go through.
  • Dungeons & Dragons for special defences: Fortitude, Reflex, Will.
    • The physical stats: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution. The mental stats: Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma.
    • The alignments: Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic, and Good, Neutral, Evil. Put together into the alignment spectrum and there are nine options.
  • Rather than using it as a trope, the Dungeons & Dragons setting Planescape and its video game spinoff Planescape: Torment explicitly mention the Rule Of Three in-story as a principle with cosmic validity. (Everything involves the number 3 somehow. There are even three cosmic principles.) Since the world(s) of Planescape are shaped by belief, it's not impossible that that's true. If enough people believe it's nonsense, it won't be...
    • There are enough Flat Earth Atheists like Morte to disbelieve it, yet the rule persists for the reason that Morte gives, that minds have a tendency to create patterns. This tendency is perhaps stronger than belief, which is why the rule can be widely debunked yet the evidence of it still appears.
    • One NPC adopts this principle and runs with it clear off the field. Calling himself "Rule of Three," he's an information broker who requires things in sets of three as his payment, and gives three true answers to any question. As a second character is known to associate with another of the three cosmic principles, it's suspected a third is out there somewhere as well, because... well, Rule Of Three.
  • In the Living Greyhawk campaign, a magic item spoke three prophesies of destruction that the players could attempt to prevent.
  • In Nomine:
    • The setting the three Realms, Corporeal, Ethereal and Celestial, which each have a type of Force associated with them. There are also three main types of supernatural beings, angels, demons, and ethereals.
    • Pachadim demons are obliged to respect humans who can overcome their fears. If they attempt to prey on a human's fears and fail three times in a row, they can never trouble that human again without acquiring dissonance.
  • Magic: The Gathering blocks are released in three sets. Furthermore, Wizards of the Coast have their own "rule of three" — the first set establishes core concepts and mechanics, the second set develops them further, and the third introduces some new twist. For example, the third set of the artifact-based block Mirrodin presented effects that produced or used all five colors of mana, the third set of the legendary-based block Kamigawa gave the Epic spells and rewarded large hand sizes, and the third set of the land-based block Zendikar introduced the massive and colorless Eldrazi.
    • The "One for Three" cycle of cards from the first core sets that cost one mana of it's color's mana type. Grating the caster 3 of something related to the color (Damage, Life, or most famously, card draw).
    • The "charm" cycle. One card does one of three things.
    • Effects are often printed in three-card "vertical cycles": a common card with a weak version of an effect, an uncommon card with a stronger version and a rare card with the strongest version. For example, the Apocalypse expansion included Bloodfire Dwarf at common, Bloodfire Kavu at uncommon and Bloodfire Colossus at rare.
  • Shadowrun 3rd Edition supplement Magic in the Shadows. If a free spirit's true name is spoken three times in succession, the spirit has to appear before the speaker.
  • Invoked in Unknown Armies. Threes tend to come up a lot in its Post Modern Magic, especially in ritual magic. 333 in particular has great mystical significance because it's the number of seats in the Invisible Clergy, the ascended mortals/gods that personify humanity.
  • White Wolf's Storyteller/Storytelling systems use the Rule Of Three extensively:
    • three sets of three attributes, usually physical (strength, dexterity, stamina), social (charisma, manipulation, appearance), and mental (intelligence, wits, perception), and three kinds of abilities (talents, skills and knowledge). The rest can vary depending of the individual games, but the Rule Of Three is also prominent in several:
    • In the New World of Darkness the three attribute groups are divided in another way, each with three traits in it like the main groups; power (strength, intelligence, and presence), finesse (dexterity, wits, manipulation), and resistance (stamina, resolve, composure).
      • The demo for Changeling: The Lost has Blue Jenny, who if her real name is spoken in her presence three times, her Keeper will be summoned. Hence the reason for her getting the motley's help retrieving what's actually her diary.
      • In Mage: The Awakening, mage tradition dictates that a mage owes three favours to any mage who acquires their soul stone (a piece of their soul distilled into physical form for power).
    • In Old World of Darkness:
      • In Vampire: The Masquerade, each Clan has three favored Disciplines its members can learn more easily, and drinking the blood of one vampire three times, on three different nights, gives this vampire power over the drinker. Also, vampires have three virtues to fight their three different flavors of frenzy.
      • In Mage: The Ascension, the Resonance of a mage's magick is defined by three types of specific resonances: Dynamic, Entropic, and Static. This is linked to the cosmology of the Old World of Darkness (see below). Relatedly, they face three kinds of main foes: the Technocrats (linked to Stasis), the Nephandi (liked to Entropy) and the Marauders (linked to Dynamism).
      • In Changeling: The Dreaming, changelings can be of three general ages: childlings, wilders, and grumps. And since the setting is about mythos and fairytales, there are MANY occurrences of the Rule Of Three.
      • Werewolf: The Apocalypse introduced the cosmology detailed below, and also gives players three major traits that determine their werewolf character's place in the Garou Nation and what Gifts they can learn: tribe, auspice, and breed. Werewolves, and most other shapeshifters, have three breeds.
      • Over the course of the various editions of the various games, a somewhat unified and coherent cosmology emerged, with three major entities or forces: the destructive Wyrm, the creative Wyld, and the stabilizing Weaver, none of which are inherently evil (all in all, it's similar to the hinduist Trimurti). They play a major role in Werewolf: The Apocalypse (where they first appeared) and Mage: The Ascension (the Tradition mages that players usually roleplay are, in a way, balancing the three against three kinds of extremists). Supplements that delved into the deeper aspects of the Triat (the common name used for the trinity of Wyrm, Weaver, and Wyld) would reveal that each of the three has three more specific aspects. The most well-known are the aspects of the Wyrm known as the Eater-of-Souls, the Beast-of-War, and the Defiler.
    • Their Trinity Universe setting. Three games: Adventure!, Aberrant, and Aeon (later renamed Trinity). Three "classes" of character: paramorphs (or Daredevils), eximorphs (or Stalwarts) and psychomorphs (or Mesmerists). The actual mechanics show the same divisions as other Storyteller systems. Each stat doesn't have three skills though. But oh well.
    • Exalted, while using almost the same system as the Old World of Darkness, subverts expectations by running its setting on the number five instead. Indeed, that the Lunar Exalted use the Rule Of Three anyway makes them stick out incongruously, though that is justified: they used to have five castes and so forth, but their long exposure to the Wyld (unshapable chaos outside Creation) has thrown them out of whack.

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Ron White's recounting of the time he sued Sears for terrible service includes this line:
    Ron: I execute a left-hand turn out of the parking lot, and my left rear wheel falls off. It falls off. It FALLS THE FUCK OFF! Turning my van into a tripod, and spinning me into a level of pissed off I've never felt before!

    Theme Parks 
  • In the third version of Journey into Imagination, riders are supposed to be going on a tour of the Imagination Institute's labs based on the 5 senses. Due to Figment's antics, only 3 (Sound, Sight, and Smell) are visited before Dr. Channing decides to abandon the tour.

  • In Animal Crackers, after the song "Hooray for Captain Spaulding", Spaulding tries three times to give his welcoming address. The first two times, the chorus interrupts him with encores of "Hooray for Captain Spaulding". He interrupts his third attempt by singing it himself, then saying: "Well, somebody's got to do it."
  • In the Cirque du Soleil show The Beatles LOVE a white VW bug appears several times. The third (or possibly fourth) and final time it smashes into a woman (who represents John Lennon's mother, who died in a car crash); the car bursts apart.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac: This trope is combined with Department of Redundancy Department: The gratuitous repetition of a question or a gesture three or more times are shown in the play:
    • Played for Laughs: At Act I Montfleury tries to say his lines four times, Cyrano orders him to disappear when Cyrano claps his hands the third time, the bore asks Cyrano three times if he has a protector. Lampshaded by Cyrano when he does not answer a third time:
      Cyrano: [irritated] No, I have told you twice! Must I repeat?
    • Played for Drama: At Act II, Cyrano asks Roxane three times what she would do if Christian is not as eloquent as he is fair; she answers two times that being fair, he has to be eloquent, and the third time she invokes Driven to Suicide. At Act IV, Cyrano asks Roxane if she would love Christian, even if he would be ugly, three times. She answers yes every time.
  • Erronius in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is told to walk seven times around the seven hills of Rome. The first two times he re-enters and walks sloooooowly across the stage as the rest of the cast watch silently. The third time he gets run over during a chase scene.
  • In The Granny Awards, whenever Snoozy the dwarf falls asleep, the Fairy Godmother will appear and make the audience and the chorus shout "Wake up, Snoozy!" three times to wake him up and keep the show running, and tells them to yell the phrase even louder than the last until he finally wakes up.
  • In Hamilton, there are 3 duels in the musical, Laurens and Lee, Philip and Eacker, and of course Hamilton and Burr.
  • In Into the Woods, the Witch tells the Baker and his wife that they must bring her the items "before the chime of midnight in three days time" in order to break the spell.
  • One of the musical themes in The Magic Flute, labeled "The Triple Chord," is three voicings of a B-flat major chord, each one repeated three times in a short-long-long pattern.
  • Marat/Sade: Charlotte Corday comes to Marat's door three times. Lampshaded several times.
  • The Mikado:
    • Pooh-Bah gives a "toast with three times three" repeating the phrase "long life to you" three times. Most people who play the role ham the third time up even more than is called for in the script (which is quite a bit.)
    • Also from The Mikado:
      "One little maid is a bride, Yum-Yum,
      Two little maids in attendance come,
      Three little maids is the total sum,
      Three little maids from school."
  • In The Music Man, the piano lesson scene begins with Amaryllis practicing the same passage three times, always ending on the same wrong note. Mrs. Paroo plays the right note for Amaryllis the first two times, and Marian enters to correct her third try.
  • Pokémon Live! has three trainers and three Pokemon MechaMew2 defeats, and three girls Brock is interested in.
  • From RENT: "Say something. Anything." "Test, one, two, three— " "Anything but that."
  • Shakespearean examples:
    • In Julius Caesar, Marc Anthony speaks at Caesar's funeral:
      You all did see that on the Lupercal
      I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
      Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
    • During this speech, he also says "Brutus is an honorable man" three times. A fourth time he just says, "And sure he is an honorable man", by which time he's in full Sarcasm Mode.
    • King Lear has three daughters to whom he intends to leave a third of his kingdom each. (However, he gets annoyed with the third one and ends up giving his kingdom to the other two).
    • When Mercutio is fatally stabbed in Romeo and Juliet, he curses the Montagues and Capulets thrice ("A plague on both your houses!") before dying, thus ensuring that the curse comes true.
    • The Merchant of Venice has three caskets, of which the third chosen is successful.
    • Macbeth alone contains too many examples to count, most coming from the three witches.
    • And therefore also the amount Witches like to assemble in, 'cause two is just an argument.
  • In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Todd teaches Mrs. Lovett a pound-three-times signal.

    Web Animation 
  • The YouTube Poop video Meet the Artillery by electricthecheese does this by having an overly-long-gag of Heavy Weapons Guy saying "GUN." After a while, there is a long, unedited period, and at the most unexpected moment, the Heavy makes a loud, virus-sounding noise and one of the Care Bears inexplicably pops in. Also, the Engineer introduces himself several times, and then the Heavy and Sniper introduce themselves as engineers as well.
  • A common joke in YouTube Poop videos involves repeating a line three times, with some sort of effect applied for the third time (an example as seen in this Sofia the First YTP). It plays on the viewer's expectations by making them believe that the scene occurs a certain way and gives them time to become comfortable with it, before surprising them with a twist.
  • Red vs. Blue's "Son of a bitch!" running gag is usually done in threes, occasionally twisted with Spanish-speaking robot Lopez's "Madre de dios," subtitled as "Son of a bitch!". Also, when Simmons and Grif are facing down the tank in Season 1:
    Simmons: Alright, let's run on three.
    Grif: Wait, ON three, or one-two-three-THEN go?
    Simmons: ON three, it's always faster to go on three! Okay ready, one. . .
    *Grif starts running*
    Simmons: two. . . three! * turns around, sees Grif already far away* Oh, you backstabbing cockbite.
  • Played straight in Harry Partridge's Stephen the Lesbian.
    "All hail Stephen, king of the Lesbians!"
    "All hail Stephen, king of the Lesbians!"
    "All hail Stephen King! *Beat* Of the Lesbians!"
  • In Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee subverts this in his review of Just Cause. He uses the title as a joke the first two times, where on the third he simply comments "how should I know?"
  • From the YouTube Poop Skellington's Revenge:
    Sally: (after Jack says her vision of Christmas disaster is splendid and asks her to make him some crack) No! You're being an ass!
    Mayor: (after Jack kicks him out for saying conquering Christmas is a bad idea) Ugh...You're being an ass!
    Jack: (after realizing Satan is just using him to take over Halloween) How could I be such an ass?
  • Plan 3: In The Chinese Food Curse, it’s established that victims of said curse have to pass the Fate Lord’s three challenges in order to lift it.
    • There have been three episodes having Goku and Superman fight each other. In all three episodes, the Man of Steel defeats the Super Saiyan.
    • Played with, but ultimately subverts it, when it comes to the three episodes featuring Shadow the Hedgehog. In all three of his fights (against Vegeta, Mewtwo and Ryūko Matoi in that order). the fight ends right after Shadow's opponent attempts a finishing blow while uttering "sayonara.", referencing the quote used when Shadow is assumed dead at the end of Sonic Adventure 2. In his first two episodes, the attempted finishers go through and kill Shadow, but when Ryūko tries it, it doesn't end well for her, which is where the subversion comes into play.


  • Lampshaded in Episode 4 of Cracked TV (5 Things You Shouldn't Be Able to Buy on eBay):
    Tic-Tacs! Bag of Dice! Some...third thing!
  • There are generally three known exceptions to This Very Wiki's rule against authors adding stuff to or otherwise editing their own YMMV pages:
    • They may move misplaced examples from the main page to the YMMV page.
    • They may remove any entry that is factually untrue.
    • They may add input from other parties, if the other parties consent or else are unable to edit the YMMV page in question for whatever reason. This one is in more of a gray area than the other two, though.

    Web Videos 
  • Used straight, then lampshaded in Life in a Game. When Lollerskates assumes his final form during his Final Showdown with the heroes, all it takes is three shots to his incredibly obvious weakpoint to finish him, which the Master Chief calls him out on after his defeat. Then he teabags him.
  • Hewy in Hewy's Animated Movie Reviews reviews Toy Story 3 for the third episode of his third season.
  • In CrapShots #168, James pokes a clown three times. The first two times get the same reaction, while the third, while similar is unexpected.
  • In Robotic Bartenders! (Cruise Day 1) by Matt Santoro, Matt asks Nadine what they should cheer to. She says "a successful first day" and a "tomorrow of epic awesomeness". He says that they should cheer to exactly 1 more thing, so they cheer to living life.
  • In "WHAT KILLS YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER - Respawn Man (Part 2/4)" by Santoro Gaming, Matt plays the video game Respawn Man, and only has to jump twice to complete a level, but jumps three times for good luck.
  • BuzzFeed Unsolved discusses the usage of this trope in episodes centering around demons, since the Rule of Three is allegedly significant in mocking the Holy Trinity. Ryan mentions when spending the night at the Sallie House, that at 3:00 am he's going to be quiet for 3 minutes to see if any demonic activity happens at that specific time. When they go to a demonic bridge, Ryan mentions that according to lore, if you knock on it three times, the demon that haunts it will throw you off. They try it: nothing happens.
  • In JonTron's review of Nightshade, after being tricked by the game three times, he gives a modification of the phrase "Fool me once" to make it three times:
    Fool me once, I'm mad. Fool me twice, how could you. Fool me three times, you're officially that guy, okay, you know the one. The one who goes to the bar and is like "This suit is, uh, officially it's a Giorgio Armani, ech, my dad knows him". FUCK YOU! I AIIIIIIN'T HAVIN' THAT SHIT!
  • Analyst Bronies React: When reacting to Equestria Girls Friendship Games:
    • Keyframe is not happy that Twilight only walked through two doors that made lens flare.
      Keyframe: My rule of three is not satisfied.
    • CellSpex has three things she wants from Friendship Games:
      One, I wanna see human Cadence and Shining Armor. Number two, I wanna see Sunset revert back to her demon form. Number three, I need to see Human Twilight shun Flash Sentry! Bonus 50 points if she calls him a stalker!
  • In the Scanline episode on director's cuts, Hbomberguy talks about directors who have released new versions of movies that were actively worse than the originals. The first time, an image of George Lucas that is fading in is bluntly replaced with Francis Ford Coppola so Hbomb can talk about the director's cut of Apocalypse Now. The second time, an image of George Lucas that is fading in is revealed to show him sitting next to Steven Spielberg so Hbomb can talk about edits to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The third time, after Hbomb squirms for a bit...
    Hbomb: It's time to talk about Federico Felli - FINE, GEORGE LUCAS!

"That's a tree!
That's a house!
That's a pizza place!"

Alternative Title(s): Rule Of 3, Rule Of Threes


Cousin Cassie's Hair

Cassie shaking her hair in slow-mo always ends up attracting someone.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / ShakingHerHairLoose

Media sources: