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Intensity and emphasis in english sentence-structure

Expressive nuances and intensity of meaning can be obtained in any language by linguistic devices of different levels: phonetic, morphological, syntactic and phraseological, by word-building and special intensive words. All these can function as expedients to produce emotive and logical intensity of the utterance. Some of such intensifying forms, established by long use in the language and recognised by their semantic value and purpose, are registered in good dictionaries as intensifiers or intensives. In most cases they have their neutral synonymic alternatives.

Phonetic means are most powerful in expressive connotation. The human voice can always give the necessary prominence to the utterance, indicating such subtle shades of meaning that perhaps no other means can actualise. Modulation features, intonation and stress, pausation, drawling, whispering and other ways of using the voice are known to be most effective in intensifying the utterance logically or emotionally.

A major object in style is to call the attention of the reader in a forcible way to the most important part of the subject — in other words, to give emphasis to what is emphatic, and to make what is striking and important strike the eye and mind of the reader.

The position of words and syntactic structures relative to one another presents quite a special interest. But intensity and emphasis can also be produced in other ways. The selection of such linguistic devices is a factor of great significance in the act of communication. This part of syntax in any language is a source of constant linguistic interest. Syntactic structures are subtle and delicate in their different shades of meaning, and it is not always easy to find the ones that express precisely what we want to say. It is only a matter of having a good command of language and a fairly wide vocabulary; it is also necessary to think hard and to observe accurately.


There is natural tendency in any language to develop its emotional and affective means of expression. We cannot fail to see that there are not only points of coincidence here but specific features characteristic of any given language with its own patterns of formations and its own types of structural units. Important treatments of the subject have been made by many scholars.

Intensity and emphasis can be expressed, for instance, by functional re-evaluation and transposition of various syntactic structures, by special grammatical idioms — fixed patterns of usage, by idiomatic sentence-patterns.

Observations on the contextual use of various patterns furnish numerous examples of re-interpretation of syntactic structures by which we mean stylistic transpositions resulting in neutralisation of the primary grammatical meaning of the given linguistic unit. The "asymmetric dualism of the linguistic sign"1 appears to be natural and is fairly common at different levels of any language.

The linguistic mechanism, prosodic features, in particular, work naturally in many ways to prevent ambiguity in such patterns of grammatical structure.

A major interest is presented, for instance, by "nexus of deprecation" with the implicit expression of negation in sentences without "negative" words, or the use of negative structures with the implication of affirmative emphatic assertion.

Rhetorical questions are not limited by conversational dialogues. They are fairly common in monologues of various genres — publicist, literary prose, scientific English and oratory where they are not intended to elicit an answer but are inserted for rhetorical effect to draw the attention of the hearer towards the contents of the utterance.

Scholars are not agreed at this point of analysis. Some grammarians hold the view that rhetorical questions imply a disguised assertion2, others emphasise that a rhetorical question presupposes a negative answer and is in fact a special form of negation. Rhetorical questions are sometimes referred to as structures implying both assertion and negation.

Appellation to the hearer implied in interrogative sentences, in general, makes the rhetorical question a most effective means to express intensity of feeling in colourful lively speech:

"I never see him doing any work there", continued Harris, "whenever I go in. He sits behind a bit of glass all day, trying to look as if he was doing something. What's the good of a man behind a bit of glass? I have to work for my living. Why can't he work? What use is he there, and what the good of their banks?.. What is the good of that? (Jerome K. Jerome)

Could a man own anything prettier than this dining-table with its deep lints, the starry, soft-patelled roses, the ruby-coloured glass, and quaint

1See: S. Каrсevsку. Du dualisme asymétrique du signe linguistique. TCLP, 1, 1929.

2 See: И. Р. Гальперин. Очерки по стилистике английского языка. М., 1958.


silver furnishing; could a man own anything prettier than the woman sitting at it? (Galsworthy)

In patterns with "implied" or non-grammatical negation the connection between the two sentence elements is brushed aside as impossible; the meaning is thus negative which is the same as questions, often in an exaggerated form or not infrequently given to the two sentence elements separately, e. g.:

"Darling, it was very harmless".

"Harmless! Much you know what's harmless and what isn't".

Fleur dropped her arms. (Galsworthy)

"Mr. Copperfield was teaching her. Much he knew of it himself" (Dickens)

By the front door the maid was asking:

"Shall you be back to dinner, sir?"

"Dinner!" muttered Soames, and was gone. (Galsworthy)

Cf. «Вы меня нынче совсем измучили», — «Замолчи ради бога». (Полина) — «Как же дожидайся, буду я молчать!» (Н. Островский)

«Да чего ты рассердился так горячо?»... — «Есть из-за чего сердиться!» (Гоголь)

Він відмовився від своїх слів! Не можу повірити!

The implication of affirmative emphatic assertion will be found in examples like the following:

Bicket swallowed violently again. "It's all very well," he said sullenly; "it asn't appened to you!"

Michael was afflicted at once. No! It hadn't happened to him! And all his doubts of Fleur in the days of Wilfred came hitting him. (Galsworthy)

Cf. "Proud? And how's she earned it! Proud! My Gawd." (Galsworthy)

Oh? Swine that he was, to have thought like that of Vic! He turned his back to her and tried to sleep. But once you got a thought like that sleep? No. (Galsworthy)

In colloquial English there are numerous standardised types of rhetorical questions expressing a categorial disagreement with the opinion of the collocutor, e. g.:

What business is it of yours? You mind your own affairs.

Doolittle (remostrating). Now, now, look here, Governor. Is this reasonable? Is it fair to take advantage of a man like this? This girl belongs to me. I got her. (Shaw)

Cf. «Ну для чего ты пташку убил? — начал он, глядя мне прямо в лицо.— «Как для чего! ... Коростель — это дичь: его есть можно».— «Не для того ты убил его, барин: станешь ты его есть!» (Тургенев)

«Что ж они и мазут весь увезли?» — недоверчиво спросил кривой Чумаков.— «А ты думал, дед, тебе оставили? Очень ты им нужен, как и весь трудящийся народ» (Шолохов).

French: Moi faire ça?

German: Erf So was sagen!

Intensity of meaning can be produced by such special syntactic patterns as:

a) patterns with so-called "appended statement", e. g.:

He likes a low death-rate and a gravel soil for himself, he does. (Shaw)

You're the sort that makes duty a pleasure, you are. (Shaw)


He used to wolf down a lot in those days, did Dad. (Shaw)

b) pleonastic patterns like the following:

Bicket had a thought. This was poetry this was. (Galsworthy)

c) the use of the verb go functioning as an emphatic auxiliary in idiomatic pattern go and Vfin where there is no idea of real motion attached to the verb go.

Present Tense

Non-emphatic Emphatic

Why do you say such things? Why do you go and say such

things? Past Indefinite

He did it. He went and did it.

Present Perfect

He has caught it. He has gone and caught it. Past Perfect

He had caught it. He had gone and caught it.

His grey eyes would brood over the grey water under the grey sky; and in his mind the mark would fall. It fell with a bump on the eleventh of January when the French went and occupied the Ruhr. (Galsworthy)

(Went and occupied = occupied)

"If you're Master Murdstone", said the lady, "why do you go and give another name, first?" (Galsworthy)

(Why do you go and give... = Why do you give...)

"He mustn't catch cold the doctor had declared, and he had gone and caught it. (Galsworthy)

(She had gone and caught it he had caught it)

Verb-phrases of this type imply disapproval of the action, its irrelevance or unexpectedness with different shades of subjective modal force depending on the context, linguistic or situational.

...His grandmother turned from the fire: "What have you gone and done now, you silly lad?"

"I fell into a bush," he told her. (Sillitoe)

Intensity of meaning may be produced by patterns with the ing-form following the verb go when the latter is also semantically depleted and is used idiomatically to intensify the meaning of the notional verb, e. g.:

He goes frightening people with his stories.

"I shall see you again before long, my boy!" he said. Don't you go paying any attention to what I've been saying about young Bosinney I don't believe a word of it!" (Galsworthy)

James was alarmed. "Oh", he said, don't go saying I said it was to come down! I know nothing about it. (Galsworthy)

You'll go burning you fingers investing your money in lime, and things you know nothing about. (Galsworthy)

Don't go putting on any airs with me. (Mitchell)

Compare the use of the Russian verb взять functioning as an emphatic auxiliary in idiomatic patterns with particles of emphatic precision:


возьми и расскажи (возьми да расскажи); взял и рассказал (взял да рассказал); возьмет и расскажет (возьмет да расскажет); взял бы и рассказал (взял бы да рассказал), etc.

Не знаю, чем я заслужил доверенность моего нового приятеля,— только он, ни с того, ни с сего, как говорится, взял да и рассказал мне довольно замечательный случай... (Тургенев)

Most forceful and expressive are idiomatic patterns where the determining and the determined elements of the denotation mutually exchange their respective parts, e. g.: a jewel of a nature, a devil of a journey, etc.

In common use the bearer of a quality is regularly denoted by the basic noun, while the quality attributed to this bearer is expressed by an element developing that basic noun. In patterns like a jewel of a picture the quality is expressed by the basic noun, while its bearer is denoted by the of -phrase developing that noun. This construction is not known in Old English. It has come into the language from French.

Further examples are: a slip of a boy, a slip of a girl, a love of a child, a peach of a girl, a devil of a fellow, a jewel of a cup, a doll of a baby, a brute of horse, a screw of a horse, the deuce of a noise, a deuce of a journey, a devil of a toothache, a devil of a hurry, her pet of a baby, a beast of a cold, the ghost of a voice, the ghost of a smile, a rascal of a landlord, etc. Such grammatical idioms are generally used to express either delight or admiration, scorn, irony or anger.

The idiomatic character of these forcible and expressive phrases offers certain difficulties in translation. The absence of analogous formations in a recipient language suggests the choice of other means to render a given idea in each case, such as, for instance, appositive use of nouns, epithet adjuncts or descriptive translation. Compare the following in Russian and Ukrainian:


giant of a man

( человек-великан [людина-велетень


a hell of a noise \

адский шум страшенний шум


a love of a child

прелестное дитя чудова дитина


a devil of a fellow

отчаянный малый шалений хлопець


the deuce of a price

бешеные деньги

шалені гроші


a devil of a hurry

ужасная спешка шалений поспіх


a jewel of a nature

редкостная натура рідкісна натура


a doll of a girl

Не девочка, а кукла Не дівчина, а лялька

Лялька, не дівчина


a jewel of a girl

Не девочка, а золото Золото, не дівчина


Consider also the following:

"Perhaps you know that lady", Gatsby indicated a gorgeous, scarcely human orchid of a woman who sat in state under a white-plum tree. (F. Fitzgerald)

What a jolly little duck of a house! (Galsworthy)

His own life as yet such a baby of a thing, hopelessly ignorant and innocent. (Galsworthy)

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