The emphatic and communicative functions of word order

§ 121. The second function of word order is to make prominent or emphatic that part of the sentence which is more important or informative in the speaker’s opinion. These two functions (to express prominence or information focus, and emphasis) are different in their purpose, but in many cases they go together or overlap, and are difficult to differentiate.

Prominence and emphasis are achieved by placing the word in an unusual position : words normally placed at the beginning of the sentence (such as the subject) are placed towards the end, whereas words usually occupying positions closer to the end of the sentence (such as objects and predicatives) are shifted to the beginning.

End position is always emphatic for the subject. Very often this reordering results in the detachment of the subject.

Must have cost a pretty penny, this dress of yours!

Fronting of an object or a predicative is also often accompanied by detachment.

Horrible these women are, ugly, dirty.

Many and long were the conversations they held through the prison wall.

For debt, drink, dancers he had a certain sympathy; but the pearls – no!

If the object is prepositional, the preposition may be put after the verb or verb-group, or else after the whole sentence.

This nowadays one hears not of.

However, front position of an object does not always mean that this part is emphasized. In some cases this sort of reordering is employed to get the predicate (or what is left of it) emphasized. Talent Mr. Macowber has, capital Mr. Macowber has not.

Front position is emphatic for adverbials (of time, manner, degree) usually attached to the predicate. It is often accompanied by inversion.

Well do I remember the day.

Many a time has he given me good advice.

With words functioning now as adverbs, now as postpositions, front position reveals their adverbial nature most distinctly, as postpositions are never placed here. With this reordering the emphasis is thrown upon the predicate.

off he went.

Up they rushed.

For attributes may be achieved by putting them after their headword. In this way the modifier becomes the focus and has the principal stress of the word-group.

The day following was to decide our fate.


In assessing the emphatic effect of a postmodifying attribute we should bear in mind that for certain attributes this position is normal (see § 86).

However, the fixed patterns in English limit the opportunities to shift prominence or emphasis from one part of the sentence to another, especially for main parts. Therefore prominence and emphasis are generally achieved not by reordering, but by using special constructions. One such construction used for emphasizing the subject is the introductory non-local there + verb + noun, followed by an attributive clause.

There was a girl whom he loved.

There comes a time when one should make up one’s mind.

Another device for shifting emphasis is the construction with the introduction it , the main information being supplied by the subordinate clause. By means of this construction emphasis may be thrown upon any part of the sentence, except the predicate. Such sentences are called cleft sentences. This can be illustrated by the following:

It was she who opened the door.

It is not easy to find a position.

It was to Moscow that she went.

Special emphasis on words functioning as direct or indirect object may be achieved by the use of the passive construction, in which the words to be emphasized are moved either to front position or closer to the end.

Compare the sentences:

The teacher gave the children an easy task.

The children were given an easy task by the teacher.

An easy task was given to the children by the teacher.

The linking function of word order

§ 122. The third function of word order is to express continuity of thought in sentences (or clauses) following one another. This continuity is often supported by demonstrative pronouns and adverbs.

Some people looked down on him. Those people he despised.

They must sow their wild oats. Such was his theory.

And, oh, that look! On that look Euphemia had spent much anxious thought.

Women are terribly vain. So are men – more so, if possible.

Similarly, for purposes of enumeration, a word (or words) marking continuity is sometimes placed at the beginning of the sentence, with the verb immediately following.

Next comes the most amusing scene.

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