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as Style
Exercises in Creativity
Virginia Tufte

University of Southern California


Garrett Stewart

Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.



Grammar as Style: Exercises in Creativity is intended to guide the

amateur writer in creative imitation of sentences written by professional
writers. The book is designed mainly for college students in composition,
creative writing, grammar, literary criticism, stylistics, or any combinations
of these. It is meant to be helpful also to teachers and prospective teachers
of English, and to anyone outside the classroom who wants to work at
improving his writing.
This exercise book was written to increase the usefulness of Grammar
as Style, a much longer book that offers many observations and more than
a thousand examples in an effort to illuminate the relationship between
grammar and style in contemporary writing. Ideally student and teacher
should have both books. Either can be used alone, but we think that
Grammar as Style is almost indispensable to anyone seriously interested in
these matters. What it says has not been said before and is not repeated
here, although its principles underlie this book.
The exercises in this book are grouped by chapters, in accord with
the organization of Grammar as Style. Each chapter, after the first, deals
with a major grammatical topic and its relation to style in sentences by
contemporary writers. Samples from fiction and nonfiction demonstrate the
grammatical concept and serve as models for imitation. The two books
differ in that Grammar as Style offers theoretical justification for its approach, detailed explanations, and an overwhelming number of examples,
but no exercises; Grammar as Style: Exercises in Creativicy offers an over-

The Univer.15ity of Iowa


whelmmg number of exercises-152 of them. to be eua., eacb baled ar

examples-with only brief theoretical justification. and brief CleqJI;-IIill
This is not a workbook of the sort that bas blanks to be

Each exercise is a writing assignment, drawing on the student's own epur

ence and ideas, and carefully worked out to lead to mastery of a spo; ii
technique. In mastering, one by one, the techniques this book displays, tk
novice will build a repertoire of sentence patterns to serve in whatew:
kind of writing he undertakes. He will sharpen his ability to observe, ii J
everything he reads, the author's tactics of expression. Reading, rereadin! c
studying, and imitating good example after good example; framing agaiJ f
and again his own ideas in the rhythms of expert writers-such are tl 1
exercises this book spells out for the apprentice.
Grammatical terms in the book are sometimes explained briefly bo J
more often are defined by the examples themselves. Most of the terms an
familiar and conventional, although the book reflects both recent and tracfi. 1
tional grammatical theory. Not an end in itself, grammar becomes a vehick (
for approaching style, for appreciating language and literature, for makiJl!
one's own prose more s~tisfying.
We have tried to choose prose samples that are attractive and worthr
of imitation. If we seem to rely heavily on creative writers and literaq
critics, we have done so because their sentences often demonstrate mott
dramatically than others the structures and techniques we are trying to
teach-structures and techniques adaptable to any kind of writing. Wt
have borrowed good sentences wherever we have found them, from novcl
ists, poets, columnists, reporters, sociologists, scientists, historians, biot
raphers, book reviewers, and professors.
The samples for imitation come from writers as diverse as Sham
Alexander, Richard Armour, Isaac Asirnov, James Baldwin, John Barth
Ruth Benedict, Eric Bentley, Richard Chase, Henry Steele Commager,
Francis Christensen, Winston Churchill, Donald Davie, Ralph Ellison.
William Faulkner, Northrop Frye, Graham Greene, the writer of a Holl~
wood Bowl program, Irving Howe, Shirley Jackson, Doris Lessing, C. S
Lewis, Bernard Malamud, Vladimir Nabokov, George Orwell, Herben
Read, J . D. Salinger, C. P. Snow, Muriel Spark, Wilfred Stone, Evel}'l
Waugh, Evelyn Kendrick Wells, Monroe Wheeler, E. B. White, and Vir
ginia Woolf. We thank these and other writers whose sentences we quott
We hope the quotations will be provocative, as well as useful for til
task at hand. It is a task. Learning to write well is work. Katherine Annt
Porter describes the deep interest in craftsmanship that the writer as artill
must have:
A writer may be inspired occasionally: that's his good luck; but Jr
doesn't learn to write by inspiration: he works at it. In that sense t1x

_ , a awl ga
a soiJa and ~wodld trade, which gnes
a Mba. 1be artist is first a worker. He must roll up
.... dd get to wort like a bricklayer.


11M : wllo are ready to roll up their sleeves may turn now to Chapa I 1kle ~ have tried to elaborate on what this workingbook's appi is and why we think it is useful. After that, we offer fifteen sets of
eurcises. In the classroom, these can be compressed into a few weeks or
fitted comfortably into an academic quarter or a semester, depending on
what additional texts are used.
Ready, all you workingmen and workingwomen. May you mingle your
joys sometimes with your earnest occupation.

Los Angeles, California

October 1970

Virginia Tufte
Garrett Stewart



How to Use This Book

Kernel Sentences
Noun Phrases
Verb Phrases
Adjectives and Adverbs
Conjunctions and Coordination
Dependent Clauses
Sentence Openers and Inversion
Free Modifiers: Left-Branching, Mid-Branching,
and Right-Branching Sentences
Chapter 11 The Appositive
Chapter 12 Interrogative, Imperative, Exclamatory
Chapter 13 The Passive Transformation
Chapter 14 Parallelism
Chapter 15 Cohesion
Chapter 16 Syntactic Symbolism: Grammar as Allalogue



Bibliography Index of Authors and

Index of Terms
15 5





How to Use
This Book
This exercise book, designed as a companion to Grammar as Style, is
meant to stand next to it but to stand on its own, too. It grew from the
parent volume as a practical aid to the would-be writer-student, teacher,
anyone-in learning to fashion responsive and versatile sentences, sentences
that say what the author means and say it attractively. If the book performs
this service, it will make good its promise as a useful volume in its own
First, the reader must recognize a basic limitation and be warned by
it: Style is not any one thing but is the simultaneous functioning of many
features of language. At its base are the words the author chooses and the
patterns he finds for arranging them into phrases, sentences, paragraphs,
and larger units. Anyone who starts out to analyze the style of a particular author, or who plans to improve his own style by consciously imitating
professional writers, though he can afford to ignore nothing in the long
run, cannot hope to give attention to everything at once. He necessarily
looks about for a focus, a starting point. Each chapter in this book centers
on a grammatical structure or topic that may serve as such a point of
departure, and the discussion then pulls in as well certain subtopics, important variations on the basic one. Each chapter begins with explanations
and moves on to examples and exercises.
As in Grammar as Style, syntax is the focus. A preliminary word is
in order to explain why. Also needed is a word about those other important aspects of style brushed to the periphery by our centering on grammatical matters. And there is a third problem that also demands space; we
need to justify the book's entire method and to explain its practical virtues,
answering objections to the very idea of learning style or anything else
creative by imitation.

F hat Syntta Htu


Do_,. SlyN

Why should it be syntax that we learn? What does grammar, ....

does syntax have to do with style?* Once an arrangement of words i
made "correct" and "grammatical," in the minimal sense, what else caa
grammar do? Such questions are justifiable, and the search for answen
has as much practical as theoretical motivation.
Syntax is the arrangement of words into sentences. Making their a~
pearance one after another, combined into various structures, words art
directed by syntax to act together in the performance of meaning. This is
the crucial notion of syntax as sequence upon which the theoretical equation of grammar as style must rest. We are urging for syntax exclusive
rights to that side of style that isn't exactly meaning, but rather the drama
of its presentation, the way grammar negotiates us over the terrain of
meaning in the uneven interval between start and finish. Apart from any
specific content, syntax becomes the rhythm of expression itself, breathing
new life into the metaphor long laid to rest in the phrase "the movement
of prose." It is a rhythm that must accompany meaning but that can be
timed differently with no difference to meaning. It is, in short, grammar
as style.
Other Asp ects of S tyle
When we separate grammar from the whole manifold of language as
expression, however, we have done just that-separated, isolated. Other
things remain. Ideas. Words holding them. Sound waiting in the words.
Tone coloring them. Connotation shacling them. Stress varying between
them. Rhetoric packaging them for one audience or another. There remain
all those things that every writer, knowingly or not, must employ, all the
elements of expression that make meaning in the broadest sense, that make
one meaning different from another, and that make us see the clifferences.
Syntax is only a part of style, and cannot remain in isolation. It is a melody
without notes, a structure without content. Words, the right words, must
fill the spaces and be sounded.
Decision about diction, then, a choice of words based on numerous,
overlapping criteria, is certainly a major factor in any discussion of style,
a factor easily blurred by a narrow focus on primarily syntactic features.
Diction, however, deserves a book of its own. It is not the subject of
this one.
Syntax has been given the spotlight throughout Grammar as Style




*This matter is discussed at some length in Grammar as Style, in the introductory essay, "The Relation of Grammar to Style."

_ _ _ ,........_ _ .......,.....,...........,.......,._,wnm::


lJ' ~eltr.&

oO Cedrht'lf'i:

and tb Creatt'tizly!A 3

theoretical justification. There are practical reasons enough,

too, foe concentrating on such a field as syntax, so huge in itself. But concentration is always a kind of exclusion. And while there is an excuse for
is sta}ing mainly with grammar in studying a given sentence, there can be
~ no excuse for writing a sentence with only grammar in mind, not the other
aspects of style-and no pardon for a book of exercises that does not admit
as much at the outset.


How Imitation Is R elated to Learlling and to Creativity


Given the notion of style as a complex of different factors cooperating

ve in the production of a sentence, we are still faced with questions about
na how to "learn" style. Very few premises in any field of education can be
of entered without defense, left unargued, but it must be agreed in general
that we learn by experience. The question then looms for the student writer:
What kind of experience should I get? The present chapter is an attempt
nt at a partial answer, and the volume it leads off is one large dose of the
recommended brand of experience-imitation. The colon in our title
erects a barrier between two separate areas of contention. So far we have I
briefly considered how grammar can be thought of as a contributor to
style; we must now defend our premise that imitation can somehow exercise creativity.
That "imitative" and "creative" may sound to some almost like an.s tonyms is surely misleading. They are not poles apart, for the first is halfway to the second. We begin by admiring; when we can imitate we have
discovered exactly what it is we admire, how it works, why we like it and

wish to emulate it. This is why good parody is such an art: we must master
before we can exaggerate.
The italicized verb form in our last sentence, as a noun, is one half
' of an age-old educational paradigm-master and apprentice. The method
implied in this kind of instructional formula is, of course, imitation, and
it has tradition firmly on its side. Blacksmiths could never have learned
their trade out of books and manuals; they were required to watch diligently at the forge, month after month, year after year, trying their own
hand at it now and then. Apprentice shoemakers learn to cobble only by
watching shoemakers who know how. Skills die out, we know, when there
are no more skilled artisans left to be studied and imitated. This sort of
education operates at every level, in ways that are often automatic and
unnoticed. The baby shapes his mouth the way his father does, makes
noise and soon makes speech, listens to new words at home or next door,
on television and at school, imitates them, and comes into proud possession of a vocabulary. The child observes his parents, his brothers and sisters,
persons outside the household, and models his actions on theirs. Few of



us could learn to play the piano without the 9;eekly lesson, where we watd
how the tough fingering goes, the difficult chords and runs, and then try i
for ourselves. Art students learn a whole range of media and techniques.
various strokes and washes, tricks of foreshortening, of light, shade, anc!
shadow by imitating their instructors in the studio, long before they develop
their own unique "styles."
Here we come to the sense of style as an original and private signature, the sense that seemingly drives it, drenched in glamour and shrouded
in mystery, far beyond the reach of imitation. Style, in this final, special
sense, is indeed the stamp of individual personality, but its components
are shared in different degrees and combinations by many, and it is the
manipulation of these separate elements, not their fusion under the creative
pressures of personality and genius, that can be taught. The great artist,
the genius, the inimitable stylist in any art form is perhaps born and not
made, but both he and the merely competent stylist do learn, and learn by
practice, by imitation. This is not a theory of education so much as a fact
Consciously or not, we all learn by imitation, to tie a shoelace, to drive
a car, to write-why not to write better?





How the Exercises Work

Grammar as Style: Exercises in Creativity has been conceived to make
imitation programmatic, to build around it an entire approach to the teaching of style. We have said that intelligent imitation requires the choice of
an admirable model and a close observation of the originaL This book
does both these things for you. Then, after the commentary has pointed
to the most interesting syntactical details in samples selected for you in
advance, the suggested exercises will, while keeping the original subject
before you, propose similar subjects for sentences you might wish to write
on the offered model. You would probably learn much just by attentively
copying over some of the examples, watching for stylistic turns and developments. The method here should add to such benefits a far greater
one, a genuine familiarity with the ways syntax actually organizes and transforms the raw material of new subject matter as you yourself formulate it.
Every sort of sentence will be practiced, from the scantest notations,
some breaking off into fragments, to the most ambitious utterances, pushing out past anything you would normally ask or expect of syntax. And
again, in any sentence, words are the essential pieces pieced together by
syntax. As you work through the suggested exercises to come, you should
worry about diction every bit as much as syntax. Make each of your words
count while you are making them add up to something as a sentence. Strike
a balance between the needs of your subject and of your audience as you
fix upon the proper weight and tone of your language. Decide whether it






----~-------------~- _ _._ _ _..,._._..,.



.. ~ b

,., or conversational, literary or chatty, technical or not,

1l ,...._. J011 are to rely primarily on abstract or concrete nouns, unusual
Ia. .t preciP: abs or everyday forms, simple or elaborate adjectives and

illl ldvub&, many or few, whether your diction is to have a literal or a metaaop pborical bias, what variety and flexibility it is to sustain, and what interest
your words themselves can foster in the ideas they join with syntax to
na- present.
All this you should practice while you practice syntax. For the next
:ial fifteen chapters now you will practice both by imitation. Alerted to the
nts grammatical feature you are to concentrate on, you will see how a prothe fessional writer in full command of his diction arranges his words with the

1ve aid of the particular syntactic feature under study. With your own words,
ist, then, words selected thoughtfully by you to furnish a sentence on a sugtot gested topic, you will model the grammar of your sentence on the proven
by syntax before you. This will be the usual format. We hope it will help you
ct. to develop a store of sentence patterns, patterns like those of the profesve sionals, that should increase the expressive yield of your writing.
Imitation of this kind hardly stifles creativity-rather it primes origi. nality by giving it a slight head start and a clear destination. It trains while
it taxes inventiveness. And, of course, any time you want to write on an
unoffered topic that interests you, you should do so. The suggested topics
ke are no more than that-topics of varying complexity chosen for their comh- patibility with the grammatical pattern that is to arrange and transmit them,
of and themselves often suggested by the content or title of the model passage.
Jk Structure is the given; content is the variable.






T h e Choice of Models
But what are you to imitate? And why? Exposition, narration, description, polemic, interrogation are used almost indiscriminately in
Grammar as Style to illustrate and examine modern professional usage.
But samples are one thing; examples for imitation are another. Should the
strategy be revised, with types of writing studiously respected and kept
separate? What author should a beginning writer with certain rather definite
goals in mind bother to emulate? What author is a good model for a senior
in high school submitting an autobiographical essay as part of a college
application? Or a first-semester college freshman facing a term paper on
the Thirty Years' War or a take-home exam on Macbeth? Or an architect
drawing up specifications for a new building, an industrialist drafting a
report to his stockholders? What can any of these writers stand to gain,
practically speaking, from a familiarity with the polished and involved
sentences of important contemporary novelists?
Or what does an entrant in the school short-story contest, a business-

man taking a correspondence course in creative writing for relanrion, a

housewife hoping to climb the best-seller list with a new candid DOYel, or
any general reader wishing for increased sensitivity to the good writing be
meets-what do these people have to learn from the sentences of a political
analyst writing about Asian affairs, a literary historian probing the effects
of serialization on the Victorian novel, an art critic faulting a recent retrospective exhibit, a scientist projecting the future of our space programs?
The answer: There is much to be learned, by every aspiring writer,
from every good writer. For certain proficiencies, especially grammatical
techniques, are basic to all writing. They are shared, more so than skills
in diction, by biographers and journalists, engineers and even poets. Certain choices of words succeed in the lyrical last pages of a novel that would
look idiotic in a law school's bulletin, but the syntactic patterns that assist
the novelist in displaying his brilliant choice of words might well serve the
bulletin editor in making his announcement more readable and appealing.
We are encouraged, therefore, to borrow syntactic examples from any place
good writing is going on.
Although this book is designed to be self-consistent and self-explanatory, it is still unavoidably sketchy. With shortened explanations and commentary, many of the examples are repeated from Grammar as Style, but
some have come from new searches. This is not surprising; there is no
magic or talent in their discovery. Attentive reading of good prose should
bring you up against some just as interesting every day. Watch for good
sentences everywhere, and force yourself to imitate them now and then.
Read aloud the prose you admire, and your own. Listen to its rhythms.
Remember to practice not grammar but style: diction, syntax, everything. Take as your motto the famous definition offered by Jonathan Swift,
considered by some to be the greatest prose stylist in the English language.
Style, he said, is simply "proper words in proper places." The large task
ahead of you now is to find them and put them there.






Kernel Sentences



A short, basic sentence is a proper receptacle for essential meanings,

a natural setting for pithiness and compressed statement. Kernel patterns
lend themselves perfectly, by themselves or in loosely locked pairs, to
pointed statement, summary, brief axioms, and aphorisms. We offer examples from The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, not as guides to
behavior-any sensible person should be wary of an easy acceptance of
aphorisms-but as illustrations of the basic patterns.

The Be-Pattern : Equative Clauses

The sentences below are equative clauses. They have nouns in the
first and third slots, connected by a form of be.

Business is business.
Knowledge is power.
Beauty is truth, truth beauty.
Virtue is her own reward.
The child is the father of the man.
Every couple is not a pair.
Liberty is not license.
Honesty is the best policy.
A subclass of these equative clauses is what we call metaphor, in its
simplest form: the equation of apparently unlike things, where a forced
synonymy brings some new insight. Here are some proverbial metaphors:

Kisses are keys.

Names are debts.
Life is a pilgrimage.

And here is a writer about style using a metaphor to define metaphor, in

another equative clause:
Metaphor is the swift illumination of an equivalence. Two images,
or an idea and an image, stand equal and opposite; clash together
and respond significantly, surprising the reader with a sudden light.
-Herbert Read, English Prose Style, p. 28.


For practice in constructing equative clauses, forge a simple metaphor

on the subject of each of the preceding aphorisms. For example: "Every
couple is a battlefield" or "Life is a compromise" or "Names are chains."
Be as cynical, romantic, or moralistic as you wish. Also, you might try
thinking up your own noun phrases to complete the familiar "Happiness

lS . . "

Instead of nouns, we often find adjectives in the slot after be, as in

the following sentences, again from the dictionary of proverbs:
Revenge is sweet.
Love is blind.
Fortune is blind.
Art is long, life is short.
Blood is thicker than water.
Beauty is skin-deep.
Everything is good in its season.
Fact is stranger than fiction.
Example is better than precept.
Linking Y erbs
Far less common than the be pattern is the pattern with linking verbs.
The most common linking verbs (appears, seems, feels) are a little more
tentative, somewhat less strongly assertive, than the be-pattern, and some
of the linking verbs (becomes, remains, grows) refer to something in



To get the feel of sentences with linking verbs, rewrite the last set of
proverbs as linking clauses, replacing is with feels, looks, appears, seems,
continues, gets, grows, stays, keeps, and so on.

The lntramitive
The third basic sentence pattern, the intransitive, is illustrated below:
Time flies.
Accidents will happen.
Charity begins at home.
Murder will out.
The stream cannot rise above its source.
The beggar may sing before the thief.
The fool wanders, the wise man travels.
Loving comes by looking.
Pride goeth before destruction.
The tide stays for no man.

The Transitive
And now, here are examples of the fourth basic pattern, the transitive, with its subject, verb, and direct object :
Words bind men.
The sea refuses no river.
Manners know distance.
Curiosity killed the cat.
Mercy surpasses justice.
Many drops make a shower.
The end justifies the means.
Might makes right.
Silence gives consent.
Nature abhors a vacuum.
One lie makes many.
Misery loves company.
Clothes make the man.
Pardon makes offenders.
Beauty draws more than oxen.
Death pays all debts.
Nature passes nurture.
Failure teaches success.
Her pulse beats matrimony.
History repeats itself.
Fortune favors fools.
A rolling stone gathers no moss.
A stitch in time saves nine.

Some Transformations
Several of the examples quoted thus far display a few of the many
transformations by which kernels are changed or expanded. In the last two
sentences of the preceding list, we see, for example, a negative, an -ing
verb preceding the subject, and a prepositional phrase following the subject. In this book, we are not using the term kernel at all rigorously, but
rather as a handy term for a short, unadorned statement in the basic




See if you can recall proverbs not included above that are in kernel
or near-kernel form. Write down half a dozen or so and notice which of
the four basic patterns they follow. Then frame a few observations or generalizations of your own in short sentences. Try each of the basic patterns.
Examples: Custom is consolation. Some rules of etiquette are silly. Hemlines seem capricious. Certain human values endure. Wits write aphorisms;
fools believe them.




Universal, proverbial assertions are usually couched in rather general

terms. Choose three or four of the common proverbs, or some of those
you coined, and try to narrow the scope of meaning. Keep the sentences
short, make the diction concrete and particular, and don't worry about
losing the ring of certain truth.




Now try altering some of the proverbs in the preceding lists by substituting verbs or adjectives for the nouns. For example: Fortune favors
the foolish. Dying pays all debts. Think of some proverbs that have infinitives in the noun slots (To err is human ... ) and write some of your

Short Sentences at Work in Paragraphs

It is now time to start putting kernels and near-kernels together into
larger patterns. Following are two paragraphs, one static and descriptive,

one a stretch of energetic narration. The first relies on the be-pattern, the
second on transitive and intransitive patterns:


It was dreary. There was danger, but it was remote; there was
diversion, but it was rare. For the most part it was work, and work
of the most distasteful character, work which was mean and long.
-Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself, p. 133.
He cried out loud. He swore at the top of his voice. He fired off a gun
and made the people listen. He roared and he boasted and made
himself known. He blew back into the wind and stamped on the
rolling earth and swore up and down he could make it all stop with
his invention. He got up into the teeth of the storm and made a loud
speech which everybody heard.
-Thomas Merton, The Behavior of Titans, p. 31.




Study the preceding example from Norman Mailer for its repetition
of be-patterns. Imitate its form in describing a dull job, a boring class, a
gray landscape, a wearisome flight.




Now imitate the Merton example above. Blend transitive and intransitive kernels in single and compound sentences for a description of vigorous
behavior-an angry father, a mob leader, a baseball manager, a tennis
a rodeo rider.




Working with what you produced for the last two exercises, break the
prevailing mode of your kernels by introducing at the close a pattern from
the other end of the scale of activity, a transitive into your static passage,
for instance, or an intransitive, as in these two examples:
He looked up and perceived a great lady standing by a doorway in
a wall. It was not Jane, not like Jane. It was larger, almost gigantic.
It was not human though it was like a human divinely tall, part
naked, part wrapped in a flame-colored robe. Light came from it.
-C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, p. 382.

The other is not as dramatic, but it makes a petti!M'Dt 0011bast, t~

between clauses of definition or description and clauses of action:
Her ringlets are dark, her skin very fair. She is not mourning deeply.
Her smile is smug, her fine eyes inviting and she did not wait long
for a second husband.
- Evelyn Waugh, A Little Learning: An Autobiography, p. 3.




Try an experiment. Write a short passage, three or four sentences,

and punctuate the close of it with a kernel proverb, one of your own or
one from the list of illustrations.

T he Kernel as Focus or Punctuation

in a Series of Longer S entences
One of the kernel's most important functions is to focus or punctu ate
a series of larger sentences. In Exercise 9 you were asked to experiment
with using a kernel to punctuate the close of a paragraph. A kernel, or any
short sentence, for that matter, may work in this way at the beginning,
middle, or end of a passage. The short sentence below, for instance, stands
as a sort of topic sentence for an entire two-volume biography, as well as
for the paragraph it leads off:

Charles Dickens belongs to all the world. He is a titan of literature, and his own moving life-story, with its radiances of laughter,
its conquests of genius, and its dark and fateful drift toward disillusion even in the midst of universal acclaim, epitomizes hardly less
powerfully than his works the mingled comedy and tragedy of the
human struggle. This book is therefore addressed not only to literary
scholars, but to all who find compelling the color and fullness and
travail of life itself.
- Edgar Johnson , Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph,
p. vii.
In the sample that follows, three kernel sentences stand as a kind of
focus and pivot at the center of a paragraph:
No other natural phenomenon on the planet-not even mountains
five miles high, rivers spilling over cliffs, or redwood forests--.:.evokes
such reverence. Yet this same "all-powerful" ocean now proves as
slavishly subservient to natural laws as a moth caught by candlelight
or a rose seed blown into the the Atlantic. The ocean obeys. It heeds.


It complies. It has its tolerances and its stresses. When these are surpassed, the ocean falters. Fish stocks can be depleted. The nurseries
of marine life can be varied.
-Wesley Marx, The Frail Ocean, pp. 2-3.


In the two forthcoming samples, a kernel sharpens up the paragraph

by punctuating it at the end:


Mr. Frank is very skillful, but his novel remains airless, claustrophobic, locked into a ruthlessness of perception. In real life Bartholemew might indeed be a hopeless case, but in a novel there has
got to be some contingency, some surprise, some variation. Even if
you don't believe the human lot has more to offer than this prospect
of wretchedness, you must write as if you do. Otherwise, liquor is


-Irving Howe, "First Novels: Sweet and Sour," Harper's, May
1968, p. 84.



He stood in the rain, unable to move, not knowing if the lovers

were real or simply creations of the lightning and when it stopped,
they stopped; unless of course be was dreaming one of those dreams
from which he would awaken in that pain which is also sharpest
pleasure, having loved in sleep. But the cold rain was real; so was
the sudden soft moan from the poolhouse. He fled.
~ore Vidal, Washington, D.C., p. 4.




Develop a paragraph in which you use a very short sentence as focus,

pivot, or summary. Place the sentence at the beginning, middle, or end of
the paragraph. Take one of the preceding samples as a model, and choose
a topic that the model suggests to you, or try one of the following: the
opening paragraph of a biography, perhaps ofT. S. Eliot, or Martin Luther
King, or one of your relatives; a description of redwoods, wheat fields, or
a rainstorm; a brief criticism of some aspect of a recent film, play, or novel.
If none of these topics appeals to you, go back to the list of proverbs under "The Transitive" earlier in this chapter, and choose one of
them. Set it down, and expand on it with examples, qualification, counterinstances, anything you like. Or just use the proverb to suggest a related
subject, one you have some knowledge of or experience with: a man bound
by his words, a river meeting the sea, a breach of good manners, an instance
of undue concern with clothing, a woman whose "pulse beats matrimony."
Find a topic you can write about, and begin.

Pre&ervation of a S hort Ba&e Claue

amid Elaboration in a Long Sent.ence

The preservation of intact kernels, or very brief clauses amid much

elaboration is one of the most important skills for a beginning writer to
master, a skill made possible only by free modification-probably the most
crucial topic in the whole study of grammar as style. In advance of specific
attention to the various forms of free modification that will come in late'r
chapters, let us see what common sense and a good model to imitate can
suggest to you. In the sample that follows, the italicized segments are base
clauses, and each one is a kernel. All the rest of the sentence, set off by
commas, consists of free modifiers. They branch off after the base clause,
that is, to the right-hand side of the base clause, in both the sentences
below. Sentences with free modifiers in this position are referred to later
in this book as right-branching sentences.
So much for that. Our immediate concern is to practice writing some
sentences like the ones below. In this exercise, we are not to stuff modifiers
inside the kernel, but to preserve it intact, and to add modification in the
manner demonstrated.




T ake as your models the two sentences below that have italicized

He is the puritan, holding to the tradition of Socrates' cheerful indifference to bodily pleasures, but disposed to mistake this indifference for a rather grim and graceless asceticism. He can see . no
distinction between trust in providence and submission to fate.
He marches, in the filthy rags of righteousness, with face set towards
a peak of infallible wisdom and virtue, which even the small company of the elect have little or no hope to climb.
-F. M. Cornford, Before and After Socrates, p. 108.
As base clauses, take one from each of the following lists, and add
modification to it in the manner demonstrated by Cornford's sentences.



conservative . . .
liberal . . .
conformist . . .
nonconformist . . .


marches ...
talks .. .
listens .. .
waits .. .

If you wish, substitute some other noun in the first column, and some
other verb in the second. Choose a topic you know something about. Build
details into the modification.
In later chapters there will be plenty of opportunity to practice deploying a variety of modifiers around the kernel as base clause.


Noun Phrases

The subject of a sentence is by no means the sole domain of the

noun phrase. The predicate can also accommodate many noun phrases in
the form of predicate nouns, direct and indirect objects, objective complements, and objects of a preposition. In addition, nouns can enter into
what we think of as adjectival or adverbial positions, and can collect in
a single socket as a noun series or noun catalogue. In free modification
outside the base clause, noun phrases serve in appositives and nominative
absolutes. These and other noun phrases are indispensable for a mature
and versatile style.

Nouns as Fragmentary Sentences

We shall begin with a use of the noun phrase not mentioned so far.
We all remember our first definition of "nouns" as names-names of
persons, places, or things. The names themselves, introduced to us without predication, sometimes serve as fragmentary sentences.
Coarse paper; rebellion; grease pencil; imaginative sketch,
weird perspectives; publication; exhibition; model; the great architectural critic inventing cinemascopic epigrams; worldwide recognition, lectures, disappearance of rebellion; integration into the system;
publicity; books on architecture and urbanism; publicity; radio, television; USA, USSR : FAIA, Bel-Air, La glorie!
That is how ARCHITECfURAL RESEARCH nowadays is
born, lives and dies!
- Ionel Schein, "A Phenomenology of Research," Arts and
Architecture, August 1966, p. 31.




Name some persons, places, or things for yourself. Get acquainted

with several of them as a group, an assortment in series. Saturate yourself
in "noun-ness" by performing a routine similar to the one above, maybe .
parodying the progress of a college semester with a parade of discrete
blunt nouns, and then tying them together in a sentence of summary like
that in the sample. Or imitate the form of the example above in describing an evening's TV offerings, a housewife's daily chores, eyesores along
a highway, or vacationers on a beach.



Instead of racing through such an obstacle course of nouns, proceed

more slowly and deliberately from noun fragments to full sentences. This
is the idea:
Success. Triumph. Waves of applause. The night came to a kind of
crescendo Andy Hardy finish that I .have never been able to recapture.
-Shana Alexander, Life, May 19, 1967, p. 30B.
Why does this seem a sensible progression, from immediate impressions
quickly set down to a more coherent statement? Try progressing this way
yourself. Start sharply. Describe the "crescendo finish" of a symphony concert, say, the final chords and tbe first ovation. Or the first sting of cold
water on a spring swimming expedition. Or winning a game, or reaching
the goal on a long hike or climb.



Shift gears again. Work in reverse this time by dropping noun fragments into place after their context has been prepared by fuller statement.

If Bette Davis and Joan Crawford should ever come to blows, it is

possible to make book on the probable winner. Bette Davis.
- Brooks Atkinson, Brief Chronicles, p. 33.
Or in a complex "free-style" grammar appropriate, like this next sample,
to the ideas it arranges:

I am an American, Chicago born-Chicago, that somber city-aDd

go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the
record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an
innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.
-Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March, opening.
Here is another selection from Bellow:
Stopping, he looked for daylight. Yes, it was there. The light was
there. The grace of life still there. Or, if not grace, air.
-Saul Bellow, Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories, p. 184.

Notice how much modification can attach to one unattached noun, texturing it as a developed noun phrase and pointing back to the complete sentences that give it context. Conceive your own contexts for some dramatic
noun fragments to depend on. Borrowing suggestions from the titles of the
last three excerpts, write an opening to a brief chronicle or adventure, a
memoir or other story, using noun phrases as fragments in company with
complete sentences.

Nouns Modifying Nouns

Nouns often modify other nouns. Sometimes the modifiers are in the
company of adjectives, or are joined with adjectives in compounds. The
noun as prenominal modifier is useful, often efficient, but easily overworked. Some examples:
Something of literally life and death importance had happened in
mortal history.
-1. B. Phillips, Ring of Truth, p. 36.
To get straight to the worst, what I'm about to offer isn't really a
short story at all but a sort of prose home movie, and those who
have seen the footage have strongly advised me against nurturing any
elaborate distribution plans for it.
-1. D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey, p. 47.
These functional shifts often replace nouns with hyphenated compounds:
That hummated, bandy-legged, weak-haired and injured-in-the-eyes
Sylvester, however . . .
-Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March, p. 213.
. . . she bought the green glove silk slip with the tea-colored lace.
- Katherine Anne Porter, Flowering Judas and Other Stories,
p. 200.





In two or three sentences of your own, explain how to adjust a

machine. Or write an attack on a public figure you don't like. Use nouns
and noun compounds as prenominal modifiers. Try to create some interesting compounds. Do you find any nouns that cannot be used in this
:iS way? Try always for variety and interest, and for nouns that seem especially
suited to this task of modification.
But beware. Notice how easy it is to slip into jargon with some of
these noun compounds and noun modifiers. Make sure you do not overr- work them.
~Scientists, perhaps, have more occasion than other writers to use
tc structures of this sort. They are efficient:


The most promising candidates for the oscillator now include such
lasers as the helium-neon gas laser, the carbon dioxide gas laser and
the neodymium-doped yttrium-aluminum-garnet crystal laser.
-Donald F. Nelson, "The Modulation of Laser Light," Scientific American, June I968, p. 17.

Nouns in Series

Different from either the free-floating nouns as fragments or the freelancing nouns in adjective territory is the special use of nouns en masse,
their premeditated jam-up in a single syntactic groove:

I am a novelist, painter, sculptor, philosopher, draughtsman, critic,

politician, journalist, essayist, pamphleteer, all rolled into one, like


one of those portmanteau-men of the Italian Renaissance.

I am a portmanteau-man (like "portmanteau-word"). I have
been a soldier, a yachtsman, a baby, a massier, a hospital patient, a
traveller, a total abstainer, a lecturer, an alcoholic, an editor, and a
lot more. So I have met other editors, alcoholics, lecturers, patients,
soldiers, etc., etc.
-Wyndham Lewis, Blasting and Bombardiering, p. 3.



Define yourself in this way, combining all of your roles into one. If
they will make you or your sentence more interesting, make them up, as if
you were a character in fiction.




Prose fiction, that form which "takes the minutest impressions," is

linked with epic, chronicle, memoir, fable, essay, case history, biography, report, prose romance, and what have you, letter, rogue'1
tale, anecdote.
- Richard Stern, "Prefatory Note," Honey and Wax: Pleasures
and Powers of Narrative, x.

Subdivide a discipline or hobby, some specialized interest about which

you know a good deal, and put the catalogue you derive into various
grammatical spots, as subject, say, or predicate noun, or as a large
object of a preposition, like the above sample. Write about orchestral
music or sports or mathematics, in its different branches, or films.




Next, notice the amount of deftly varied modification that can accompany each item of such a noun series:
He was a Northerner who resembled the Southerners: in his insolence,
'his independence, his readiness to accept a challenge, his recklessness and ineptitude in practical matters, his romantic and chivalrom
view of the world in which he was living.
-Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore, p. 537.
Expand on this model a catalogue built for the last exercise, using
phrasal additions and compounding to add new information, and striving
for interest, variety, rhythm.

Nouns as Appositives
Study one more noun catalogue containing the bulk of information
in the sentence it expands:
He was unpredictable, at times a sly mischief-maker, at other times a
cruel tyrant, a rascal playing with dangerous arrows, and a beatific
divinity, a dispenser as well as a healer of wounds.
- Louis Untermeyer, An Uninhibited Treasury of Erotic Poetry,
p. 1.

----- -Again a noun slot is densely packed. Here, however, it is not a basic

slot in the sentence opened out for extensive modification, but rather an
adjacent niche for free modification-an appositive slot. Practice and
further description is held for Chapter 11.

Noum in Nominative Ab1olute1

We turn now to a structure that is almost a clause, the nominative
absolute. It consists of a noun phrase and part of a predicate. The nominative absolute is a sentence modifier, taking the whole base clause as its
referent. As such, it is a far more common and natural device, especially
in narrative prose, than you would be likely to suspect if you weren't
alerted to it.
Here are three nominative absolutes from a single novel, three out
of dozens, perhaps hundreds, that could have been chosen:
In the brighter light of the seaward side of the house she looked
extremely well, happy, her face tanned and smooth.
-Saul Bellow, Herzog, p. 120.
Decisively, but awkwardly, she left the bathroom, her stride hampered by the long ugly skirt.
- Bellow, p. 141.
She bathed often, and sang as she washed, her eyes upcast and her
lips dainty and tremulous.
-Bellow, p. 208:




Notice that if you inserted "was" or "were" in each of the italicized

structures above, you would be restoring the nominative absolute to a form
in which it could stand as a separate sentence. Each of the followiqg
nominative absolutes also is a reduced sentence, part of its predicate having
been deleted :
He laughed quietly, his sunken, shrewd eyes sparkling perceptively
with a cynical and wanton enjoyment.
- Joseph Heller, Catch-22, p. 249.
She leaned closer to him, her brown eyes popping and her blond hair,
in the heat, in the gloom, forming a damp fringe about her brow.
-lames Baldwin, Another Country, p. 71.

Again a noun slot is densely packed. Here, however, it is not a basic

slot in the sentence opened out for extensive modification, but rather an
adjacent niche for free modification- an appositive slot. Practice and
further description is held for Chapter 11.

Noun in Nominative Ab&olute&

We turn now to a structure that is almost a clause, the nominative
absolute. It consists of a noun phrase and part of a predicate. The nominative absolute is a sentence modifier, taking the whole base clause as its
referent. As such, it is a far more common and natural device, especially
in narrative prose, than you would be likely to suspect if you weren't
alerted to it.
Here are three nominative absolutes from a single novel, three out
of dozens, perhaps hundreds, that could have been chosen:
In the brighter light of the seaward side of the house she looked
extremely well, happy, her face tanned and smooth.
-Saul Bellow, Herzog, p. 120.
Decisively, but awkwardly, she left the bathroom, her stride hampered by the long ugly skirt.
- Bellow, p. 141.
She bathed often, and sang as she washed, her eyes upcast and her
lips dainty and tremulous.
-Bellow, p. 208:




Notice that if you inserted " was" or "were" in each of the italicized
structures above, you would be restoring the nominative absolute to a form
in which it could stand as a separate sentence. Each of the followi.Qg
nominative absolutes also is a reduced sentence, part of its predicate having
been deleted:
He laughed quietly, his sunken, shrewd eyes sparkling perceptively
with a cynical and wanton enjoyment.
-Joseph Heller, Catch-22, p. 249.
She leaned closer to him, her brown eyes popping and her blond hair,
in the heat, in the gloom, forming a damp fringe about her brow.
-James Baldwin, Another Country, p. 71.

Peace threw the bone down on the ground, his lips drawn back in
-John Hersey, White Lotus, p. 263.

Now, the fighting done and peace restored between them, or what
ever state it was that was restored, they played together.
- William Golding, The Inheritors, p. 176.
Then these melodies turn to ice as real night music takes over,
pianos and vibes erecting clusters in the high brittle octaves and a
clarinet wandering across like a crack on a pond.
-John Updike, Rabbit, Run, p. 31.

A boat glides by like a shadow, the moon going down behind her
tall sails. The boat sails on, through the very slowly lightening night,
through moonlight and music, the soft sea speaking against her side,
and is gone again.
-Dylan Thomas, The Beach of Falesa, p. 5.
Can you reconstruct each of the nominative absolutes above into a
complete sentence? Is it possible to do so in each instance by inserting
"was" or "were"? Why do you suppose the authors did not write these
as separate sentences?
Change the italicized sentence below to a nominative absolute. At
how many different points would it be possible to attach it to the preceding sentence? Which do you prefer?
I sat before the fire, musing, till it grew late. A volume of Dickem
was on my knee.
Here is the sentence as Stephen Leacock wrote it:
So I sat before the fire, a volume of Dickens upon my knee, musing,
till it grew late.
--Stephen Leacock, "Fiction and Reality," The Bodley Head
Leacock, p. 305.

Describe yourself before a fire. Use a nominative absolute or two
and some other free modification.
Remembering the discrete "noun-ness" of the fragments worked
with earlier, do you think that this isolated nominal force is carried over
into absolute constructions in any way? What effect does the freewheeling
nature of the absolute, its independence as a modifier of the whole main
clause, contribute to the feel of a sentence as it goes by?

-r---~--------~-~---~~---- ~


- . ., ....



Try building a number of absolutes around one or more of these base

clauses, taken at random from Newsweek, December 1, 1969:

The astronauts scrambled up a hill.

The dead are half his company.
Computers spew forth their documents.
David Niven plays the mastermind here.
The routine cadence of a senate roll call belied the feverish excitement of the crowded floor and galleries.

The Long Noun Phrase: "Hallmark of ]argon"

Moving from the preceding sections on the appositive and the absolute, we turn from the noun phrase as a modifier to the long noun phrase,
usually in subject position, that has been described by Francis Christensen
as "the very hallmark of jargon." The kind of noun phrase he is talking
about is usually loaded with bound (restrictive) modifiers, easy to write
but difficult to decode. Such a noun phrase, stuffed with compounds, embedded phrases, and embedded relative clauses, is indeed the "hallmark of
jargon" here, and a kernel is nowhere to be found:
The control of these fundamental protective systems and the channeling of them into team play and individual effort that possess logic
and reason acceptable to the individual's culture represent the mental
hygiene of athletic endeavor.
-Joseph P. Dolan and Lloyd J. Holloway, The Treatment and
Prevention of Athletic Injuries, p. 1.

So too:

A few families of farmers bound by the simple refusal to leave the

grass, the lean growth coming slowly out of the raw soil, the trees,
rock and hill--all that the ravaging waters had left behind-bad

But the last sentence was not really executed this way by its author. In
this description of a kind of bondage, the author in fact loosened her central noun phrase "a few families" from a thirty-four-word bound modifier
headed by "bound," making this over into a freely attached verb phrase
and releasing a hidden kernel as her base clause:
A few families had survived, a few farmers, bound by the simple
refusal to leave the grass, the lean growth coming slowly out of the

raw soil, the trees, rock and hill--all that the ravaging waters hod
left behind.
--Sue Grafton, Keziah Dane, p. 3.
And notice the problem created here, too, in this next hypothetical

Stars shining through the isolated windows, showing the occasional

tall, solitary wall of a house still standing like a makeshift crutch
holding up the sky became visible again.

Stars became visible again, shining through the isolated windows,

showing the occasional tall, solitary wall of a house still standing,
like a makeshift crutch holding up the sky.
- Awn Sillitoe, The General, p. 176.
What you have just watched, the transplanting of embedded struc-tures into branching positions as free modifiers, is extremely important for
a working sense of grammar as style. It is important in helping you recognize the sort of thing a good writer should avoid. Like this sentence, with
its ponderous twenty-seven-word noun phrase headed by "cases":
There remain cases in which the inadequacies of a conventional
orthographic record cannot be put to rights by assumptions drawn
from generalizations about the language and dialect in which the
poem is composed or from hypotheses about the meaning or the
meter of the poem.
- Rulon Wells, "Comments on Meter," Essays on the Language
of Literature, ed. by Seymour Chatman and Samuel R. Levin,
p. 129.

Dependence becomes a real burden. One meaning is owed so closely to

the one before that a logical debt is contracted that is very hard to redeem.
Stylistically, at least, nothing pays off.
To avoid this kind of writing, to make sentences on the excellent
models studied in this chapter, is to master two features of grammar as
style for the price of one. You learn to avoid bulky noun phrases, and
you also get practice in isolating kernel clauses as the base for branching
patterns of free modification, a technique previewed in the last chapter
and soon to receive further attention.


Verb Phrases
The skillful writer makes effective use of verb phrases in many
positions other than the predicate of the kernel sentence. He maneuvers
participles, gerunds, and infinitives into different positions within the kernel
-into noun, adjective, and adverb slots--and he introduces verb phrases
often as free modifiers.

Participles, Present and Past

Here is a sentence that has as its direct object a series of three

nouns, each well modified. The final modifier, italicized, is a series of
three verb phrases:

We have strong nouns, plain, usually active verbs, sentences cleanly

turned out, well drilled, and marching to their purpose.
-G. Wilson Knight, "Byron: The Poetry," Poets of Action,
p. 190.
Participial phrases, two past and one present, help to turn this sentence out cleanly and efficiently. The sentence describes certain stylistic
effects and, itself, seems to demonstrate them. Some of its effect and interest
comes from its participial verb phrases. Participles often work for compression and compactness: they are reduced clauses. Here is what might
befall our last example if English grammar did not allow clauses to be
We have nouns that are strong, verbs that are plain and usually
active, sentences that are turned out cleanly, that are well drilled,
and that are marching to their purpose.



cru ,..._




Using Knight's sentence as a model, write a sentence on one of the

following topics: An assortment of products in a health food store, books
in a bookstore, magazines on a newsstand, vegetables in a market, courses
in a college catalogue.




Here are two participles, one past and one present, wedged into a
position between two adjectives, in another sentence about style:
The prose style of Swift is unique, an irrefrangible instrument of
clear, animated, animating and effective thought.
- Herbert Read, English Prose Style, p. xiii.
This sentence is itself animated, largely by the interesting and useful
contrast between the past and present participles, the latter suggesting the
power to infuse vitality and animation rather than just to receive or exhibit it.
Contrive a sentence of your own along these lines, perhaps pairing
excited and exciting, agitated and agitating, controlled and controlling, or
any other past participle with any present one. Write about a rock
concert or a performance of Hamlet. Notice how participles enliven your
adjectival repertoire.
A remarkable faith in the market value of participles, in their commercial drawing power, is shown by the creator of the following advertisement for a major Cinerama release, as be deliberately edits, and animates,
his copy right before our eyes:

is erupting




Now use as a model for an account of a thrilling moment in your

own favorite sport this excerpt, with its two active and dramatizing participles and its accompanying straight adjective:

w--------------------------------------The ball and Dickerson somehow met in a diving, falling, desperate

instant-just six inches inbounds-and USC had made the Rose
-Dan Jenkins, "Make Way for the Wild Bunch," Sports lllutrated, December 1, 1969, p. 70.



In the next example, we see a series of past participles closely following a noun:
Seduction withheld, deferred, foiled-at any rate never accomplished
-produced many interesting and complex characters.
-Angus Wilson, "The Heroes and Heroines of Dickens/'
Dickens and the Twentieth Century, ed. by John Gross and
Gabriel Pearson, p. 5.
Can you fashion as interesting a sentence using past participles in this
way, capitalizing on their passive force to suggest action not activatedaction, as the example has it, "withheld, deferred, foiled ... never accomplished"? Imagine some frustrated or blocked hope appropriate to such
a description, and try to match the professional with your own set of
past participles.




Perhaps you may wish to introduce into your last sentence, or into
a new one, a similar effect with a past participle as part of a nominative
absolute, again blocking or suspending action:
Insoluble, unsolvable, the chord suspended- was it never to find
-Conrad Aiken, Ushant: An Essay, p. 60.
If you are at a loss for a topic, try a sentence about a mediator's lack of
success in a management-labor dispute, a tired mountain climber, or a
student unable to adapt his touch to an electric typewriter.



Now try a gradual transition from the passive to the active state, as
accomplished with a mixture of past and present participles in the following

Something dim and far removed-buried in the dcptbs from immemorial time--stirring beneath the surface-coming to lifecoming up at last-well, I know where I am now.
-C. S. Lewis, They Asked for a Paper, p. 135.

This is about a surfacing and a rising to life. You niight write about a
coming awake after an involuntary afternoon nap, for instance. You could
even use Lewis' main clause, "I know where I am now," and distribute
your participles to the left of it, all modifying yourself as subject. If you
do this, your verb phrases will be in free modification, as they obviously
were in their isolation by dashes in the sample .

Participial Modifiers in
a Right-Branching Sentence
It is usually more convenient and effective, however, to put participial
free modifiers after the base clause instead of in front of it. Right-branching
sentences allow room for elaborate modification. Brace yourself, and look
at the example on the next page.
You see there the complete sentence from Joyce in right-branching
diagram. Modification of this size and density succeeds only when separated
from the main trunk of the sentence into free-branching limbs. It succeeds,
that is, when it is not bound too tightly to a noun phrase.



After two additional expert samples, it will be time to experiment with

subtleties of action, using -ing participles in parallel branches of cumulative
She sat quite still for a long time, remembering the smell of Francis'
cologne on Celia's body, recalling the ambiguities of Celia's speech
ever since and Francis' oblique contradictory replies when she talked
to him about what was in her heart, remembering with bitter shock
his face and his words, "Forty is old to have children."
-Richard Condon, Any God Will Do, pp. 293-294.
At a distance he can see the tall line of a dozen or more aqueduct
arches, commencing suddenly, suddenly ending; coming now from
nowhere, now going nowhere.
-lames Gould Cozzens, Morning Noon and Night, last page.


KerTUJl Base

-James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p. 192.

After such a long wait for a stab at this kind of sentence, you deKa ve
free play with its many possibilities. Make some real experiments. While
you work, keep in mind some of the special features of our samples, their
unmistakable parallels and calculated successions. Notice the different
kinds of repetitions and alternations in the Condon and Cozzens excerpts:
Condon works with synonymous participles describing in different ways
actions going on at almost the same time; Cozzens records contrasting
motions, a real cycle of action. We see simultaneous action in the first
against successive action in the second. Work with each in your practice
sentences, but don't let the term "action" limit you. Think of it only as a
metaphor for syntactic motion, for grammatical sequence. Write not simply
about movements through space and time. Indeed, the "action" described
in the Condon sample is the action of remembering, and in the Cozzens sample, the sight of a stationary pattern of arches. If you are stuck for
a subject, write about prophecy, the act of looking forward, or about a
slow scanning view of an architectural skyline, with its peaks and caverns,
a sweep across Manhattan's silhouette, for instance.

Gerund is the label often given to the -ing verb when it occupies a
noun position. Anywhere a noun can go, it can go.
Stealing watermelons on dark and rainy nights was a pious duty
when I was a boy.
-Donald Day, Uncle Sam's Uncle Josh, p. 5.

Above we see a gerund as subject. Below, we see a gerund as direct

I remember seeing him a good many times before I first spoke to him.
-C. P. Snow, "Rutherford," Variety of Men, p. 4.


Try gerunds not only as subjects and objects, but as predicate nouns
and appositives, even in series as gerund catalogues like this:
We also devised ordeals, which we suffered, as tests of courage,
walking bare-legged through stinging nettles, climbing high and difficult trees, signing our names in blood and so forth.
- Evelyn Waugh, A Little Learning: An Autobiography, p. 59.
You might wish to follow the professional in taking your own autobiography as subject for a sentence modeled on Waugh's.





Infinitives often serve as merciful substitutes for whole plodding

clauses. The infinitive is a grammatical jack-of-all-trades, serving effectively
in many positions. Here are examples of infinitives in noun roles:

To say this is not to condemn the age, but to discern its fate.
-Jacques Barzun, Classic, Romantic and Modem, p. 150.
To mention the name of Bert Lahr is to think of a number of enchanting words.
-Brooks Atkinson, Brief Chronicles, p. 148.
To review the concept of identity means to sketch its history.
-Erik H. Erikson, Identity: Youth and Crisis, p. 15.


See what you can do for some noun slots by relieving them with
infinitive phrases. Let the three nouns in our last title suggest a theme. Using
the sentences above as models, write a sentence on each of these topics:
identity, youth, crisis. Expand each to a paragraph, if you wish. One such
sentence as those above is probably enough in a paragraph. You will find
that you can easily overdo this very particular effect.



Infinitives are perhaps most often thought of in connection with a

main verb, as something that attaches to it, after it. In this common position, ready for any amount of expansion, the infinitive phrase can be a
real stylistic asset. In the next sample, the main verb makes a beginning,
and the infinitive phrase does the main work of the sentence, its perfect
modulations testifying to the variety and vitality of these dependent infinitives:
... as I was reading I began to wait for it, and to make spaces in
sentences for it, to enjoy it, and finally to play with the words and
with the audience, to swoop and glide and describe arabesques with
all the nutty abandon of Donald Duck on ice skates.
-Shana Alexander, Life, May 19, 1967, p. 30B.
Modeling your prose on that above, "make spaces in sentences" for
some dependent infinitives of your own. You might pick up the sample's
final simile, writing about a friend's "nutty abandon" on "ice skates," or

recklessness on the ski slopes, or exbeme caution in a aoquet 11'4!llt. P

a main verb from which your infinitives can sensibly depend.



There remains for practice the infinitive of purpose. The samples, in

order, attach it to the main verb, place it next to a participle for elaboration,
and twice use it to lead off a sentence, as a free frontal modifier:

I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and

to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
-James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, pp.
252-253 .
He ran around wildly, pursued by Indians, wheeling to shoot one
dead, scalp another, then ride off in all directions firing volleys of
sparks into the air.
- Wright Morris, The Field of Vision, p. 235.

To return to the center of the Romantic scene, the testimony of

Coleridge and Wordsworth implies that the main initial agent in the
revitalizing of Greek myth was the Romantic religion of nature.
-Douglas Bush, Pagan Myth and Christian Tradition in English
Poetry, p. 37.
To find the square root of a hog's nose, turn him into a garden
To enjoy a good reputation, give publicly and steal privately.
To remove grease from a man's character, let him strike some
sudden oil.
To get wrong things out of your child's head--comb it often.
-Donald Day, Uncle Sam's Uncle Josh, pp. 89-90.
Imitate these infinitive openers at your own discretion. After limbering up, you may want to try your hand at some silly formulaic aphorisms
modeled on the last excerpt. Don't become addicted to any of these patterns, or to any other, for that matter.


Adjectives and
In the last two chapters, we have studied noun phrases and verb
phrases. Now we shall look at adjectives and adverbs, modifiers that exercise a kind of leverage on their nouns and verbs, pressing them into specification. Pushing at them from a new angle, nudging them around to show
some undisclosed facet, overturning them completely for a real surprise
or paradox-adjectives and adverbs, in effect, offer answers to questions
that may arise when we are faced with a noun or a verb.
Nouns and verbs themselves should, of course, be chosen to dispel
as much doubt as they can on their own. When there is a residue of uncertainty about them, something waiting description, a demand for more
information, adjectives and adverbs are enlisted to answer such questions
as "which?" "what sort?" "when?" "where?" "how?" "to what extent?"
Sometimes these queries are far from urgent; to address your writing to
them is to be redundant, to cheapen your sentences with unwanted modification. At other times you will find that the important new information
that the sentence is to bring can best be transported in adjectives and

Mark Twain did not extend a very warm welcome to adjectives. In
Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar, he tersely advised: "As to the adjective:
when in doubt, strike it out." More recently, and with more reservation,
author Shirley Jackson warns against excess in the use of adjectives and
adverbs, calling them "coloring words." Gertrude Stein has these hard
words to say:

Adjectives are not really and truly interesting.... In a way as

I say anybody knows that because of course the first thing that anybody takes out of anybody's writing are the adjectives.
- Gertude Stein, Lectures in America.
Anybody turns first to adjectives in triniming down a sentence,
neglects to mention, because some writers are so much inclined to
them in and to put in ill-chosen ones. But most amateur writers
profit from looking closely at the way good professional writers do





In the first two examples that follow, primary emphasis is directed

toward the third syntactic slot, often occupied by an adjective that brings
the primary information of its sentence. Watch these authors multiply the
effect by sending more than one adjective into this third socket, both in
be-patterns and linking ones:
The noise had been so loud, so sharp.
-William Golding, The Pyramid, p. 4.
Value judgments may be informed or uninformed, responsible or
-Walter Kaufmann, The Faith of a Heretic, p. 335.
He sounded weary, hurt.
-Bernard Malamud, The Assistant, p. 88.
He felt porous and pregnable.
-Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin, p. 20.
Do it yourself. If you wish, use the base clauses of the professionals,
and into them deposit your own adjectives, as many as you want, perhaps
turning out a whole catalogue.




The chief function of the adjective, however, is not its appearance

in kernel predicates. Here is where transformation comes in.
His head was hard.
Wisdom flew over his head.

- - --------------~- ---~--- ~----These two kernels, and most like them, fuse into a single transformed
Wisdom flew over his hard head.
-Bernard Malamud, The Assistant, p. 18.
This, theoretically, is the way adjectives get into sentences before nouns.
Sometimes a whole cluster at a time enters in this way, laying on its
"color" in large doses. Here are some of these, with adjectives piled relentlessly into the standard prenominal slot:
Everything he writes is written as an angry, passionate, generous,
fumbling, rebellious, bewildered and bewildering man.
-Sean O'Faolain, The Vanishing Hero, p. 108.
.Whereas the truth was, as he alone knew, that the heavens were a
glorious blazing golden limitless cathedral of unending and eternal
-John Knowles, Indian Summer, p. 27.
During his four years in the Army Air Force the American people
had been represented by the other enlisted men around him, and a
more foul-mouthed, lazy, suspicious, malingering, pessimistic,
anemic, low-down bunch of cruds it would be hard to picture.
-John Knowles, I ndian Summer, p. 8.
A planned impact is the obvious result of these mammoth modifications. Try for it yourself. Again, if you choose, keep the author's given
frame and fill it up with your own adjectives.
But notice how soon you would tire of these effects, how soon you
would go with Gertrude Stein for the pruning away of adjectives. In
general, the trick is to use only the ones you need, to edit only after you
have made some very careful choices in the first place. But equally important is the arrangement of what remains, the flair with which you can
parcel out your adjectives beside each other and around their nouns.



Extract the essential descriptive information from the separate sentences in the following sets of data. Remodel it into one sentence each,
with one main clause-and thus, heavily adjectival. Place some adjectives
before the nouns; set others off by commas after the nouns. Pay particular
attention to the smoothness and rhythm of modification. Then compare
it with the authors' own structuring of the material, given in a key at the


--- -- ------

end of this chapter. This is practice in reduced clauses, but condensation

and economy are not the only things at stake. Watch your combinations and
your pace.

a. He had a momentary glimpse of their faces.

It was a scared glimpse.
The faces were thin.
The faces were unnaturally long.
They had long noses.
The noses were drooping.
They had drooping mouths.
The mouths had a solemnity.
The solemnity was half-spectral and half-idiotic.
b. Father Urban smiled and put out his hand.
F ather Urban is fifty-four.
He is tall.
He is handsome.
He is a trifle loose in the jowls.
He is a trifle red of eye.
c. The Kensington woman was sad-eyed.
She was embittered.
She was courageous.
But she was snobbish.
As she talked of her girlhood, the Kensington woman gave way to
a person who was curiously gauche.
Yet this person was flirtatious.
Above all, she was extraordinarily adventurous.
Above all, too, she was hopeful.
There is, of course, no single "right answer," no one and only way to
weave this data into a single sentence. But the dexterity with which the
experts managed it will reward close study.




Now jot down a string of sentences, giving one new piece of information each to our growing knowledge of some person or some gadget, for
instance, or an abstract idea, like "hate" or "laughter." Try to make each
new snippet of information interesting in itself. Then assemble them in one
long and interesting sentence, again with one main clause strongly



Developing adjectival skills sends us now, not to the piling of three

or four modifiers close around a noun, but to the doling out and isolating
of one or two rather far from it. As usual, we can permit ourselves participial stand-ins. Here are some assorted illustrations:

The lamp had been standing cobwebbed in a corner, unplugged.

-John Updike, Of the Farm, p. 27.
which might have gone:
The cobwebbed, unplugged lamp had been standing in a corner.
Here is another:
Early in the afternoon on Christmas, after a good meal with Paul
Smith, pastor of St. Monica's, Great Plains, Father Urban got on a
train for Duesterhaus, tired.
-1. F. Powers, Morte d'Urban, p. 90.
Set off by commas in quick free modification, these adjectives are
sometimes called "appositive" adjectives. (See Chapter 11.)
Practice them first by adding a sentence or two to your creation in
exercise 4, thinning out your adjectives but using them more carefully.




Participles, with their latent verbal force, are especially useful for
suggestive modification. In the first sample, below, the present participle
interrupts the sentence just as the described building interrupts the scene.
In the second sample, the past participle has, in a sense, "transfixed" the
sentence itself at its own close:
Our living room looked out across a small back yard to a rough
stone wall to an apartment building which, towering above, caught
every passing thoroughfare sound and rifled it straight down to me.
-Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act, p. 187.
Onlookers young and old line the curb, transfixed.
-Sidney Petrie in association with Robert B. Stone, What
Modern Hypnotism Can Do for You, p. 11.
See if you can fit your adjective and its chosen spot as closely to the
matter you write about. Try making things easy for yourself at the start;

pick an adjective or a participle that cries out for this kind of dramatic
isolation: like isolated, or alone, separate, peripheral, finished, dead.

The other "coloring words," the adverbs, can submit themselves to
the same kind of spotlighted detachment. Their position in the kernel, you
will remember, is the optional fourth slot in all four patterns. But by the
simplest of transformations, their unequaled syntactic mobility shifts them
into almost any position. Like these:

From mind the impetus came and through mind my course was set,
and therefore nothing on earth could really surprise me, utterly.
-Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King, p. 156.
And the fact remains, mortifyingly, that we can issue no book of
this sort without ransacking the whole house.
- John Crowe Ransom, The Kenyon Critics, p. vii.
We have a variety of answers, most of them probably right for some
god, somewhere.
-Mary Barnard, The Mythmakers, p. 90.
She held the paper bag containing two bottles close to her side, a
little furtively.
-William Van O'Connor, Campus on the R iver, p. 54.
This is not how Dostoevsky meant, intellectually, for the history of
Myshkin to come out, but it is how, imaginatively, it had to come out.
-R. P. Blackmur, Eleven Essays in the European Novel,
p. 142.
Perhaps they reminded me, distantly, of myself, long ago. Perhaps
they reminded me, dimly, of something we had lost.
-lames Baldwin, Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone,
p. 480.
The mobility of adverbs also sends them into adjective territory to
modify those other coloring words:
He was fatally vulgar!
-Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night, p. 44.
It was very bot and bright and the houses looked sharply white.
-Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, last page.
We were rather priggishly high-minded.
- Evelyn Waugh, A Little Learning: An Autobiography, p. 59.

The service was fatiguingly long.

-John Updike, Olinger Stories, p. 160.




Practice a few sentences like these. Move adverbs around, to the

beginning, the middle, the end of the clause. Separate some from their
verbs. Attach some to adjectives. Some topics for these practice sentences:
rain, mythmaking, a campus on a river, the rising of the sun, a little
learning, Adam in America.




Adverbs have by no means evaded the censure to which we saw

adjectives subjected at the beginning of this chapter. The following complaint, for instance, heads the list of thirty-one dos and don'ts jotted down
by Wolcott Gibbs and collected, unpublished, under the title "Theory and
Practice of Editing New Yorker Articles":
Writers always use too damn many adverbs. On one page
recently I found eleven modifying the verb "said." "He said morosely,
violently, eloquently, so on." Editorial theory should probably be
that a writer who can't make his context indicate the way his character is talking ought to be in another line of work. Anyway, it is
impossible for a character to go through all these emotional states
one after the other. Lon Chaney might be able to do it, but he is dead.
-quoted by lames Thurber in The Years with Ross, pp. 129135.
The problem diagnosed by Gibbs is a very special one, involving
adverbs of manner used to pad weak verbs of speech. It is related to the
malady of such overworked intensifiers as tremendously, phenomenally,
awfully, terrifically and such laming qualifiers as fairly, nearly, almost,
pretty much, those "unwarinesses that defeat precision" warned against by
Marianne Moore ("Feeling and Precision," Predilections, p. 9). But
there are, of course, vigorous adverbial styles in which the heft of modifiers
betrays no failure of the verbs at all, but an added strength :
He drank eagerly, copiously. . . . The limping earnestness of his
speech disappeared; he talked as he drank, abundantly.
-Desmond Hall, I Give You Oscar Wilde, p. 139.

So one day he silently and suddenly killed her.

-D. H. Lawrence, Etruscan Places, p. 198.

When the girl spoke it was briskly and prosaically.

-Evelyn Waugh, The Loved One, p. 67.
More and more candidly she had dressed and undressed by her
window, more and more overtly he had himself leaned out to watch.
-Conrad Aiken, Ushant: An Essay, p. 15.

What is important is the choice of an interesting adverb to begin

with, or a set of adverbs, and their thoughtful deployment.
See what you can do, perhaps using a dictionary to find some striking
adverbial forms, or some adjectives that can be made into new and unusual
adverbs. Try working with the preceding sentences by Waugh and Aiken,
substituting for the italicized words some adverb phrases of your own



Do not stick with single adverbs. Investigate the variety and effect of
adverbial phrases. Notice in Aiken's sentence above how a parallelism of
such phrases ties the sentence together. This cohesive effect is one owed
often to adverbs, as they direct us through large verbal spaces:
Lightning spit all around him; rain cut in at his face; thunder
crashed against his eardrums. Another bolt of lightning, closer. Then
another, closer still.
Clay looked up, straight, right up into the sky.
-William Goldman, Soldier in the Rain, p. 308.
Their way led through a wide, thick forest, in which there was a
narrow defile; this was a notorious haunt of bandits, whose habit it
was to lie in wait for prey among the thick bushes that fringed the
track. Here Belisarius prepared an ambush. On one side of the track
he hid Trajan's troop, on the other Thurimuth's; and behind them,
lining the steep sides of the defile, his army of "spectators," as he
called his stake-armed infantry.
-Robert Graves, Count Belisarius, pp. 396-397.
Direct us with your adverbial phrases across such a space, while at
the same time incorporating other types of single-word adverbs, clustered
around a verb or set aside. Do not use an unreasonable number of adverbs,
though. Weigh results for yourself, strike your own balance. You might

wish to stage your own behind-the-scenes battle strategy, while including

the emotions of the soldiers in your adverbs. Don't avoid adjectives, of
course. Use this as a review.



The final exercise in this chapter is a large one, on adverbial and

adjectival styles. Since you have just been looking at adverbs, you may
want a brief look again at some predominantly adjectival writing:
The painter must choose between a rapid impression, fresh and warm
and living, but probably deserving only of a short life, and the cold,
profound, intense effort of memory, knowledge, and will-power.
-Winston S. Churchill, Painting as a Pastime, p. 30.
I investigate fragmentary scattered ruins, eons old, of a lost city of
antiquity whose traces extend over a campagna otherwise empty
under a clear level vacancy of sunset light. . . . The final sunset of a
sort sometimes seen in Canaletto paintings gilds gently enigmatic
ancient stone, sere swards of coarse modern grass, and occasional
broken hunched old trees.
-James Gould Cozzens, Morning Noon and Night, last page.
And here is a special elegant turn, with adjectives heading with-phrases:
They come to him murmurous with imaginative overtones, heavy
with evocative memories.
-Lord David Cecil, The Fine Art of Reading, p. 282.
The last three chapters mark off our practice with content words,
words that contain and carry meaning. Structural words are next- after
this brief review. Get a subject you can feel comfortable with over the
course of two or three paragraphs. Try fact or fiction, exposition or narration, both mixed with description, of course. Record some impressions
about the last act of your favorite play, or some recent event in the
news, or some historical event that has seized your imagination. If you
prefer a shot at something unrealistic, go all the way by writing an opening
descriptive block for a fantasy or science-fiction novel, in several
paragraphs, or write a new adventure for Alice in Wonderland, or Dorothy
in Oz, or for Gulliver in Whatever-Land.
Attend to everything in your grammar. Worry about every noun and
verb, and do not think of your "coloring words" simply as adjectives and
adverbs. All content words have hues and shades. Capitalize on this. Give
color and concreteness to your nouns, so that each one counts, and none
needs too many adjectives. Make your verbs colorful and forceful, so that

you don't need unnecessary adverbs to glamorize them. And then use only
those adjectives and adverbs that will be a credit to your nouns and verbs
-to their meaning and to their rhythm. Be very careful with the tempo of
your modification, the ease with which it passes and completes. Use free
modification, putting many of your nouns and verbs into major appositives
and absolutes. Use verbs also in free participial phrases, and employ
gerunds and infinitives on behalf of nouns. Try a catalogue of nouns or
adjectives, and don't forget to spotlight by isolation an adjective or an
adverb here and there.

a. He had a momentary, scared glimpse of their faces, thin and unnaturally long, with long, drooping noses and drooping mouths of
half-spectral, half-idiotic solemnity.
-C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, p. 44.
b. Father Urban, fifty-four, tall and handsome but a trifle loose in
the jowls and red of eye, smiled and put out his hand.
-1. F. Powers, Morte d'Urban, p. 17.
c. As she talked of her girlhood, the sad-eyed, embittered, courageous but snobbish Kensington woman gave way to a curiously
gauche, yet flirtatious and, above all extraordinarily adventurous,
hopeful person.
-Angus Wilson, The Wild Garden, p. 63.


The preposition contributes to style not just as a structural word,
designed to rivet a noun phrase to some other part of the sentence, but
often as the carrier of unique "content," in that it is the namer of some
very particular relation.

The Preposition as S haper of Metapho r

One of the most important aspects of any style, hardly ever credited
to the work of prepositions, is the shaping of metaphor and that special
brand of it known as simile, the like or as phrase. Here are some examples
from Graham Greene's The Heart of the M atter; the first two are in kernel
Her love was like a death-sentence.
- p. 296.
Beauty is like success: we can't love it for long.
-p. 296.
Others follow:
One hand clasped the package in his pocket like a promise.
-p. 289.
Can't you just go on, as you are doing now? the voice pleaded, lowering the terms every-time it spoke, like a dealer in a market.
-p. 290.
Pain has become more frequent and unwilling to take on any extra
exertion. Like a vice.
-p. 292.


Wasn't he clearing himself out of her path like a piece of danger0111

-p. 294.
He tried to pray, but the Hail Mary evaded his memory, and he was
aware of his heart-beats like a clock striking the hour.
- p. 298.
One can say anything to a stranger- they pass on and forget like
beings from another world.
-p. 304.

She was alone again in the darkness behind her lids, and the wish
struggled in her body like a child .
-p. 304.

She had denied just now that she felt any bitterness, but a little more 1
of it drained out now like tears from exhausted ducts.
-p. 306.



You created some metaphors in Chapter 2, while practicing equative

clauses. It is now time to practice similes. For this exercise, take the object
of the preposition in any of the sample similes and make it the subject of
a new sentence, in which it will be compared with some new object of the
preposition like.

Prepositiom to Show Various Relationships

Simile, however, is only one of the many relationships a preposition
can establish. More important, often, than the actual nature of the relationship is the very way we hear about it, the way the prepositional
phrases are arranged before us, bow they thread the texture of prose both
as structural words and as content words, helping to pull together the
fabric of grammar and of meaning. We will avail ourselves of Mr. Greene's
generosity for two more examples.
The first sentence is largely articulated by prepositional phrases:
This was what human love had done to him-it had robbed him of
love for eternity.
-Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter, p. 288.
The following parallel occurs in an internal monologue on the next page
of the novel, with the same network of prepositions situating a new dilemma
in similar terms:

You say you love me, and yet you'll do this to me-rob me of you
for ever.
- p. 289.


Use this stylistic and thematic echo from The Heart of the Matter
as your guide in writing your own pair of sentences. Write a sentence
with a sequence of prepositional phrases. Then write a related sentence
with the same sequence of prepositions, your own significant parallel.
Human love admits of many relationships, grammatical and otherwise.
Choose some Matter of the Heart for your subject, and experiment in
rough imitation of Greene. Use more prepositions than he did, even, for
practice in their various directions and effects.



Here is our final model from Greene's novel :

He had a message to convey, but the darkness and the storm drove it
back within the case of his breast, and all the time outside the house,
outside the world that drummed like hammer blows within his ear,
someone wandered, seeking to get in, someone appealing for help,
someone in need of him.
-pp. 298-299.

This is adroit grammar. Notice how the alternation of "within" and "outside," cleverly varied, captures the shifting subjective focus of the scene,
and how the last sequence of prepositional phrases guides and builds the
sentence to its climax in the statement of personal need.
See what you can do along these lines, placing prepositions for
alternation and contrast or for progressive specification. Here are some
less dramatic samples:
The intellectuals can no longer be said to live beyond the margins
or within the crevices of society.
- Irving Howe, "Radical Questions and the American Intellectual," Partisan Review, Spring 1966, p. 180.
Faulkner rued as the culture which sustained him was also dying,
died in history, that is to say, rather than against it.
-Leslie A . Fiedler, Waiting for the End, p. 11.

Rats stir in the weeds, among the graves.

- William Styron, Lie Down in Darkness, pp. 327- 328.

Our immediate experiences come to us, so to say, through the refracting medium of the art we like.
-Aldous Huxley, Literature and Science, p. 71.
Imitate one of each, one sentence that turns on a contrast of prepositions,
one that moves through a sequence of them. Write about anti-intellectuals,
squirrels, Northerners, ballet.




Prepositions certainly do structure their sentences, living up to their

category as structural words. But their "content"-exactly what relation
they name-comes through very strongly. So, too, in the next samples,
where the surprising choice of preposition, and the added attention it
demands of us, seem almost poetic.
I lived to sounds.

-John Hersey, A Single Pebble, p. 18.

And laughing again for joy, he went out of the chapter houses to
where the sun piled into the open square of the cloister.
-William Golding, The Spire, p. 3.
Immense piles of gold flared out in the southeast, heaped in soft,
glowing yellow right up the sky.
-D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, p. 285.
. . . and he bad found the scent of cheap toilet soap desperately
sweet upon the air.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Absolution," Babylon Revisited and
Other Stories, p. 136.
The houses were dark against the night, and a little lingering warmth
remained in the houses against the morning.
-John Steinbeck, The Moon Is Down, p. 147.
Notice especially the change in meaning between the two appearances of
"against" in the last excerpt.
Approximate this, if you can, and some of the other effects managed
in the above samples. Tease out a subject from the list of titles. Write about
a moon going down behind a spire in Babylon, or about a son, or a lover,
or a single pebble.

One of the most suggestive remarks about the preposition's stylistic

role is this of some thirty years ago:

When a child shapes the sound Up! it is not enunciating a part of

speech. Up, far from being a preposition, is in significance an entire
sentence. The mother, lifting it from the ground into her arms, shows
that she has understood it as such.
- Isaac Goldberg, "What Is Grammar?" The Wonder of
Words: An Introduction to Language for Everyman, p. 3I9.

Excusing the unsteady pronoun reference in the third sentence, we must

agree with the statement. The child's "fragment," its unknowing ellipsis
of all that would make a sentence around his preposition, still is interpreted as a sentence and can be acted on as such. Here, independent of
other grammar, are some larger prepositional phrases fragmented off as
sentences, first as interrogatives:
And for what? For what this agony of concentration? For what this
hell of effort?
- Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again, p. 508.
Tie-dye scarves for the ladies, for the men a home-brewed lemon and
licorice and aspirin syrup.
- Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's, p. 173.
Again shelves to the ceiling .... On one side--counter, cash register,
- John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent, p. 14.

Before him, the river and to the right, the long grey bridges spanning
it- Henry Roth, Call It Sleep, p. 257.


On your own now, assign and situate some noun phrases, implying
predication, perhaps, but using only prepositions. Write about home, winter,
discontent, or sleep.
The sense of predication was much stronger, of course, in the baby's
Up!, its anxious attempt at a sentence, than in the above samples. Closer
to that verbal force are the prepositions in the examples collected below.
The condensation of an understood action into a single prepositional phrase
is common enough in poetry. Shakespeare, in The Tempest, had bis char-

acter say "I shall no more to sea!" and a modern novelist has the sanw:

But what could he do about that? To the sea! To the sea!- What sea?
-Saul Bellow, Herzog, p. 34.



The following excerpts show authors making use of this privilege

in many different ways. Avail yourself of it after studying the samples:

But to the tombs, to the tombs!

-D. H . Lawrence, Etruscan Places, p. 12 .
A great train, bound for Manchester, drew up. Two doors opened,
and from one of them, William.
-D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, p. 81.
Uphill with broad strength.
- John Updike, R abbit, Run, p. 244.

On with the story. On with the story.

-John Barth, "Author's Note," Lost in the Funhouse, p. x
On up Number 58, and the country breaks.
-Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men, p. 2.

Piling up Prepositions as Parody of Action

Opposite to the planned and forceful isolation of prepositions and
their phrases is their reckless congestion and pile-up in larger sentences.
Sometimes this is deliberate, when an exhausting effect is wanted- almost
a kind of parody:
The procession of men and women from the street into the station
and down the escalators towards the trains becomes a movement
from a world above to an underworld of death.
- Ralph Freedman, The Lyrical Novel, p. 258.

All the way home in the taxi and in the lift up to her flat on the
seventh floor Mrs. Liebig kept on talking.
-Angus Wilson, "After the Show," A Bit off the Map and
Other Stories, p. 110.


For additional practice in the various effects prepositions can have,
you might try modeling a sentence of your own on one of these, detailing
a complicated movement, and then simplifying it as "from . . . to," or
expressing exasperation by means of an unrelieved sequence of phrases as
in the second example. Also try piling up prepositional phrases in a sentence that suggests exhaustion.
But make sure you form no stylistic habits from this exercise. When
not in some peculiar context that calls for it, undue nesting of such
prepositions tends to lump up your meaning and numb your readers.
This is a problem not worried about quite long enough by the student
who wrote the following in an English paper:
He breaks down on the misinformation of the death of his son after
preaching to Joseph not to become caught up in human love at the
expense of a slightly lessened attachment to divine faith.
Under no circumstances copy or approximate this. Be warned, and go
right on.


Conjunctions and

Like prepositions, conjunctions are structural words. And coordination is a structural principle, a method of sentence-building. But again,
conjunctions and coordination are more than mere structural devices. They
involve meaning, or content, as well as structure. It is axiomatic in all
writing about style that meaning can be jeopardized or abetted by structure, and nowhere more clearly than in the case of coordination.

Par ata%U

To begin with coordination before it involves conjunctions, we shall

look at phrases and clauses spliced together without their ordinary structural links. This is called parataxis. The phrases and clauses merely
abut against each other, they touch but are not connected, their common
boundary marked by a comma. Several follow:
The fog had all gone, the wind has risen.
-C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, p. 175.
The sun was up, the farm was alive.
-Evelyn Waugh, The End of the Battle, p. 258.
The highest good exists, it is unified, it is perfect, it is God.
- Irwin Edman, "Introduction," The Consolation of Philosophy,


She must rush, she must hurry, before it was too late.
-John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent, p. 198.


Tben be was up again, running faster than ever, then the dogs were
gaining on him again.
--George Orwell, Animal Farm, p. 58.
Footsteps outside the door jar me from my reverie, I hear white
men's voices.
- William Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner, p. 426.
They snipped the ribbon in 1915, they popped the cork, Miami
Beach was born.
-Norman Mailer, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, p. 11.
You may have unwittingly tried out one or two of these at one
time or another; perhaps you were accused of a "run-on" or a "commasplice" and cruelly downgraded. But if you build into the semantic structure of your sentences a good enough case for these abutting clauses, you
may now practice a few with impunity.



Study the preceding samples, and pick as your models those that
interest you and that fit syntax to sense most effectively. Abruptness or
hurry, for instance, seems a subject to justify abrupt or hurried connection, a paratactic grammar. Automatic links in thought often deserve
them in syntax. Notice, too, bow often kernels are spliced or abutted in
this way. There is something about minimal utterance that encourages
minimal connection. Begin with kernels, a good review in itself. Compose a set of abutting clauses for each of the four types- be-patterns,
linking, intransitive, and transitive--and then set one type harshly against
another. Do certain types seem to lend themselves more easily to this
sort of connection? In your practice, work with temporal, spatial, and
logical sequences. Write about the rapidity with which a certain couple
met, went steady, and became engaged; the wind-up, pitch, and batting
slam of a perfect base hit; the sure speed of public justice in catching,
convicting, sentencing, and confining an extortionist. Many other subjects
can be made just right for this kind of coordination. Try in your sentences for the aptness achieved by the following authors, in clauses that
slide automatically forward, pause and repeat, go doggedly on--each as a
grammatical replica of meaning. (See Chapter 16--"Syntactic Symbolism:
Grammar as Analogue.")
The last screw carne out, the whole lock case slid down, freeing the
- David Wagoner, The Escape Artist, p. 244.

The bell in the church tower rang three times, paused

three times again.
-Evelyn Waugh, The End of the Battle, p. 258.
He ignored this, went doggedly on.
- J. B. Priestley, The Shapes of Sleep, p. 214.


Below are examples of some shorter paratactic units--one group of

noun phrases, one of adjective phrases, and two clusters of prepositional
phrases. Work with them as you did with the abutting clauses:
They had no altar, no table, just their laps.
- Michael Novak, "The Underground Church," The Saturday
Evening Post, January 11, 1969, p. 26.
It is a myth, the city, the rooms and windows, the steam-spitting
streets; for anyone, everyone a different myth, an idol-head with
traffic-light eyes winking a tender green, a cynical red.
-Truman Capote, "New York," Local Color, p. 13.
For all of these are translations into the visible of feelings else blind
and inarticulate; and they are translations made with singular accuracy, with singularly little loss.
- C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, p. 312.
On summer evenings they danced in the half-light, and when they
were tired of dancing they lay down in the forest, on the beach, on
mattresses, on the bare floor.
--Stephen Spender, "September Journal," The Partisan Reader,
ed. by William Phillips and Philip Rahv, p. 397.
The last quartet of juxtaposed phrases extends almost to the length
of a series or catalogue, a familiar pattern of loose coordination that you
practiced in Chapter 3. Here is a triple noun series opening a sentence:

Suffering, weakness, death are not, in themselves, tragic; this is common knowledge.
-Elizabeth Sewell, The Human Metaphor, p. 138.
And from these tight paratactic clusters we turn to the expanded series
with a conjunction between each item and the next, drawing out the series
and relaxing the connections even more.


of "And."

Here are some of these easy, singsong listings, one and two and
three and four, and so on:
In the kitchen they had grits and grease and side meat and coffee for
-Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, p. 204.

It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding

him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion
and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.
- Faulkner, "The Stockholm Address:' William Faulkner:
Three Decades of Criticism, ed. by Frederick J. Hoffman and
Olga W. Vickery, p. 348.
In the distance the houses were the houses in a quiet Victorian print,
small and precisely drawn and quiet; only one child a long way off.
-Graham Greene, The End of the Affair, p. 27.



Practice with different parts of speech lined up in these patterns of

slack coordination. Manufacture one noun catalogue partitioned by conjunctions between items-a list of sports cars, say, or vacation spots-and
modify it across an equative clause with a series of adjectives differently
sorted and punctuated. In other words, experiment with different patterns
of coooection within the same sentence.
Exercise 3 should also be an exercise in caution, a practice in restraint. Slack coordination, in a closely packed series or across larger
phrases and clauses, can be most effective, a perfect relief from some other
prevailing syntax, but when it starts to become habitual, a stylistic mannerism, it also becomes an easy target for parody, here at Hemingway's
This is my last and best and true and only meal, thought Mr.
And near the end of the piece:
They left the piano in the restaurant, and when they went down the
elevator and out and turned into the old, hard, beat-up pavement of
Fifth A venue and headed south toward Forty-fifth Street, where the
pigeons were, the air was as clear as your grandfather's howitzer.
- E. B. White, "Across the Street and into the Grill;' Parodies:
An Anthology from Chaucer to Beerbohm- and After, ed.
by Dwight Macdonald, pp. 251-253.



Now notice, for imitation, the various rhythms that a blend of different conjunctions can produce:

But during his son's time it fell less and less into use, and slowly
and imperceptively it lost its jovial but stately masculinity.
-William Faulkner, Sartoris, p. 59.

Her face was worn but her hair was black, and her eyes and lips
were pretty.
-Bernard Malamud, 'The Maid's Shoes," Idiots First, p. 153.
They were neither citadels nor churches, but frankly and beautifully
-Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt, p. 5.
Anticipating your practice with balance and rhythm in Chapter 14
on Parallelism, and looking back to your exercises in the smooth deployment of adjectives in Chapter 5, produce some nicely timed, well-moving
sentences like those above. Modify and qualify, display and contrastand do it with conjunctions, and, but, or, not, and so forth. Convey in
two or three sentences like this the emotional aura against the factual
burden, style versus content, in a major political address.


If you matched your own syntax to the last of the preceding models,
you have the jump on this discussion of the correlative conjunctions.
Certain precoordinators, both, not, either, neither hook up with conjunctions and, but, or, nor to produce the basic correlative frames both . . .
and, not (only) . . . but (also), either . . . or, neither . . . nor. You have
seen an example of the last already. Here is another, dropping the
precoordinator the second time around:
He had neither companions nor friends, church nor creed.
- James Joyce, "A Painful Case," Dubliners, p. 109.

Here are more correlative samples:

One might say either that Swinburne's artistic maturity was attained
very early, or that his development was prematurely arrested.
- Douglas Bush, Mythology and the Romantic Tradition in '
English Poetry, p. 332.

Prom now onwards Animal Farm would engage in trade with the
neighbouring farms: not, of course, for any commercial purpose, but
simply in order to obtain certain materials which were urgently
- George Orwell, Animal Farm, p. 66.



Without your hand getting to feel too heavy, see how many correlative structures you can use effectively in a few sentences. Think carefully,
first, of an idea warranting this kind of measured, logical development.
This hardly restricts you to dry philosophical argument, say, or to legal
prose. Imagine yourself an editorial writer for a large metropolitan newspaper. Consider the problem of rising costs in election campaigns, and
evaluate some of 'the techniques candidates use in an effort to influence
voters. Propose some alternatives.

Con junctive Adverbs

Adverbs boast the greatest syntactic mobility among the parts of
speech. The conjunctive adverbs, sampled below, are flexible as to position:
Invariably, also, the latest presents from Ramona's admirers were
--Saul Bellow, Herzog, p. 193.
It is, besides, far to the west of all direct European influence.
-William Carlos Williams, Selected Essays, p. 222.
He reflected, however, that Mrs. Strother's Sunday evenings were not
like a, ball.
- Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, p. 155.
Miss Brodie, however, had already fastened on Mary Macgregor who
was nearest to her.
- Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, p. 73.

Indeed, everyone who knew Matt recognized it and all our friends
came to sympathize with him and with me and to see how we took
our misfortune.
-Joyce Cary, Herself Surprised, p. 56.
The hopeful attitudes are phenomena, indeed, about which we are
today somewhat embarrassed.
- R. W. B. Lewis, The American Adam, p. 195.

This heading refers to the process at its largest range, not just to a .
device for local adhesion. It refers to an entire mode of writing, applied
to narration and to exposition alike. Coordination can be either loose
and rambling or weighed, calculated, and balanced. An example of each
type follows, of planned but casual additions and of heavily plotted coordination in phrase and clause:

Slowly, ever so slowly, comprehension and compassion become possible things, and the transparent curtain is gone and faces are no
longer strange. Old tides pull at me and ancient swells sweep in from
forgotten seas and support me, and I have a lightness, and I take
my coat because these June nights can be bitter, and there is a star
in the southern sky, the most magnificent star that I have ever seen,
and I am beginning to know its name, Alpha Centauri.
-Robert Ardrey, African Genesis, closing paragraph.
The title sets the theme and tells the story. Civilization is disintegrated and meaning is disintegrated and despair and disillusion stalk
the waste land of the world. Now Eliot undertook to delineate this
distintegration of thoughts and things and processes by an analogous
disintegration of speech and technique. Chaos of the world and
the soul is set forth by the learned and calculated chaos of the
poem's method. . . . Men not ignoble have gone down before life
in other ages and wandered in waste lands and taken refuge in some
monastery or hermitage either of the soul or of the body or of both.
-Ludwig Lewisohn, Expression in America, p. 587.




Use each of
two preceding passages as a model for an effort of I
your own, perhaps borrowing the topics of Africa and America and writing 1
about some sort of expression characteristic of each, maybe musicalAfrican tiibal music and American jazz. Divide the topics, one each, between j
the two types of coordination you are to use, the loose and the balanced,
or treat the subjects together in two different modes of grammatical ar-

....-mt, experimenting with the difference in effect. Don't restrict yourself, oecessarily, as much as the samples did to the conjunction and. Use
but, or, nor, and others when you can. Limber up for the final exercise



This exercise calls for a review of the sc:rcalled structural words.

Pay close attention, for one thing, to your prepositional phrases as you
put together some coordinated structures, compounding your phrases when
it seems appropriate. Think of syntax critically; wonder and worry as you
write. Is this the best connection I can make? Have I embedded too many
prepositional phrases here? Do I want such formal balance in this noun
phrase, or something looser, something in line with the more relaxed
grammar of the larger development? Am I using prose rhythm as well
as I can? Would it be neat-or maybe too cute-to replace every comma
with an "and" in this series; too severe to remove all conjunctions in the next
patch of coordination, just abutting the clauses, even the phrases? Assail
yourself with such questions after you once start assembling your ideas.
Choose your subject carefully and break it down so that it makes sense in a
coordinative scheme, so that it invites additive or balanced or contrastive
development. A good way to test your skills is on a short movie review,
three or four paragraphs of comment on a film you loved or loathed. Pan
or praise, but do it with coordination, using as many of the different types
as you reasonably can-parataxis, series with and without conjunctions,
correlative patterns, cohesion achieved with conjunctive adverbs. And don't
forget the available services of well-chosen prepositions for careful new
directions and developments, for contrasts and progressions. Treat not only
the plot of the film, but its theme as well, for practice in different sorts of
grammatical order. Don't stay just with action. Work with images and
ideas, the narrative track and the thematic line, the skill of individual
performances and their relation to the larger conception of the story.
And most of all--do not write artificial, hothouse prose. Notice that
coordination is unnatural if too exclusive. You will see that you need other
kinds of syntax, and you can look forward to the next chapter for more
practice in other kinds of grammatical architecture.


Dependent Clauses

Acquaint yourself in the following samples with the different positions and patterns, the parallels and contractions that relative clauses allow:
Colleges insist on graduating students who can't write an intelligible
English sentence, who don't speak three words of a foreign language,
who have read neither Marx nor Keynes nor Freud nor Joyce, and
who never will.
- Cecelia Holland, "/ Don't Trust Anyone under 30," The
Saturday Evening Post, August 10, 1968, p. 12.

What this man does, and what he is supposed to do, are subjects
of great confusion among laymen, ministers, doctors, and even psychiatrists themselves, but in broad terms his assignment is clear.
-Richard Lemon, "Psychiatry: The Uncertain Science," The
Saturday Evening Post, August 10, 1968, p. 37.


Follow the first of these examples in using a series of four relative

clauses to complete each of the following:
Parents insist on raising children who . . .
Teachers insist on teaching courses that ...



Follow the Lemon example in using a pair of relative clauses as

subject in an equative sentence.



Next is an interesting pair of relative clauses inserted in a complicated pattern that reverses dependent and independent material during its
own run, in order to emphasize its point:

Winston Churchill is, beyond all doubt, that statesman who became
the greatest historian, and that historian who became the greatest
statesman in the long annals of England.
- Henry Steele Commager, "The Statesman as Historian,"
Saturday Review, May 18, 1968, p. 26.
Reflect on the greatness of an American statesman, or your own
favorite superstar in music, movies, or sports, and celebrate his or her
achievement in a sentence like that last.



Notice the faster shuttling of the next sample, where "which" attaches
itself to four nouns in the compound subject of a single relative clause, for
a rising anticipation of the waiting verb:
The reader is invited to open any Dickens novel at random to see
which character, which landscape, which house, which room is performing its loud and distinct nature to which audience.
-Robert Garis, The Dickens Theatre, p. 69.
Before this, our last three examples came from Saturday magazines,
two from the now defunct Saturday Evening Post, a third from the Saturday Review. Use Saturday as a subject for a sentence like the one above,
with multiple subjects in a relative clause. Or take as your subject a coach
pondering his strategy, a girl dressing for a date, a couple choosing furniture.



Now practice with "concentric" clauses, one nested inside the other.
Find a very good reason, however, in your subject itself for this sort of
internal development, one as obvious as this series of interiors:
The inner door, which led to the passage, which in turn led to the
storm door, was beside the stove.
-John Steinbeck, The Moon Is Down, p. 122.

A built-in reason is the precondition for anything like that. Avoid a d

unearned embedding as the next, such arbitrary bunchings of dependent
The trip began in London, where the writer interviewed several
African students who had fled the Soviet Union where they claimed ,
they had suffered all sorts of racial-indignities.
-Victor Lasky, "Prologue," The Ugly Russian.
Humorist Stephen Leacock has turned his attention to style and lodged
this prominently among his complaints:

Most objectionable of all are sentences made with subordinate clauses

introduced by relative pronouns and conjunctions that are telescoped
in together one after the other, each clause modifying the one in
front of it.
He then travesties this kind of headlong embedding:
George Washington who, when whatever he attempted had failed,
never despaired . ..
--Stephen Leacock, " The Complete Thought Called a Sentence," How to Write, p. 73.
As usual, the best and surest cure for this embedding is free modification and the breathing space a comma affords:
At present we shall represent the literary public by a single
sympathetic and informed person, whom we shalf call the critic. The
critic, then, is exposed to a series of impressions from literature, and
by responding to these as carefully as possible, he develops, by
practice, a skill and flexibility, for which the traditional term in
English is taste.
-Northrop Frye, The Well-Tempered Critic, p. 112.
Subordinate Clauses
Following those two nonrestrictive relative clauses in Frye's sentence,
the next sentence from the same page shows subordinate clauses, also, in
free modification, the first effectively reduced to get rid of an unnecessary
subject. From the samples that follow, it will become apparent that in this
book we are using the term "subordinate" to label those dependent clauses
that have a subordinator to introduce them, a word such as when, if, as,
because, although, since.

Tlte, wlwn ocquired, may in tum lead to general theories about the
process or products of literature, if a general theory happens to be
the bent of a critic's interest.
- Frye, p. 112.
, Below are three left-branching sentences that open on a free subordinate
clause marked off by a comma from the main clause:

While politicians ranted, the army acted.

- Richard Condon, An Infinity of Mirrors, p. 49.
As westerns go, this one doesn't.
-"Cinema," Time, August 2, 1968, p. 64.
If a man cannot write clean English, or if he affects, by calculated
dubieties, meanings of which his intelligence is incapable, he deserves
no one's serious consideration.
-Archibald MacLeish, "'Why Can't They Say What They
Mean?'" To the Young Writer, ed. by A. L. Bader, p. 35.


Taking the three sentences just quoted as models, write a sentence

of your own that begins with a free subordinate clause, or with a pair of
them, as in MacLeish's sentence. As your subject, take violence in life or
literature, the impact of television on children, the effect of a certain law
on your conduct.



Below, at the tip of a right-branch, after three nominative absolutes

and an adjective phrase, comes a climactic subordinate kernel:
They sat there, he leaning back on his elbows, his face tilted upward,
eyes closed, somehow more arrogant than ever, while she read a book.
- Audrey Callahan Thomas, "A Winter's Tale," Ten Green
Bottles, p. 150.
The sentence you wrote for Exercise 6 was left-branching, with a
subordinate clause or a pair of clauses as the sentence-opener. Take the
same subject and write a right-branching sentence with several free modifiers, as in the one above, ending with a subordinate clause as the sentence-

concluder. Perhaps you can contrive a sentence that will nicely follow die
one you wrote for Exercise 6. Try locating some sort of conclusion, or
key idea, or punch line in the final subordinate clause.

Depend ent and S ubordinatee -Grammatical, Not Logical, T erms


As must now be clear, dependent is purely a grammatical term. It

does not rank or evaluate the ideas that go into dependent clauses; it only
describes their syntactic status. Yet handbooks often advise in ignorance
of this distinction. Time after time beginning writers are told to confine ,
subordinate ideas to subordinate clauses, and to enter the main thought of
their sentences in the main clause. They write well only if they disregard
this counsel. The impact of a particular word or idea does not depend on
its being placed in a "main" clause. Often, indeed, the key word or the
most important new information in a sentence is housed not in a main
clause or a modifying dependent clause but in some other structure of
free modification-for example, in an appositive or a nominative absolute
that by reason of its position receives heavy stress.
Additional practice in the use of dependent clauses will come in other


Sentence Openers
and Inversion

The large conception of grammar as style takes root in the simple

notion of syntax as sequence. Not just any sequence, of course, but a
particular grammar called the sentence, a certain set and series of expectations, ready enough for change, but amounting ordinarily to an encounter
with a subject and a brief wait for its predicate. Anything happening in
a sentence before its subject comes onto the scene, therefore, amounts to
a reversal of expectation- a. kind of inversion. If what jumps the gun is
free modification, set off by commas like that last clause and this phrase,
we call the result a left-branching sentence. Inversion we usually call anything that puts before the subject something from the main clause itself,
such as the objective complement out of place at the other end of this
very sentence. Getting the key italicized terms of this discussion back to
back at the adjacent ends of those last two sentences, for instance-using
a kind of pivotal emphasis for a more coherent transition- is one of many
sorts of reasons for tampering with syntactic expectations, for using inverted grammar.
The point is that good writers always have such a reason before they
invert. But they are never as self-conscious, of course, about their sentences as the demonstration above. "Variety for its own sake"- an implicit
motto behind so much bad advice to students about varying their sentence
openers--does not seduce the expert. Here we have simply to practice
f inversion and other variant sentence patterns for the time when what we
want to say definitely needs their services.
Dr. Johnson exaggerates the rarity of such occasions:

The artifice of inversion, by which the established order of w01dl il

changed . . . is practiced, not by those who talk to be understood,
but by those who write to be admired.
-Samuel Johnson, "The Life of Abraham Cowley," The Lives
of the English Poets, I, p. 26.
Himself no stranger to inversions in general, Johnson is unhappy with
what we might term the "elegant inversion," a subspecies of "elegant variation"- inversion that is self-conscious, mannered, "stylish," an end in
itself or, in Johnson's terms, a means of evoking the reader's admiration.
Here are some examples:

An ecstasy of flight made radiant his eyes and wild his breath and

tremulous and wild and radiant his windswept limbs.

-James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p. 169.
So happened the curious visit to Linz.
- James Hilton, Nothing So Strange, p. 133.

Many were the unblemished fallacies that the well-educated young

man of my generation took with him into a rambunctious world.
- Robert Ardrey, African Genesis, p. 11.
But go you down, past the Quincunx, Amaryllis, as you wind your
long way home, and you might see a newly varnished punt, looking
bright upon the water of the lake.
-T. H. White, Mistress Masham's Repose, p. 255.




Count the number of different items shifted and inverted in these

samples. Then, just for fun, and for practice moving different elements
to the front of a clause or sentence, ''write to be admired" in this way.
You might wish to test your skills as a satirist, directing grammar as an
ironic comment on meaning, a parody of "elegance." Use inversions to
describe the empty gestures and vacant graces, the preenings and posturings
of High Society at a fashionable ball after the benefit premiere of the new
opera season. Exaggerate your grammar to match your caricatures. Perhaps take Mistress Masham from the last sample and her escort as your
key figures, staging the parody around them, mocking sham and vanity in
attitude and attire, costumes and conversation.

Inversion for Emphasis

Whatever your motive in shaping inversions, whether satiric as in
the last assignment, or serious, or even if you are simply trying to be

oa ,oar own,

there is

one invariable effect of inversions, however

elegant-an inescapable shift in emphasis. Sometimes this is desirable.

To every man comes, sooner or later, the great renunciation.
-Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, p. 111.
This is the very common subject-verb inversion, and in this sentence it
both elevates the style and accomplishes the desired emphasis.

Adverbial in Front Position

Below are some less literary examples, where the altered emphasis
seems to accord with the natural direction of the thought, the appropriate
order of stress and disclosure:
Into this grey lake plopped the thought, I know that man, don't I?
-Doris Lessing, Children of Violence, p. 264.
Opposite him appeared the well-endowed young woman, smiling too.
-Robert Penn Warren, Flood, p. 5.
From the bent old body came a stale sour smell that made her recoil.
-Angus Wilson, No Laughing Matter, p. 400.
Secretly, far beneath the visible surface of the island, imprisoned by
this watertight cap of rock, lay the purest, sweetest, most copious
water in all the land that bordered upon or existed in the great ocean.
-James A. Michener, Hawaii, p. 10.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

- J. R. R . Tolkien, The Hobbit, opening line.




In the preceding examples, adverbials are shifted to the beginning

of the sentence, with subject and verb inverted, thus revealing to us the
where or whence, the location or direction, followed by the action and
the actor.
Evolve similar inversions of your own, locating and then naming
in an apt and dramatic rearrangement. Imagine yourself exploring some
unknown territory and render the surprises of scenery and wildlife in a
grammar of adverbial openers and inverted main clauses. Write three or
four sentences this way, trying for a continuity of observation and a grammatical cohesion. Engage all five senses in your brief narration. Let syntax
register with care an experience complete in itself.

Notice that Tolkien's sentence is a special kind of inversion, a theretransformation. Following is another, aided by a front-shifted adverbial
cluster, prolonging our wait for a subject that only at last ''begins to

Out of the goings-on that ensue there begins to emerge an interesting ,

-Frank Kermode, Continuities, p. 225.

Direct Object in Front Position

Adverbs and .fillers like "there" are by no means the only structures
shifted up front by the process of inversion. Any number of forms can be
promoted to sentence opener in this way; following are four examples of
a direct object in front position, the last of them an entire clause:

The turtles he fought in a curious fashion.

- Edmund Wilson, Memoirs of Hecate County, p. 4.
Life he saw as a ceaseless and courageous contest.
- Jerry Allen, The Thunder and the Sunshine: A Biography of
Joseph Conrad, p. 233.
Tradition in the new materials we have not; but tradition in decoration
and of detail we can recover.
-Hillaire Belloc, A Conversation with an Angel, p. 247.
Where the cluster fell, none knew for certain, but on impact it had
resolved into separate angry bees.
-John Barth, Lost in the Funhouse, p. 28.


Memoir and biography are the modes of the .first two examples above.
Perhaps you can combine them. Imagine a conversation at a funhouse, or .
somewhere in an amusement park. Describe this conversation, perhaps
with a stranger, maybe a barker at one of the attractions, as if it were
an important memory or sipi.ficant incident in someone's biography. Use
at least two different kinds of inversion in the passage, desiped to locate
an emphasis that is particularly desirable. Perhaps you may want to use
an adjectival opener at some point. Here is one inverted from the predicate,
an additional model:
Gone are the potted plants, the Christmas cheeses, the toys for the
children that were regularly issued by the old Francis Cleary.
- Mary McCarthy, Cast a Cold Eye, p. 79.

Wilhout JeoouJse to inversion, Miss McCarthy would have been

forced into this:
The potted plants, the Christmas cheeses, the toys for the children
that were regularly issued by the old Francis Cleary were gone.

Inversio n to R elocate an Elem ent

That Need s Exten sive Modification


We have come to another important use of inversions, their ability

to relocate in a more convenient spot the element that is to have major
modification-in the preceding case, avoiding a stumbling rhythm caused
by the embedding of that long relative clause.
Would you choose to rewrite the next offering?
The sound of the bugle, clarified by distance and echoing in the woods
with a lost hollow tone, came from far away.
Carson McCullers shaped it this way, with inversion saving modification
till the end :
From far away came the sound of the bugle, clarified by distance and
echoing in the woods with a lost hollow tone.
--Carson McCullers, Reflections in a Golden Eye, p. 6.
Here are two more examples of inversion making such an adjustment:
Through distant streets wandered a timekeeper, beating on a gong
the hours as they fled.
- John Hersey, A Single Pebble, p. 181.
Down the slope of the northern Scottish bank tumbled the town of
Twwedside, its tiled roofs a crazy quilt of pink and yellow, masking
the maze of cobbled streets.
-A. J. Cronin, The Keys of the Kingdom, p. I.




Mold some sentences of your own after these examples. Plot out
emphasis and elaboration in advance, and for the latter use as many
different types of free modification as you can. Perhaps you may wish to
let the grammatical topic itself suggest subjects to you. Write about inversions of inherited moral values, about a historical event that reversed
the course of world affairs, about drastic shifts in popular opinion,
reversals_in support of the President on some matter of foreign policy, or
rapid faddish changes in public taste, in hairstyles or in skirt lengths. Be

specific, gathering interesting and concrete data and dispersing it

every attention to sense and rhythm. Do not rely only on simple inversions of subject and verb, with adverbial openers. Try for different sorts
of frontal elements-direct objects, predicate nouns, and adjectives; try
for different types of modification at the end-absolutes, participial phrases,
long appositives. Mter working out your strategic inversions, you might
try restoring one or two of your sentences to normal order. If as much is
lost to your work in ease and flow of modification as to the professionals',
then your own inversions are serving you well.

Inversion to Assist Cohesion

Another kind of tactical inversion, besides that planned to aid elaboration, is one mentioned already- inversion to assist cohesion. Again
adverbial openers often set the stage, preceding the verb "came" in both
of the next two samples. Below, the plan allows the second sentence to
follow as "close upon" its forerunner as the sense tells us:
Emily Caldwell's intellectual pretensions were the first matter of
comment and then, what seemed connected, her manner of dress.
Close upon these came Emily's self-indulgence, a certain affair of
strawberry jam bought with relief money.
- Lionel Trilling, The Middle of the Journey, p. 69.
And in the next sample, strong cohesion comes from inversion of "came"
and the subject in the excerpt's second sentence, permitting the "through"
phrase to open the sentence and to stand next to the "through" phrase in
the preceding sentence.
Light fell through the colors of the stained glass beyond the altar.
Through the windows ajar on the side aisle came the sweetness of
blossom, of bruised grass, of river mud.
-Robert Penn Warren, Flood, p. 78.


Pairing the last two titles as your subject, develop a short narrative
paragraph about a journey, by car or on horseback, interrupted by a flood.
Tie your separate actions and fast observations together at least once by
means of a cohesive inversion, perhaps in the center of your paragraph.
It is even possible to combine the inversion for apt emphasis with
this cohesive inversion. Below, the adverbial opener and its follow-up
inversion let "stand out" in final position, as meaning dictates, the dis-


subject of the first sentence, just before its renewal at the head
of the second:
From the age of Britain's greatest internal disorder stand out the life
and work of John Milton. His life and work are, like the national
setting, disjointed.
--G. Wilson Knight, Chariot of Wrath, p. 17.

Notice how complete is the gearing of syntax to sense, how the second
sentence itself is grammatically "disjointed," jerky. And for another
double-duty inversion, scheming for emphasis and transition, here is an
excerpt in which one thing "flows from" another in a syntax calculated to
strengthen the cohesive link of the demonstrative reference ("this repudiation") :
To be cultivated is to be imitative; whereas, if one is to create, one
must be imaginatively and emotionally spontaneous. From this repudiation of imitation in favor of spontaneity have flowed innumererable consequences down to the present day, not merely in literature
but in life.
- Irving Babbitt, On Being Creative, pp. 3-4.



Put off your own "repudiation of imitation" awhile longer, and learn
creative grammar by imitation-the working plan of this entire volume.
Right now, devise a pair of sentences, one inverted, around some form of
the verb "flow." Add your work to the last passage you wrote about the
flood, with which it might well fit. Or write about the flow of silt and
other deposits from a glacial source down the length of a river system to a
large delta region. Or a less literal flow-of propaganda from behind the
Iron Curtain, of arms to some revolutionary leader in Africa, or an
economic movement of goods to consumers or money to manufacturers.
Evaluate what you describe, and use many details to substantiate. Use
inversion to move smoothly from one sentence to the next.
Inversion as a Mannerism
Inversion and its strategies of dislocation, its tricks for emphasis,
elaboration, linkage, cohesion, are necessary tools for an accomplished
writer, but ones that are not his workaday equipment. Remember to start
your sentences with their subjects unless there is good reason not to. Any


habitual avoidance of the subject as opener rapidly b

-and a target for travesty:


II -


From his second-Boor bedroom descended, in his chair once more

settled, Author Winner, collecting himself in tranquility, again looked
upon his work and found it good (Not by my syntax wilt thou judge
- Felicia Lamport, "By Henry James Cozened," Parodies: An
Anthology from Chaucer to Beerbohm-and After, ed. by
Dwight Macdonald, p. 262.


The baroque and absurd inversions in the left-branch above, itself part
of an elaborate delay of the subject, and later of the verb, score heavily
in this parody of biblical rhythms in modem fiction.
So, again, start with the subject unless something better suggests
itself. And remember, if the need arises, there are methods other than
inversion available to you for reordering the grammatical priorities of your
sentences, for shifting positions, fixing new emphases, regulating stress
and modification, transition and cohesion. When, for example, you want
something to enter before your subject, but do not want to deform your
main clause by inversion in order to have this, when you wish to bring
forward a dependent clause or some sort of a phrase in free modification,
the techniques you need are those you will be practicing at the beginning
of the next chapter.


Free Modifiers:
Left-Branching, Mid-Branching,
and Right-Branching Sentences

One of the perennial subjects of philosophical discussion, being important, indeterminate, inexhaustible, and, above all, intrinsically
. interesting, style is at the present time as lively a theme as it ever was.
-W. C. Brownell, The Genius of Style, opening sentence.

That is a left-branching sentence. It consists of a base clause, STYLE

WAS, plus two free modifiers, both of them left-branches, as indicated in
the diagram on page 72.
The modifiers are called "free" because they are not bound closely
to a single word or to the base clause and are, in fact, set off by commas
from each other and from the base clause. They seem to "modify" the
whole clause rather than a single word or structure within it. They are
called left-branches because they precede the base clause and actually
stand to its left on the page. Mid-branches interrupt the base clause. Rightbranches follow it. Many, if not most, free modifiers can be attached at
various points to the base clause. In the preceding example, the two free
modifiers could have been inserted in the middle of the base clause as
mid-branches, or they could have been tacked on at the end as rightbranches.




See how many different arrangements you can make of the three parts
of the sample sentence. First, put both free modifiers at the end of the

O.f fl:,f'













f'rl)] .









Le/t-Branch e

Baae Claue

r. daose, as right-branches. Then try putting both free modifiers in

the middle of the base clause, that is, as mid-branches, between the subject
and the predicate. Do you like either arrangement as well as the one the
author himself chose? How many other possible arrangements can you
figure out for this sentence? Try having one left-branch and one rightbranch. Try having one mid-branch and one right-branch.

Left-Branching Samples
The two free modifiers in the sample consist of a noun phrase and
an -ing verb phrase. The noun phrase is a front-shifted appositive. The
verb phrase is a participle heading a string of adjectives. Here are some
additional left-branching sentences, the first another front-shifted appositive:

A woman once of some height, she is bept small, and the lingering
strands of black look dirty in her white hair.
-John Updike, Rabbit, Run, p. 111.
And here is a left-branch of "appositional" adjectives:

Tall, powerful, barefoot, graceful, soundless, Missouri Fever was like

a supple black cat as she paraded serenely about the kitchen, the
casual flow of her walk beautifully sensuous and haughty.
-Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms, p. 54.
And now verb phrases anticipating the subject, headed respectively by a
present and past participle:

Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather

conservatory, we started to town.
- F. Scott Fitzge;ald, The Great Gatsby, p. 64.
Quickened by this spiritual refreshment, it had a boom.
--Sinclair L ewis, Babbitt, p. 178.
Notice that the main clause in each of the last pair of samples is a pure



Take the two kernels in the preceding samples and use them as
base clauses for two left-branching sentences of your own. As you keep

these kernels and precede them with new elabotariaa,

the temporal sequence in each of the samples, the way in which it jusrifia
the left-branching variation by preparing for the main clause in a logical
way: this done or being done, that happens. Prepare for your own start to
town and your own boom in this way.



H. W. Fowler admonishes us about the use of participial leftbranches, what he cans the "sentry participle":

If newspaper editors, in the interest of their readers, maintain any

discipline over the gentlemen who provide inch-long paragraphs, they
should take measures against a particular form that, by a survival of
the unfittest, bids fair to swallow up all others. In these paragraphs,
before we are allowed to enter, we are challenged by the sentry
in the guise of a participle or some equivalent posted in advance to assure that our interview with the C.O. (or subject of the sentence) shall
not take place without due ceremony. The fussiness of this is probably entertaining while it is quite fresh; one cannot tell because it is
no longer fresh to anyone.
-A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (2d Edition), p. 438.
In general, it might be well to take Fowler's warning. But not always, and not just yet. Take from him, instead, the hint for a topic in
constructing a sentence with a "sentry participle." Write about an important interview with a commanding officer in a tent somewhere behind
the battle lines, as you (or a character you have created) are led in
by an armed guard or sentry. This time you need not restrict yourself to
a kernel base clause, and you may try any kind of left-branching modification you wish. Or try any variation on the suggested topic, writing
about any sort of interview: with a girl about a date, with a prospective
employer about a job. Make the modification seem as much at home up
front as you can.
Notice that Fowler himself, in the warning against "sentries," actually used two of them, two left-branches, at the start of two out of three
sentences quoted. In the first, a straightforward conditional clause, he set
up conditions for his base clause in an "if . . . then" pattern. In the
second, his meaning also invited the left-branch, as he tied to a prepositional phrase a subordinate clause beginning with "before" and rightly
coming before the main clause. Add to your last exercise a second sentence
elaborating on the same subject and using a full subordinate clause as



Returning to the actual participial "sentries," here is a more ambitious

example from Sinclair Lewis than the last borrowed from him, with the
temporal sequence used to real advantage:

Relieved of Babbitt's bumbling and the soft grunts with which his
wife expressed the sympathy she was too experienced to feel and
much too experienced not to show, their bedroom settled instantly
into impersonality.
-Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt, p. 15.

The participle, from which a large relative clause grows, is in the past
tense, conveying a sense of completed action out of which the main clause
issues with a kind of finality and relief. This is exactly what the author
wanted, the main clause settling into view only after certain conditions
have been met.
Fashion a sentence like this about some other relief and its effect,
about the halt of papers and exams for another summer or of nine-to-five
I hours at the office for another two-week vacation. Or about finality, about
a momentous decision reached, an ordeal over, a career ruined, a task
finished, a piece of legislation passed- anything that needs left-branching,
dramatic preparation.
It is important to get enough practice with left-branching sentences
to have their services in reserve when they are the best stylistic choice.
And important, then, to use them sparingly.
For additional practice, notice the special effects gained by parallelism
in the three samples that follow. The left-branches of the first consist of
three "if'' clauses:

If "one touch of nature makes the whole world kin" does not illuminate reality, if "our little life is rounded with a sleep" does not put
life into simple perspective, if the music, the fresh phrasing and the
vigorous rhythms do not come alive, Shakespeare is a wordy bore.
-Brooks Atkinson, Brief Chronicles, p. 152.
A temporal pattern, framed by "when .. . when ... then" introduces
the first example to follow, and a temporal-causal "as ... as ... as ...
so" introduces the second. Diagrams of the two appear on p. 76. Study
them, noticing the special rhythm that parallelism gives to each:

When a writer begins to be successful, when he begins to soar, outwardly but especially inwardly, then, to save him from infatuation,
he needs to be pelted with bitter apples.
- VanWyck Brooks, A Chilmark Miscellany, p. 3;

Bale Clause






e,e'.._o ~


Base Clause

As the limits of man's physical horizons and experience constantly

withdrew, as the flights of his imagination soared and new discoveries
shattered the confining walls of outworn theories, as the need grew
for a new vocabulary and wider connotations, .so, to meet that imperious demand, the gnarled but sound old tree of Latin put forth
new shoots and sent its roots still deeper and wider into its sustaining earth.
-Ernest L. Hettich, and A. G. C. Maitland, Latin Fundamentals, pp. 331-332.

Notice the loss of impact if the patterns of the three preceding

samples were to be reversed, with the base clause written first



Our entrance into each of the preceding left-branches, our descent

through its graded levels on the way to the main clause, our wait and
anticipation, the near arrival signaled by "then" and "so" respectively, only
to be deferred by an infinitive phrase of purpose, then at last our touching
down on the independent clause-the whole approach and landing is
beautifully calculated in both of the preceding examples. Calculate your
own sentence using the idea suggested by this metaphor. Write about the
descent and perfect three-point landing of a jetliner. Or any left-branching
sentence you want to make about flight, mechanical or otherwise, in our
atmosphere or beyond, sorting your material as often as you can into
parallel arrangements that bl,lild toward your main clause.
Dangling Modifiera

Before turning away, we should note that "sentry participles" and

other openers, when they fail to introduce us to the C.O. in any sensible
way, when they bear no relation at all to the actual subject, in meaning
or in grammar, stand accused as "dangling modifiers." The effect can be
accidental and ridiculous:
In continuous operation since 1929, our proprietors invite you to
dine at George and Harry's.
- blurb on a restaurant menu in New Haven, Connecticut.

Or deliberately ambiguous and funny:

It is the cold hour of repentance, homecoming time for those who
have wandered. Blonde or brunette, an Elk never really forgets his
wife, never actually forsakes her.
--anonymous address "To Our Wondering Wives," from the
inside cover of a matchbook printed by the Benevolent
and Protective Order of Elks.

is unwanted, so are they.


Here is an example to show how mid-branches are attached in the

middle of the base clause:



Base Clause


Base Clause

This chart shows free modification-a quartet of appositives themselves expanded by phrase and clause-branching between the subject
and the predicate of the sentence.
Obviously the experiences of Negroes-slavery, the grueling and continuing fight for full citizenship since emancipation, the stigma of
color, the enforced alienation which constantly knifes into our national identification with our country-have not been those of white
-Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act, p. 24.


Write a similar sentence using at least as many mid-branches as
Ellison did. Retaih the predicate of the sample, perhaps, and change the
subject to the experience of American Indians: their conquest by white
Americans, the herding of them into reservations, continuing discrimination against them, and so forth. Or record the problems of women or
any other minority group, any underprivileged people seeking equal
rights. Insert interesting mid-branches in an even more interesting base


Appositive noun phrases also interrupt the next sample, holding off
completion for the insertion of explanatory rephrasings:
Of course it was a hell of a nerve for an instructor with so little
experience in a college, an Easterner not long in the West, until
recently a stranger to most of his colleagues, to ask them to elect
him head of department.
- Bernard Malamud, A New Life, p. 289.
Enter data of your own, in midstream in this sentence or one like it:
"Of course it was a hell of a nerve for a newcomer with so little experience in politics . . . to ask them to elect him governor of the state."



Now scan the following mid-branching sentence and its incorporation of verb phrases, prepositional phrases, and nominative absolutes
between subject and verb:
The Grandmother, muffled down in the back seat in the corner of
the old carryall, in her worn sealskin pelisse, showing coffee-brown
at the edges, her eyes closed, her hands waving together, had been
occupied once more in losing a son.
-Katherine Anne Porter, "The Old Order," Leaning Tower
and Other Stories, p. 44.

Study this in diagram before modeling your own seuleoce oa It .





After writing about the problems of minority groups and underprivileged citizens in question 6, now you might treat problems of the aged,
in specific terms rather than general. Use the grandmother from the
example as your subject, perhaps, and discuss another loss: "The grandmother . . . was gradually losing interest in getting out and meeting
people." This is just a suggestion, and you may vary it in any way you
choose, writing about a grandfather or, optimistically, about the gains of
age, the gift of full maturity and hindsight. Whatever your subject, use participial phrases and absolutes in the mid-branches. Follow the model.
Also, take advantage of the central branching and its postponement of
predication. Use its arrival before the verb to explain matters that naturally
condition the action recounted by the verb-the reasons, to return to the
suggested base clause, for the grandmother's gradual retirement, her retreat
from society.

R ight-B ranching
If you were to put everything you added to the preceding base
clause, the given one or your own, not in the middle but after the full
stop at the end of the clause, you would make a right-branching sentence.
F rancis Christensen has appropriately named this formulation the cumula-

bl c~lly when the right-branch is developed with verb
phrases, carrying us past completion into active elaboration, kinetic,
evolving. Here are participial expansions that demonstrate this:

She had left him, really, packing up suddenly in a cold quiet fury,
stabbing him with her elbows when he tried to get his arms around
her, now and again cutting him to the bone with a short sentence
expelled through her clenched teeth.
-Katherine Anne Porter, "That Tree," Flowering Judas and
Other Stories, pp. 95-96.
Their trim boots prattled as they stood on the steps of the colonnade,
talking quietly and gaily, glancing at the clouds, holding their umbrellas at cunning angles against the few last raindrops, closing them
again, holding their skirts demurely.
-James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p. 216.
Here is the second in diagram:







Use participles of your own in this successive way, adding one to

the other for a real accumulation of data beyond a base clause. For this

one from Joyce, and build your owa

mation that changes the context of the original clause entirely. Try fiX
participles with very exact meanings and specific connotations-for very
interesting participles, that is.



Below is a sentence with a short left-branch and a considerable rightbranch, the latter illustrating even more clearly an accumulation that is
also a progress or succession:

His grandfather's dry grip enveloping the end of his arm, David
walked up Wilson A venue, where men were digging for the clover-

leaf, past the house of the woman who teased, along the wall where
fearless bad boys dared run along the top, when a fall would break
their necks.
-John Updike, The Poorhouse Fair, p. 96.
In much the same way, this time with adverbial phrases and clauses
rather than participial expansions, describe a walk downtown or across
campus, or, as if in a historical novel, a carriage ride through ornate
gates and across the spacious lawn to the manor house beyond. Experiment
with the number and individual length of the expanding units, and with the
variety of possible arrangements. What effect does parallelism, pairing,
or other close grouping- such as across the street, across the mall, along
the sidewalk, up the steps, for instance- have on the sense of movement
imparted? Make your placement and tempo contribute to the implications
of your writing.




Sometimes called a loose sentence, the right-branching construction

is indeed the loosest, the freest, the most relaxed of all the branching
patterns- and probably the most useful. Its extension by free modifiers,
however complex, imposes no strain on the reader. We have the main
clause behind us, all of it, and we know just what is being enlarged and
modified. Unloading this bulk of nominative absolutes and other free
additions in a left-branch, for instance, would make no sense:
He could bear to think of her only after she had overpassed the
common life of everything and lay in her bed, on her back, her

lzrt aJm,
,. . , witlt moortlight falling across her face, her
right arm flung back on the pillow, crooked over her head, her left
arm laid across the mounds of her breasts.
-Robert Penn Warren, The Cave, p. I I.
The nominative absolute, in its near approach to an independent
clause, is the freest of possible attachments. As a sentence modifier hooked
to no one part of the base clause but rather adding to it as a whole, this
construction does its best work in a right-branch. Put it into one of your
own, manufacturing it from the raw material found below. Synthesize the
separate data into one main clause with a manifold right extension, the
latter containing one adjective phrase and four nominative absolutes.
He went to speak to Mrs. Bean.
She was tiny among the pillows.
Her small toothless mouth was open like an "0."
Her skin was stretched thin and white over her bones.
Her huge eye-sockets and eyes were in a fixed, infant-like stare.
Her sparse white hair was short and straggling over her brow.
Now turn to the end of this chapter for this sentence as it appeared in
its own novel.




Follow the same procedure with the sentences below, remolding them
into a single right-branching structure-this time of very mixed ingredients, including verb and prepositional phrases, relative and subordinate
Ben lay upon the bed below them.
He was drenched in light.
He seemed like some enormous insect on a naturalist's table.
They looked at him.
He was fighting to save with his poor wasted body the life that no one
could save for him.
Watch all this find its way into a single sentence (see author's version, p.
84), and notice the variety of material that can be managed in this way,
phrases headed by one subject giving way to clauses or absolutes introducing new related subjects.


The last example describes, in effect, a patient on an operating table.

Now write a brief sketch about a cheating dealer at a poker table. Begin
by writing half a dozen or more short sentences. Then weave them together into a single main clause with attendant data in right-branching free
modification. Make sure you vary the focus of your "source" sentences.
Write some that convey a physical description of the dealer or his movements and expressions, some that relate effects on him of the smoke-filled,
dimly lit backroom. What you are doing, in a brief paragraph that you
will convert to one long sentence, is practicing most of the possible free
modifiers-participles, other verb phrases, prepositional phrases, appositives, absolutes, and dependent clauses. When you prepare your short
sentences for transformation into the right-branch as absolutes or relative
and subordinate clauses, also describe the actions of some other players at
the table, deserving new "subjects." If you enjoy this kind of syntactic
tour de force, try the same method on the description of a nervous bani:
president at a conference table, flanked by restless and angry executives, or
a pompous host or hostess at an elegant supper table, as the guests fawn and


He went to speak to Mrs. Bean, tiny among the pillows, her small I
toothless mouth open like an "0," her skin stretched thin and white 1
over her bones, her huge eye-sockets and eyes in a fixed, infant-likt 1
stare, and her sparse white hair short and straggling over her brow. 1
- Muriel Spark, Memento Mori, p. 173.

Ben lay upon the bed below them, drenched in light, like some enor
mous insect on a naturalist's table, fighting, while they looked at him,
to save with his poor wasted body the life that no one could savt
for him.
- Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel, p. 452.


The Appositive


As we saw in the last chapter, one of the most prevalent structures

t of free modification, one of the most flexible and efficient, is the appositive.

Below, appositional noun phrases help develop the idea:


. she felt a purpose, a working over something, a direction, an act

of creation different from any she had known.
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night, p. 19.

The first two of the three appositives in the right-branch of that sentence stand almost as a definition of the appositive: "a working over some! thing, a direction." The appositive does rep.a me or revise, working over an
, idea, that is, and redirecting it for new emphasis. Changing perspective,
! narrowing or widening our focus, the appositive can open out an idea .or
close down on it, generalize or specify, qualify or confirm, or merely emphasize. In its common form as a free noun phrase, it often serves to break
up an otherwise loaded pattern by shearing off part of the meaning into
a separate, appositional unit. It does this work in one of two ways, in a
.pattern of (1) reiteration or (2) synonymy.

The Appositive of R eiteration

This was the generation whose girls dramatized themselves as flappers,
the generation that co"upted its elders and eventually ove"eached
itself less through lack of morals than through lack of taste.
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up, p. 15.

Here is a jug, a beautiful black milk jug-the dairyman left it years

ago when it was cheaper to make your own ice-cream.
-Fitzgerald, p. 61.



The reiteration in the preceding examples is more than repetition.

New information is brought along. The first sample above adds a relative
clause to expand and explain, the second a triplet of prenominal adjectives.
Try both enlargements in a sentence or two suggested by the first sample,
a discussion of your generation and its relation to your parents. Or you
might write about a jug if you wish, or any object, artistic or not, addin&
important new material along with your appositive reiteration .



Here is a reiterated adjective, again from Fitzgerald, that drives home

its point, stressing it by repetition before enlarging the context from
"spring" to "everything":
We loved the temperate shapes of Nassau Hall's old brick, and the
way it seems still, a tribunal of early American ideals, the elm walks
and meadows, the college windows open to the spring--open, open
to everything in life-for a minute.
-Fitzgerald, p. 48.
Devise a sentence of opposite context in which you can use "closed"
as your repeating word, the head of your appositive structures. And in- c

crease or decrease its reference in some dramatic way, perhaps in a gradual

spread of application like the sample's, from the specific to the general. t
Notice as you practice appositives how much of your material gets ~
assigned to their positions, and how this allows you to break up otherwise 1
lengthy noun phrases and relocate their information. The appositive l
comes a grammatical moderator. Francis Christensen explains by example:
On nearly every page of this paper I have had to resort to syntactic
devices to keep them [the noun phrases] within bounds--devices, I
such as this appositive, that are practically unknown to our textbook
-Francis Christensen, "The Problem of Defining a Mature
Style," English Journal (April 1968), pp. 572- 579.

T he Appositive as Synonym
The "device" Christensen used was, of course, the appositive of
reiteration. Even more common, and more likely to include the major
data of a sentence, is the appositive as synonym, the second of the types
mentioned at the start of this discussion. This appositive often arrives in



He lumbered into the city room, a big guy in his middle twenties,
wearing a suit too dark for the season, and the disconsolate frown
of a hunter who has seen nothing but warblers all day.
-James Thurber, "Newspaperman," The New Yorker, January 5, 1952.

The theme is that of all Robin Hood ballads, the setting of the fair,
free, honest forest life against that of the town, the law, and the
-Evelyn Kendrick Wells, The Ballad Tree, p. 21.






The domestic novel offered this glorification in the child only lent by
God, the baby angel, the fading flower, the little ones too good for
the world's wickedness, the Frankies and E/fies and Charlies and
Nellies remembered by the tiny rose-bud, the golden curl, the crumbled shoe, the dented locket- gone to meet again in a happier place.
-Helen Waite Papashvily, All the Happy Endings, p. 194.



Write about the "happy ending" of your choice, in a book or film,

or in actual experience, using appositives to convey most of your ideas.
1 Try some in mid-branching arrangements as well as at the end, and load
them with entertaining data nom both sense experience and imagination.
Use appositives to add density and color to your ideas, to flesh them out
in the most interesting and satisfying way possible.

Where the Appositive Comes From

To backtrack a bit, let us watch the process of forming appositives.
Below, we see two equative clauses:
Milton is one of the greatest poets.
Milton is also one of the least-read poets.
We can transform either of these, or any other predicate noun, into an
appositive. We can then insert the appositive into new sentences in various
positions. Let's play a game for a few minutes with appositives derived
from the two sentences above. Appositive and principal are italicized:

Milton, one of the greatest poets, draws heavily on the work of his
Milton, one of the least-read poets, demands that his readers know
the classics and the Bible.

Milton, one of the greaten pot!b, Oftle of rite lewnt n s', . . _

being force-fed to the immature.
Milton is one of the greatest poets, also one of the least read.
Milton, one of the greatest poets, is also one of the least read.
One of the greatest poets, one of the least read, is Milton.
To put an end to our game, let us look at the sentence composed by
a professional writer, fusing our two samples:
One of the greatest poets, Milton is also one of the least read.
-Louis Untermeyer, Lives of the Poets, p. I89.

The Inverted Appositive

Untermeyer's sentence opens with an inverted appositive, a device
that is handy but one that can easily be overworked. Next we see the same
process incorporating far more material, all feeding into the pronoun subject (he) without stuffing the subject slot with an unwieldy noun phrase.
One appositive precedes the base clause, and a series of appositives follows it:
A truly Byronic figure, he was strikingly handsome and flamboyantly
reckless, an aristocrat who lampooned his class, a physically handi
capped and psychologically maimed youth who triumphed over every
disadvantage, an audacious rebel who loved liberty and could not
refuse a folly, a dreamer courting disaster, an irresistible lover, and an
irresponsibly shocking genius.
-Louis Untermeyer, Lives of the Poets, p. 383.


Write about your favorite poet, novelist, or essayist, your favorite

musical artist or composer, or, if you'd rather, one you particularly dislike.
Start unambitiously with the merger of two equative clauses, as in the earlier
sample, and then try your skills on a full-scale appositive romp like the one
above. To avoid confusion, enter your heaviest cataloguing after the main
clause in a right-branch.
Before moving on, we need one failing sample as warning, where the
two "source" clauses have so little to do with each other that their yoking
in a single transformed structure is absurd:
The most lovable of great composers, Franz Schubert died of typhoid
fever at the early age of 31.
-from biographical notes accompanying a recording of Schubert's Ninth Symphony.

and they should be employed

Catalogues of A p positives in Initial Position

Sometimes, when catalogues of appositives are placed in initial positions, they are later, as the main clause gets underway, recapitulated by a
demonstrative pronoun or by a noun subject with a demonstrative adjective:
Fertility, fecundity, lushness, abundance- these were the hallmarks
of the New World.
- Richard M. Dorson, A merican Folklore, p. 14.

French haute couture, Mexican folk music, American jazz- this blend
of seemingly disparate elements is typical of the invigorating curiosity
which has led today's young creative talents to cut through the relatively provincial categorization which once designated a song as
"popular," "folk,'' "gospel," or the most esoteric type, "foreign."
-JohnS. Wilson, "Youth Will Be Heard," H ouse Beautiful,
July 1966, p. 102.


What is the chief difference between the grouped appositives that open
the two sentences above? Isn't it a matter of diction, a difference in levels
of generality and abstraction? T o start a sentence of your own, render the
lush Latinate catalogue of the first, its abstract and general nouns, into a
quartet of specific and concrete frontal appositives, as in the second example. Choose a subject about the American scene in an aspect other than
those discussed in the two samples. Write about the American dream of
striking it rich, about American painting or sculpture, about westward
' expansion, politics, divorce, or philanthropy. Choose anything you can
, make interesting, any subject for which you can come up with some eyecatching, pertinent appositives. You may even wish to write historically
about America, keeping the main clause of the first example and sharply
specifying some exact "hallmarks" for it.

The Appositive's Easy Rhythm

When Gertrude Stein writes
They the names that is the nouns cannot please
-"Grammar as Poetry," Lectures in America, p. 212.

she betrays ber coa

and relaxed pace, the easy addition that makes the appositive so 1Jiefrt
She writes about nouning and naming (coincidentally the work of appositives) in a chain of appositives liberated, as she thinks they have every
right to be, from the clumsiness of punctuation. Here is another removal
of commas from an appositional unit:

If you read my writing you will you do see what I mean.

-Stein, p. 213.

This is the grammar of afterthought, of unworried addition. It is not suited

for widespread imitation, of course, but it does tell us much about our
normal punctuated syntax.
In a book called How to Write I worked a lot at this thing trying
to find out just exactly what the balance the unemotional balance of
a sentence is.
-Stein, p. 225.
In the preceding sentence, "the unemotional balance" is certainly a reiteration of "balance" with an explanatory adjective. This is meaning. Rhythm
is something else, but very close to meaning in this sentence. For what is
in fact being accomplished is exactly this sort of unemotional or syntactic
balance-the work, in this case, of a well-poised appositive in a most
intrepid grammar. Without giving up the undeniable advantage of punctuation, strive for this prose balance, this syntactic rhythm, as you maneuver
appositives in the exercises that follow.


Once again, here is a list of abstract nouns in frontal apposition:

Humility ... orderliness ... serenity ... grace-these are the words
with which Herbert has been commonly characterized.
-Louis Untermeyer, Lives of the Poets, p. 142.
Let two of these abstract nouns suggest subject matter for sentences.
(1) Humility. Write a sentence about a particular case of humility, about
a servile clerk or an obliging neighbor, or a gifted musician, actor, or
scholar sharing his talent in a self-effacing manner. Try to use the reiterative appositive. (2) Orderliness. Again, deal with a specific case, a thing
or person ordered or bringing order-the child subjected to rules and
schedules, or the parent or teacher trying to bring order and a sense of
security into a child's life; the university student faced with degree requirements and dormitory rules, or the official or agency that imposes them;

to schedules and procedures, or the employer who sets and enforces them. Write a base clause, and then expand
it with right-branches that include appositives of synonymy. Do not use
inverted or frontal appositives.

Verbs as Appositives
Up to this point we have been working mainly with nouns in apposition. Let us turn our attention to other word groups that serve as appositives. Here are some verbs in apposition to other verbs:
Between the last paragraph and this, just over two and a half months
have gone by, elapsed.
- 1. D. Salinger, Seymour- An Introduction, p. 149.
Any one of them might be he, could be he, might be her landlady's
husband or son.
-William Golding, Free Fall, p. 80.
Maybe it didn't take even three years of freedom, immunity from it
to learn that perhaps the entire dilemma of man's condition is because
of the ceaseless gabble with which he has surrounded himself, enclosed himself, insulated himself from the penalties of his own folly.
-William Faulkner, The Mansion, p. 236.



As the appositives pile up in the last sample, they seem to accumulate the very insulation they describe. The rhythm itself becomes thematic.
Take as a theme the idea of insulation or defense: an Infidel stronghold
during the Crusades, London during World War II, Western nations during the Cold War, or, metaphorically, a shy person at a cocktail party, or
a self-consistent philosophical system against rival understandings. Write a
sentence or two on one of these, and experiment with using verbs in apposition, taking Faulkner, Golding, or Salinger as models.

Adverbial and Other Phrase& as Appositives


Adverbial phrases and other prepositional phrases can also assume

appositive slots. Here are two samples for imitation from James Baldwin:
The church was not very far away, four blocks up Lenox Avenue, on
a corner not far from the hospital.
-James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain, p. 4.

She was
and the fiery sun going down in the evening over t~ farthut hiU,
with the eternal fires of Hell.
- Baldwin, p. 152.



Match this movement from the general to the specific, the abstract to
the concrete, in large appositional expansions of your own, branching from
these suggested clauses:

The catastrophe was very near . . .

She was associated in his mind with ice ...
There is no reason to limit your sentences to one brand of apposition. l

Appo1itional Adjective

Adjectives are called appositional by analogy with nominal modifica r

tion. Close or restrictive appositives, as in "our maid Beatrice" or "the
melting pot New York City" bind their modification, their restatement or
renaming, to the head or principal, just as adjectives are commonly bound
in prenominal positions: "our lazy Beatrice" or "the teeming New York
City." If these adjectives, then, are set off by commas before or after the <
noun to which they add information, they are performing like free apposi \
tives. The sentence below relies on the appositive format three separate
times, branching into appositional adjectives to the left, and, at the center
and the right, into noun phrases of apposition:
No longer instinctive, no longer safe and reliable, the transfer of cul
ture, the whole enterprise of education, had become controversia~
conscious, constructed: a matter of decision, will, and effort.
- Bernard Bailyn, Education in the Forming of American Society, p. 48.
Their dislocation can carry adjectives into the position of sentence opener,
as we saw in left-branching samples in the last chapter, but they are usually
better in medial or terminal slots, where they often work in pairs:



Such a place the Fallen Angels might have built as a spite to Heaven, f
dry and sharp, desolate and dangerous, and for me fiUed with fore-~
-John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley, p. 154.

cA staDding starers, a few village

women, white and scriptural, move, or seem to glide in the quivering
sunlight, serene and unperturbed, about their business.
-Dylan Thomas, The Beach of Falesa, p. 64.



Here the appositive slot becomes a pretext for expansion by simile:


Under the changes of weather it may look like marble or like sea
water, black as slate in the fog, white as tufa in the sunlight.
-Saul Bellow, Seize the Day, p. 5.

Approximating such a sentence on your own will give you a concentrated review of similes and of the concrete diction that gives them life.
L Notice and imitate the like-similes in the main clause and the as-similes in
the adjectival additions. The "it" of this excerpt is left for you to specify
in your imitation, as you write about a large tree in your backyard, a love
affair, the performance of a highly tuned sports car, or tension in a com. munity and its change "under the changes of weather."




Add to the sentence devised for the last exercise another sentence
or two, this time without simile, but entering appositional adjectives in
various interesting, unexpected
. slots, singly or in pairs.



Let's try working with two more abstractions, moving from the abstract to the concrete. ( 1) Serenity. Write about a clear conscience or a
peaceful evening on the deck of a cruise ship, the .quiet of the backyard
at midnight or of the woods newly covered with snow. (2) Grace. Write
about grace, divine or personal, in a single manifestation, a graceful act
or gesture perhaps. Deploy appositional adjectives in more than one position. Do not limit yourself to single words in apposition, but develop each
appositive with as much free material as you can, attached modifiers,
phrases, even dependent clauses, striving for varied rhythms and successful balance.



What is a hero? A hero is a king sacrificed to Hera.

- John Updike, The Centaur, p. 221.

This is a simple question accompanied by a simple answer--displaying

the interrogative in its most direct form. Yet this pure version of questionand-answer is an unusual arrangement for both fictional and nonfictional
What in the world is happening? This is, so to speak, one important
paradigm for the appearance of interrogatives in narrative writing-a
dramatic ploy to heighten suspense, a rhetorical pause while the author
builds anxiety and delays action.
What in the world was happening? Would a squat woman step out
and ask the man to please stop? Would be raise his hand to strike her
and would she retreat?
-Joseph Heller, Catcb-22, p. 424.
Or another example of raised anticipation:
It all seemed to him exceptionally clear. What made it clear? Something at the very end of the line. Was that thing Death?
--Saul Bellow, Herzog, p. 325.





Cast yourself as a story-teller in search of such heightened suspense,

and aim at this effect in a short paragraph of your own. You may wish to
mix st~tement and question like the last sample, perhaps taking something
else "at the end of the line" as your subject, a business failure, love at
second sight, an auto accident on an icy road.




Now transfer this effect to a stretch of nonfiction. Here is a sample

from drama criticism:
Why did a play of the supposedly esoteric avant-garde make so immediate and so deep an impact on an audience of convicts? Because it
confronted them with a situation in some ways analogous to their
-Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, p. xvii.
Wonder aloud like this about a play you've seen recently, about its impact,
or lack of it, on the theater audience.



Here is another model for a passage of your own design:

Is man innocent? Were we in truth created in the image of God? Are
we unique, separate and distinct creatures from animal kind? Did
our bodies evolve from the animal world, but not our souls? Is man
sovereign? Are babies born good? Is the human fault to be explained
successfully in terms of environment? Is man innately noble?
-Robert Ardrey, African Genesis, pp. 13-14.
Ask yourself or your readers-the effect is usually the same-not
about man's physical nature or his role in the world, but about his spiritual
destination, about the chance of immortality. Vary your focus and the
levels of abstraction like the professional sample. And vary your sentence
lengths, dropping some kernels into place between longer interrogations.



Did you find yourself answering your own questions? Phrasing an

intended answer in the form of a leading question, one that won't take no
for an answer? Here is what we mean:

Is c:oanp not '""" 3

higher animals only by analogy but not properly? Does this not decide
for the moral against the ontological understanding of courage?
-Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, p. 24.
If you haven't already done so, lodge a couple of these leading questions where you can in the last passage you wrote.


And now the rhetorical question, which M. H . Abrams says "won't

take 'Yes' for an answer'' (A Glossary of Literary Terms, p. 82) . Often
ironic, it is a question that, like the leading question, does not really seek
an answer, only an effect.
The Spaniards, Hemingway adds, are not preoccupied by death. "It
has no fascination for them." Can the writer say as much for himself?
-Maxwell Geismar, Writers in Crisis, p. 57.
Drive home a point of your own with one of these rhetorical questions-about any subject you wish. You might ask ironically about the
justification for some political malpractice or gross failure of taste, about
senatorial bribery or some offensive new piece of architecture.

"You'' Understood
Imperatives are characterized by their personal and unmediated appeal to "you," the reader. Five primary types can be isolated. Discussion
and samples follow, with exercises suggested for eacH type.



Command forms, more important for fiction than for exposition, are
addressed here in internal dialogue by the narrative persona to himself:
Sometimes I thought, but this is your life. Stop fighting it. Stop fighting.
-lames Baldwin, Giovanni's Room, p. I28.
Use such commands in a passage of your own. Set your passage in
your own room, at home, at school, or in an office.



Directives of the following sort are more common in essays and other
nonfiction than in stories or novels:

-Robert Ardrey, African Genesis, p. 254.

Behold, then, the so-far-final result of our magnificent technical
triumphs in the reproductive arts.
-Lewis Mumford, Art and Technics, p. 99.
Notice, in this book, how much a hair-do alone can transform her
in person and in mood.
-Parker Tyler, "The Garbo Image," The Films of Greta Garbo,
pp. 9-10.
Follow either the first or the third, say, and build on the results a
second directive. Imagine or perform an examination of yourself in a mirror
or of Garbo in a photo album, and focus our attention with a directive
or two on some particular feature or expression. Then imagine yourself in
the middle of an essay, faced with a block of material you wish to quote
and wanting to send your readers to a very specific phrase in the center
of it. Fall back on the kind of imperative forms you have just been



Formula or recipe: act and outcome. Here are two:

Call for justice or explanation, and the sea will thunder back its mute
-George Steiner, The Death of Tragedy, p. 6.
Add to these the parade of further commentators and of characters
in positions analogous to Jim's, all made available to us by Marlowe,
and we have a brilliant series of variations upon a theme.
-Murray Krieger, "Afterword," Lord Jim, p. 314.
And there is a class of proverbial sayings phrased this way, "do-this-andthis-follows":
Laugh and the world laughs with you.
Ask no question and you will be told no lies.
Lend your money and lose your friend.

Phrase something this way yourself, manufacturing a proverb on the

spot or just telling us what to do and what will happen in some situation.
Start from scratch, or begin with these words, borrowed from the first
sample: "Call for justice or explanation ..."



Examples follow of the imperative of permission:

Let me change the subject and say ...

-J. D. Salinger, Seymour-An Introduction, p. 108.
Let me put it like this: When you're up in the corner, private enter1
prise can make only an economic appeal to the employee.
-C. Wright Mills, Power, Politics, and People, p. 143.

Put something of your own this way, about power, politics, or people,
and then turn from these first-person permissions to the more common firstperson plural imperatives, related to Latin's hortatory subjunctive and
called here the imperatives of invitation or exhortation:
Let us turn for a moment to a brief survey of the conditions of modern
-Richard M. Kain, Fabulous Voyager, p. 8.
With this view of the problem, let us set beside it an analogous case
of conscience in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.
-Dorothy Van Ghent, The English Novel: Form and Function,
p. 117.
An extremely common device in organizing an essay, this sort of imperative is often overworked. You may, in fact, be tempted to practice it all
too often.



Not so, probably, with the less frequent, almost purely rhetorical
imperative, an invitation in third person related also to the Latin subjunctive. It is a sort of plea in a vacuum, a pure disembodied injunction
like the biblical "Let there be light." It enters both fiction and nonfiction:
Let him look at it- his beach, perverted now to the tastes of the
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night, p. 280.
Let the poets and their defenders, he says, refute it if they can, and J
we shall listen to them with respect.
-Northrop Frye, "Nature and Homer," Fables of Identity,
p. 41.

and the carnation mate

with the cabbage. Let the swallow build in the drawing room . . .
-Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, p. 208.
Experiment with the stylistic elevation this can bring. Seize the first
three nouns that come into your head, making at least one a proper name,
and "let them" do something appropriate.

Sometimes exclamation is simply a matter of inversion, of reversed

stress and new emphasis, with punctuation not needed to convey the exclamatory feel:
He thought: How beautiful she is.
-Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter, p. 14.
Sometimes punctuation alone must lend the emotional edge:
"Nought nowhere was never reached"-a ludicrous, but surprisingly
pertinent, use of the triple negative!
-Richard M. Kain, Fabulous Voyager, p. 235.
After which, I add on behalf of the rest of us, it might be conceivable
to rediscover validly the artifices of language and literature-such farout notions as grammar, punctuation ... even characterization! Even
-John Barth, "The Literature of Exhaustion," The Atlantic,
August 1967, p. 31.



Most often, of course, inversion and the exclamation point work

together. Have them do so in a brief exclamatory passage taking its subject from the last two titles. Write about exhaustion after a fabulous voyage.
Was this as easy as it looked? Did you have any trouble fitting the
assigned grammar to the suggested topic? Is there anything about the
exclamatory mode that would offer itself sooner to a passage about exhilaration than to one about exhaustion? If you found this so, do you think
this quality has anything to do with the common characteristics of the three
modes treated in this chapter?

The Writer's Voice

Here we are not talking about syntax, but about rhetoric-about
emotional levels, not about structural divisions and patterns. There is some-


a quesdou

. a

"command" given in any of its forms (with ''you" or "us" stated or understood), and about an exclamation made (with the personal "I" of the
speaker, his own emotion, a felt element)-there is something about all
these structures that suggests a speaking voice immediately involved with
what is being said, a writer engaged and committed, and intending in one
way or another to engage and commit his reader.
And this calls to mind another topic, grammatical but mainly rhetorical, one that might have been discussed as a coda for the chapter on noun
phrases. This is the question of which pronouns should substitute for nouns,
and it involves primarily the question of first person singular and plural.
Students are often mistakenly taught to avoid both. It becomes an escape
from direct responsibility, from self-commitment, and a dangerous retreat
into some bad stylistic habits. Evasions of the first person singular bring
too many artificial "we's" and other less attractive forms, the whole mauling battery of "one's" and "he who's." Escapes from the first person
altogether can also become fatal excursions into the anonymous wasteland
of the impersonal passive, the realm of " It is demonstrable that ... " and
"It was asserted earlier that . ..." These evasions can bring writers afraid
to say "I" to a dead end like this, reached by an undergraduate in an English essay:
. . . but if one finds oneself rereading with weariness what one
perused with gusto a few years earlier in Joseph Andrews or Tom
Jones, and if one's inclinations are such that one found Vanity Fair
completely unconscionable the first time around, one can probably
attribute the dissatisfaction to two sources . . . .
Too many "l's," too many wallowings in the confessional or selfcongratulatory tones of the first person, quickly grow self-indulgent. But
no one is indulged or gratified by too few, any more than by the loss of
that interest that comes naturally with persons and personalities, and for
which there is no substitute. No easy answer is available, no quick and
surefire method for mastering the judicious use of first person. Good habits
in this respect form slowly. Examples are their spur. And essays, nonfictional writings of all kinds, are the real proving ground:
Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the
privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the
wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves
are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading J
great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.
Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but
it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, in

I do.

-C. S. Lewis, "Epilogue,'' An Experiment in Criticism, final



Study Lewis' perfect curve from third person to first person plural,
from straightforward comment to general involvement, and then on to the
striking release of the "I" at the exact moment of personal transcendence,
the rising out of plurality into personality, the escape from "sub-individuality" that literature allows.
Record a similar arc of experience for practice in the capacities of
"I." You might write of your charging ahead in a track or swimming event,
first into the lead group, then into lone domination and single victory. Or
work it backwards, in an experience of that "mass emotion" Lewis mentions. Describe a fleeting sense of identification with some performer on
stage, a ballerina or popular singer, perhaps an evangelist, followed by the
drift back into collective appreciation, with yourself as merely a part of
the audience or congregation.
This is hard-and as an exercise, a bit contrived. Just be ready to
do something like it when the occasion asks. Right now, some practice in
using the first person to avoid impersonal passives is just around the comer.


The Passive

A passive is a kind of transformation that is also an inversion. It is a

transitive pattern (subject plus verb plus object) in reverse, a transformation that inverts subject and object and then must patch things up between
them so that another kind of sentence gets built. Here are three unwritten
active "sources" accompanying their published passive forms:
Strange hallucinations tormented me. --+
I was tormented by strange hallucinations.

-Vladimir Nabokov, "Terra Incognita," Nabokov's Congeries,

p. 9I.
Being kind makes us kind. --+
We are made kind by being kind.
-Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind, p. 77.
The solid shape of a snore interrupted the pictures. --+
The pictures were interrupted by the solid shape of a snore.
-William Golding, Pincher Martin, p. 30.



In a quick drill, remodel some active sentences of your own in this

way, watching as the subject becomes an object of the preposition bythe agent in a phrase of agency. Sometimes the agent is accompanied by
a phrase of instrument, usually a with~ phrase:
He was then received into the convent by the brethren with the kiss
of peace and again admonished by the prior with the words . . .
- Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand, p. 27.



And sometimes the agent itself is understood or unimportant, sometimes even unknown. In such cases, only the passive voice would permit an
economical treatment:
A warning should be posted, at this point, as to chronology.
- John Hersey, The Algiers Motel Incident, p. 264.
The town was occupied, the defender defeated, and the war finished.
-John Steinbeck, The Moon Is Down, p. 11.
More about this later. For now, practice a few passives with unstated
agents, with and without a phrase of instrument.

Reasons for Using the Passive

Knowing what the passive is, we now approach the other main question: why? In what situations and for what purposes should the passive
be called into service? Economy was just mentioned, the capacity for sidestepping unneeded or unknown subjects. More important reasons, or less
automatic ones, follow: (1) emphasis, (2) ease of modification, (3) transition and cohesion, ( 4) parallelism, involving the continuous focus on the
same subject from different angles, and ( 5) meaning itself, the thematic
relevance of the passive voic<?.


"This last emphasized word" is the first thing stressed in the following sentence, the subject from which the passive syntax itself then veers
This last emphasized word was oddly veered away from, as if the
stress on it hadn't been fully intended.
-1. D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey, p. 194.
This emphasis makes good sense, and is also urged by factors of economy
-since, again, the agent is understood and any active formulation would
use it redundantly as its subject.
Next, the description of a facial emphasis or accentuation calls on
the restructured emphasis of passive transforms:
The thinness of his lips was emphasized by a narrow line of dark
moustache. . . . The general gauntness of his looks was accentuated

--George Woodcock, The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George
Orwell, p. 3.
Next, a witty sentence is made possible by saving the punch line till
last in a passive arrangement:
, Hemingway's short stories and novels are concerned with the fundamentals of life, such as death.
-Richard Armour, American Lit Relit, p. 152.

And final emphasis in the next sample stresses a contrast in the

passage between the quiet, straightforward "said" and the hubbub of loud
Do not worry about making your characters shout, intone, exclaim,
remark, shriek, reason, holler, or any such thing, unless they are
doing it for a reason. All remarks can be said.
-Shirley Jackson, "Notes for a Young Writer," Come Along
with Me, p. 239.
The author warns you away from the verbs in her catalogue, but what
she suggests is only a general rule. Assume you have a reason for doing it,
and choose one of these verbs for practice in passives for emphasis, sending your major stress toward the phrase of agent, or beyond it to a phrase
. was intoned by
of manner or accompaniment. For example: "
_ _ _ (with
) ." Build into your sentence as much compelling
logic for its order as you can. This is, of course, working backwards from
means to motive, from syntax to idea, but it is good practice.



Now take your practice sentence and elaborate part of it with a good
deal of bound or free modification, a long relative clause, for instance, or
a participial phrase.
Which end of the sentence did you find yourself enlarging, subject or
agent? We are, of course, edging into the second main use of the passive,
its ability to rearrange ideas for ease of modification. The general point is
made for us if you found it easier to modify to the right than to embed
a clause or heavy phrase after the subject. For it is usually when the agent
needs considerable expansion that the passive is used.



Conceive an action to be depicted in which the agent is most important, at least most in need of modification. Produce a sentence about
expression in America, some particular form of it. Write about the voice
of conservatism, of Pop art, of underground movies, expressions of protest, artistic expression in rock music or campus journalism, expression as
political rhetoric or as slang, as a unifying or divisive force.


We have seen that the passive construction, by moving the agent to

the end of the base clause, allows room for extensive modification of the
agent. In addition, this shift allows space for the writer to Hst more than
one agent, if he wishes. The writer in the example below names two agents,
but he might have expanded the list:
We live in an age of adjustment when the individual is forced into
group modes and preferences- either by authority or popular vote.
-Clark Moustakas, Creativity and Conformity, p. 18.
Add a series of agents to those in the sentence above: " . . . by
authority or by popular vote, or by . . ."



Now add to your last production another sentence using as its subject the last in the string of previous agents, or some clear renaming of it.
What you should notice here is the value of the passive for transition and
Here is a variant professional example, where the quick link is not
between some noun phrase as agent and the same noun phrase as subject,
but between the last noun in the phrase of agency and the same word as a
verb in the next sentence, itself a passive form:

And whether it be genuine disgust, joy, grief, pity, shame or desireit is accompanied by a vague sense of gratification. We are gratified
by the discovery that we are not all sham and show, that there are
elements in our inner make-up as organically our own as the color
of our eyes and the shape of our nose.
- Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind, p. 11 S.

Notice, too, the double purpose served by the second passive, as it not only
moves neatly out of the first sentence but allows its own major stretch of
dependent material to move smoothly out from its own main clause.


But concentrate now on the passive as it fosters neat transition, writing a pair of sentences not about "gratification" this time, but about "disgust, joy, grief, pity, shame or desire" in some given situation. Tie the
agent of your first sentence, or some element further along in its modification, to the subject of your second. If your second sentence is itself passive,
with a stated agent, you can repeat this link to yet a third .



A different, almost an opposite, reason for using the passive, for

another sort of cohesion, is demonstrated below as the passive is used to
sustain the same subject across two sentences of very different actionfor parallelism rather than close, pivotal transition:
You see, books had been happening to me. Now the books were
cast off back there somewhere in the churn of spray and night behind
the propeller.
- The Langston Hughes Reader, p. 317.
And again, at greater length, the passive allows the same subject to receive
a protracted examination:
I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted
Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms.
I am a man of substance, of fiesh and bone, fiber and liquids-and
I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand,
simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you
see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.
-Ralph Ellison, "Prologue," Invisible Man, opening lines.

Write a paragraph something like this, in the third person, about some
friend, enemy, or acquaintance as if he or she were a character in a novel
or story. Try for some powerful effects. If either of you needs protecting,
disguise your "character" with a pronoun or a changed name, but keep
him or her as the subject of each of your sentences as you vary your predi-

Cldiclll as much as possible. Use the passive to do this, at least once or twice.
Identify and define your character with equative clauses; describe him with
linking patterns. Portray the character in relationship with others, acting
and being acted on, the latter via the passive. T ry some passive form s with
unstated agents, actions upon your character by unknown actors-perhaps
heightening suspense or suggesting impersonality.



In following that final instruction above, you will be working the

passive for its thematic contributions, turning the very nature of "passivity"
to stylistic account. Here is a writer analyzing, with implicit moral evaluation, the contrast between active and passive violence, between killer and
It is men tormenting and killing a bull; it is a bull being tormented
and killed.
- Max Eastman, Art and the Life of Action, p. 90.
Look at both sides of the coin in this striking way. Attempt a contrast
that will also carry tacit judgment. Write about victims of a plague in the
Middle Ages, say; about sufferers from modern economic injustice; about
prisoners in a concentration camp; about urban dwellers jostled by hectic
mechanization; about buffalo hunting or middle-class moral and political
complacency--or anything else you think you can handle in this unique
way, on the above model.
Now study another example:

In New York, I should die of stimulus. In Boston, I should be soothed

to death.
-Van Wyck Brooks, A Chilmark Miscellany, p. 9.



With this in mind, find a topic in the contrast of Eastman's title. Compare stimulation and passive relaxation; draw a contrast between reading
and direct sense experience, for instance. Follow Brooks as a model.



Also analyze in this way the effect of two different art forms, avantgarde theater against lyric poetry, maybe, or two kinds of story opposite
in tone and impact. Follow either Eastman or Brooks.



Next, try working such an antithesis, such a juxtaposition of the

dynamic and the static, the loud and the quiet, the active and the passive
into the course of a single sentence. Watch this sentence, for instance,
climax in a passive:
They sailed and trailed and flew and raced and crawled and walked
and were carried, finally, home.
-John Knowles, Indian Summer, p. 4.
For this exercise, imagine a series of events exhausting themselves into
passivity, like the hunting down of an escaped convict or the eventual
withering of a pampered rosebush. Or, alternately, write about events
finally rousing themselves into energy and automation, like the slow, ponderous rise of an enormous rocket toward its first burst of speed and full
power, or a shy, quiet child finally provoked by a bully into retaliation.



Here is another contrast of active and passive forms- the same form,
in fact, starting as a passive and becoming reflexive as it acts on itself:
We do not know how our language will be redesigned-that is
emended or corrected; redesigned it must be, and if left to itself
it will redesign itself, however slowly.
-Joshua Whatmough, "Language and Life," Language: A
Modern Synthesis, p. 239.
Forge a sentence or two like this about some other threatened action
finally self-performed, about punishment and correction, say, or esteem
and praise.




Here is a more extended study of passivity itself, of the child as object,

in a discussion of Oliver Twist:
Being a child, he is naturally helpless; everything seems done to him
and for him, and almost nothing is done by him. When he is adopted
by Mr. Brownlow his workhouse clothes are removed and he is

4n!aed m tbe dodw:s of a young gentleman, and when he is recaptured by the thieves they promptly strip hlm of hls new suit and give
him back his old clothes. He is active in the way that a ball batted
back and forth between opposing sides is active: he is moved through
-Steven Marcus, Dickens: From Pickwick to Dombey, pp. 79-

And here is Norman Mailer's analysis of men as objects, the American
astronauts as "passive bodies":
The heart pressure, the brain waves, the bowel movements of
astronauts were of national interest. They were virile men, they were
prodded, probed, tapped into, poked, flexed, tested, subjected to a
pharmacology of stimulants, depressants, diuretics, laxatives, retentives, tranquilizers, motion sickness pills, antibiotics, vitamins and
food which was designed to control the character of their feces. They
were virile, but they were done to, they were done to like no healthy
man alive.
-Norman Mailer, "Psychology of Astronauts," Life, November 14, 1969, p. 63.
In each of the preceding samples, examine the density of passive
forms, the saturation of outside agency, and then write a paragraph of
your own about such subjection, such dehumanization. Treat yourself or
someone else as a passive object, perhaps in the office of an unreasonable
employer, in the classroom of a domineering teacher, on a hospital bed
under sedation and intensive sterile care, at the mercy of the bantering
attacks of some tasteless jokester at a party.



Sometimes the source or agency is properly anonymous-general, unspecified, insidious because impersonal. Below, all that is known about the
agency is negative: We are told what is not the ordering principle. Only
the second clause fills in the phrase of agency:
Whatever else it may be ordered by, it is not ordered by intensity.
-Mark Van Doren, The Noble Voice, p. 231.
This is intended, of course, and right. When agents are in fact missing or mysterious, secret or merely unrevealed, they should appear so
grammatically. Here is a statement of unspecified beneficence, the gift of
revelation :

I agree
a poem pii!Mei
off. Real ones appear unexpectedly, and always at a time when the
poet is in a so-called state of grace: which means a clear mind, tense
heart, and no worries about fame, money, or other people, but only
the excitement of a unique revelation about to be given.
-Robert Graves, "Introduction," Selected Poems of Robert
Frost, p. x.

Write about some undisclosed or mysterious agency, divine grace or

an unannounced benefactor, some absent power, and mirror the unspoken
in your passive syntax.

The Passive as a Stylistic Liability

It is only when a passive is used to mask rather than to mirror the
facts that it becomes a stylistic liability. Only then is the widespread case
against the passive justifiable-but this is only too often. Even a judicious
critic like George Orwell includes in hls half-dozen rules to rely on when
instinct fails: "Never use the passive when you can use the active" ("Poli- '
tics and the English Language," Shooting An Elephant and Other Essays).
In official pronouncements, governmental or academic, in student papers
and poor expository writing of the "It has been shown that ..." school,
the impersonal passive is often a means of dodging responsibility-sometimes understandably-by naming no names and protecting everyone but
the reader, who inevitably suffers. This dark side of the passive transformation has been mapped out and attacked at some length in the main
text of Grammar as Style. A few warning samples must do here, the first
an authentic snippet of officialese, institutional or consensus prose, and
the second, though by a private hand, sounding unhealthily like the former:
This is to inform you officially that at your oral examination on
Friday, October 17, it was voted that you passed.
- English Department communication.
It may possibly be thought strange that more has not been said in
this book about the modem, very powerful techniques- various forms
of chromatography and spectrometry, for example--now being increasingly applied, together with useful methods of statistical analysis,
by a growing number of investigators to the study of olfaction. The
value of all these procedures should certainly not be underestimated.
-William McCartney, Olfaction and Odours: An Osphresiological Essay, p. 190.

illqJeniOIUII, nests of passives and the

prepositions their agents and instruments require can make for lumpy and
unattractive prose:
Her significance as a goddess was underlined by the presence of a
bunch of flax placed upon the heap of stones under which she was
preserved in the bog water when not needed for feast days.
-P. V. Glob, The Bog People, translated from the Danish by
Rupert Bruce-Mitford, p. 180.



The resourcefulness of student writers in obscuring and avoiding

parallels is boundless.
-W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., The Prose Style of Samuel Johnson, p. vii.
The professor's tongue is in cheek, of course, for be deplores this
resourcefulness. His hope, in fact, is that repeated bead-on encounters
with the sentences of such a master as Johnson will inspire students to use
such humble props, such stylistic crutches as balance and rhythm, parallelism and antithesis-the mainstays of truly resourceful writing, in all its
stamina and agility. H ere, without irony, is Wimsatt's statement of the
problem: "Not to relax or soften any too stiff gridwork of antithetic parallels, but to uncover and tease out into open existence the bashfully disguised intimations of any such pattern at all, is one of the most frequent
corrective jobs of the teacher of composition today."

" Faulty" Parallelism for Humor or Emphasis

We shall begin by looking at a phenomenon far more fun to play
with than important to analyze. Distinctions are technically made between
types of trick parallelism and called zeugma and syllepsis. All we need to
know is the nature of the game:
Look up!
Look down!
Look out!
-Advertisement for a lames Bond film.
The author of the copy was trying to catch our eye by using the same
word in brazenly different ways-for a faulty parallelism in which two parts
are to be taken literally, as injunctions to look around, and the third to be
taken metaphorically, an idiomatic warning to be on guard.



See if you can come up with something like this.

One of television's continental butlers may urge the viewing housewife to "set the table and the mood" with the product he is pushing; this
is for jokes, puns, and slogans. Normal deference to grammar's restraints
prevents such artless broken parallelism as "Looking quite down and out
and to his left to assure that no one was there or approaching, be ran
down the street and out of breath." Trick parallelism can be catchy, as
in the motto "Make love not war." But good writers employ it only for
special effects, usually humorous:
To get out of it, they go to the movie, or to a bar, or read a book,
or go to sleep, or turn on T.V. or a girl, or make a resolution or quit
a job.
- Arthur Miller, "The Bored and the Violent," Harper's, November 1962.


Give it another try, just for fun.




A second kind of "faulty" parallelism, this time unabashed, making

no attempt to pass itself off as the real thing or as humor, is the broken
or sprung series, often working for a selective emphasis:
She is alternately gamin-like, sexy, mischievous, innocent, confident,
insouciant, girlish, and radiating warmth.
-Hollywood Bowl program, An Evening with Barbra Streisand,
July 9, 1967.
Since it veers off from the adjective series, the participial phrase "radiating
warmth" itself radiates its own meaning most clearly.
Attempt this in reverse, seeing if the same stress can fall on a standard
adjective as the last odd link in a chain of participles; then try another
-ing form, a gerund, at the end of a noun catalogue.

These broken parallels tamper with expected content, of course, but

they also adjust what we call prose rhythm, one of the best definitions of
which is Ezra Pound's:

Rhythm is form cut into TIME, as a design is determined SPACE.

- Ezra Pound, The ABC of Reading, p. 198.

In other words, prose rhythm results from sentences being articulated into
segments--a discovery made only in motion, only when reading a sentence
through. Parallelism is a regularization of that rhythm. When a series, for
instance, sets a definite pace, only to have it arrested by a change in
grammar, rhythm is naturally affected. So, too, rhythm is necessarily altered
when some grammatical item syncopates out altogether. This is ellipsis.
It figures here in another critic's discussion of prose rhythm, in the third
segment's omission of the understood verb:

Everything must depend on the required emphasis, and the emphasis is secured by the rhythm, and the rhythm by the necessities of
-Herbert Read, "The Sentence," English Prose Style, p. 41.
Ellipsis works only because parallelism prepares us to fill in what is
missing, or prevents us from really missing it at all. Here are some elliptical
sequences, with the element to be removed italicized where it appears:
For love is stronger than hate, and peace than war.
-Bradford Smith, A Dangerous Freedom, p. 362.
The walls of the town, which is built on a hill, are high, the streets
and lanes tortuous and broken, the roads winding.
-Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano, p. 3.
For all the persons with whom I have been concerned got what they
wanted: Elliott social eminence; Isabel an assured position backed
by a substantial fortune in an active and cultured community; Gray
a steady and lucrative job, with an office to go to from nine till six
every day; Suzanne Rouvier security; Sophie death; and Larry hap
-W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge, p. 343.


For practice in dropping out repeating verbs like those in the samples,
write about the direction and flight of the balls as a foursome drives on
the first tee, or the pet peeves or irritating habits of members of your
family. In each assignment, write several sentences, all parallel, and then
see what variety you can achieve in phasing out reiterated units. Scrutinize
the different rhythms you begin with, and the results of your ellipses. Perhaps you may wish to read your work aloud to get a better feel for its




The last exercise was designed primarily to familiarize you with parallelism and its many rhythms, a first limited survey. Selective deletion has
many ramifications, for it can act as a control or timer for the rhythm of
a sentence not really elliptical. Below, for example, is a dull, thoughtlessly
parallel series of hesitant adjectives qualified by "rather." The author himself,. with rhythm in mind, did it differently. But here is the unredeemed
There was something rather "doggy," rather smart, rather acute,
rather shrewd, rather warm, rather contemptible about him.
Rewrite this yourself to break the monotony, sometimes repeating
more, sometimes less. Check the key at the end of the chapter to see how
D. H. Lawrence handled it.




Follow the same procedure with the next hulking series, trying anything to breathe some life into the bland uniformity of the rhythm :
The chief occasions were those of the investiture of an heir, of marriage, of acquisition of r~ligious powers, of demonstration of religious
powers, of mourning, of warfare, of accident.
Condense, contract, compound-wherever you can.




The next assignment is more complicated. What follows is not just

another parallel series, but a larger pattern of descriptive contrasts that the
author thought would be more effective in a rather loose and casual arrangement than in methodical antitheses contained by austere parallelism. Try
to think of as many ways as possible by which the rigidity of the structll{es
can be altered, eased- especially by dropping unnecessary repetitions and
by shifting the syntactic order of the contrasts. Rewrite the sentences in
the way that seems most pleasing to you of all the possibilities you come
up with:

Or consider Mr. Ramsay: he is a self-dramatizing domestic tyrant,

yet he is also admirable as a lone watcher at the frontiers of human

' yet
a::;utheless craves the creative contact of wife and children; be is grim,
yet he is optimistic; he is austere, yet he is fearful for his reputation;
he is petty and selfish, yet he is capable of losing himself completely
in a novel by Scott; he is aloof, yet he thrives on the simple company
and fare of humble fishermen.



When you have finished the preceding exercise, look at the key at the
end of the chapter to see how the author actually wrote it. The passage is
from an article on Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse. Write a passage of your own now on a character in your favorite novel, or perhaps
a thorough description of a lighthouse, as if from a novel. Or describe a
church, a store front, or a beach scene. Do this after your practice in
reshaping the example. Employ the techniques you have mastered there
for finding and keeping the rhythms you need. Call upon ellipsis, broken
series, compounding, anything else that will make itself available. But do
not simply crank out a made-to-order parallelism. Make it seem generated
by your ideas themselves- a feat not always feasible. Open a newspaper
or a book, fiction or nonfiction, looking for passages that are not ordered
by parallelism and that would be the victims rather than the beneficiaries
of any rewriting. You should be able to find some easily. What kind of
subject matter would seem to be at odds with the control, often the selfconscious clarity and precision that parallelism entails? Would a determined frame of parallelism and exact balance tend to be of more assistance
in the description of a horseshow or a stampede, for instance, a parade or
a riot?

Paired Constructiom
In retrieving some of the previous sentences from their parallel ruts,
or in writing your own original passage, you may have discovered for yourself the invaluable services of tight compounding, of pairing off your ideas
into grammatical blocks of sharp and unmistakable rhythms. Again we
tum to Herbert Read for statement as demonstration:
The danger with all long and complex sentences is that they may not
balance. . . . There is a want of proportion between the subject and
the predicate, or between either of these and the verb--not so much
a proportion of sense, which would result in humour, but a proportion of structure, the simple against the complicated, the devious
against the direct.
-Herbert Read, "The Sentence," English Prose Style, p. 46.


structwal balance and proportion in the sentence, Read

narrows his own grammatical proportions into a more obvious balance as

he goes to a neat climax in antithetical pairs. Here are some more of these
close contrastive patterns, in company with pairings more arbitrary but
equally rhythmic; notice the difference:
Moving from the known to the unknown, proceeding as we must from
Ught toward dark, and into the wild and watery, the untried and
unshored, it is noteworthy that we start on Christmas Day.
-Harry Levin, The Power of Blackness, p. 204.
What rejoiced his heart was the drama of elemental reality: the clash
and the balance, the violence and the evanescence that are evident
in the minds and actions of mankind as they are in landscape and
-Monroe Wheeler, "Turner," Look, April5, 1966, p. 46.




The next excerpts are deliberately jumbled up to spoil the author's

intended antitheses and to give you practice in drawing them out for
yourself. Reshape them in order to redefine the contrasts, and look for
the originals at the end of the chapter:
a. Like nature the whale is paradoxically benign and nourishing,
malevolent and destructive.
b. Thus, beneath the complex of ribaldry, sentiment, blasphemy,
mockery, aspiration, and tenderness, so strangely compounded,
there lies a deeper purpose.
c. At once superstitious, passionate, scientific, rational, political,
practical, visionary, and apolitical, Aziz is continually at war with



Now, having checked the key against your corrected results, try some
of the balanced rhythms on your own. Choose three or four pairs of approximate antonyms from the list of verbs and nouns and adjectives below,
letting any of them suggest others to you, and allowing yourself to move
away from straight antithesis into the more arbitrary pairs-of synonyms
maybe, or of related words. See how much you can mold into a single
continuous thought, one large rhythmic sentence on a subject growing out

d...:se peus
11 taudam, but DOtice
how some sets gravitate naturally to one given pak rather than another:

sympathy, antipathy
compensation, taxation
to strengthen, to pulverize
honorable, disreputable
insipid, pungent
enmity, amity
credit, debt
loquacious, laconic
elastic, rigid
converse, soliloquize

aggravate, soothe
firm, pliable
need, satiety
publicity, seclusion
stammering, articulate
addition, deduction
deodorized, fragrant
ascetic, intemperate
discontent, complacent
courtesy, impudence

You need not limit yourself to these forms; make nouns from verbs, for
instance, if you need them for your parallels.


Stepping back from these tightly drawn pairs and their rapid alternations, we begin to observe larger parallel spans- and should begin to
master them. Here is a repeating series of attacks on a supposed architectural affront to life in Manhattan :
If that approval is granted, New York will see one more capitulation to what Breuer calls "economic imperatives"; one more victory
for real estate interests to whom human beings are for burrowing,
not breathing; one more building stuffed into the midtown area
already as tight as a jammed-up file; one more blow against what
Breuer himself dismisses as "urbanistic sentimentality," but others
call intelligent, imaginative, courageous and humane city planning.
-Emily Genauer, "Skyscraper a Blockbuster of Controversy,"
L.A. Times Calendar, July 7, 1968, p. 9.

Write a paragraph about another pressing and even more general

problem in modem life, about the evils of air and water pollution. Model
your exercise on the insistent, reiterated parallels above and their strong
rhetorical force, or on a looser, successive development, here in a line of
John Dalton lived from 1766 to 1844, growing up in a part of
England which saw the Industrial Revolution changing every man's
life, picking up as his first science the vestiges of the 17th-century
scientific revolution, living on to see the beginning of the modem
concern for science as a responsibility of the makers of public policy.
- Frank Greenaway, John Dalton and the Atom, p. 1.

Write about the history of pollution, its present and growing dangers, its
future threat. Vary your grammar as you evaluate your theme.

Heavy Repetition
Many other parallel arrangements can be employed in putting together
a paragraph. Below a heavy repetition, for instance, sets the determined,
durable tone in meaning and grammar:
The vision of science may go unappreciated, but it is there. It
may be reduced by a plodding soul to mere dots on a photographic
plate, but it is there. It may be drained of juice and pounded into
fiat phrases, but it is there.
- Isaac Asimov, From Earth to Heaven, p. vii.

Abrupt Shift
And in the next two passages, an established parallelism is broken
at the end for an arresting fix on the climax or main point of the paragraph:
According to the Almanac, Mae West was born in 1893. According to Mae West, Mae West is 28 years old. The Almanac lies.
-Burt Prelutsky, "At Home with Mae West," West Magazine,
Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1968, p. 4.
The man who thus called upon a saint was later to repudiate
the cult of the saints. He who vowed to become a monk was later
to renounce monasticism. A loyal son of the Catholic Olurch, he
was later to shatter the structure of medieval Catholicism. A devoted
servant of the pope, he was later to identify the popes with Antichrist. For this young man was Martin Luther.
- Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther,
p. 15.


Your last assignment, the sentences on pollution, was addressed to

one of the major concerns of modern urban living. It is now time to expand
on this theme, using some of the special sorts of parallelism just looked at
-pressing relentlessly at the grammatical repetitions or breaking their
patterns for startling emphasis. Move out from the central subject of pollution to write several paragraphs discussing modem life at large and its
problems, such things as the population explosion, traffic and other con-

gestion, poverty, violence, alienation and neurosis, political disenchantment,

anything you think important. You may want to use "pollution" as a metaphor or a symptom of even broader troubles, or, optimistically, perhaps
to contrast it with the challenge and exhilaration of modernity. Use all
kinds of parallelism, arbitrary and antithetical pairs and any larger patterns
you can manipulate, compounding, subordinating, elaborating with rhythm
in mind at all times. There is no more important topic in the entire book
than parallelism, and no amount of practice with it can be too much.
If you feel really ambitious, you may want to try incorporating a true
parallel showpiece like this:


The living experience of a play, as of a novel, as of a piece of music,

is a river of feeling within us which flows, now fast, now slow, now
placidly between broad banks, now in a torrent between narrow ones,
now down a slope, now over rapids, now cascading in a waterfall,
now halted by a dam, now debouching into an ocean.
- Eric Bentley, The Life of the Drama, p. 3.
In its cascading adverbial series, its rapid cadence of free modifiers designed
to reproduce meaning in grammar, this is a full-scale example of syntactic
symbolism, with the river of feeling within us registered before us in a
syntax now fast and brief, now slowed and expanded. Its development is
highlighted in the right-branching diagram on the next page.

5. There was something rather "doggy," rather smart,

rather acute and shrewd, and something warm, and
something slightly contemptible about him.
-D. H . Lawrence, Sons and Lovers, p. 103.


6. The chief occasions were those of the investiture of an

heir, of marriage, and of acquisition and demonstration
of religious powers, of mourning, of warfare, and of
-Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture, p. 201.


7. Or consider Mr. Ramsay: be is a self-dramatizing domestic tyrant, yet he is also admirable as a lone watcher
at the frontiers of human ignorance. A detached and
lonely philosopher, he nevertheless craves the creative
contact of wife and children; grim, yet optimistic; austere, yet fearful for his reputation; petty and selfish, yet
capable of losing himself completely in a novel by Scott;

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aloof, yet he thrives on the simple company and fare

of humble fishermen.
-Norman Friedman, "The Waters of Annihilation: Double Vision in To the Lighthouse," A
Journal of English Literary History, Vol. XXII,
p. 64.


9. a. Like nature the whale is paradoxically benign and

malevolent, nourishing and destructive
-Richard Chase, The American Novel and Its
Tradition, p. 110.


9. b. Thus, beneath the complex of ribaldry and sentiment. blasphemy and aspiration, mockery and tenderness, so strangely compounded, there lies a deeper
-Richard M. Kain, Fabulous Voyager, p. 241.


9. c. At once superstitious and scientific, passionate and

rational, political and apolitical, practical and visionary, Aziz is continually at war with himself.
-Wilfred Stone, The Cave and the Mountains,
pp. 319-320.


There is a sense in which all cohesion is a kind of parallelism, in the
general sense of an ordered, regular progression in which one thing reminds
us of something before and looks forward to something after. As an introduction to this chapter, then, let us look at two introductions to other
books in which obvious parallelism works together with simple repetitions
and structures of comparison and contrast to bind together separate strands
of meaning. The first is from Hemingway's introduction to Men at War,
with important cohesive items in italics, often key words, phrases, and
whole clauses to be taken up again:

This book will not tell you how to die. Some cheer-leaders of
war can always get out a pamphlet telling the best way to go through
that small but necessary business at the end ....
No. This book will not tell you how to die. This book will tell
you, though, how all men from earliest times we know have fought
and died. So when you have read it you will know that there are no
worse things to be gone through than men have been through before.
Here is our second introduction, with a sparser sort of parallelism:
Coverdale can be equated with Hawthorne in many conspicuous
ways. Both are bachelors and minor authors; they are reclusive and
believe a degree of solitude essential to them. They smoke cigars and
drink wine occasionally, read Carlyle and Fourier, and have special
fondness for fireplaces. Their routine activities are identical, as are
their responses: each takes pride in the physical labor be does but
grows weary of it, in part because it leaves no energy for literary
work. Each first expects to live permanently in the community, but
loses faith in its future and at times looks sardonically back on his
earlier hopefulness.
-Arlin Turner, "Introduction," The Blithedale Romance by
Nathaniel Hawthorne, pp. 13-14.




Imagine yourself the author of a nonfiction book on some favorite

subject of yours, on gardening or football, cooking or statistical analysis,
on bridge or Wagnerian opera, the history of Italian cinema, landscape
painting, the animated cartoon, the history of aviation, twentieth-century
fashion design, the biography of a statesman or inventor. Begin a prologue
or introduction to this imagined volume with several coherent sentences,
sketching your method and the ground you wish to cover, giving a brief
. survey of the ensuing pages in a series of parallels and contrasts that fit
neatly together.




Did you find yourself, in Exercise 1, employing a traditional topic

sentence? A brief one, catchy and to the point? Below are near-kernels in
this capacity, one declarative and the other interrogative, stating and asking
in ways that organize the rest of the paragraph in advance, predeterminiiig
a certain degree of cohesion :

We live in an era of great inventions. Television sets bring distant scenes into our living rooms. Atomic-powered submarines travel
under the polar ice cap. Manned space ships orbit the earth, and
rockets travel to the moon. These inventions, products of human
ingenuity, have transformed the character of daily life in the present,
and will determine in large measure the shape of the future.
- Irving Adler, A New Look at Arithmetic, pp. 3-4.

What is secularization? The Dutch theologian C. A. van Peursen

says it is the deliverance of man "first from religious and then from
metaphysical control over his reason and his language." It is the
loosing of the world from religious and quasi-religious understandings
of itself, the dispelling of all closed world views, the breaking of all
supernatural myths and sacred symbols. It represents what another
observer has called the "defatalization of history," the discovery by
man that he has been left with the world on his hands, that he can
no longer blame fortune or the future for what he does with it. Secularization is man turning his attention away from worlds beyond and
toward this world and this time (saeculum = "this present age").
It is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1944 called "man's coming of age."
-Harvey Cox, The Secular City, pp. 1-2.

one of each, a paragraph entered through such a declarative

topic kernel as "We live in an era of
" and a paragraph with an
interrogative form as opener, each followed by parallel developments,
either elaborations or answers. In the first, write about any characteristic
of our era that interests you, about drug culture, space travel, overpopulation. For the second, ask about spiritualization or colonization or socialization.



Next is a pure equative kernel as opener, then reiterated and confirmed halfway through the paragraph--each time followed by a substantial qualification, as signaled by the contrastive conjunction "but."
Science is investigation. But if it were only investigation, it would
be without fruit, and useless. Henry Cavendish investigated for the
mere fun of the thing, and left the world in ignorance of his most
important discoveries. Our admiration for his genius is tempered by
a certain disapproval; we feel that such a man is selfish and antisocial. Science is investigation; yes. But it is also, and no less essentially, communication. But all communication is literature. In one of
its aspects, then, science is a branch of literature.
-Aldous Huxley, The Olive Tree, p. 56.

Model a paragraph of yours roughly on this example, perhaps even

closing out with a revision of your topic kernel as in the last main clause
above. Begin with an equative clause of definition, another about science,
say, or one about art-as "discovery," as "exploration," as "liberation," as




On this same subject, add to the paragraph just created one modeled
on either of those that follow, the first telescoping its recapitulation of key
terms in series, the second contracting its repetitions to a single word:
The obligation to follow proper procedures, the acceptance of
limits, and the conviction that power was to serve desirable ends have
formed a triangular configuration of forces within which the increase
or decrease of liberty may be assessed. The ultimate criterion is the
capacity of men to act, whether through the coercive instruments of
government or otherwise. The procedures, the limits, and the ends

of their use of power are measures of the extent to which the state
expands their capabilities while still leaving them able to act, if they
wish, through other means.
-Oscar and Mary Handlin, The Dimensions of Liberty, p. 88.

There is much talk of a design in the arras. Some are certain

they see it Some see what they have been told to see. Some remember that they saw it once but have lost it. Some are strengthened by
seeing a pattern wherein the oppressed and the exploited of the earth
are gradually emerging from their bondage. Some find strength in the
conviction that there is nothing to see. Some.
-Thornton Wilder, The Eighth Day, p. 435 .
A. Review of Preceding Topics in Relation to Cohesion

Coming as it does just before the end of the volume, this chapter is
perfectly situated for a wholesale review of the topics that precede it. And
cohesion is the perfect subject for such a review, a syntactic occurrence
in which every grammatical feature studied so far can participate, and
should. You have already recruited kernels and near-kernels (Chapter 2)
for topic sentences. Noun phrases and verb phrases (Chapters 3 and 4)
often figure in parallel developments. So do adjectives (Chapter 5). And
adverbs (Chapter 5) especially, with their variety, mobility, and directional
force, are particularly useful in leading us through large portions of
In front of them was the central valley. Across the valley, on the
next mountain, dark belted pines climbed toward the sky. To the
right, the clustered lights of the village spread thinner, becoming a
line along the valley floor and finally disappearing in the distance.
Beyond either end of the valley there was the faint, far glow of lights
from larger towns.
- Timothy Houghton, The First Season, pp. 75- 76.



Escort us with adverbial material through some varied space, another

sprawling landscape or the social arena of a large cocktail party, anything
from the close-at-hand description of a claustrophobic, cheap hotel room
to a rendering of earth's position in the solar system and organized space

beyood. See if you can miX your locational adverbs with temporal ones,
as in the sample:

Now, as you watched, you saw another man come slipping

through the green trees on the other bank, and then three more.
Then, suddenly, as they were out of sight, came the sharp, sudden
close clatter of_ machine guns. With that sound, all the walking around,
all the dress rehearsal quality of before the battle, was gone. The boys
who had dug shelters for their heads behind the railway bank were
right, and from now on, theirs was the business. From where you
stood, you could see them, well protected, waiting stolidly. Tomo"ow
it would be their tum.
- Hemingway, "Bombing of Tortosa," By-Line: Ernest Hemingway, ed. by William White, pp. 288- 289.
In this respect, as you can see, the part played by prepositions (Chapter 6) in defining adverbial phrases is quite important.

Cohesion by Means of Conjunctions

More important yet is the work of conjunctions and coordination
(Chapter 7) in bringing loose but assured cohesion within and between
the segments of a paragraph:

But he did know that he was hearing again the arrow's thud in
the helpless flesh, and now he was bearing without pain. For death
at the hunt's end did not destroy, it was only an exchange of fleeting
flesh amid life's pennanency. And the fleeting flesh murmured in the
stewpot on the stove, filling the tent with its savory fragrance, and
the new being stirred again under Jacob's hand-this death and living, but without contradiction or negation, a warp and woof of the
same inseparable cloth. For that was the thing the gods had made.
-Fred Bodsworth, The Sparrow's Fall, p. 255.



You began this set of exercises formulating an introduction to an

imaginary volume of nonfiction. Now it is time to write the concluding
paragraphs to an imaginary work of fiction, a novel about freedom fighters
or the Peace Corps, life in Iowa or in Hollywood or on Madison Avenue,
a youth commune, international espionage, piracy in the air, a political
campaign, or a prophetic fable of space colonization. Either the adverbial or the conjunctive development, or a modulation between the two,

should suit your work as it draws itself neatly and sturdily to conclusion.
Use both techniques in two or three final paragraphs.

More Review
In returning to our review, we see that Chapters 8, 9, and 10, in their
treatment of dependent clauses, sentence openers and inversion, and the
branching patterns of free modification, feed into the study of cohesion
in two major ways: (1) In parallelism, as we have already seen, and
(2) in certain special types of linkage practiced already with inversions:
pivotal cohesion of quick, hingelike movements out of one sentence and
. into another. Following is a sample of inversion that brings closer together
the phrases best designed for cohesive transition between the sentences,
here to highlight the contrast between "home" and "peripheral":
But politics was now peripheral. Closer at home was an active social
-Glyndon G. Van Deusen, William Henry Seward, p. 557.
The next excerpt shows a similar motive behind the choice of a leftbranching arrangement, which holds till near the end of the first sentence
the subject "joy," quickly reiterated with a demonstrative at the start of
the next sentence:
Through the vivid contrast between the flight of man down the long
corridors of time, and the eternal, timeless peace of the great mosshung oaks, joy is brought into man's suffering. This joy becomes
many times greater in Warren's most recent masterpiece ...
-William Pratt, The Fugitive Poets, p. 45.
Even closer to its renewal in a second sentence is the predicate-noun
phrase "two mighty symbols" in the passage below, carrying us immediately into their designation in the two following sentences:
In this teeming land, child of modern times, father of the future, where
mankind is hard at work changing everything within sight or sound,
there are two mighty symbols. One is a machine, the bulldozer. The
other is a word, Progress.
-Richard G. Lillard, Eden in Jeopardy, p. 13.
If the left-branches were transplanted to the right of the lead sentence
in either of the last two passages, cohesion would certainly have suffered.
Either branch, of course, could have been a dependent clause working for
the same effect.





Write two passages of your own about fugitives, or about jeopardy,

or about political exiles or high-risk financial dealings. Achieve cohesion
in the first by some kind of strategic inversion and in the second by a rightbranching arrangement. The second half of the assignment, especially, will
take some thought about which element is to provide a link; you may use
some part of a right-branch carried over to a second sentence, or use a
right-branching pattern in the second sentence in order to lceep your subject
near to its first mention in a previous sentence.



Instead of the preposition "through" (in William Pratt's sentence,

p. 128), start a sentence with the subordinator "though," using the leftbranching dependent clause to hold for your main clause something that
will adhere tightly to a second sentence. Use Pratt's sentence as a model.
This time write either about Eden or about poets.

Continuing the Review

To continue with our review of cohesive possibilities, appositives
(Chapter 11), like any other syntactic unit, can unify by parallelism, and
they can also be moved around like the branching patterns just studied
for fast, immediate transitions.
Inte"ogative, imperative, and exclamatory transformations (Chapter
12) can set the tone-personal, direct, committed-for an entire passage,
thus unifying it emotionally. This is not to mention their ability to work
well in parallel sequences or to focus an entire paragraph as a topic sentence, already practiced with the interrogative.
And finally, the concept of parallelism (Chapter 14) needs no further
argument as a contributor to cohesion. As you learn to build up and brace
your sentences, and buttress the natural shape of your ideas with parallel
members, in balanced alignments running from small two- and three-part
modules to major syntactic spans, as you come suddenly into real control
over the capacities of prose rhythm, its stress and counterpoise, you will
find elements of sentence structure working well for you that you had never
dreamed available-working well, and working together-for cohesion.


In this exercise, begin by writing a close descriptive sketch, incorporating sense data at hand. Describe the sight and feel of a nearby
object or scene, its smell, taste, even its sounds, if it bas them. A seashell,
a flower, or a tree will do, or the panorama outside your window. Examine
it, experience it, open your senses to what is there, and jot down the data
your senses offer. Some other suggestions as to subject: a stream, a field,
a path, an alley, a trash can, a telephone booth, a saber saw, a carpet, a
mandolin, a poster, a bubbling pot of chili, a hummingbird, an unmade
bed, the contents of a medicine cabinet, or of a refrigerator. Whatever you
choose, observe it carefully, and record your observations. Then organize
them coherently, in some kind of pattern, moving (if you wish) toward a
central impression or focus. Develop out from it a context, possibly a narrative. You might try moving from the thing you are describing to a person,
and from the person to an action or an event. You may find that you are
on the way to a short story.
If you prefer, instead of working up a description and proceeding
into narration, take on an assignment as a journalist and write a by-line
or feature article, reporting on some aspect of the physical and cultural
growth of a city with which you are familiar, perhaps your hometown.
Or write about a candidate for a local election, or the local choice for
Man or Woman of the Year. Experiment with all types of cohesion, deciding for yourself which types seem more appropriate to a piece of short
fiction, and which to a newspaper feature story.


Syntactic Symbolism:
Grammar as Analogue

The sentence below is an unusually clear-cut sample of grammar as

demonstration, of meaning not only held in content but mirrored in structure. Here content is itself about structure, as Schopenhauer launches an
attack on jerky, quasi-parenthetical interruptions in modern prose style:
It consists in-it is advisable to give rule and example, wherever it is
possible-breaking up one phrase in order to glue in another.
-Arthur Schopenhauer, "On Style," The Works of Schopenhauer, p. 521 .

The sentence breaks itself up to display the sort of interruptions it criticizes. Below, "rule and example" are again simultaneous. Listen to this
sentence about "bearing sentences," as we bear suddenly about suddenness:

Consider an ambiguous utterance: I dislike playing cards, for example.

Encouraged to take it as an example of an ambiguous utterance
(which means, in particular, not being given any context for it), you
will hear it first as one sentence, then as another--suddenly.
- 1. P. Thorne, "On Hearing Sentences," Psycbolinguistic
Papers, ed. by J. Lyons and R. I. Wales, p. 5.
We hear this sentence; that is the point. Not the spotty black-andwhite areas blocked out before us on a page, but those individual units we
come to one after another as words, phrases, clauses silently pronounced
or read aloud- this is syntax affecting us as sequence, an essential condition of grammar as style. It is grammar as the organization of related
verbal actions not exactly the same as the sequence ol meanings they convey. But when grammar as style refines itself bact in the direction of










.... I"'"



ing. This is syntactic symbolism. In ordinary semantic symbolism, as we

know it in novels and poems, we meet a sophisticated and oblique form
of meaning in which apparent meaning is a metaphor for something else.
At one remove, syntactic symbolism results from grammar as an analogue
of meaning, from the action of syntax as a structural metaphor for the
described action. We are talking about what happens when the dr~a of
syntax, its expectations, preparations, waits, and climaxes, actually plays
out with powerful correspondence the drama of meaning. This is what
we mean by syntactic symbolism. It is grammar as enactment.
It is read, and it is rhythmic. Grammar acts out meaning, using its
rhythms as reproductions of content. This is the last refinement in the gen eral art of sentence making.
Now sentence making is a wonderful art. For people of literary sensibility (you and me) every piece of prose, whether history or essay or
fiction or conversation or argument, runs as a sort of tune, with not
only the rhythm of the single words and phrases, but the march and
time of the whole.
-Stephen Leacock, "The Complete Thought Called a Sentence," How to Write, p. 65.
The sentence is a tune, a composition of sounds registering in a row. The
same sort of musical analogy appears in a discussion by Ezra Pound that
comes very close to a description of syntactic symbolism:
You wish to communicate ari idea and its concomitant emotions,
or an emotion and its concomitant ideas, or a sensation and its derivative emotions, or an impression that is emotive, etc., etc., etc. You
begin with the yeowl and the bark, and you develop into the dance
and into music, and into music with words, and finally into words
with music, and finally into words with a vague adumbration of music,
words suggestive of music, words measured, or words in a rhythm
that preserves some accurate trait of the emotive impression, or of
the sheer character of the fostering of parental emotion.
-Ezra Pound, uThe Serious Artist," Literary Essays of Ezra
Pound, p. 51.
Words "in a rhythm that preserves some accurate trait of the emotive
impression" are indeed the ingredients of a "symbolic" grammar, words
measured into meaning and rhythm, lyrics and music, marching to a perfectly realized tune capable of staccato passages, retards and crescendos,
modulations of all kinds, even complexities approaching counterpoint.
The poetic or metrical version of the "symbolic" effects we are discussing was treated skeptically by Dr. Johnson in his "Life of Alexander

Pope" under the name of "representative meter." He suspects "that in such

resemblances [between sound and sense, meter and meaning] the mind
often governs the ear, and the sounds are estimated by their meaning"
(II, p. 219) . True enough, if a reader is searching for symbolic effects,
there is a tendency to read in the correspondences, to work backward from
content. Indeed, this is the natural direction of analysis in studying such
effects, yet it may well seem artificial at times, in the pages that follow
and in the full-scale treatment in Grammar as Style. At best, it is a matter
of personal judgment as to which effects are truly "symbolic" and which
boast a grammar merely appropriate to meaning. This is a fine distinction,
impossible to observe at all times, to everyone's satisfaction; we can only
try to be reasonable in our claims, and reasonably cautious. But it is also
important to remember that nearly the same grammatical patterns can convey very nearly opposite impressions-with the same sense of rightness,
even inevitability. To this extent, then, we must always look back at
grammar from the vantage of meaning, or at least keep the two in mind
together. For this is, after all, simply the way we read.
Enough qualification. Even Dr. Johnson admits that "Motion ... may
be in some sort exemplified" (II, p. 219) , and this is an important specification. Syntax as sequence, when traversed, becomes grammar as action;
reading activates the latent motion of a sentence to make "symbolic" impressions possible. In the experience of ordinary semantic symbolism,
meaning evokes a sense of other meaning. In syntactic symbolism, the
action of syntax evokes a sensation of the action it describes. No syntax
can represent a blue jay, for example, or a soprano or melancholy or a
sea-swell or a moon. What syntax can simulate are actions or movements
associated with these nouns: the precipitant flight or easy soaring of the
bird, the beautiful contours of an aria, the slow gestures of sadness, the
building, crashing, and dying of an ocean wave, or the splinterings of a
full moon's reflected image on a disturbed pool. After working through
this chapter, you might find yourself inclined to give these very examples
a try as topics for your own "symbolic" productions.
Just as it is the essence of our whole argument here about grammar's
contribution to style, the motion of a read sentence from left to right is
the raw material for the crafting of any representational syntax. And so
there is an easy way to begin. Every motion starts and stops; every sentence has an opening and a close. The simplest forms of syntactic symbolism capitalize on the limits of a sentence by starting or stopping one
with imitative precision. A complex and intrepid version stands as our first
example. John Holloway, below, advocates our attention to poetry as
action, not merely to poetry as statement. His remarks could be altered to
fit our controlling notion of syntax as sequence. grammar as action. iore
particularly, his talk about a verbal encounter bringing us to an exactly

mcd o:mcrosion and bn::at:ing off "not a word sooner or later" finds a
"symbolic" example, an obvious case in point, in the measured course and
finish of his own sentence:

We judge the poem by what we can take away from it-a vivid sense
of the object, a value clarified or affirmed: instead of reading it
through, of encountering all the detail of its innermost movementhow it pauses, moves again, hurries, retards, how it spreads out or 'j
narrows down, bow it offers us a sense of the unexpected, or again
of irresistibly completing something that it has begun, of ending just
as its self-appointed task is done, not a word sooner or later.
-John Holloway, "Poem as Statement, Poem as Action," The
Colours of Oarity, p. 92 .

In mentioning the "innermost movement" of a sentence and in giving

examples of it, Mr. Holloway manages to summarize many of the possible 1
"symbolic" effects we will be practicing, as he brings his own example to
its appointed close. For another such example, notice below the serial
arrangement of entire clauses in abutting or paratactic arrangement, taking
us through the main line of a novel from beginning to end with planned
The rape is in the offing, it is at hand, it is here, it is over, Oarissa
sickens and dies, and that is all.
-Dorothy Van Ghent, "On Oarissa Harlowe," The English
Novel: Form and Function, p. 47.

Two more examples follow, in each a syntactic span simulating the

arc of an entire life-span, first in a row of compound predicates, then in
the serial verbs of a subordinate clause:
He is born, goes to school, marries, has children, quarrels with his
fellows, suffers the same defeats which afflict his contemporaries, and
-Robert Payne, The Christian Centuries, p. 391.
If Mrs. Langor is right, then poetry of this kind (for her there is no

other kind) presents human feelings as they are born, develop, gather
momentum, branch, sub-divide, coalesce, dwindle, and die away.
-Donald Davie, Articulate Energy, p. 85.



Use syntax in this way to articulate the energy of your own sentences,
writing perhaps about a last-second victory in the hundred-yard dash, the

thrilling curve of a hom~run ball, the busy day of a student, a housewife,

or an executive. Time carefully your start and finish .
If you choose to try out a subordinate clause or some other dependent or free-branching pattern, you will discover the importance of
a well-chosen mrun clause to work your way into or out from. Here, in a
left-branching sentence, dependent clauses draw us along into the main
clause, whkh snaps to conclusion like the strangeness of the descn'bed
And as it ended, as they sat up in the gloom and prepared to enter
ordinary life, suddenly the long drawn strangeness of the morning
- E. M. Forster, A Passage to India, p. I 61.
The representational grammar of the next excerpt is kept for a rightbr anch, its compli~tion held off dramatically as it renders the vocal per' formance in planned cadences dropping off at exactly the right moment:
The big studio audience is rapt, silent as Barbra Streisand softens and
rounds the long-held note, stripping the brass from it before she lets
it fall, ever so gradually, into a throbbing, eyes-closed, roller-coaster
-Diana Lurie, "The Tears of Barbra Streisand," Life, March

18, 1966, p . 96.



Using somewhere the dramatizing effect of piled adjectives seen at

the end of the last sample, if you can, stretch over two or three complicated sentences the stages to date of your own autobiography, its highs
and lows, its lulls and fulfillments, or the life history of some fictional
~ character. Work with different speeds, hurrying up ironically over indifr ferent periods, pausing over and savoring important moments, holding
\ them and then moving on. Get as much variety as you can into your
l syntactic shapes, and match them to meaning wherever possible.
Notice that pace and acceleration were just mentioned as impressicms
grammar can and should render. Though she does not acl::nowtec:i.eoe i! as
such, Shirley Jackson's advice to writers is grammatically onented., mging
exactly what we mean by syntactic symbolism:

And if you want your reader to go faster and faster make yoar
writing go faster and faster. "The room was dark. Ibe
shaded, the furniture invisible. The door was shut and Jet ftom SOI:rewhere, some small hidden precious casket of light bmied deep
darkness of the room, a spark came, moving in mad colored an ks

up and down, around and in and out and over and under and lighting
up everything it saw." (Those adjectives are unspeakable in every
sense of the word, and wholly unnecessary; this is an example, not
a model.)
--Shirley Jackson, "Notes for a Young Writer," Come Along
with Me, p. 241 .
She does not herself name or analyze the devices that accelerate~ her
example; parallelism and strategic ellipsis, abutting paratactic clauses, wellplaced kernels, key participial activity, once at the end in a sprung series,
adjective piling, paired constructions, and longer and-chains are among
them. Below is another example, this time a full-fledged model, where
parataxis in clause and phrase is especially important in reproducing the
sense of abruptness, hurry, and frustration:


The subway pulled in to Times Square, disgorged passengers,

took more on, shut up its doors and shrieked away down the tunnel.
Another shuttle came in, on a different track. Bodies milled in the
brown lift, a loudspeaker announced shuttles. It was lunch hour. The
subway station began to buzz, fill with human noise and motion.
Tourists were coming back in droves. Another train arrived, opened,
closed, was gone. The press on the wooden platforms grew, along
with an air of discomfort, hunger, uneasy bladders, suffocation. The
first shuttle returned.
- Thomas Pynchon, V, p. 29.


Study the momentum of these additional passage&., the striking accel- 1'
eration of the second:
Its tone changes with kaleidoscopic rapidity-from irony to pathos
to ridicule to poetry.
- Richard M . Kain, Fabulous Voyager, p . 240.

The imagery is that of mobile, going things, increasingly passionate

and swift-first slow waves, then fitful music leaping, then flames,
then racing creatures.
- Dorothy Van Ghent, The English Novel : Form and Function,
p. 273.

Notice especially the ingenious use of participles in the last example, and
be prepared to employ them in similar ways yourself.
F. L. Lucas, in his book Style, shares with Samuel Johnson a tendency
to discount the frequency, even the interest of "imitative passages," where
rhythm is "made to suit the sense." Nevertheless, in one paragraph from
the end of his book. Lucas writes a sentence whose syntactic doublings
could have no other motivation than to simulate increase and acceleration:

Uke a gigantic snowball, larger and larger, f.aster and faster, science
hurtles wilh us all into the unknown.
-F. L. Lucas, "Mt!thods of Writing, .. Sryle, p. 286.

Try speeding up some sentences of your own in this way. Write about

a stock-car race, the rising groan and growing speed of cars on the track,
about the rise to fame of a politician, a dictator, a superstar, about the
thunderous lift of an Apollo rocket from the launch pad and its incredible
gains in speed, about a skier getting up momentum as he goes downhill,
about the rapid growth of the United States inland from the seaboard
] colonies, about the accelerating rate of our population explosion, or the
first scattered beginnings and mounting tensions of a riot or revolution.
Mix sentences hurried along by fits and starts, in little elliptical pieces, with
, longer and smoother developments. Combine accelerations capsuled in a
single sentence with some requiring larger explanation. Use tight pairings
and longer abutting units. Vary and experiment.
Even a brief ejaculative fragment or two can symbolize the release
of pent energy into motion:



His hands lift of their own and he feels the wind on his ears even
before, his heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first but with an
effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and
quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah: runs. Runs.
- lohn Updike, Rabbit, Run, closing lines.

Shirley Jackson, who showed us an accelerating passage awhile back, now

offers, as a slowed sample, one closing in on a fragmented grammar of
repetition not unlike the rapid sample above:
After a wild rush of water and noise the fountain was at last turned
off and the water was gone. Only one drop hung poised and then
fell, and fell with a small musical touch. ow, il rang. 'ow.
--Shirley Jackson, Come Along \\ith Me, p. 241.

We may be more easily convinced by her fast-mming passage. but we can

still use what we learn from her narrowing to a repea:ed monosyllable as
, part of our training in the construction of deceletanng seutenoes.



Produce your own "symbolic" accounts of slowil:l2

tion or aftermath, writing about an exhausted sluimp
day or the retarding tempo of a flamboyant party as T',_
tardy leave, about a stomach-turning roller-('1)3ster ride


a hard
rake their
a Ion~-

a ftaghter after an arduous Atlantic

w al landiag of a t.ranspon helicopter, the last descent
subsidence of flood waters in a ravaged valley,
of a rrwnanric heroine gradually succumbing to a broken
ur'd "iJGr pammar as an analogue of meaning in as many dif~,s
can ~ise. changing your conjunctive patterns, length1
lllil ...
your phrases, or, alternately, closing toward a single
lied wocd, petbaps repeated, dwelt on, left final. See what different
;;aubs you can concoct.
In contexts other than accelerated or slowed motion, increase and
decrease are readily available for symbolic representation, and can be most
striking. Below, grammar seems to diminish, narrow, flicker out--only to
' be punctuated by four ominous monosyllables:
One soul was lost; a tiny soul : his. It flickered once and went out,
forgotten, lost. The end: black cold void waste.
-James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p. 141.

Here are two more decreasing samples, with an appositional grammar

appearing to fall off, to wither away:

The bugle's voice unfurled, shivered, fell.

-Cynthia Ozick, Trust, p. 2.
It was all dry: all withered: all spent.
-Virginia Woolf, To the L ighthouse, p. 224.
A widening syntax in the next passage spreads out in the second I'
sentence to render the production and reproduction of first life:
The hundreds of millions of years passed and one day a special cell
emerged in the pungent broths of the ocean or a lake. It had being;
it ate food; it divided and so reproduced. It was alive and it was life.
-Philip Wylie, The Magic Animal, p. 22.
And here the gradual rise in flood level is portrayed in the distinct incremental grammar of a participial right-branch:
The water would rise inch by inch, covering the grass and shrubs,
covering the trees and houses, covering the monuments and the
mountain tops.
- James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p. 117.



Approximate in some syntax of increase or decrease the marked stages

of construction on a major skyscraper or the effects of weather, of erosion






on the face of the land, the accumulation of a fortune in business ventures

and speculations, or the loss of pride and self-respect in a humiliating love
For another pair of contrasting models, here is a descent to harsh
reality stressed in a strongly cadenced and repetitive right-branch, and, in
the second excerpt, a self-conscious preoccupation with the word "beyond"
even before it gets repeated in a paratactic rising away at the end of the
Then my eyes fell on the bound and cast white mass pointing at me
and as it was always to do, it brought me down out of Finny's world,
of invention, down again as I had fallen after awakening that rooming, down to reality, to the facts.
-John Knowles, A Separate Peace, pp. 107-108.
Now brass and strings together played a recessional very nearly too
sublime for mortal ears: like the word beyond, it sounded of flight,
of vaulting aspiration. It rose, it soared, it sang; in the van of his
admirers it bore him transfigured from the hall, beyond, beyond East
Dorset, aloft to the stars.
- John Barth, Lost in the Funhouse, p. 47.
Once again, in yet another pair of samples, down and beyond are
the implied directional signals in a reduplicating grammar of fall and passage. The first excerpt is actually a close reading of a symbolic or representational effect in Dryden's poem Alexander's Feast:
He sung of Darius great and good,
By too severe a fate
Fallen, fallen, fallen, fallen,
Fallen, from his high estate,
And weltering in his blood.

Here it seems to me that the suggestion is not so much that of emphasis and finality, as if to imply that the fallen mooarch would never
rise again (however true that might be), but rather of the depth of
the fall from his high estate, as if the mind's eye sus him fallen, and
fallen lower, and fallen still lower, until at last be lies upon the ground
weltering in his own blood. . . . That intea.,.elalion is coofinned by
the detail that probably everyone instinctM=Iy neds tbc wouls with
a falling emphasis.
-Henry Bett, "Position and Empharis, S!l 2 Scaets of Style,


The commenta~or's own similar cadence repealS Dtjdca"' iF a participle

in increments of heavier, larger iterations. In oar IKCI 1 e- ;pe, an ac-


_. pantactic tmits hurry on and away,

smooth rapidity:

The lnm came on with a clatter.... Another blast from the whistle,
a roar, a gigantic sound; and it seemed to soar into the dusk beyond
and above them forever, with a noise, perhaps, like the clatter of the
opening of everlasting gates and doors-passed swiftly on-toward
Richmond, the North, the oncoming night.
-William Styron, Lie Down in Darkness, p. 382.



Produce your own brief "stories" of descent or passage, modeling

them on either of the last paired samples, shaping in grammatical replica
the fall of an industrial firm from international eminence or a Wedgwood
vase from a parlor mantel, the descent of divine grace and aid to a medieval
saint or the decline of religion in modern Europe, the clamping down of 'I
the law on a narcotics peddler, the elegant descent of an heiress down her ,
grand staircase, or the soft fall of snowflakes on a frozen pond. "Fall'' I
need not appear in any strict way-just devise a falling rhythm. And then
an even, progressing rhythm for your second exercise, as you write about
the fleeting figures of a daydream slipping away, the foaming currents of
a stormy river as it carries a small boat away from the dock and quickly
downstream, the events of a decade or a century, its breakthroughs and
its failures , as it turns into the next.



If you feel really ambitious, ready for a workout in a whole battery

of symbolic effects, try registering in several sentences the different speeds of
passing in a landscape as it moves through your field of vision at a train
window, the rushing past of nearby signposts and signals, billboards and j
telephone poles. the slow sweep of shapes and colors, of buildings and
vegetation, in the middle distance, and the minor shifts in those nearly fixed
points at the horizon and beyond.



Did you notice repetition coming to your aid in the last assignment,
as it did to set different rhythms in many of the last samples? Straight
repetith-e rhythms, with their simpler and more immediate suggestions, are
eas~ to managr and manipulate. With these additional samples behind you,


Bats, rats, birds, intD:OU wil a_. o I ioiiWB a boar as out; it

is to them a normal powtb ~ tbe eacaual jun&le, which alternately
produces housu treu, houses treu.
-E. M. Forster, A Passage to India, p. 35.

Death could have come in any number of bizarre ways ... in

the coffins of a malfunctioning craft unable to descend that orbits,
orbits, orbits in the spatial void while power ebbs and life leaks away
in slow suffocation.
-Time, February 3, 1967, p. 13.
He was walking three steps backwards and three steps forwards along
the gangway which connected the benches. Three quick steps and
turn and three quick steps and turn, with his eyes on the ceiling.
--C. P. Snow, The Search, p. 38.

Write about the methodical, the routine, the boring, the regular and predictable, the stable and reassuring- anything lending itself to dramatic
In all this practice, we are doing little more than scratch the surface
in the almost unlimited realm of imitative effects. Far more are examined
in the last chapter of Grammar as Style, still only a smattering. So far we
have watched motion or similar developments reproduced in syntax begun
and ended exactly in time with meaning, in accelerated and retarded gram[ mar, in portrayals of increase and decline, descent and rise, any of these
employing local repetitive effects. To break off abruptly and arbitrarily
enough with one last type of "symbolic" presentation, we will close with
a look at abruptness and interruption. First a rapid paratactic sequence,
fading into repetitions and recapitulation, is jolted by the sharp start of
the second sentence:

They waved, smiled, wept, they slipped backward, their faces became
indistinct, a green water flowed over them, their forms were smaller,
smaller, still waving. Abruptly a block of buildings thrust them from



-Ross Lockridge, Jr., Raintree Couaty. p. 561.

A second example again jars its own progress widl die wcad ""abcupt"' itseH:
The pavements were slick with leavinp.
~ tt"41eo leaves,
flowers, fruit and vegetables which had mr.t
utural and
slow, or abrupt.
-lames Baldwin, Giovanni's Room,.,. ,._