Mastering Repetition with R’s rep() Function: A Programmer’s Guide


Steven P. Sanderson II, MPH


June 22, 2023


As a programmer, you’re constantly faced with the need to repeat tasks efficiently. Repetition is a fundamental concept in programming, and R provides a powerful tool to accomplish this: the rep() function. In this blog post, we will explore the syntax of the rep() function and delve into several examples to showcase its versatility and practical applications. Whether you’re working with data manipulation, generating sequences, or creating repeated patterns, rep() will become your go-to function for mastering repetition in R.


The rep() function in R allows you to replicate elements of a vector or a specified value a specified number of times. Its basic syntax is as follows:

rep(x, times, each)
  • x: The vector or value to be repeated.
  • times: The number of times x should be repeated.
  • each (optional): Specifies the number of times each element of x should be repeated before moving to the next element.


Example 1: Repeating a Single Value

Let’s start with a simple example. Suppose we want to repeat the value 5 three times. We can achieve this using the following code:

result <- rep(5, times = 3)
[1] 5 5 5

Example 2: Replicating a Vector

The rep() function can also replicate entire vectors. Consider the following example where we replicate the vector c(1, 2, 3) four times:

vector <- c(1, 2, 3)
result <- rep(vector, times = 4)
 [1] 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3

Example 3: Repeating Elements Using ‘each’

The each argument allows us to repeat each element of a vector a specific number of times. Let’s illustrate this with the following example:

vector <- c(1, 2, 3)
result <- rep(vector, times = 2, each = 2)
 [1] 1 1 2 2 3 3 1 1 2 2 3 3

Example 4: Creating Repeated Patterns

One interesting use case of the rep() function is to create repeated patterns. Consider this example, where we want to generate a pattern of “ABABAB” ten times:

pattern <- rep(c("A", "B"), times = 10)
result <- paste(pattern, collapse = "")

Example 5: Expanding Factors or Categories

The rep() function is useful for expanding factors or categories. Let’s say we have a factor with three levels, and we want to replicate each level four times:

factor <- factor(c("low", "medium", "high"))
result <- rep(factor, times = 4)
 [1] low    medium high   low    medium high   low    medium high   low   
[11] medium high  
Levels: high low medium


The rep() function in R is a powerful tool for repeating elements of vectors or generating repeated patterns efficiently. By understanding its syntax and exploring various examples, you can leverage the versatility of this function to streamline your programming tasks. Whether you’re working with data manipulation, sequence generation, or pattern creation, rep() will undoubtedly become an invaluable addition to your programming toolkit. So go ahead, experiment with rep(), and unlock the full potential of repetition in R!