Creating Emphasis ~~ It’s More than the Subject Position

Let’s Play.

The Highwayman comes riding, riding, riding / Up to the old inn-door.

Fun with words?

Yes, it’s possible.  And practical.  Especially practicable when we want to create emphasis.

Easiest is simple repetition:

“And the highwayman came riding–riding–riding / Up to the old inn-door.” (Noyes, “The Highwayman”)

Pick a key word, and it becomes the key element.

Be careful, though, for repetition becomes a key gimmick, as we know from reading “The Highwayman”:  “A red-coat troop came marching–marching–marching”.  From mid-point on, the repetition is too much.

Play with Incremental Repetition:

An increment is a small amount.  Incremental Repetition is a small change at the next repeat of the word or phrase.

Again, from “The Highwayman”:  “And they shot him down on the highway / Down like a dog on the highway.”

The slight change miraculously adds strength.

Judy Collins’ Wildflowers cover

For a clever version of incremental repetition, check out Judy Collins’ version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”: Both Sides Now

Grow for Emphasis:

Once we get to working with changes in repetition, we run into a clever Greek word auxesis, which means “growth” or “increase”, but is really a fancy way to say climactic ordering.

In Robinson Jeffers’ translation of Euripides’ Medea, our main character contemplates the murders of those who have wronged her: “Grind. Crush. Burn.”  She, of course, chooses the last method, the one most painful and enduring.  No quick deaths for Medea.

“Both Sides Now” uses auxesis to present ascending significance.  The first stanzas discuss clouds (innocent, childlike naivete), the next discuss love (the focus of our teens and twenties), the last discuss life (maturity in considering our world).

We can take power away by descending in importance.  Remember the lesson of the trolls?  Removing power can be a useful technique.

Work in Threes:

Once is not remarkable.  Twice seems coincidence.  Thrice is serendipity.

Set the Right Pace:

We can slow down the speed of our repetition and auxesis by adding conjunctions: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day” (Macbeth’s famous speech by Shakespeare).  This is called a polysyndeton.

We speed up by removing conjunctions:  “Out, out, brief candle” is the asyndeton
from the same speech by Macbeth.

Front and Back:

Churchill famously said to study Latin to learn but study Greek for fun.

Repetition can occur at the beginning of a series of sentences, which creates an anaphora:

From Winston Churchill’s June 1940 speech:  “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight . . . in the air, we shall defend our island . . . we shall fight on the beaches . . . we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills;  we shall never surrender.”

Opposite to the anaphora is the epistrophe.

From Sam’l Beckett: “Where now? Who now? When now?” (The Unnamable)

From Shakespeare’s J.Caesar: “Who is here so base that would be a bondman?  If any, speak; for him have I offended.  Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman?  If any, speak; for him have I offended.  Who is here so vile that will not love his country?  If any, speak; for him have I offended.” (Brutus)

This example comes from Jeffers’ Medea:  “They were full of cold pride, they ruled all this country–they are down in the ashes, crying like dogs, cowering in the ashes, in their own ashes.”

Keep a light touch:

Don’t overwork it.  With a light touch, the simple occurrence of repetition creates power on the page.

Use it to remind of elements of character.

Use it to develop setting with a quick glance or a lingering view.

Crime scene images.  Events in a mano-y-mano battle.  Workings of a spell.  Effects of a kiss.

Repetition creates emphasis.

Play ball.

Trolls Seizing Power

Trolls Seizing Power

Audrey models a crocheted cap
Marianne keeps an eye out for trolls.

Getting those pesky trolls to release Marianne is essential.  She wants to  return to her jog.  They want to control the sentence.

In the previous post “Pesky Trolls Return”, we highlighted two ways that subjects leave the work of the sentence to something else.  They cede a little of their power away to modifiers and questions.

To take power completely away from the subject, we have to give the power to the trolls of writing.

Active vs. Passive Subjects

When the Act-er of the sentence is in the subject position, the Act-er keeps his power.  Writers want active subjects.  Usually.

Not always.

Occasionally, we want the Act-er to be lose power.  Look at these two sentences:

  • The trolls seized Marianne.
  • Marianne was seized by the trolls.

The first example is Active Voice.  The trolls do the action;  they are in the dominant position of the sentence.

In the second example, our focus is Marianne, our protagonist.  The trolls get shoved to the back seat of the sentence (becoming the object of the preposition by).

This is Passive Voice.  The trolls have lost power.

Pretty much anytime your Act-er follows the preposition by, you have created impotence and futility.

  • Bilbo outwitted Golem >> Golem was outwitted by Bilbo.
  • Hannibal invaded the Roman Empire >> The Roman Empire was invaded by Hannibal.

What about this sentence? Hannibal invaded the Roman Empire by using elephants.

Who is the Act-er?  Hannibal, not the elephants.  Hannibal remains in the active position and loses no power.

Expletives t/here

In the post “Whereby a Fly Inserts itself into your Expensive Dinner”, I discussed the expletives there and here. (Check the Archive!)

Not every t/here is an expletive;  in the alternative use t/here serves as a placement adverb:  The accountant is over there, behind the fern.  He’s hiding from the trolls, who took Marianne.

Shakespeare’s Brutus says, “There is a tide in the affairs of men / which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”  This is a pure expletive:  A tide in the affairs of men . . . leads on to fortune.”

I had a professor who called these expletives “Do-Nothings”.  They are mere placeholders who thrust the subject into impotence.

When we remove them, we immediately punch up our writing.

  • There is no sense to her words. >> Her words are senseless.
  • There are no hiding places from trolls. >> We cannot hide from trolls.
  • Here are giants. >>

Ah, the last one’s not so easy, for this is a placement adverb, not an expletive. Purge it, however.

  • Here are giants. >> Giants stood among the trees, peeking over the canopies, waiting in ambush for the trolls.

For the giants will free Marianne.

Grammar Starters, Set 3

This Grammar Monster believes in diagramming.

While diagramming is totally necessary, learning the code for diagramming is totally UNnecessary.

Beginning NOW, the Grammar Sets will focus on labeling the parts of the sentence.

Alfred Smedburg’s 1912 “Bland tomtar och troll”

This means we pick the trolls that we battle.

If you’ve been following the chart set forward back in August 1, you’ve had a weekly focus on the parts of the sentence, using any basic grammar text.

Labelling works extremely well.  The Grammar Monster uses abbreviations for the parts of the sentence.  Those abbreviations are listed at the top of the document.

Since the first of the year, we’ve taken the sentence apart to look at separate elements.  Now we start putting everything together.

Why, Grammar Monster?  Why?

By the time students finish the Grammar Focus and the Grammar Sets, they should have no difficulty spotting the classic Type I errors.

Type I errors are all based on understanding the two main ideas of the sentence:  subjects and verbs.  If writers can’t determine the subjects and verbs in their own sentences, how will they understand the main ideas of other people?

If writers can’t clearly express their own main ideas (in complete sentences), will their points of view ever be considered credible?

These two points–Clearly understanding the ideas of others and Clearly communicating their own ideas–are the whole focus of the two opening Composition courses in colleges and universities.

At least, I believe that’s the reasoning behind the stringent focus on Type I errors.  That reasoning makes sense, doesn’t it?

And what happens to the weekly focus on Grammar?

We have  a lot of ins and outs about Grammar Monsters that we still need to cover.  However, you can focus on additional grammar issues by checking out these previous blogs ~

  • Sept. 5 rattles about Irregular Verbs, pesky little monsters that trip the unwary.  “He had took the wrong route” is just one example recently read in a national blog. (This particular problem needs only one week of focus but constant reminding.)
  • Sept.  12 introduces the snares of misplaced  and dangling modifiers and how to avoid them. (Take two weeks to cover this issue.)
  • Sept. 26 reminds us that clear pronoun reference is necessary for clear communication. (One lesson for one week)
  • Oct. 31 offers simple ways to avoid the problem with their/they’re/there, always pesky.

If you wish to start working on sentence crafting, which polishes up the draft of an essay in order to make it shine, then check out these blogs:

  • Inversion:  “Switch It Up: Yoda Charm” on Oct. 3.
  • Emphasis on Oct. 10:  This blog focuses on different ways to create emphasis (rather than using shouting capital letters and exclamation marks).  Creating emphasis requires crafting the sentences after drafting the essay, and the power of these types of emphasis create polished compositions.  (Ideas first, execution of those ideas second).  The blog on emphasis offers four lessons.

Or you can continue to follow the blog.  What will the blog be doing?

Codes and Signage

While the Grammar Set is rolling through its issues, a set of simpler lessons will be rolling through this blog.  Punctuation codes are like road signs.  I’ll present lessons on punctuation codes that are Starters I, Enders II, Links that Separate III, Short-Cutters IV, and Special Marks V.


Consider the whole series as a unit, with several lessons in each section.  Starters, for example, covers four issues.

As for our next Grammar Monster~

Here are the instructions that work for Grammar Starter 3.

Label every word in a sentence as to its part of the sentence:  Subject (not noun); action or linking verbs; complements as direct object, indirect object, predicate noun, or predicate adjective; conjunctions; and so on.

And our questions remain excellent guides for understanding ~

  • What do you know?
  • How do you know if it’s correct?
  • What do you not know?
  • What do you notice about the rule that you haven’t learned?

Simple conversation on these four questions strengthen the foundation of knowledge.

Grammar Starters Set 3 changes the pattern of lessons for the week.

You will now have one lesson per week.  Any problems should become in continual review on following days.  If no problems were noticed, then no review is necessary.  Seven lessons total, copyrighted to me.

You will need MS Word to open this link to an original Grammar Monster document.

Grammar Starters 3rd set


Pesky Trolls Return

Backseat Drivers are Powerless.

Vintage Baseball
Nate as the Kid

Words have power.

We need to ensure they have power.

Basic sentence structure places the subject first, in the driver’s seat.

As with every rule in English, exceptions exist where the subject leaves the driver’s seat.

FOUR exceptions immediately come to mind:

  • Modifiers
  • Questions
  • Expletives there and here
  • Passive voice


Adjectives.  Adverbs.  Don’t forget the prepositional phrases (Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house).

And also the verbal phrases, including the verbal participle (taking a backseat) . . . . Jogging slowly through the fog, Marianne saw looming ahead a lurid object.


In most questions the verb is in two parts, surrounding the subject . . . . Will Marianne turn back or continue her morning jog?

With these modifiers and questions, the subject remains in the driver’s seat.  They are all examples of what the Grammar World calls “ACTIVE VOICE”.  Yes, I intended to shout.

Those of us who desire interesting and tightened writing focus our sentences with the active voice.

But what if I want to take the power away from my subject?

Ah. . . .

You want to drive from the backseat?

Sometimes that’s helpful.

Sometimes it’s crucial.

Such as when the vial troll has seized your heroine Marianne from the jogging path, and you need to reassure the reader—in a sneaky manner—that she is still powerful.

Take power from the troll!

But you have to wait for next week to discover how.

Whereby a Fly Inserts Itself into your Expensive Dinner

They’re, Their, There, my Dear

Very few computer software programs can tell us the difference among there, their, and they’re.

When such simple errors occur, many judge the writer as uneducated or careless.  We would rather not communicate either of those judgments.

Know what each means and what each is intended to replace, and then each is easier to remember.


They’re.  That little apostrophe means something is left out–the letter A and the space separating the two words “they are”.

It’s the same as “can’t” for “cannot”.

And “won’t” for “will not”.

In what we’re writing, if we can break the word into “they are”, then “they’re is the choice you make.”


Their.  Many of us default to this possessive pronoun via the process of elimination.

It seems simple enough:  “their” is a possessive pronoun.

“Their emails”

“Their knotty problems”

“The knotty problems are theirs, not mine, thank the good Lord.”

Basically, that is all we must remember.  However, it can be difficult when we are writing on the fly.


There.  It shows placement.  Its friend is “here”.  “Here” is even part of “there”. 😉

“That file is here” >> “That file is there.”

“There” can be a lazy placeholder:  Waiter, there is a fly in my soup.

Take it out >> Waiter, a fly is in my soup.

Ah, now we see something we didn’t anticipate.  Removing “there” causes both subject and verb to become more emphatic (stressed >> important!).  Using “there” removes emphasis from “fly” and “is” . . . which are the two things causing your current unhappiness with your restaurant meal.