Country Report (Pro)


Place Emphatic Words at the End (Original Text)

It's time for another lesson from Strunk and White's famous book, The Elements of Style. It's on principle 18:

Below is the original text, just as Strunk and White wrote it. In the next lesson, I'll try to explain it in slightly simpler language.


18. Place the Emphatic Words of a Sentence at the End.

Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

The proper place for the word, or group of words, which the writer desires to make most prominent is usually the end of the sentence.

Mr. Hall's Note: Compare the following sentences. The ones on the left are not necessarily better than the ones on the right. Strunk and White are merely pointing out that the sentences—while nearly identical—emphasizes different things. To make the differences clear, I have added some explanations (in italics).

Humanity has hardly advanced in fortitude since that time, though it has advanced in many other ways.

This sentence emphasizes the fact that humanity has advanced in many other ways.

Humanity, since that time, has advanced in many other ways, but it has hardly advanced in fortitude.

This sentence emphasizes the fact that humanity has hardly advanced in fortitude.

This steel is principally used for making razors, because of its hardness.

This sentence emphasizes the hardness of the steel.

Because of its hardness, this steel is principally used in making razors.

This sentence emphasizes the fact that the steel is used to make razors.

The word or group of words entitled to this position of prominence is usually the logical predicate, that is, the new element in the sentence, as it is in the second example.

The effectiveness of the periodic sentence arises from the prominence which it gives to the main statement.

Mr. Hall's Note: We have not yet studied periodic sentences, but we will. For right now, just consider how each of these sentences emphasizes "the part of at the end".

Four centuries ago, Christopher Columbus, one of the Italian mariners whom the decline of their own republics had put at the service of the world and of adventure, seeking for Spain a westward passage to the Indies as a set-off against the achievements of Portuguese discoverers, lighted on America.

With these hopes and in this belief I would urge you, laying aside all hindrance, thrusting away all private aims, to devote yourselves unswervingly and unflinchingly to the vigorous and successful prosecution of this war.

The other prominent position in the sentence is the beginning. Any element in the sentence, other than the subject, becomes emphatic when placed first.

Deceit or treachery he could never forgive.

So vast and rude, fretted by the action of nearly three thousand years, the fragments of this architecture may often seem, at first sight, like works of nature.

A subject coming first in its sentence may be emphatic, but hardly by its position alone. In the sentence,

Great kings worshiped at his shrine,

the emphasis upon kings arises largely from its meaning and from the context. To receive special emphasis, the subject of a sentence must take the position of the predicate.

Through the middle of the valley flowed a winding stream.

The principle that the proper place for what is to be made most prominent is the end applies equally to the words of a sentence, to the sentences of a paragraph, and to the paragraphs of a composition.