Use two natural stress points in your sentences for emphasis

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Beginnings and endings count more than middles.

Consider this sentence: “I have never felt more frustrated.” The intensity of that statement can be heightened by moving one word to the beginning.

“Never have I felt more frustrated.”

If you move two words forward in the following sentence, you sharpen your tone: “You have asked me twice now to respond to your requests on short notice.”

Here there are two candidates for relocation, both of which convey annoyance: twice now and on short notice. The latter phrase, however, already occupies a position of natural stress at the end of the sentence, so try moving the other phrase forward.

“Twice now you have asked me to respond to your requests on short notice.”

Can you hear the difference?

The same words presented in a different order deliver the message with more emphasis. Like word choice, word placement is a powerful tool. Use it to your advantage.

Because sentence openings are an opportunity for natural emphasis, take care in how you word them. Launch your sentences economically. Don’t lead off with wordy expressions such as in the event that or in order to.

Compare “In the event that you miss your plane, take the train” with “If you miss your plane, take the train.”

Likewise, compare “In order to improve your writing, listen to the sound and rhythm of your words” with “To improve your writing, listen to the sound and rhythm of your words.”

To practice taking advantage of opening emphasis, eliminate wordiness and move the dramatic words and phrases forward in the following sentences:

1. Hugh, with his old gray eyes feverish, broke off a long twig from a chokecherry bush.

2. Hugh slowly slipped away into delirium. (Hint: Leave delirium in its position of closing emphasis.)

3. He was awakened by a cold touch.

4. There was something that had moved against his good side.

5. It was a rattler.

6. If he moved the least little bit, he’d have a batch of rattler poison in his blood, besides all the rot he already had in it.

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