Author Topic: When simple indicative sentences can’t drive home our point  (Read 9014 times)

Joe Carillo

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When simple indicative sentences can’t drive home our point
« on: January 01, 2024, 02:50:45 PM »
Most of the day-to-day writing that we do consists of simple, plainspoken indicative sentences in the normal subject-verb-predicate construction pattern, as in “We wrote the refrigerator manufacturer about its poor customer service.” Sometimes, out of impatience or anger, we make such indicative sentences more forceful by ending them with an exclamation mark: “We wrote the refrigerator manufacturer about its poor customer service!” Then, if the veracity of our declaration is challenged or denied, we feel the need for an even more forceful way of presenting our case or making our point.

This is when we take recourse to the emphatic tenses, as in “We did write that refrigerator manufacturer about its poor customer service!” or, to give even more emotional force to our statement, perhaps express it in the form of an inverted sentence, as in “The poor customer service of that refrigerator manufacturer is what we complained about!

Verbs in English language have two special forms of the emphatic tenses to emphasize the actions they describe. The present emphatic emphasizes actions or conditions happening in the present, and the past emphatic emphasizes those that occurred in the past. More commonly, however, the emphatic forms are used in two types of sentence constructions where emphasis is not intended—(1) to work with the adverb “not” in negative sentences, and (2) to form questions or the interrogative mode, in which the normal sentence construction is inverted. We must understand this distinction clearly to avoid mistakes in using the emphatic tenses.

The present emphatic tense of verbs is formed by putting the present-tense verb “do” or “does” ahead of their basic present form. Here are examples of the present emphatic tense used for emphasis: “I do like apples.” “She does think fast.” “They do act slowly.” The intent is to express the action or state more forcefully. In contrast, here are examples when emphasis is not intended: “The group does not agree.” (using “does not” simply to form a negative sentence), and “Does the jury have a verdict?” (using “does” to form a question).

The past emphatic tense of verbs is formed by putting the past-tense “did” ahead of their basic present form. Examples of the past emphatic tense used for emphasis: “I did write that letter.” “She did come as expected.” “They did pay on schedule.” Examples that simply negate or ask but don’t intend to emphasize: “He did not deliver as promised.” “Didn’t you finish the work last night?

Sentences that use the emphatic tense for emphasis are either affirmative or negative responses to a persistent question, whether stated or only implied. See what happens when this question is asked: “Did you really write that letter?” The emphatic answer would either be “I did write that letter” or “No, I didn’t write that letter.” This is the situational context for using the emphatic forms. It conveys the sense of the speaker either explicitly owning or denying an act, or claiming to be correct in his or her belief regarding the action of others.

Another device in English for emphasis, one that is often misunderstood and much maligned, is the inverted sentence. This grammatical form, in which the verb comes ahead the subject, does present agreement problems and possible confusion when used too often. Here’s an example in verse form in Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet”: “Away from light steals home my heavy son /And private in his chamber pens himself...

Note that it’s the verb “away” that starts the sentence, with the subject “son” far removed from it. The normal-order sentence would go as follows: “My heavy son steals home away from light...” A heightened emotional state can be felt in the first, a dry forthrightness in the second. That difference comes from the change in the form, order, and rhythm of the language itself.

It is, of course, not only in poetry where inverted sentences find excellent use. They can give prose much-welcome variety and punch when used judiciously in a sea of normal-order sentences. Feel the emotional difference between the following normal-order sentences and their corresponding inverted sentences: (1) “Her behavior could be explained in no other way.” “In no other way could her behavior be explained.” (2) “I saw only then the possibilities of the new business.” “Only then did I see the possibilities of the new business.” (3) “She didn’t realize that he had deceived her till she got the letter from a total stranger.” “Not until she got the letter from a total stranger did she realize that he had deceived her.”

When using inverted sentences, however, we must make an extra effort to double-check agreement of the verb with the subject. This subject always follows the number of the verb and not of the nouns or pronouns that come before it: “In the grassy plains lives the last antelope.” It would seem that the singular verb “lives” should be the plural “live” instead to agree with “grassy plains,” but this proves to be not the case; the true subject is not “the grassy plains” but the singular “the last antelope.” See also what happens if the sentence were written another way: “In the grassy plain live the last antelopes.” In this case, the subject “the last antelopes” is plural, so the verb must also take the plural form “live” to agree with it.

Take note, too, that sentences beginning with “there” or “here” are actually in the inverted form: “There is a can of corned beef in the cupboard.” “Here comes the parade.” “There” and “here” are, of course, not the subjects. It is “corned beef” in the first, and “parade” in the second. The two sentences are actually emphatic forms of the normal-order “A can of corned beef is in the cupboard” and “The parade comes.”
From the book English Plain and Simple: No-Nonsense Ways to Learn the Global Language by Jose A. Carillo © 2004 by the author © 2010 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
When simple indicative sentences can't drive home our point

(Next week: The grammar for avoiding blame in English)            January 11,2024

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« Last Edit: January 04, 2024, 11:22:42 PM by Joe Carillo »