Friday, November 5, 2010

No Such Grammatical Rule or No Such Rule in Grammar (Part 3 of 3)

Sometimes we get the emphasis by putting the significant words at the beginning of a sentence. That's the other power position. Any element in the sentence, other than the subject, becomes emphatic when placed first. We could say Thelma could never forgive lying. As constructed, the crime or sin receives the emphasis. Suppose, however, we wanted to place never forgive in the power position. We would write: Lying is something Thelma could never forgive.

Here's an illustration that shows how we choose what we wish to emphasize in a sentence.

1. Cecil Murphey received a million-dollar advance from Penguin Books last week [not last year].

2. From Penguin books [not from Doubleday], last week Cecil Murphey received a million-dollar advance.

3. Penguin Books paid a million-dollar advance last week to Cecil Murphey [and not to someone else].

4. Last week, Penguin books gave a million-dollar advance to Cecil Murphey. [Because of word order, last week receives the emphasis.]

It's subtle. Most readers wouldn't get the difference between the four examples. That's all right because they don't have to understand the techniques. What readers grasp is that some people write better than others.

Serious writers are sensitive to the rhythm of a sentence
and know where they want to place the emphasis.


  1. Thank you very much, Cec, for this series on word order. Because of it, I've been rereading my sentences and revising my word order for desired emphasis.

  2. Each post is a vital, mini-workshop for those serious about the craft. T.Davis Bunn says, "We're co-creators with Him, the great Creator." Cec, you continually remind us of this truth. Thank you from our hearts!
    John & Bobbe


What are your thoughts?