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applies to the particular case, rather than by fixed rules of sentence formation.
1. Since English words have lost most of their inflections, the relation of ideas is generally indicated by the position of words expressing them. The general law of position may be stated thus:-
The position of words in the sentence should be such as to indicate clearly the relation of the ideas in the thought.
This requires words which express ideas most closely related in thought to stand as nearly together as possible in the sentence. Close connection in position indicates close connection in meaning.
The wrong placing of words gives rise to Confusion, Ambiguity, or Obscurity. In all cases this error engrosses the attention and weakens the effect. The two following sentences criticised by G. Washington Moon, in “ The Dean's English,” illustrates the nature of the error:
“ The great enemies to understanding anything printed in our language are the commas. And these are inserted by the compositors without the slightest compunction.”
The meaning intended was, that the commas are inserted without compunction; but by the order of the words, they describe the character of the compositors, — the compositors are without the slightest compunction. The context prevents ambiguity or obscurity, but not the confusion and the unnecessary effort in the organizing act. In realizing the thought, as the ideas are here presented, the mind gains a wrong conception of compositors; and, observing the relation they sustain to the other ideas, the notion must be corrected by transferring the idea “without compunction” to the manner of insertion.
“A man does not lose his mother now in the papers.”
This means that, according to the papers, a man does not now lose his mother. The arrangement of the sentence leads to a grotesque conception, which is readily corrected by the context. But why should the labor of correction be exacted from the reader ?
The following sentence illustrates ambiguity by a misplaced modifier:
“Rome once more ruled over the prostrate nations by the power of superstition."
This means either that Rome had once ruled over the nations by the power of superstition, and now ruled them thus again, or that she has formerly ruled them by some other means and now ruled them by the power of superstition.
Point out the burden that each of the following imposes on the interpreting mind, and correct so as to remove the obstruction:
1. “The dexterity of the Chinese juggler almost appears miraculous." · 2. “It is folly to pretend to arm ourselves against the accidents of life by heaping up treasures, which nothing can protect us against.”
3. “ There is a cavern in the island of Hoonga, which can only be entered by diving into the sea.”
4. “ Thos. W. Coke put an end to the American war by moving its cessation in the House of Commons."
5. “A straight line can only cut the circumference of a circle at two points.”
6. “I shall neither attempt to palliate it nor deny it."
7. “ The journals not only spoke in high terms of Mr. Moon's. powers as a critic but also as a writer."
8. “He is to speak of the landing of the Pilgrims, at the Academy of Music."
9. “Sewal refused to accept of inexperienced persons recommended by the pontiff of beneficies, on the ground of their ignorance of the English language.”
10. “ The Greeks fearing to be surrounded on all sides, wheeled about and halted, with the river on their backs.”
11. “He advanced against the fierce ancient, imitating his address, his pace and career, as well as the vigor of his horse, and his own skill would allow."
12. “A man can only attain to distinction in one line by devoting his whole life to that line."
13. “ But the effect is not alone seen in the drunkard.”
Energy, through unity of structure, further requires that the words be so arranged as to give emphasis to the prominent idea. In oral speech emphasis is given to the principal idea by the manner of speaking; but in written speech emphasis is marked by italicized words, and by the position of words. Usually italics indicate a lack of skill in forcible arrangement. Words must be so placed that they will emphasize themselves. This is an essential condition to leading the mind of the interpreter correctly and without loss of effort to the unity of the thought expressed.
The arrangement of language is a most effective means of securing energy. Ideas may be so organized in the expression as to secure stress of attention on those ideas which need to be most thoroughly im
pressed; or, so that a constant stress of attention will be required on the thought as a whole. This gives the energy of emphasis, which directs attention to the idea which the writer desires to make prominent; and the energy of suspense, which compels attention to the close. Both are secured by arrangement.
a. Emphatic ideas seek prominent places. “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” Change this to, The uses of adversity are sweet, and the weakness is at once felt. In this case, the emphatic word stands at the beginning of the sentence. The end of the sentence is a still more emphatic position. It is important that the significant word gather up the meaning at the close. If this word is such as to give the sentence a full cadence, Energy is still further secured. For this reason, unless the connection gives it emphasis, a small word should not close a sentence. The arbitrary rule, so often laid down, that a preposition should never close a sentence applies only to pleasant cadence. Emphasis may require such a closing; at any rate, the best writers do so close their sentences, and with good effect. The only rule that applies when Energy is to be secured is that an insignificant word should neither begin nor close the sentence.
Energy through emphasis may require the inverted order of the sentence; and the order itself contributes to Energy. Not only because it is unusual, but because the energy of feeling, when it accompanies thought, naturally tends to invert the sentence — feeling reversing the order of thought.
Note in the following sentences how Energy is
secured through inversion and the placing of the significant ideas:
1. “ Beyond that I seek not to penetrate the veil.” 2. “ Now all is to be changed.”
3. “In no country, perhaps, in the world is the law so general a study."
4. “ In large bodies, the circulation of power is less vigorous at the extremities.”
5. “Slavery they can have anywhere.”
6. “But until you become lost to all feeling of your true interest and your natural dignity, freedom they can have from none but
The beginning or the end are the emphatic places of the sentence; and a word, to be emphatic, must stand in one or the other of these places. Which of the two it shall occupy is determined by its usual position. If the word usually stands first, it is made emphatic by removing it to the close; and if it usually stands at the close, it should be removed to the beginning. Emphasis reverses the grammatical order, and attracts attention to ideas by expressing them out of their accustomed places. The verb, adjective, and noun as predicate gain special distinction by standing in the place of the subject; modifiers, by changing places with the objects which they modify; and subjects, by being driven to the close of the sentence.
The anticipative expressions it is, there is (or there are) are frequently used as means of giving the subject an emphatic place at the close. These words stand provisionally for the subject, leaving it free to seek the most distinctive position. This is a double source of