Saturday, February 12, 2011

Grammar tools for focus and emphasis

Here are my notes on how to design a sentence for focus, emphasis, and suspense based on what I learned in Grammar by Diagram by Cindy Vito.


1. An anticipatory appositive
This type of sentence begins with the word it. It is used to build anticipation of what it is.
Before: Watching him beneath the ice was horrifying.  
After: It was horrifying watching him beneath the ice.
Click the link for more about appositives.

2. The cleft sentence
A cleft sentence begins with the word it or what. It establishes suspense and emphasis in the first part of the sentence, then uses the second part of the sentence as a climax.
Before: Jill was terrified by the look in his eyes. (Focus is on the subject Jill)
After: What terrified Jill was the look in his eyes. (Focus is on the emotion of terror)
After: It was the look in his eyes that terrified Jill. (Focus is on the look in his eyes)
Another tool somewhat similar to the cleft sentence is a passive sentence. Click the link for more information on passive sentences.


3. A sentence appositive
A sentence appositive:
  1. Ends a sentence.
  2. Is preceded by a comma or dash.
  3. Begins with a noun that renames the complete verb of the independent clause and is followed by the word which or that.
  4. Summarizes a preceding independent clause.
Before: He longed for wealth, and it would become his downfall.
After: He longed for wealth, a lust that would become his downfall.
Or: He longed for wealth--a lust that would become his downfall.
This sentence actually renames the complete verb three times. In the example above, longed for wealth becomes a lust which becomes his downfall.

4. An exclamatory sentence
There are four sentence types:
  1. Declarative: Makes a statement.
  2. Interrogative: Asks a question.
  3. Imperative: Issues a command.
  4. Exclamatory: This sentence type begins with how or what and shifts the modifier to the beginning of the sentence. It does not necessarily demand an exclamation point.
Before: Bill was being rude to the guests.
After: How rude Bill appeared to the guests.
5. The nominative absolute
  1. Contains only a noun and its modifiers (no verbs, no adverbs!)
  2. Can appear at the beginning or end of a sentence.
  3. Focuses on a pinpoint detail of the accompanying independent clause, or
  4. Explains a cause or condition related to the independent clause.
Before: John attempted to manually launch the missile because the computer was broken.
After: The computer broken, John attempted to manually launch the missile.
Before: The cyborg--who had wide, glowing eyes--smashed through the iron door.
After: The cyborg smashed through the iron door, his eyes wide and glowing.
6. Italics
Italics can be used to emphasize a word or words in a sentence. It's presence changes the inflection, urgency, or excitement of the entire sentence.
Before: John wanted to escape.
After: John wanted to escape.
7. Break up a comma series
You may choose to pull a word or phrase out of a comma series to emphasize a particular attribute.
Before: The bed was cold, hard and lumpy. 
After: The cold, hard bed was lumpy.
Before: He had a fat, stern, pock-marked face.
After: His fat, stern face was pocked with scars.
Click the link for more information on how to use commas.

8. Colons and dashes
Use a colon or dash to create an expectation of a climactic word or phrase.
Before: John wanted to escape.
After: John wanted just one thing: to escape.
After: John wanted only one thing--his freedom.
Click the link for even more suggestions on how to use colons and dashes.

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