1. a sentential Adverb



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Preston


1. A Sentential Adverb is a single word or short phrase, usually interrupting normal syntax, used to lend emphasis to the words immediately proximate to the adverb. (We emphasize the words on each side of a pause or interruption in order to maintain continuity of the thought.) Compare:

  • But the lake was not drained before April.

  • But the lake was not, in fact, drained before April.

In the second sentence, the words not and drained are naturally stressed by the speaker or reader in order to keep the thought in mind while entertaining the interruption.

Sentential adverbs are most frequently placed near the beginning of a sentence, where important material has been placed:



  • All truth is not, indeed, of equal importance; but if little violations are allowed, every violation will in time be thought little. --Samuel Johnson

But sometimes they are placed at the very beginning of a sentence, thereby serving as signals that the whole sentence is especially important. In such cases the sentence should be kept as short as possible:

  • In short, the cobbler had neglected his soul.

  • Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. --John 4:14 (NIV)

Or the author may show that he does not intend to underemphasize an objection or argument he rejects:

  • To be sure, no one desires to live in a foul and disgusting environment. But neither do we want to desert our cities.

In a few instances, especially with short sentences, the sentential adverb can be placed last:

  • It was a hot day indeed.

  • Harold won, of course.

A common practice is setting off the sentential adverb by commas, which increases the emphasis on the surrounding words, though in many cases the commas are necessary for clarity as well and cannot be omitted. Note how the adverb itself is also emphasized:

  • He without doubt can be trusted with a cookie.

  • He, without doubt, can be trusted with a cookie.

Some useful sentential adverbs include the following: in fact, of course, indeed, I think, without doubt, to be sure, naturally, it seems, after all, for all that, in brief, on the whole, in short, to tell the truth, in any event, clearly, I suppose, I hope, at least, assuredly, certainly, remarkably, importantly, definitely. In formal writing, avoid these and similar colloquial emphases: you know, you see, huh, get this. And it goes without saying that you should avoid the unprintable expletives.

2. Asyndeton consists of omitting conjunctions between words, phrases, or clauses. In a list of items, asyndeton gives the effect of unpremeditated multiplicity, of an extemporaneous rather than a labored account:



  • On his return he received medals, honors, treasures, titles, fame.

The lack of the "and" conjunction gives the impression that the list is perhaps not complete. Compare:

  • She likes pickles, olives, raisins, dates, pretzels.

  • She likes pickles, olives, raisins, dates, and pretzels.

Sometimes an asyndetic list is useful for the strong and direct climactic effect it has, much more emphatic than if a final conjunction were used. Compare:

  • They spent the day wondering, searching, thinking, understanding.

  • They spent the day wondering, searching, thinking, and understanding.

In certain cases, the omission of a conjunction between short phrases gives the impression of synonymity to the phrases, or makes the latter phrase appear to be an afterthought or even a substitute for the former. Compare:

  • He was a winner, a hero.

  • He was a winner and a hero.

Notice also the degree of spontaneity granted in some cases by asyndetic usage. "The moist, rich, fertile soil," appears more natural and spontaneous than "the moist, rich, and fertile soil."

Generally, asyndeton offers the feeling of speed and concision to lists and phrases and clauses, but occasionally the effect cannot be so easily categorized. Consider the "flavor" of these examples:



  • If, as is the case, we feel responsibility, are ashamed, are frightened, at transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies that there is One to whom we are responsible, before whom we are ashamed, whose claims upon us we fear. --John Henry Newman

  • In books I find the dead as if they were alive; in books I foresee things to come; in books warlike affairs are set forth; from books come forth the laws of peace. --Richard de Bury

  • We certainly have within us the image of some person, to whom our love and veneration look, in whose smile we find our happiness, for whom we yearn, towards whom we direct our pleadings, in whose anger we are troubled and waste away. --John Henry Newman

3. Polysyndeton is the use of a conjunction between each word, phrase, or clause, and is thus structurally the opposite of asyndeton. The rhetorical effect of polysyndeton, however, often shares with that of asyndeton a feeling of multiplicity, energetic enumeration, and building up.

  • They read and studied and wrote and drilled. I laughed and played and talked and flunked.

Use polysyndeton to show an attempt to encompass something complex:

  • The water, like a witch's oils, / Burnt green, and blue, and white. --S. T. Coleridge

  • [He] pursues his way, / And swims, or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flies. --John Milton

The multiple conjunctions of the polysyndetic structure call attention to themselves and therefore add the effect of persistence or intensity or emphasis to the other effect of multiplicity. The repeated use of "nor" or "or" emphasizes alternatives; repeated use of "but" or "yet" stresses qualifications. Consider the effectiveness of these:

  • And to set forth the right standard, and to train according to it, and to help forward all students towards it according to their various capacities, this I conceive to be the business of a University. --John Henry Newman

  • We have not power, nor influence, nor money, nor authority; but a willingness to persevere, and the hope that we shall conquer soon.

In a skilled hand, a shift from polysyndeton to asyndeton can be very impressive:

  • Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him. --Isaiah 24:1-2 (KJV)

Maximum effect tip: Polysyndeton is almost always the most effective when you link three or in some cases four elements. Modern readers do not expect even two conjunctions ("she wrote and phoned and faxed") linking three elements. (I've had my own prose "corrected" by business colleagues who had never encountered either asyndeton or polysyndeton before.) So, consider your audience before you create a lengthy list. If you're writing a humor piece, you can really have fun.

  • When it was announced that the vending machines were going to have apples instead of Cheetos, and orange juice instead of Coke, the employees cried and bawled and sobbed and complained and whined and protested.

4. Understatement deliberately expresses an idea as less important than it actually is, either for ironic emphasis or for politeness and tact. When the writer's audience can be expected to know the true nature of a fact which might be rather difficult to describe adequately in a brief space, the writer may choose to understate the fact as a means of employing the reader's own powers of description. For example, instead of endeavoring to describe in a few words the horrors and destruction of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, a writer might state:

  • The 1906 San Francisco earthquake interrupted business somewhat in the downtown area.

The effect is not the same as a description of destruction, since understatement like this necessarily smacks of flippancy to some degree; but occasionally that is a desirable effect. Consider these usages:

  • Henry and Catherine were married, the bells rang, and everybody smiled . . . . To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well . . . . --Jane Austen

  • Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse. --Jonathan Swift

  • You know I would be a little disappointed if you were to be hit by a drunk driver at two a.m., so I hope you will be home early.

In these cases the reader supplies his own knowledge of the facts and fills out a more vivid and personal description than the writer might have.

In a more important way, understatement should be used as a tool for modesty and tactfulness. Whenever you represent your own accomplishments, and often when you just describe your own position, an understatement of the facts will help you to avoid the charge of egotism on the one hand and of self-interested puffery on the other. We are always more pleased to discover a thing greater than promised rather than less than promised--or as Samuel Johnson put it, "It is more pleasing to see smoke brightening into flame, than flame sinking into smoke." And it goes without saying that a person modest of his own talents wins our admiration more easily than an egotist. Thus an expert geologist might say, "Yes, I know a little about rocks," rather than, "Yes, I'm an expert about rocks." (An even bigger expert might raise his eyebrows if he heard that.)

Understatement is especially useful in dealing with a hostile audience or in disagreeing with someone, because the statement, while carrying the same point, is much less offensive. Compare:


  • The second law of thermodynamics pretty much works against the possibility of such an event.

  • The second law of thermodynamics proves conclusively that that theory is utterly false and ridiculous.

5. Litotes, a particular form of understatement, is generated by denying the opposite or contrary of the word which otherwise would be used. Depending on the tone and context of the usage, litotes either retains the effect of understatement, or becomes an intensifying expression. Compare the difference between these statements:



  • Heat waves are common in the summer.

  • Heat waves are not rare in the summer.

Johnson uses litotes to make a modest assertion, saying "not improperly" rather than "correctly" or "best":

  • This kind of writing may be termed not improperly the comedy of romance. . . .

Occasionally a litotic construction conveys an ironic sentiment by its understatement:

  • We saw him throw the buckets of paint at his canvas in disgust, and the result did not perfectly represent his subject, Mrs. Jittery.

Usually, though, litotes intensifies the sentiment intended by the writer, and creates the effect of strong feelings moderately conveyed.

  • Hitting that telephone pole certainly didn't do your car any good. Hitting the telephone pole damaged your car.

  • If you can tell the fair one's mind, it will be no small proof of your art, for I dare say it is more than she herself can do. --Alexander Pope

  • A figure lean or corpulent, tall or short, though deviating from beauty, may still have a certain union of the various parts, which may contribute to make them on the whole not unpleasing. --Sir Joshua Reynolds

  • He who examines his own self will not long remain ignorant of his failings. Overall the flavors of the mushrooms, herbs, and spices combine to make the dish not at all disagreeable to the palate.

  • But note that, as George Orwell points out in "Politics and the English Language," the "not un-" construction (for example, "not unwilling") should not be used indiscriminately. Rather, find an opposite quality which as a word is something other than the quality itself with an "un" attached. For instance, instead of, "We were not unvictorious," you could write, "We were not defeated," or "We did not fail to win," or something similar.

6. Parallelism is recurrent syntactical similarity. Several parts of a sentence or several sentences are expressed similarly to show that the ideas in the parts or sentences are equal in importance. Parallelism also adds balance and rhythm and, most importantly, clarity to the sentence.

Any sentence elements can be paralleled, any number of times (though, of course, excess quickly becomes ridiculous). You might choose parallel subjects with parallel modifiers attached to them:



  • Ferocious dragons breathing fire and wicked sorcerers casting their spells do their harm by night in the forest of Darkness.

  • The above parallelism replicates the pattern of adjective followed by noun, followed by verb. Boom. Mind blown.

Or parallel verbs and adverbs:

  • I have always sought but seldom obtained a parking space near the door.

  • Quickly and happily he walked around the corner to buy the book.

Or parallel verbs and direct objects:

Or just the objects:

  • This wealthy car collector owns three pastel Cadillacs, two gold Rolls Royces, and ten assorted Mercedes.

Or parallel prepositional phrases:

  • He found it difficult to vote for an ideal truth but against his own self interest.

  • The pilot walked down the aisle, through the door, and into the cockpit, singing "Up, Up, and Away."

Notice how paralleling rather long subordinate clauses helps you to hold the whole sentence clearly in your head:

  • These critics--who point out the beauties of style and ideas, who discover the faults of false constructions, and who discuss the application of the rules--usually help a lot in engendering an understanding of the writer's essay.

  • When, at the conclusion of a prolonged episode of agonizing thought, you decide to buy this car; when, after a hundred frantic sessions of begging stonefaced bankers for the money, you can obtain sufficient funds; and when, after two more years of impatience and frustration, you finally get a driver's license, then come see me and we will talk about a deal.

  • After you corner the market in Brazilian coffee futures, but before you manipulate the price through the ceiling, sit down and have a cup of coffee with me (while I can still afford it).

It is also possible to parallel participial, infinitive, and gerund phrases:

  • He left the engine on, idling erratically and heating rapidly.

  • To think accurately and to write precisely are interrelated goals.

  • She liked sneaking up to Ted and putting the ice cream down his back, because he was so cool about it.

7. Chiasmus might be called "reverse parallelism," since the second part of a grammatical construction is balanced or paralleled by the first part, only in reverse order. Instead of an A,B structure (e.g., "learned unwillingly") paralleled by another A,B structure ("forgotten gladly"), the A,B will be followed by B,A ("gladly forgotten"). So instead of writing, "What is learned unwillingly is forgotten gladly," you could write, "What is learned unwillingly is gladly forgotten." Similarly, the parallel sentence, "What is now great was at first little," could be written chiastically as, "What is now great was little at first." Here are some examples:

  • He labors without complaining and without bragging rests. AOT: He labors without complaining and rests without bragging.

  • Polished in courts and hardened in the field, Renowned for conquest, and in council skilled. --Joseph Addison

  • For the Lord is a Great God . . . in whose hand are the depths of the earth; the peaks of the mountains are his also. --Psalm 95:4

Chiasmus is easiest to write and yet can be made very beautiful and effective simply by moving subordinate clauses around:

  • If you come to them, they are not asleep; if you ask and inquire of them, they do not withdraw themselves; they do not chide if you make mistakes; they do not laugh at you if you are ignorant. --Richard de Bury

Prepositional phrases or other modifiers can also be moved around to form chiastic structures. Sometimes the effect is rather emphatic:

  • Tell me not of your many perfections; of your great modesty tell me not either.

  • Just as the term "menial" does not apply to any honest labor, so no dishonest work can be called "prestigious."

At other times the effect is more subdued but still desirable. Compare the versions of these sentences, written first in chiastic and then in strictly parallel form. Which do you like better in each case?

  • On the way to school, my car ran out of gas; then it had a flat on the way home.

  • On the way to school, my car ran out of gas; then on the way home it had a flat.

  • Sitting together at lunch, the kids talked incessantly; but they said nothing at all sitting in the dentist's office.

  • Sitting together at lunch, the kids talked incessantly; but sitting in the dentist's office, they said nothing at all.

  • The computer mainframe is now on sale; available also at a discount is the peripheral equipment.

  • The computer mainframe is now on sale; the peripheral equipment is also available at a discount.

Chiasmus may be useful for those sentences in which you want balance, but which cannot be paralleled effectively, either because they are too short, or because the emphasis is placed on the wrong words. And sometimes a chiastic structure will just seem to "work" when a parallel one will not.

8. Zeugma includes several similar rhetorical devices, all involving a grammatically correct linkage (or yoking together) of two or more parts of speech by another part of speech. Thus examples of zeugmatic usage would include one subject with two (or more) verbs, a verb with two (or more) direct objects, two (or more) subjects with one verb, and so forth. The main benefit of the linking is that it shows relationships between ideas and actions more clearly.



In one form (prozeugma), the yoking word precedes the words yoked. So, for example, you could have a verb stated in the first clause understood in the following clauses:

  • Pride opresseth humility; hatred love; cruelty compassion. --Peacham

  • Fred excelled at sports; Harvey at eating; Tom with girls.

  • Alexander conquered the world; I, Minneapolis.

A more important version of this form (with its own name, diazeugma) is the single subject with multiple verbs:

  • . . . It operated through the medium of unconscious self-deception and terminated in inveterate avarice. --Thomas Love Peacock

  • Mr. Glowry held his memory in high honor, and made a punchbowl of his skull. --Ibid.

  • This terrace . . . took in an oblique view of the open sea, and fronted a long track of level sea-coast . . . . --Ibid.

  • Fluffy rolled on her back, raised her paws, and meowed to be petted.

Notice that two or three verb phrases are the usual proportion. But if you have a lot to say about the actions of the subject, or if you want to show a sort of multiplicity of behavior or doings, you can use several verbs:

  • When at Nightmare Abbey, he would condole with Mr. Glowry, drink Madeira with Scythrop, crack jokes with Mr. Hilary, hand Mrs. Hilary to the piano, take charge of her fan and gloves, and turn over her music with surprising dexterity, quote Revelations with Mr. Toobad, and lament the good old times of feudal darkness with the Transcendental Mr. Flosky. --Thomas Love Peacock

Two or more subordinate relative pronoun clauses can be linked prozeugmatically, with the noun becoming the yoking word:

  • His father, to comfort him, read him a Commentary on Ecclesiastes, which he had himself composed, and which demonstrated incontrovertibly that all is vanity. --Thomas Love Peacock

  • O books who alone are liberal and free, who give to all who ask of you and enfranchise all who serve you faithfully! --Richard de Bury

You could have two or more direct objects:

  • With one mighty swing he knocked the ball through the window and two spectators off their chairs.

  • He grabbed his hat from the rack in the closet, his gloves from the table near the door, and his car keys from the punchbowl.

Or a preposition with two objects:

  • Mr. Glowry was horror-struck by the sight of a round, ruddy face, and a pair of laughing eyes. --Thomas Love Peacock

Sometimes you might want to create a linkage in which the verb must be understood in a slightly different sense:

  • He grabbed his hat from the rack by the stairs and a kiss from the lips of his wife.

  • He smashed the clock into bits and his fist through the wall.

In hypozeugma the yoking word follows the words it yokes together. A common form is multiple subjects:

  • Hours, days, weeks, months, and years do pass away. --Sherry

  • The moat at its base, and the fens beyond comprised the whole of his prospect. --Peacock

  • To generate that much electricity and to achieve that kind of durability would require a completely new generator design.

It is possible also to hold off a verb until the last clause:

  • The little baby from his crib, the screaming lady off the roof, and the man from the flooded basement were all rescued.

Hypozeugma can be used with adjectives or adjective phrases, too. Here, Peacock uses two participial phrases, one past and one present:

  • Disappointed both in love and in friendship, and looking upon human learning as vanity, he had come to a conclusion that there was but one good thing in the world, videlicet, a good dinner . . . .

The utility of the zeugmatic devices lies partly in their economy (for they save repetition of subjects or verbs or other words), and partly in the connections they create between thoughts. The more connections between ideas you can make in an essay, whether those connections are simple transitional devices or more elaborate rhetorical ones, the fewer your reader will have to guess at, and therefore the clearer your points will be.

9. Antithesis establishes a clear, contrasting relationship between two ideas by joining them together or juxtaposing them, often in parallel structure. Human beings are inveterate systematizers and categorizers, so the mind has a natural love for antithesis, which creates a definite and systematic relationship between ideas:



  • To err is human; to forgive, divine. --Pope

  • That short and easy trip made a lasting and profound change in Harold's outlook.

  • That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. --Neil Armstrong

Antithesis can convey some sense of complexity in a person or idea by admitting opposite or nearly opposite truths:

  • Though surprising, it is true; though frightening at first, it is really harmless.

  • If we try, we might succeed; if we do not try, we cannot succeed.

  • Success makes men proud; failure makes them wise.

Antithesis, because of its close juxtaposition and intentional

contrast of two terms or ideas, is also very useful for making relatively fine distinctions or for clarifying differences which might be otherwise overlooked by a careless thinker or casual reader:



  • In order that all men may be taught to speak truth, it is necessary that all likewise should learn to hear it. --Samuel Johnson

  • The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. --Matt. 23:2-3 (RSV)

  • I agree that it is legal; but my question was, Is it moral?

  • The advertisement indeed says that these shoes are the best, but it means that they are equal; for in advertising "best" is a parity claim and only "better" indicates superiority.

Note also that short phrases can be made antithetical:

  • Every man who proposes to grow eminent by learning should carry in his mind, at once, the difficulty of excellence and the force of industry; and remember that fame is not conferred but as the recompense of labor, and that labor, vigorously continued, has not often failed of its reward. --Samuel Johnson

10. Anaphora is the repetition of the same word or words at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences, commonly in conjunction with climax and with parallelism:

  • To think on death it is a misery,/ To think on life it is a vanity;/ To think on the world verily it is,/ To think that here man hath no perfect bliss. --Peacham

  • In books I find the dead as if they were alive; in books I foresee things to come; in books warlike affairs are set forth; from books come forth the laws of peace. --Richard de Bury

  • Finally, we must consider what pleasantness of teaching there is in books, how easy, how secret! How safely we lay bare the poverty of human ignorance to books without feeling any shame! --Ibid.

  • The wish of the genuine painter must be more extensive: instead of endeavoring to amuse mankind with the minute neatness of his imitations, he must endeavor to improve them by the grandeur of his ideas; instead of seeking praise, by deceiving the superficial sense of the spectator, he must strive for fame by captivating the imagination. --Sir Joshua Reynolds

  • Slowly and grimly they advanced, not knowing what lay ahead, not knowing what they would find at the top of the hill, not knowing that they were so near to Disneyland.

  • They are the entertainment of minds unfurnished with ideas, and therefore easily susceptible of impressions; not fixed by principles, and therefore easily following the current of fancy; not informed by experience, and consequently open to every false suggestion and partial account. --Samuel Johnson

Anaphora can be used with questions, negations, hypotheses, conclusions, and subordinating conjunctions, although care must be taken not to become affected or to sound rhetorical and bombastic. Consider these selections:

  • Will he read the book? Will he learn what it has to teach him? Will he live according to what he has learned?

  • Not time, not money, not laws, but willing diligence will get this done.

  • If we can get the lantern lit, if we can find the main cave, and if we can see the stalagmites, I'll show you the one with the bat skeleton in it. be used for

Adverbs and prepositions can anaphora, too:

  • They are masters who instruct us without rod or ferule, without angry words, without clothes or money. --Richard de Bury

  • She stroked her kitty cat very softly, very slowly, very smoothly.

11. Epistrophe (also called antistrophe) forms the counterpart to anaphora, because the repetition of the same word or words comes at the end of successive phrases, clauses, or sentences:



  • Where affections bear rule, there reason is subdued, honesty is subdued, good will is subdued, and all things else that withstand evil, forever are subdued. --Wilson

  • And all the night he did nothing but weep Philoclea, sigh Philoclea, and cry out Philoclea. --Philip Sidney

  • You will find washing beakers helpful in passing this course, using the gas chromatograph desirable for passing this course, and studying hours on end essential to passing this course.

12. Anadiplosis repeats the last word of one phrase, clause, or sentence at or very near the beginning of the next. it can be generated in series for the sake of beauty or to give a sense of logical progression:



  • Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,/ Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain . . . . --Philip Sidney

Most commonly, though, anadiplosis is used for emphasis of the repeated word or idea, since repetition has a reinforcing effect:

  • They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. --Jer. 2:13

  • The question next arises, How much confidence can we put in the people, when the people have elected Joe Doax?

  • This treatment plant has a record of uncommon reliability, a reliability envied by every other water treatment facility on the coast.

  • In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. --John 1

13. Conduplicatio resembles anadiplosis in the repetition of a preceding word, but it repeats a key word (not just the last word) from a preceding phrase, clause, or sentence, at the beginning of the next.

  • If this is the first time duty has moved him to act against his desires, he is a very weak man indeed. Duty should be cultivated and obeyed in spite of its frequent conflict with selfish wishes.

  • The strength of the passions will never be accepted as an excuse for complying with them; the passions were designed for subjection, and if a man suffers them to get the upper hand, he then betrays the liberty of his own soul. --Alexander Pope

  • She fed the goldfish every day with the new pellets brought from Japan. Gradually the goldfish began to turn a brighter orange than before.

14. Epanalepsis repeats the beginning word of a clause or sentence at the end. The beginning and the end are the two positions of strongest emphasis in a sentence, so by having the same word in both places, you call special attention to it:

  • Water alone dug this giant canyon; yes, just plain water.

  • To report that your committee is still investigating the matter is to tell me that you have nothing to report.

Many writers use epanalepsis in a kind of "yes, but" construction to cite common ground or admit a truth and then to show how that truth relates to a more important context:

  • Our eyes saw it, but we could not believe our eyes.

  • The theory sounds all wrong; but if the machine works, we cannot worry about theory.

  • In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. --John 16:33 (NASB)

15. Hypophora consists of raising one or more questions and then proceeding to answer them, usually at some length. A common usage is to ask the question at the beginning of a paragraph and then use that paragraph to answer it:

  • There is a striking and basic difference between a man's ability to imagine something and an animal's failure. . . . Where is it that the animal falls short? We get a clue to the answer, I think, when Hunter tells us . . . . --Jacob Bronowski

  • What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?. . . What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God. --Rom. 4:1,3 (NIV)

This is an attractive rhetorical device, because asking an appropriate question appears quite natural and helps to maintain curiosity and interest. You can use hypophora to raise questions which you think the reader obviously has on his mind and would like to see formulated and answered:

  • What behavior, then, is uniquely human? My theory is this . . . . --H. J. Campbell

  • But what was the result of this move on the steel industry? The annual reports for that year clearly indicate. . . .

Hypophora can also be used to raise questions or to introduce material of importance, but which the reader might not have the knowledge or thought to ask for himself:

  • How then, in the middle of the twentieth century, are we to define the obligation of the historian to his facts?..... The duty of the historian to respect his facts is not exhausted by . . . . --Edward Hallett Carr

  • But it is certainly possible to ask, How hot is the oven at its hottest point, when the average temperature is 425 degrees? We learned that the peak temperatures approached . . . .

And hypophora can be used as a transitional or guiding device to change directions or enter a new area of discussion:

  • But what are the implications of this theory? And how can it be applied to the present problem?

  • How and why did caveat emptor develop? The question presents us with mysteries never fully answered. --Ivan L. Preston

Notice how a series of reasonable questions can keep a discussion lively and interesting:

  • How do we know the FTC strategy is the best, particularly in view of the complaints consumerists have made against it? Isn't there some chance that greater penalties would amount to greater deterrents? Why not get the most consumer protection simultaneously with the most punishment to offenders by easing the requirements for guilt without easing the punishment? . . . It happens that that's been tried, and it didn't work very well. --Ivan L. Preston

16. Rhetorical question (erotesis) differs from hypophora in that it is not answered by the writer, because its answer is obvious or obviously desired, and usually just a yes or no. It is used for effect, emphasis, or provocation, or for drawing a conclusionary statement from the facts at hand.



  • But how can we expect to enjoy the scenery when the scenery consists entirely of garish billboards?

  • . . . For if we lose the ability to perceive our faults, what is the good of living on? --Marcus Aurelius

  • Is justice then to be considered merely a word? Or is it whatever results from the bartering between attorneys?

Often the rhetorical question and its implied answer will lead to further discussion:

  • Is this the end to which we are reduced? Is the disaster film the highest form of art we can expect from our era? Perhaps we should examine the alternatives presented by independent film maker Joe Blow . . . .

  • I agree the funding and support are still minimal, but shouldn't worthy projects be tried, even though they are not certain to succeed? So the plans in effect now should be expanded to include . . . . [Note: Here is an example where the answer "yes" is clearly desired rhetorically by the writer, though conceivably someone might say "no" to the question if asked straightforwardly.]

Several rhetorical questions together can form a nicely developed and directed paragraph by changing a series of logical statements into queries:

  • We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it? What does Nature hold dearer, or more proper to herself? Could you have a hot bath unless the firewood underwent some change? Could you be nourished if the food suffered no change? Do you not see, then, that change in yourself is of the same order, and no less necessary to Nature? --Marcus Aurelius

Sometimes the desired answer to the rhetorical question is made obvious by the discussion preceding it:

  • The gods, though they live forever, feel no resentment at having to put up eternally with the generations of men and their misdeeds; nay more, they even show every possible care and concern for them. Are you, then, whose abiding is but for a moment, to lose patience--you who are yourself one of the culprits? --Marcus Aurelius

17. Procatalepsis, by anticipating an objection and answering it, permits an argument to continue moving forward while taking into account points or reasons opposing either the train of thought or its final conclusions. Often the objections are standard ones:



  • It is usually argued at this point that if the government gets out of the mail delivery business, small towns like Podunk will not have any mail service. The answer to this can be found in the history of the Pony Express . . . .

  • To discuss trivialities in an exalted style is, as the saying is, like beautifying a pestle. Yet some people say we should discourse in the grand manner on trivialities and they think that this is a proof of outstanding oratorical talent. Now I admit that Polycrates [did this]. But he was doing this in jest, . - . and the dignified tone of the whole work was itself a game. Let us be playful..... [but] also observe what is fitting in each case . . . . --Demetrius

Sometimes the writer will invent probable or possible difficulties in order to strengthen his position by showing how they could be handled if they should arise, as well as to present an answer in case the reader or someone else might raise them in the course of subsequent consideration:

  • But someone might say that this battle really had no effect on history. Such a statement could arise only from ignoring the effect the battle had on the career of General Bombast, who was later a principal figure at the Battle of the Bulge.

  • I can think of no one objection that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. This I freely own, and it was indeed the principal design in offering it to the world. --Jonathan Swift

Objections can be treated with varying degrees of seriousness and with differing relationships to the reader. The reader himself might be the objector:

  • Yet this is the prime service a man would think, wherein this order should give proof of itself. If it were executed, you'll say. But certain, if execution be remiss or blindfold now, and in this particular, what will it be hereafter and in other books? --John Milton

18. Metabasis consists of a brief statement of what has been said and what will follow. It might be called a linking, running, or transitional summary, whose function is to keep the discussion ordered and clear in its progress:



  • Such, then, would be my diagnosis of the present condition of art. I must now, by special request, say what I think will happen to art in the future. --Kenneth Clark

  • We have to this point been examining the proposal advanced by Smervits only in regard to its legal practicability; but next we need to consider the effect it would have in retarding research and development work in private laboratories.

  • I have hitherto made mention of his noble enterprises in France, and now I will rehearse his worthy acts done near to Rome. --Peacham

The brief little summary of what has been said helps the reader immensely to understand, organize, and remember that portion of your essay.

Metabasis serves well as a transitional device, refocusing the discussion on a new but clearly derivative area:



  • Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. --George Orwell

It can also be used to clarify the movement of a discussion by quickly summing up large sections of preceding material:

  • Having thus explained a few of the reasons why I have written in verse, and why I have chosen subjects from common life, and endeavored to bring my language near to the real language of men, . . . I request the reader's permission to add a few words with reference solely to these particular poems and to some defects which will probably be found in them. --Ibid.

One caution should be mentioned. Metabasis is very difficult to use effectively in short papers: since it is a summarizing device, it must have some discussion to sum up. In practice, this means something on the order of five pages or more. Thus, metabasis could be very handy in the middle of a ten or twenty page paper; in a three page paper, though, both its necessity and its utility would be questionable. But use your own judgment.

Words used to signal further discussion after the summary include these: now, next, additionally, further, besides, equally important, also interesting, also important, also necessary to mention, it remains. You can also use words of comparison and contrast, such as these: similarly, on the other hand, by contrast.

19. Amplification involves repeating a word or expression while adding more detail to it, in order to emphasize what might otherwise be passed over. In other words, amplification allows you to call attention to, emphasize, and expand a word or idea to make sure the reader realizes its importance or centrality in the discussion.


  • In my hunger after ten days of rigorous dieting I saw visions of ice cream--mountains of creamy, luscious ice cream, dripping with gooey syrup and calories.

  • This orchard, this lovely, shady orchard, is the main reason I bought this property.

  • . . . Even in Leonardo's time, there were certain obscure needs and patterns of the spirit, which could discover themselves only through less precise analogies--the analogies provided by stains on walls or the embers of a fire. --Kenneth Clark

  • Pride--boundless pride--is the bane of civilization.

  • He showed a rather simple taste, a taste for good art, good food, and good friends.

But amplification can overlap with or include a repetitive device like anaphora when the repeated word gains further definition or detail:

  • The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed,/ A refuge in times of trouble. --Psalm 9:9 (KJV)

Notice the much greater effectiveness this repetition-plus detail form can have over a "straight" syntax. Compare each of these pairs:

  • The utmost that we can threaten to one another is death, a death which, indeed, we may precipitate, but cannot retard, and from which, therefore, it cannot become a wise man to buy a reprieve at the expense of virtue, since he knows not how small a portion of time he can purchase, but knows that, whether short or long, it will be made less valuable by the remembrance of the price at which it has been obtained. --adapted from S. Johnson

  • The utmost that we can threaten to one another is that death which, indeed, we may precipitate . . . .

  • In everything remember the passing of time, a time which cannot be called again.

  • In everything remember the passing of a time which cannot be called again.

20. Aporia expresses doubt about an idea or conclusion. Among its several uses are the suggesting of alternatives without making a commitment to either or any:



  • I am not sure whether to side with those who say that higher taxes reduce inflation or with those who say that higher taxes increase inflation.

  • I have never been able to decide whether I really approve of dress codes, because extremism seems to reign both with them and without them.

Such a statement of uncertainty can tie off a piece of discussion you do not have time to pursue, or it could begin an examination of the issue, and lead you into a conclusion resolving your doubt.

Aporia can also dismiss assertions irrelevant to your discussion without either conceding or denying them:



  • I do not know whether this legislation will work all the miracles promised by its backers, but it does seem clear that . . . .

  • I am not sure about the other reasons offered in favor of the new freeway, but I do believe . . . .

  • Yes, I know the assay report shows twenty pounds of gold per ton of ore, and I do not know what to say about that. What I do know is that the richest South African mines yield only about three ounces of gold per ton.

You can use aporia to cast doubt in a modest way, as a kind of understatement:

  • I am not so sure I can accept Tom's reasons for wanting another new jet.

  • I have not yet been fully convinced that dorm living surpasses living at home. For one thing, there is no refrigerator nearby . . . .

Ironic doubt--doubt about which of several closely judgable things exceeds the others, for example--can be another possibility:

  • . . . Whether he took them from his fellows more impudently, gave them to a harlot more lasciviously, removed them from the Roman people more wickedly, or altered them more presumptuously, I cannot well declare. --Cicero

  • And who was genuinely most content--whether old Mr. Jennings dozing in the sun, or Bill and Molly holding hands and toying under the palm tree, or old Mrs. Jennings watching them agape through the binoculars-I cannot really say.

.

21. Catachresis is an extravagant, implied metaphor using words in an alien or unusual way. While difficult to invent, it can be wonderfully effective:



  • I will speak daggers to her. --Hamlet[In a more futuristic metaphor, we might say, "I will laser-tongue her." Or as a more romantic student suggested, "I will speak flowers to her."]

One way to write catachresis is to substitute an associated idea for the intended one (as Hamlet did, using "daggers" instead of "angry words"):

  • "It's a dentured lake," he said, pointing at the dam. "Break a tooth out of that grin and she will spit all the way to Duganville."

Sometimes you can substitute a noun for a verb or a verb for a noun, a noun for an adjective, and so on. The key is to be effective rather than abysmal. I am not sure which classification these examples fit into:

  • The little old lady turtled along at ten miles per hour.

  • She typed the paper machine-gunnedly, without pausing at all.

  • They had expected that this news would paint an original grief, but the only result was silk-screamed platitudes.

  • Give him a quart or two of self esteem and he will stop knocking himself. [This was intended to suggest motor oil; if it makes you think of cheap gin, the metaphor did not work.]

22. Metonymy is another form of metaphor, very similar to synecdoche (and, in fact, some rhetoricians do not distinguish between the two), in which the thing chosen for the metaphorical image is closely associated with (but not an actual part of) the subject with which it is to be compared.



  • The orders came directly from the White House.

In this example we know that the writer means the President issued the orders, because "White House" is quite closely associated with "President," even though it is not physically a part of him. Consider these substitutions, and notice that some are more obvious than others, but that in context all are clear:

  • You can't fight city hall.

  • This land belongs to the crown.

  • In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread . . . . --Genesis 3:19

  • Boy, I'm dying from the heat. Just look how the mercury is rising.

  • His blood be on us and on our children. --Matt. 27:25

  • The checkered flag waved and victory crossed the finish line.

  • Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. --Psalm 100:1-2 (KJV)



The use of a particular metonymy makes a comment about the idea for which it has been substituted, and thereby helps to define that idea. Note how much more vivid "in the sweat of thy face" is in the third example above than "by labor" would have been. And in the fourth example, "mercury rising" has a more graphic, physical, and pictorial effect than would "temperature increasing." Attune yourself to such subtleties of language, and study the effects of connotation, suggestion, substitution, and metaphor.


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