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Rhetorical StyleThe Uses of Language in Persuasion$

Jeanne Fahnestock

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199764129

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199764129.001.0001

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Sentence Construction: Modification

Sentence Construction: Modification

Chapter:
(p.178) 8 Sentence Construction: Modification
Source:
Rhetorical Style
Author(s):

Jeanne Fahnestock

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199764129.003.0009

Abstract and Keywords

Outside of the subject, verb, and object in an independent clause, everything else in a sentence is modification, the specifying detail that often carries or constrains an argument. Patterns of modification depend on the types of modifier used, their placement, and the overall amount of modification. This chapter sorts through the arguer's modifying options first according to the grammatical profile of the unit involved. At the highest level are adverb and adjective clauses (subordinate or relative; noun clauses, though not actually modifiers, are also covered here). Next are phrases divisible into three types: those based on verbs (participial and infinitive phrases), those based on nouns (appositives and absolute, resumptive or summative structures), and prepositional phrases. Finally there are single-word modifiers, sometimes grouped in chains according to how dissociable they are from the word modified. Modifiers can be multiplied or embedded, and individual texts can carry heavy modification in proportion to the predication. The point of this chapter is not simply to review these sentence constituents but to see their potential argumentative consequences as in the epithetical style. For example, an appositive offers, sometimes tendentiously, an apparently equivalent term, and constructions like the absolute phrase allow the arguer to promote a feature of a mentioned noun into attention. Infinitive phrases often attribute purposes for actions and participial phrases subordinate one action to another. Depending on where modifiers are placed in relation to the main predication, they often predispose audiences to the arguer's interpretation of evidence or events.

Keywords:   modifier, subordinate clause, relative clause, participle, infinitive, prepositional phrases, adjective, adverb, epithet

Rocket-propelled grenades slammed into U.S. military vehicles in two attacks in and around Baghdad on Tuesday, and a massive explosion at a mosque in the town of Fallujah killed at least five Iraqis and injured four others.

Rocket-propelled grenades slammed into U.S. military vehicles in two attacks Tuesday in and around Baghdad after an explosion at a mosque in the town of Fallujah killed 10 Iraqis and injured four others.

ON JULY 1, 2003, a reporter for the Associated Press filed a story from Fallujah, Iraq, at 7:25 a.m. ET, that opened with the first sentence quoted above. Periodic revisions to web-posted news stories are not uncommon, and on the same day at noon ET, an updated version filed by the Associated Press began with the second sentence.1 These two versions differ in details and word order, but most important, they differ in the way the reported events in Baghdad and Fallujah are constructed in relation to each other. How can this difference be described?

The previous chapter focused on subjects and verbs in simple sentences. But “sentences” frequently have more than one subject/verb pairing, so it is better to switch to the term clause for the minimum unit featuring a subject and verb.2 A simple sentence with a single predication is an independent clause, and joining two or more of these creates a compound sentence. Other types of clauses, called dependent, can be added to independent clauses to build up complex sentences. The main types of dependent clauses—adverb, adjective, and noun clauses—are discussed below.3 Turning an independent clause into a dependent clause shifts it into a different status in a sentence. It becomes part of the modification.

Everything in a sentence that is not predication in an independent clause is modification. To modify is to add specifying detail to basic sentence elements, as in the bolded material in this sentence from the Gettysburg Address (compare above p. 148):

The brave men, living and dead, have consecrated it, far above our poor power

who struggled here,to add or detract.

(p.179) Clearly modification is not necessary in a well-formed sentence, but English syntax allows subjects and verbs to carry extensive elaboration. And just as subject/verb choices carry the rhetor's argument and implicate a worldview, so do choices in modification. Modifiers are, in fact, strong determiners of a style, since in all but the simplest styles using the briefest independent clauses, most of the words in a sentence will be modifiers that specify, clarify, and amplify the meaning.

Modification can be analyzed in several ways, according to the type of modifier, the extent of the modification, and the placement of the modifiers. This chapter covers types—clauses, phrases, and single words—and the amount of modification. The next chapter will consider the placement of modifiers. In the act of composing, rhetors constantly make small decisions on predication versus modification. Overall, individual rhetors may favor certain patterns in these decisions, but in any one sentence or passage, their choices can be judged in terms of the argument served.

Adverb Clauses

In the first version of the news from Iraq quoted above, a conjunction (and ) links two independent clauses, each reporting an item no doubt passed on to the press in a daily briefing. This original grammatical choice in effect equates but separates the events; the two clauses are independent and coordinate, and so are the events. In the second version, one of the clauses is subordinated to the other in time: after an explosion at a mosque in the town of Fallujah killed 10 Iraqis and injured four others. By claiming that the attack on the military vehicles happened after the explosions at the mosque, the writer may be reporting the correct chronological sequence (though putting the first event second). But this subordination suggests a causal connection: that the attack on the vehicles happened because of the explosion at the mosque. The second version, therefore, has very different implications.

Adverb clauses, often called subordinate clauses, allow rhetors to create a predication, complete with subject and verb, and then to background that predication and tie it to another in a particular way with a subordinating conjunction: because, since, although, unless, while, when, until, after, whereas, if, as, just as, and dozens more. These conjunctions specify the semantic relation of the subordinate clause to the main clause. The resulting clauses function as adverbial modifiers, and as adverbs, they can come before or after, or even interrupt, the clauses they modify.

Special types of adverb clauses have important functions in argument. Some express the known or projected result of the action in the main clause: “Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift, that any substantially increased possibility of their use or any sudden change in their deployment may well be regarded as a definite threat to peace” (from Kennedy, Address on the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 [Windt 1983, 43]). Others provide a purpose that functions as a premise: “Our arms (p.180) must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction” (from Eisenhower, Farewell Address, 1961 [Safire 1997, 409]). Another type, called a proviso clause, specifies the circumstances for the action in the main clause: “It is our hope…to convince the Soviet Union that she, too, should let each nation choose its own future, so long as that choice does not interfere with the choices of others” (from Kennedy, Commencement Address at American University, 1963 [Windt 1983, 44]).

A common and important type of adverb clause, the conditional clause, usually begins with if. These clauses have two important uses in arguments. First, they stipulate circumstances, express dependencies, or convey demands with consequences. For example, in the April 3 version of his famous “Ballot or Bullet” speech, Malcolm X made the demands and consequences mutually clear: “If we don’t do something real soon, I think you’ll agree that we’re going to be forced to use the ballot or the bullet.”4 Second, if-clauses can express a fortiori arguments. These constructions argue for the likelihood of one claim based on another claim that is either more or less likely: “If an adult can’t reach the top shelf, neither can a child.” The April 12 version of “The Ballot or the Bullet” uses this form: “If you can be brave over there [in Korea], you can be brave right here.”5

Comparative clauses allow rhetors to introduce standards of reference into an argument. When Nixon justified military forays into Cambodia in a televised speech in 1970, he used a map to illustrate the geographic proximity of “sanctuaries” in Cambodia to South Vietnam. To put the point in terms an American audience could understand, he said: “Some of these, incidentally, are as close to Saigon as Baltimore is [close] to Washington” (Windt 1983, 138). Comparative clauses can also deliver arguments from analogy in a single sentence; again taking an example from a Nixon speech: “There is no more justification for wasting money on unnecessary military hardware than there is for wasting it on unwarranted social programs” (125).

Adjective Clauses

The most common type of dependent clause is the adjective clause, commonly called a relative clause, used to modify a noun (or any construction functioning as a noun). An adjective clause typically opens with a relative pronoun that refers to the noun modified (as in this sentence): for example, who, whose, whom, that, which. For the sake of clarity, an adjective clause usually appears immediately after the term it modifies, as in these antithetical modifiers from Kennedy's Inaugural Address: “If a free society cannot save the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich” (Windt 1983, 10). Adjective clauses appear in virtually any paragraph of published prose, even in books for children. Only an unusual style avoids modifying nouns with these inserted predications.

(p.181) Adjective clauses are sometimes further classified on the basis of whether they identify what they modify or merely offer additional and dispensable details. When a relative clause provides necessary clarification, it is called restrictive and left unpunctuated in print (That man who just came in is drunk). When it contains details treated as peripheral, it is called nonrestrictive and set off in commas from the rest of the sentence (That man, who just came in, is drunk). This traditional either/or distinction does not really capture the middle option that rhetors actually have, as the following instance illustrates. In the published version of Kennedy's Inaugural Address, the following sentence appears without commas around the adjective clause: “The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe” (Windt 1983, 11). Since this point follows Kennedy's praise of past generations, answering “the call” defines this group of young Americans, who are actually a subset of the young Americans buried in other countries. Had this clause appeared in print set off in commas and thus marked as peripheral, the deaths of these young Americans ( graves serving as a metonymy for deaths) would not necessarily be the result of their service. But in fact Kennedy's point shades off into allowing that any young American buried abroad died in service to the country.

In oral delivery, speakers may distinguish between essential and peripheral modification by not pausing for a restrictive modifier but pausing briefly before and after a nonrestrictive one. The voice may also be lowered slightly for nonrestrictive modifiers. Standard punctuation tries to capture such subtle spoken differences. But in a written text not derived from an oral text, it is the author's punctuation itself that really makes any particular structure restrictive or nonrestrictive, perpetuating the either/or distinction.6

Another common type of adjective clause that can modify a noun, and some adjectives as well, is the complement clause. These clauses always open with a that functioning as a conjunction, not as a relative pronoun. Consider the difference between the following: The idea that I have is fantastic versus The idea that I have a billion dollars is fantastic. Both the underlined clauses modify idea, but in the first, that is a relative pronoun referring to idea and functioning as the direct object of the clause it appears in (I have that), while in the second, that is not one of the basic constituents in its clause (subject: I, verb: have, object: a billion dollars).

One of the most famous speeches in American oratory depends again and again on complement clauses: I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed (Safire 1997, 535). King's complement clauses specify the content of his vision in the form of separate structures. Notably, King did not use clauses opening with a relative pronoun (I have a dream that is wonderful…), nor did he choose dream as a verb, which would have allowed him to use the same constructions as noun clauses serving as direct objects: I dream that one day this nation…. Instead he chose dream as his direct object (I have a dream), creating a complete sentence first that allows a slight pause after dream, highlighting it. He then continues with extensive specifications of that dream (p.182) in complement clauses. For King, to dream and to have a dream were not the same thing.

Noun Clauses

Adverb clauses are usually attached before or after an independent clause, while adjective clauses often interrupt an independent clause with qualifying information. A third type of dependent clause is better described as embedded inside another clause. A noun clause, as its name reveals, is a complete predication inserted where a single noun or a noun phrase could appear. Though this process sounds unusual, noun clauses are in fact quite common. The following noun clauses (in italics) function in the roles designated in these consecutive sentences taken from Winston Churchill's 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech: “I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war [direct object]. What they desire [subject] is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines” (Safire 1997, 874).7 Noun clauses are also commonly used for indirect speech, for paraphrasing what someone said: The president said that he would consider the matter (direct object). Since noun clauses usually function as subjects or objects, they are not really modifiers per se. But the decision to embed an entire dependent clause in one functional slot can be a way of importing elaborating detail.

The Consequences of Clause Types: Kennedy's Options

As this survey of clause types shows, English offers its users various ways to represent the status of predications in relation to each other. Rhetors can leave them as independent clauses or they can “demote” them to dependent clauses, whether adverb, adjective, or noun clauses. These are not trivial decisions. The options and consequences of expressing and relating predications in different types of clauses can be assessed by looking at two sentences from an actual text, once again from Kennedy's speech to the nation on the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963. Addressing the “captive people of Cuba” on the recently installed Soviet missiles, Kennedy used the following two consecutive independent clauses: “These new weapons are not in your interest. They contribute nothing to your peace and well-being” (Windt 1983, 40). In the form of two independent clauses of roughly equal length, punctuated as separate sentences, Kennedy presents these statements as equivalent in importance. What other options were available?

Kennedy (or his speech writers) could have subordinated one of the clauses as an adverbial modifier of the other. Since their current order could suggest that the second offers a reason for the first (see below, p. 357), that relation could be expressed as follows: These new weapons are not in your interest because they contribute nothing to your peace and well-being. The subordination could also have gone the other way: Because these weapons (p.183) are not in your interest, they contribute nothing to your peace and well being. Either way, the resulting construction is a conclusion/premise pair, and the argument has been made explicit. Urged by this reasoning, Cuba would independently assess what was in its self-interest (“your interest”) as serving its peace and well-being, rather than, by implication, serving Soviet interests. (Of course, it was also in Cuba's economic and security interests to have the Soviet presence.)

Kennedy could also have made one of the original independent clauses into an adjective clause modifying a term in the other clause. Again, treating the second sentence as more movable could produce These new weapons, which contribute nothing to your peace and well-being, are not in your interest, where one of the original sentences now serves as a nonrestrictive clause modifying weapons. In this version, one statement serves as an “aside” to the other. The reverse embedding—These new weapons, which are not in your interest, contribute nothing to your peace and well-being—yields a similarly “offhand” comment. Trying to make either of the original sentences into a restrictive adjective clause—for example, These new weapons which are not in your interest—would not work at all, because such a restrictive specification suggests another group of weapons that are in your interest to be distinguished from those which are not.

Finally, with some rewording, Kennedy's two sentences could have been turned into two noun clauses in one sentence: That these weapons contribute nothing to your peace and well-being means that they are not in your interest. The structure here—X means Y—creates a strong cause-effect relationship between the two statements. But given its awkwardness, this alternative can be dropped from consideration.

The actual form that Kennedy chose, which may or may not have been the “best” from a diplomatic or strategic point of view, has a different effect. Standing alone, the first statement (These new weapons are not in your interest) is surely a subtle threat. To say that something is not in a nation's interest serves as a litotes for unspecified harm. The next separate statement makes a different point, offering a perspective internal to Cuba (its peace and well-being). In other words, there are two problems here for the Cuban government to consider: external and internal. They occupy, or rather are produced by, the separate sentences. Even the slight alteration of combining these two statements into a single compound sentence with two independent clauses (These new weapons are not in your interest, and they will not contribute to your peace and well-being) would obscure the effect of forwarding two separate if related issues for the Cuban government to consider.

Modifying with Phrases

Adlai E. Stevenson, twice the Democratic presidential candidate in the 1950s, made the following concessions in a speech to an American Legion Convention during his 1952 campaign:

(p.184) Many of the threats to our cherished freedoms in these anxious, troubled times arise, it seems to me, from a healthy apprehension about the Communist menace within our country. Communism is abhorrent. It is strangulation of the individual; it is death for the soul. (Safire 1997, 72)

The predication of the first sentence hardly conveys its meaning: it seems to me [that] many…arise. Instead, the modifiers carry the key words: threats, cherished freedoms, anxious, troubled times in three prepositional phrases attached (with embedding) to the subject many, and healthy apprehension, Communist menace, our country in three prepositional phrases attached to the verb arise. The second sentence, however, providing a dramatic spoken contrast with the first, contains only basic sentence constituents minus any modification: subject (communism), linking verb (is), predicate adjective (abhorrent). In the final sentence, composed of two independent clauses, the key sentence elements and the modifiers share responsibility as the potent predicate nouns carry heavy identifiers: strangulation/of the individual, death/for the soul. Thus, this one short passage displays the alternative options of using the basic predication versus the modification to carry the salient content.

Phrases, like the prepositional phrases favored in Stevenson's first sentence, do the heavy lifting of modification. A phrase (the term preferred here) lacks the subject and verb pair of the clause, but it is inserted or removed as a unit.8 The easiest way to sort through the available types of phrasal modifiers in English is to distinguish those built on verbs (participial and infinitive phrases) from those built on nouns (appositives, absolute phrases, resumptive and summative modifiers). Phrases built on prepositions belong in a class by themselves.

Phrases Built on Verbs

Participial Phrases

Suppose a speaker or writer wants to report two actions by the same agent. These two actions could become double verbs attached to the same subject: (1) John waves a flag and blows a whistle. But one of these actions could be expressed in a phrase modifying the agent John: (2) Waving a flag, John blows a whistle or (3) Blowing a whistle, John waves a flag. The differences among these three alternatives are significant. In the first, the two equated actions could be performed consecutively. In the second and third, they are performed simultaneously, but one action becomes the background condition for the other expressed in the main verb. Furthermore, the verb demoted to a participle has become an attribute of the noun, in this case the subject John. Choosing to express an action as a participle rather than a verb changes the relation of that action to an agent.

Participles are formed in English either by adding –ing to a verb (e.g., checking, holding, traditionally the present participle)9 or by adding –ed or using the appropriate form of (p.185) an irregular verb (e.g., checked, held, traditionally the past participle). Participles can involve auxiliary verbs changing tense and aspect (being loving; having considered ) or take passive forms (having been informed ). Also, since participles are formed from verbs, they retain some of the verb's properties; they can, for example, be modified by adverbs (checking quickly) or take an object (checking the schedule). Add modifiers or objects or more, and the single-word participle becomes a participial phrase: throwing the dog a bone, considering him a success, given another chance. (Only present participles can take indirect objects or object/complement structures.) Functioning as adjectives, participial phrases usually occur next to the noun they modify (Wilted by the heat, the lettuce had to be thrown away; The lettuce, wilted by the heat, had to be thrown away). But participial phrases can sometimes “lose touch” with the noun they modify, causing minor to serious confusion: Wilted by the heat, the cook threw the lettuce away.10

Participles can contribute significantly to the verbal quality of a passage by increasing the actions referred to. Hence, measuring how “verbal” a style is on the basis of the ratio of tensed verbs to the total number of words can be misleading. Consider the following passage from the opening paragraph of Isaac Newton's 1672 article on the decomposition of white light into colors. Newton is explaining how he first generated a spectrum (his coinage) of colors with a prism:

And in order thereto having darkened my chamber, and [having] made a small hole in the window-shuts, to let in a convenient quantity of the Suns [sic] light, I placed my Prisme at his entrance, that it might be thereby refracted to the opposite wall. (Newton 1672, 3076; italics added)

The independent clause in this passage has only one tensed verb, placed, in the tight predication I placed my Prisme. But the main clause also contains two participial phrases modifying I and describing two actions that preceded placing the prism: darkening the room and making a hole in the shutters to admit a stream of sunlight. As verb forms, these participles describe accomplished and still relevant actions (hence the use of having), but as adjectives the actions described also become attributes (“accidents” in dialectical terms) of the agent performing the main action. Newton carries these accomplishments into the main predication. As far as the narrative of events is concerned, since these participial phrases come before the main verb, they are in correct order for the sequence of actions Newton performed: he darkened his chamber, made a hole in his shutters, and placed his prism next to the hole. He could have used three tensed verbs in a series of short clauses; he chose instead two participles and one main verb, and the action this verb expresses then becomes the most important. But the net result is not quite a single action. The main clause is therefore somewhat more action-packed than it might seem when a census of verbs reveals just one.

(p.186) Infinitive Phrases

Another phrase built on a verb is the infinitive phrase (or to-infinitival). By itself, the infinitive is an easily recognized structure in English because it always contains to followed by the plain form of a verb: to sing, to impress, to sit down (phrasal verb). Infinitives also come in perfect (to have won), progressive (to be sailing), and passive forms (to be improved ). Given its verbal nature, the infinitive can be modified with adverbs: to sing sweetly; to sing in the shower.11 And if the verb in the infinitive is transitive, it can take an object or complement: to sing a song; to be sending him a letter; to have labeled the fruit organic. The resulting infinitive phrases are versatile. They can fill any sentence role: To send a letter [subject] requires a stamp; Our goal is to win the race [predicate complement]. Infinitives are often a part of the main verb phrase in a sentence (She wants to sing light opera) rather than a modifier of the verb (She sings light opera to please her grandmother; the adverbial usage of infinitives can take the insertion of in order to). In any of these various roles, heavily used in contemporary English, infinitives pack action into the sentence, just as participles do.

When infinitives are used as modifiers, the usage of interest here, they can function as adjectives: “I announced a decision to withdraw an additional 150,000 Americans from Vietnam over the next year” (Nixon; Windt 1983, 137). But they are frequently used as adverbs: “We will harness the sun and the wind and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories” (Obama 2009). In their adverbial roles, infinitives offer rhetors a place to add crucial interpretive details about purposes, motives, and goals.

Again, Newton's scientific prose offers an example of how infinitives, in this case adverbial, add action while modifying. Here is the very first sentence of the same 1672 article on light and color, which took the form of a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Royal Society, Henry Oldenburg.

Sir, To perform my late promise to you, I shall without further ceremony acquaint you, that in the beginning of the Year 1666 (at which time I applied myself to the grinding of Optick glasses of other figures than Spherical,) I procured me a Triangular glass-Prisme, to try therewith the celebrated Phænomena of Colours. (Newton, 1672, 3075; phrasal italics added)

Newton's sentence brims with activity in the main and dependent clauses (I shall acquaint, I applied myself, I procured, and even the gerund, grinding). It also opens and closes symmetrically with two infinitive phrases supplying crucial details about the intentions behind his actions. He shall acquaint Oldenburg in order to perform a promise; he acquired a prism in order to try producing colors with it. In this manner, the adverbial infinitive can direct the interpretation of other actions in a sentence.

(p.187) Phrases Built on Nouns

While nouns are easily modified by single words and by phrases built on verbs, they can also be modified by phrases built on a second noun with a clear relationship to the first. The distinct relationship of this new noun to the noun modified becomes the key for sorting through these phrase types and for beginning to appreciate their special rhetorical effects.

Appositive: built on a noun renaming the noun it modifies12

Botswana, a landlocked African nation

Absolute construction: built on a noun related to the noun it modifies as a part or feature

The driver, his hair invisible under his cap,

Resumptive Modifier: built by repeating the noun it modifies

The letter from the president, a letter without precedent

Summative Modifier: Built on a noun summarizing or generalizing a preceding clause or phrase

The committee voted ten to one, a departure from its usual practices.

Each of these constructions offers the rhetor special advantages, but one thing they all have in common is that they are more characteristic of written or formal styles than of spoken or informal styles. The fact that these constructions can be found in so many political speeches is merely further evidence of the preparation behind these speeches.

Appositives

An appositive allows rhetors to clarify a noun by inserting another noun, or noun plus modifiers, immediately after it: William James, a pilot, strongly supports firearms in the cockpit. The new noun, in turn, can carry any of the modification that a noun usually carries: William James, a pilot with ten years’ experience who flies an international route, supports firearms in the cockpit. The appositive can rename any noun in a sentence, not just the subject (She came in her new car, a 1957 Cadillac). But it has to occur immediately after the noun it renames (or the noun plus its identifying modifiers): the last citizen to vote, a man with orange hair. When the modified noun occurs at the end of a sentence, the appositive can function as a dramatic revelation: He left the meeting without one thing, his conscience.

In its restricted position, the appositive provides an identifying title, label, or category, allowing the rhetor to control the interpretation of a term. Consider the following alternatives: Bernard Ebbers, former CEO of Enron; Bernard Ebbers, codefendant in the Enron indictment. Each choice is factual and verifiable, but each would have a different effect in a developing argument. The appositive also allows a rhetor to retain two characterizations of a subject, but to give one greater prominence (The chimpanzee, our closest genetic relative; Our closest genetic relative, the chimpanzee). Furthermore, the “quickness” of the (p.188) appositive, as well as its typical position immediately after a noun yet subordinated to the main sentence elements, make it something of a “stealth” modifier, inserting an interpretive term almost before the reader/listener is aware of what has happened.

Absolute Phrases

The absolute phrase begins with a noun linked in meaning to another noun in a sentence, usually the subject. This second noun is then further modified in some way, usually by a participial phrase so that the entire construction seems to be a “reduced” clause. The absolute phrase, unlike the appositive, can be placed before or after or even detached from the noun it modifies, as these examples show:

  • Their shouts and laughter filling the hallways, the fourth graders left school

  • early.

  • The swaying, chanting protestors, the sound of their own voices urging them on,

  • charged the police.

  • John stood at attention, his arm fixed in a salute.

Forming these constructions depends on selecting a leading term that can be related to another noun as either a part of it (John as a person plausibly has an arm), or as a manifestation or result of it (fourth graders are a plausible source of shouts and laughter), or as an attribute of it (protestors can be thought of as agents who can make and hear sounds and are capable of being influenced).

What are the special “affordances” of the absolute phrase? It provides ample space for selecting and elaborating on some feature of another noun, and it focuses readers on that feature. This construction also holds its material in a suspended state, coordinated in time or place with a referent in the main clause. And it obviously contributes to the intonational pattern of a sentence. But absolute phrases are more typical of written than spoken language, and they were more common in previous centuries among prose stylists who had been trained in Latin. In contemporary prose, they can seem overly formal, poetic, or even archaic.

Resumptive Modifiers

English allows modifying phrases built on repeated nouns. Resumptive modifiers are actually quite common in political oratory because they facilitate emphasis in the speech stream by allowing the rhetor to return to a key term. Here is the structure from a speech given by Robert Kennedy in South Africa:

(p.189) For a decade, NUSAS [National Union of South African Students] has stood and worked for the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—principles which embody the collective hopes of men of good will around the world. (1966)

The repeated noun, or noun phrase, that anchors such resumptive constructions is rarely the subject. Instead, this structure usually revisits or “rescues” words trapped in unemphatic positions earlier in a sentence. Kennedy, in the above example, retrieved principles from a “trough” in a prepositional phrase in the middle of his sentence. He could then both emphasize and modify it.

Summative Modifiers

Instead of repeating a word or selecting a noun with a clear relation to another noun, a writer using a summative modifier selects a term that can pick up or sum up the content of all or part of the preceding sentence. Modification is then attached to this newly introduced noun.

Congress passed several acts to extend tax relief between 2000 and 2004, a response to the lobbying efforts of tax relief groups.

This structure has something in common with the absolute phrase, but the summarizing term that heads this phrase is usually more general or abstract than the noun opening the absolute phrase. It also has something in common with the appositive, the structure that renames, but it does not have to be located immediately after the modified noun phrase.

Resumptive and summative phrases, like appositives and absolute constructions, allow an arguer great selective and interpretive power. The resumptive modifier reaches into a string of terms and pulls out one for the emphasis of repetition. The summative modifier imposes an interpretive category for another portion of the sentence, usually the main predication. Meanwhile, the subordinate status of all these noun-dependent structures backgrounds their content. They are less open to challenge, especially if they are not placed in the emphasized ending of a sentence.

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositions are a large class of relational words, most of Old English origin. They appear in phrasal verbs (set out, set off, set on), but they occur most often with their own objects: by the author, in the library, at noon, with the hammer, throughout the world, because of the heat (two-word preposition), in spite of the cold (three-word preposition). Prepositional (p.190) phrases can do whatever a single-word adjective or adverb can do, modifying any noun, verb, modifier, or larger unit in a clause:

  • Modifying the subject: The carrots on the table have been cooked.

  • Modifying the verb: John ran in a circle.

  • Modifying an adjective: Maria was angry with herself.

Prepositional phrases usually follow immediately after the term they modify, but they can sometimes be placed before it: Of the three players, one has the winning hand versus One of the three players has the winning hand. A prepositional phrase can also appear before a noun (as a premodifier) if it is hyphenated and in effect turned into a single word: that under-the-weather feeling; an in-the-loop official. Prepositional phrases that function as adverbs can move around: In the spring, she took seven courses versus She took seven courses in the spring.

The relational meanings expressed by prepositions are legion. Working as adverbs, they can provide very precise information about the where of an action (Casper placed the peg in the hole on the left side of the table under the window in the back room), or the when (  for the first time, at three o’clock on the afternoon of September 8th). But many more relations can be expressed, including circumstances, orientation to the speaker, cause, and possession. Prepositions also appear in many idioms, prepared phrases, and figurative constructions. They constitute one of the peskiest parts of English for nonnative speakers, and they even trouble native speakers who attempt new registers.

Single-Word Modifiers

The smallest unit of modification is the single adjective or adverb. As the minimum in modification for clarification, English sentences require most singular nouns to be accompanied by the determiners, or definite articles, the or a/an. These particles, traditionally classified as adjectives, perform the crucial function of specifying the status of an object in relation to a rhetorical situation. Consider the difference between A dog can’t go in a restaurant and The dog can’t go in the restaurant. The first states a general principle; the second belongs in a specific situation. English allows substitutions for definite articles with demonstrative adjectives (this, that, such), quantifiers (some, any, all, every, each) and possessives (my, his, her, our, their). But altogether, English has a small, ancient, unchanging set of these specifying modifiers. Rhetors can sometimes avoid them by using plurals (Dogs can’t go in restaurants), but most often they are crucial in building up the world referred to.

While the determiners, demonstratives, quantifiers, and possessives are closed sets, English adjectives and adverbs are large, open classes. Single-word adjectives can modify any noun in a sentence, and single-word adverbs can modify any verb, adjective, or other adverb: The old woman very quickly gave the light brown dog a ham bone. Single-word adjectives typically come immediately before the noun they modify, and single-word (p.191) adverbs that modify adjectives or other adverbs are also stuck in front: awfully sincere, excessively angry, very intensely heated. However, adverbs that modify verbs or whole clauses can move around: The woman quickly gave the dog a bone; Quickly the woman gave the dog a bone; The woman gave the dog a bone quickly.

Single-word adjectives tend to be used to name the essential properties or qualities of the nouns they modify. A yellow fruit has the color yellow as a distinguishing feature. The prenoun adjective can, in fact, be so fundamental to the identity of a noun that it becomes part of its name: courthouse, golf club, cell phone (see above “Compounds,” p. 44). The importance of the single adjective shows up when a second is added and constraints in word order have to observed. The more essential/defining the detail, the closer the adjective to the noun. Consider the noun chef modified by the adjectives pastry, Lithuanian, and angry. Native speakers, unwittingly dialecticians, will produce the “natural” order angry Lithuanian pastry chef, inevitably placing critical “property” terms closest to the noun and less fixed “accidents” further away.

Single-word adverbs can provide critical information about an action. Critics often complain that adverbs are used when speakers or writers fail to select verbs that convey both the action and the manner of its performance: John called loudly versus John shouted. But verb + adverb pairings can be defended, and of course the number of single-word adverbs can be multiplied to suggest nuances beyond any single verb's power: John called loudly, insistently, frantically.

The single-word adjective and adverb modification available in English includes well-marked comparative and superlative degrees, as in adjective or adverb series like high, higher, highest or often, more often, most often. The scales these choices express have powerful argumentative potential. A well-placed “degree” adjective or adverb can condense a comparison argument or place an item in an implicit value hierarchy. The language of encomium, for example, often relies on modifiers in the superlative degree, as when Lyndon Johnson praised his assassinated predecessor before a Joint Session of Congress: “The greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time” (Windt 1983, 53; italics added).

An Epithetical Style

Rhetorical style manuals discuss what is in effect the single-word modifier under the figure epitheton.13 In introducing this device, Quintilian noted that poets frequently use expressions like “white teeth” or “liquid wine,” but he expected a different standard in oratory, where “an epithet is redundant unless it has some point. Now it will only have point when it adds something to the meaning, as for instance in the following: ‘O abominable crime!’ ‘O hideous lust!’ ” (1921, III 325). Quintilian went on to give advice about single-word modifiers that has been repeated for centuries: “But the nature of this form of embellishment is such that, while style is bare and inelegant without any epithets at all, it is overloaded when a large number are employed. For then it becomes long-winded (p.192) and cumbrous, in fact you might compare it to an army with as many camp-followers as soldiers, an army, this is to say, which has doubled its numbers without doubling its strength” (325).

Speakers and writers sometimes ignore this advice and hang a single-word modifier on virtually every noun and an adverb on every verb. The result has been called an epithetical style. This pattern of heightened yet predictable descriptive language is typical in genres like the travel ad.

The perfect eight-day Hawaiian getaway. Journey to Oahu and Maui, two of the most beautiful islands on this all-inclusive, first-class Hawaiian package. Pristine white beaches, crystal waters and friendly people await you…14

Multiplying and Embedding Modifiers

The modifying structures available in English—clauses, phrases, and single words—can build up sentences in two ways. First, they can be multiplied. Instead of one prenoun adjective or one participial phrase or relative clause attached to a noun, the writer can add two or three or occasionally even more. These sequences of parallel modifying structures are not uncommon in political oratory.

…the torch has been passed to a new generationSentence Construction: Modification

(Kennedy, Windt 1983, 9)

But modifying structures can also be embedded so that one refers to another. Adjective clauses, for example, can easily nest in each other:

They [lobbying firms led by former employees of Tom Ridge] are a small part of a booming new lobbying business in Washington that is focused on helping large corporations get a share of the billions of dollars that will be spent by the vast domestic security bureaucracy that Mr. Ridge oversees. (Shenon 2003)

The levels of modification in this sentence can be displayed as follows:

(p.193) …of a booming new lobbying business in Washington

Sentence Construction: Modification

The successive strata here aptly express how lobbying firms might act indirectly, through layers, on the homeland security secretary at the time, Tom Ridge.

Infinitive phrases are also easily multiplied or subordinated to express how one action is performed for the sake of another, as in this line from Eisenhower's “Atoms for Peace” speech:

Clearly it would not be fitting for me

Sentence Construction: Modification

The two principles of multiplying or embedding modifiers can easily be mixed in the same sentence, as in this visionary encomium from Jefferson's first inaugural address (Safire 1997, 801):

  • A rising nation

Sentence Construction: Modification

Jefferson's sentence attaches four participles, two present and two past in alternating sequence, directly to the nation (which is also modified by the prenoun participle rising). Each of the four participial phrases has a different amount of internal embedded modification, but each starts off the first level of subordination with a prepositional phrase that gives some added structure.

(p.194) Amount of Modification

As the section above demonstrates, the type and placement of modifiers can be critical to the meaning and effectiveness of an individual sentence. Other stylistic effects are achieved by cumulative patterns across many sentences or passages. In general, how much modification a passage displays is a revealing indicator of its message and intended impact. Passages, and hence “styles,” can be roughly graded by how heavily modified they are.

Minimal Modification

A spare style is one with little modification relative to the basic sentence elements (subjects, verbs, objects or complements). The simplest style of all is found, predictably, in children's primers. The very first sentence children learned in their first McGuffey's Reader was The dog ran, followed in the next few lessons with, among others, The cat is on the mat, A man has a pen, and Ann can catch Rab. (Rab is a dog, to be replaced by the immortal Spot in the Dick and Jane readers of the 1930s.) The spare style of the primer is not all that far from the preferred style of modernist writers like Hemingway and his many journalist followers. The following excerpt in the modernist manner comes from Bill Buford's firsthand account of British soccer fans rampaging after a match in Italy.

Directly in front of me—so close I could almost reach out to touch his face—a young Italian, a boy really, had been knocked down. As he was getting up, an English supporter pushed the boy down again, ramming his flat hand against the boy's face. He fell back and his head hit the pavement, the back of it bouncing slightly.

Two other Manchester United supporters appeared. One kicked the boy in the ribs. It was a soft sound, which surprised me. You could hear the impact of the shoe on the fabric of the boy's clothing. He was kicked again—this time very hard—and the sound was still, soft, muted. The boy reached down to protect himself, to guard his ribs, and the other English supporter then kicked him in the face. This was a soft sound as well, but it was different: you could tell that it was his face that had been kicked and not his body and not something protected by clothing. It sounded gritty. The boy tried to get up and he was pushed back down—sloppily, without much force. Another Manchester United supporter appeared and another and then a third. There were now six, and they all started kicking the boy on the ground. The boy covered his face. I was surprised that I could tell, from the sound, when someone's shoe missed or when it struck the fingers and not the forehead or the nose. (Kerane and Yagoda 1997, 360–61)

The subjects, verbs, and objects or predicate adjectives or nouns in the independent clauses in this passage are printed in bold to indicate how much of the wording is taken up by these (p.195) basic sentence constituents. With sickening emphasis, the main clauses relate the violence as the “supporters” repeatedly kick the Italian boy's body and face. Of course action also dominates in the modifying structures, dependent clauses, participial phrases, and even in one absolute construction: as he was getting up; ramming his flat hand against the boy's face; the back of it bouncing slightly; to guard his ribs; when someone's shoe missed or when it struck the fingers. Hence the overall style here is predictably highly verbal rather than nominal. Furthermore, the emphasis on sound is an unusual feature of this passage, and its persuasive effect is to heighten the first person accuracy of the narrator as an observer or “experiencer” but not as a participant (and unfortunately not as an intervener) in the attack.

Heavily Modified Styles

The following item appeared on the menu in first class on a trans-Atlantic flight.

Freshly brewed Timothy's Custom Roasted Italian Blend Gourmet Coffee

A string of eight words modifies the single item “coffee.” Technically, some of the words in this string modify other words in it; freshly modifies brewed, custom modifies roasted, and Italian modifies blend. But it is the weight and magnificence of all these prenoun modifiers together that establishes the first-class nature of this menu item. In general, on menus, the more adjectives, the more expensive.

Some writers habitually set the modification dial on “high.” A heavily modified style is one with a higher number of modifiers in proportion to the main clause elements, as in the eight-to-one modifier to noun ratio for Timothy's coffee. In what genres and for what purposes will a heavily modified style be used? Though there are endless variations depending on the rhetorical situation of a text, in general, heavy modification serves description, and description, in turn, serves various purposes, from straightforward characterization to and including evaluation, and its extremes of praising or condemning.

The following passage comes from a book on baseball by A. Bartlett Giamatti, one-time commissioner of baseball. (Compare this passage visually with the one quoted from Buford above.) In a section excerpted in Newsweek, Giamatti wrote a hymn of praise to baseball, a sport he called a “vast, communal poem.” To support his encomium, he described the following scene during playoffs in St. Louis. The main sentence elements below are bolded. All the rest is modification.

(1) The Marriott Pavilion Hotel in St. Louis is hard by the ballpark. (2) It consists of a pair of towers linked by a vast lobby and corridors and a ramp, the cavernous space interspersed with plants and some chairs and columns. (3) During the National League Championship Series between St. Louis and San Francisco in 1987, the lobby was ablaze—with Cardinal crimson on hats, jackets, sweaters, scarves, ties. (4) Here and there one glimpsed the orange-and-black of the House (p.196) of Lurie, as a Giant rooter, like some lonely fish, wove its way across a scarlet coral reef. (5) But such creatures were rare.

(6) By mid-morning the lobby is crowded and will remain crowded, except during the game, until about 2 a.m., then to fill up by nine and wait the long day until the game time. (7) There are the smiling middle-aged couples, festooned in buttons and insignia, this day yet another convention day in a lifetime of conventioneering; the groups of teenage boys, in the plumage of scarlet windbreakers, like young birds craning their necks for the nourishment of a glimpse. (8) By a plant or a coffee shop, always alone, white hair crisply permed, in electric blue or purple pants suit, holding an autograph book, is a grandmotherly woman, smiling distractedly, waiting for a hero. (9) There are always some single men in their forties, in nondescript clothes, hair slightly awry, eyes burning with fatigue and anticipation; they are the religiously obsessed, drawn by a vision in their heads that will not give them peace. (10) They stand apart and wait for hours in this place. (11) Very different are the middle-aged teenagers, men in groups, all mid-forties, who shout and drink the day away, some with young women in black leather pants and scarlet T-shirts, their laughter and their manner frenzied. (12) At the back of the lobby, down on a lower level, around a low table, sit this morning the Giants’ manager and coaches. (13) They are like chiefs at a gathering of the clan, planning strategy, ignoring the celebrants while absorbing their energy. (1989, 87).

Giamatti vividly catalogs the variety of people, from different age groups and genders, who throng a hotel near the stadium. This variety supports his argument for baseball's wide appeal. It is also his goal to present an image of the scene so that the reader seems to be there, picking up the color, excitement, and devotion, the qualities that support his encomium. Hence the heavy modification delivers detail, most of it concerning the appearance of the fans, some concerning their behavior. The long opening constructions physically place the fans and readers in the hotel panorama. To deliver this excess of description, Giamatti uses prepositional phrases, appositives, participial phrases, adjective clauses, and even an absolute construction—but no adverb clauses that would link his statements to each other as reasons, exceptions, or the like. His argument is indirect.

Analyzing Modification

Patterns in predication and modification can lead to contrasts between passages and writers, as in the rough characterizations of the Buford and Giamatti excerpts above, based on the relative proportion of modification. It is also possible to focus on a single sentence or on a stretch of several to see how the modifiers are working. And finally, in a longer passage, it is possible not merely to note proportions, but to examine what kind of content is distributed into the main sentence elements and what kind into modifying structures, and how any patterns that emerge may serve the argument.

(p.197) The Ubiquitous Saddam

Assessing the style of a single sentence to determine how it serves its purpose has to begin with simply identifying its parts, separating the predication from the modification. The following sentence comes from an Associated Press news story on the Washington Post website in July 2003:

Tikrit, Iraq—Attackers gunned down the head of Saddam Hussein's tribe, who recently disavowed the ousted dictator, while he rode in a car in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, the regional governor said Tuesday.15

News leads like this one are highly formulaic. Their purpose is to communicate the essential details of a story (who, what, when, where, why, how) immediately, and, where relevant, the source of the story. Like many such sentences, this one, technically, is backwards. Its true subject is the regional governor, its verb is said, and the object of this verb is everything that he said, namely the front part of the sentence.

The regional governor said [that] attackers gunned down the head of Saddam Hussein's tribe […]

The noun clause functioning as the object does, however, contain the important gist of the sentence and the essential details. Its subject is Attackers, its verb is gunned down (a phrasal verb), and its object is head. These elements are essential information; all the rest is modification. The subject is not modified for the simple reason that nothing is known about the perpetrators of the crime; they have in fact been named from the deed. The verb itself also remains unmodified; it is sufficiently strong and colloquial, carrying connotations, no doubt deliberate, of gangland slayings. The object head, however, has two modifiers.

  • head of Saddam Hussein's tribe,

  • who recently disavowed the ousted dictator,

The prepositional phrase gives the key identifying feature of the victim, the reason this item is considered newsworthy in the first place. The relative adjective clause, who recently disavowed the ousted dictator, is punctuated as a nonrestrictive modifier, as dispensable information, but it earns its way into the lead sentence because it suggests, obliquely, a possible answer to the “why” question for the tribal chief's murder at the hands of Saddam loyalists. The final construction is an adverbial subordinate clause modifying the entire kernel clause; it provides the circumstances and location of the event.

  • [Attackers gunned down the head]

  • while he rode in a car in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit

(p.198) The “where” is conveyed in prepositional phrases within this subordinate clause. All three modifying devices occur after the main elements conveying the agent, action, and recipient. This placement turns them into clarifying detail in a right-branching construction.

In these three modifying structures—prepositional phrase, adjective clause, and adverb clause—the writer has skillfully managed to invoke the presence of Saddam Hussein three times by using well-placed epithets/adjectives, while also choosing the type of structure appropriate to the type of information. The dead man was the leader of Saddam's tribe, he was killed in Saddam's hometown, and he had recently disavowed the ousted dictator (a synonym for Hussein). The repetition of this name inserts this individual event into the large-scale events of the time, the U.S. presence in Iraq after deposing Saddam but, in July 2003, before his capture. In this way, the modification, while factual, “argues for” a particular interpretation of the event reported in terms that would be salient with a U.S. audience. Imagine the difference if it were somehow known that this “tribal head” had been killed for personal motives by a local rival.

“To the People of Ireland”

During the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, seven members of the self-proclaimed Provisional Government issued a Proclamation “To the People of Ireland” that opens with the following two paragraphs:

Irishmen and Irishwomen: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.

Having organized and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organization, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her military organizations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.16

Throughout this amazing document, the proportion of modification to predication is lopsided in favor of modification. The single sentence in the second paragraph is a striking example of this imbalance. This sentence opens with a disproportionately large structure which is formed from three parallel participial phrases:

  • having organized and trained her manhood

  • having patiently perfected her discipline

  • having resolutely waited

Furthermore, the first of these participial phrases is disproportionately long in contrast to the other two because it in turn contains two parallel prepositional phrases (through her (p.199) secret revolutionary organization; through her military organizations), and the first of these contains one appositive, the second two. The net effect of this complex, interrupted, and left-heavy initial construction is to hold the reader in suspension for some impending action and hence to place great emphasis on that action when it finally appears in the main predication: she now seizes. The placement and amount of this modification is of course not incidental to the meaning. The point of the sentence is that there had been great preparation, perfected patience, and waiting on the part of the rebels before the action announced was taken. The disproportion between this long waiting, the suspended and continued preparation expressed in participles, and the short active verb combined with the personified agent of the country (she seizes) is precisely the point of the sentence. If there is one imperfection in the form, it is that the second of the three participial phrases is shorter than the third. It would have been better for the sake of symmetry or end weight if the phrases had each decreased in length so that the shortest occurred just before the reported action. It might also make sense in terms of meaning if the waiting preceded the perfecting of patience. But the phrasing is as it is.

Summary

When Joe DiMaggio died, the New York Times published a front-page obituary that featured the following first sentence:

Hollywood, Fla, March 8—Joe DiMaggio, the flawless center fielder for the New York Yankees who, along with Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, symbolized the team's dynastic success across the 20th century and whose 56-game hitting streak in 1941 made him an instant and indelible American folk hero, died early today at his home here. He was 84 years old. (Durso 1999)

The appositive renames DiMaggio in his defining activity, as a center fielder, with the critical qualifiers flawless and  for the New York Yankees. The two relative clauses put his attributes into action: he symbolized his team, and his hitting streak made him a hero. Added to these structures, the two prepositional phrases, with Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle and across the 20th century, place DiMaggio with peers as a standard of comparison, scaling his fame in time. All these subject modifiers, placed in a mid-branching construction, postpone the announcement of DiMaggio's death and carry the evaluation argument, the reasons for marking his passing. They deliver details selected from what rhetorical manuals called the topics for persons: the place, age, manner of life, condition of body and mind, family, friends, habits, deeds, and reputation (Cicero 1976, 191–93).

The constructions available for adding modification in English range from the clause to the phrase to the single word. They are sites for amplifying and supporting detail, and each offers persuasive advantages. The single adjective or adverb can appear indissociable from the term it modifies, forestalling refutation. The appositive offers an apparently equivalent, (p.200) fungible term, and other noun-based modifiers (absolute, resumptive, and summative) propel a feature into attention. The verbal modifiers, participles and infinitives, can turn actions into attributes, less open to questioning. Relative clauses expand details with full predications, and subordinate clauses open with conjunctions that determine the meaning relations between statements, elevating one above the other. Since rhetors can shape the same material into different structures, identifying what structures were chosen at what points, or which tend to be preferred, can offers insights into the rhetorical style of a text.

Notes

(1.) The two Associated Press postings appeared on the Washington Post and New York Times websites respectively: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A56075-2003Juli.html?nav+hptop_ts. and http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/international/AP-Iraq.html?pagewanted=print&position=. Neither is still available. Still another version, which corrects the details but keeps the separate independent clauses, is posted on another site: “Rocket-propelled grenades slammed into U.S. military vehicles in two attacks in and around Baghdad on Tuesday, and an explosion at a mosque in the town of Fallujah killed 10 Iraqis and injured four others.” Jim Krane, “New Violence Wracks Iraq: Explosion at Mosque Kills 10 Iraqis” (July 1, 2003, Associated Press) http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0701-01.htm.

(2.) In written texts in English, a sentence can be defined as whatever begins with a capital letter and ends with some concluding punctuation (period, question mark, exclamation mark). The “sentence” of spoken discourse is much more difficult to define. It can be approximated by a prosodic description. Whatever ends with falling intonation is typically a statement, and whatever ends with rising intonation is typically a question.

(3.) Distinguishing between sentence and clause here follows standard practice in rhetorical stylistics, beginning in the third book of the Rhetoric, where Aristotle described the period, akin to our sentence, as a compositional unit made up from cola, akin to our clauses (Kennedy 1991, 240–41).Grammarians certainly have many other ways of describing sentences. One system, for example, defines a nucleus, essentially the verb, accompanied by various participants such as the causative agent, immediate agent, experiencer, benefactee, content, and place. See Nida et al. 1983.

(4.) http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/malcolmxballot.htm; accessed 3/20/2005. The American Rhetoric site has since replaced the April 3 version of Malcolm X's “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech with one delivered on April 12 in Detroit. The later version lacks this conditional clause and several that appear just before it, but it uses others: If they draft you, they send you to Korea and make you face 800 million Chinese [consequence from a hypothetical circumstance]; If you—If you go to jail, so what? If you black, you were born in jail. If you black, you were born in jail, in the North as well as the South [consequence from a hypothetical circumstance—though not hypothetical for Malcolm X, who spent years in jail].

(6.) Some editors and style sheets want restrictive clauses to use that and nonrestrictive clauses to use which.

The fish that are bottom feeders collect more toxins in their flesh.

The fish, which are bottom feeders, collect more toxins in their flesh.

(p.201) Observing a “that/which” distinction is the mark of a contemporary edited style. It was certainly not the rule in older prose which used which to introduce restrictive clauses (like this one).

In current usage, it is also common to dispense with the relative pronoun or the conjunction that marks the relative clause or noun clause.

The dress that she borrowed was ruined. ® The dress she borrowed was ruined.

The employee whom he hired was an engineer. ® The employee he hired was an engineer.

In these examples, thatand whom are the direct objects in the relative clause: she borrowed that (the dress); he hired whom (the employee). Since the word the relative pronoun refers to occurs immediately before it, the pronoun can be dropped. If the relative pronoun is the subject of its clause, it cannot be deleted.

The employee who came late was an engineer ≠ The employee came late was an engineer.

In another common ellipsis, the that introducing a noun clause reporting what someone said is dropped without a loss of clarity.

Leila said that she is coming tomorrow ®

Leila said she is coming tomorrow.

(7.) Noun clauses can fill any of the following grammatical slots.

Subject: Whether the ship survived the storm is still uncertain.

Direct object: No one doubted that she was the winner.

Indirect object: He will give whoever comes first a special prize.

Object of a preposition: He will give the tickets to whichever contestant wins.

Object of an infinitive: He wants to know how he can become famous.

Object of a participle: Calculating what the car would cost, George had regrets.

Object of a gerund: Knowing that your parents love you gives children the courage to try new things.

Complement (Predicate nominative): The prize will be whatever you want to have from the store.

(8.) The term phrase is not used here as it is used by many grammarians and discourse analysts who call participial and infinitive phrases clauses with nonfinite verbs, that is, verbs without tense. This text maintains a robust distinction between clauses, whether independent or dependent, which have both subjects and verbs with tense, and phrases, which do not have both these elements. Another source of confusion may occur for those familiar with transformational/generative grammar, where the term phrase refers to any group of noun + modifiers (noun phrase) or verb + modifiers/complements (verb phrase). In this text, the term phrase is used for detachable units of modification, corresponding to the sense of phrase in traditional grammar and of the comma in rhetorical discussions of style.

(9.) By morphology, there is no way to tell a present partciple, an –ing form of a verb, from a gerund, a noun created by adding –ing to a verb (see p. 46). Context usually clarifies the difference, but ambiguous sentences like the following can occur: Racing cars can be dangerous. The first two (p.202) words in this sentence can be read as a gerund, racing, plus its object, cars. In that case the sentence means that the activity of racing a car is dangerous—presumably to the drivers. But those first two words can also be read as a present participle modifying a noun; there is a certain type of car called a racing car. In that case, the sentence means that cars that are racing can be dangerous—presumably to bystanders. Usually the context solves this kind of ambiguity.

Confusion can also occur in sentences with linking verbs: Hell is waiting in line. Read one way, this sentence has hell as its subject and is waiting as its verb in the present progressive tense. It means that, hell is waiting—for you, for someone—in line with other things that are waiting. But read another way, hell remains the subject, but the verb is only the linking verb, is. The remainder of the sentence is a gerund functioning as a predicate noun, waiting, with a modifying prepositional phrase, in line.

(10.) A problem can occur when the participial phrase refers to an element that is not actually in the sentence: Hoping for a good outcome, the meeting began in an atmosphere of expectation. Hoping is something that humans do, and there is no human in this sentence. Good sense requires a construction like the following: Hoping for a good outcome , the committee members began the meeting in an atmosphere of expectation. The problem illustrated here is the error of the dangling modifier, so called because the modifying participial phrase has nothing to attach to in the sentence. Caveats: Some commentators argue that some apparently dangling modifiers should be looked at as adverbial modifiers of an entire clause, not as adjectival modifiers that have to refer to a single element, so they are not really errors. Besides, these constructions occur so frequently that their commonness “exonerates” them under the license of usage.

(11.) According to a frequently repeated rule, writers should not “split infinitives.” A “split” infinitive has an adverb wedged between the to and the verb. Star Trek fans will recognize this “error” in the mission statement: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” An editor would put the adverb after the verb: to go boldly.

Does this rule make sense? It is of course impossible to split an infinitive when it is one word, so perhaps this “rule” in English came from a mistaken borrowing from classical grammar. However illogical its origins, a preference does persist in some people's minds for always putting the adverb after the verb in an infinitive phrase. Observing this preference is usually the sign of a more formal text. In informal speaking and writing, splitting the infinitive is common.

(12.) Some grammarians and style commentators do not restrict the notion of apposition to nouns. They label any immediate rephrasing—whether of a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb—an appositive (Tufte 2006). In this text, appositives reprise nouns.

(13.) Several confusions plague this figure. Quintilian addressed the problem of distinguishing the epitheton from antonomasia or renaming. Quintilian clarifies that sometimes a modifier can indeed become a substitute name. His example is “he who sacked Numantia and Carthage.” Quintilian observes that if the name Scipio is added to this phrase, the phrase becomes an epithet again. Because a modifying phrase could function as an antonomasia, there was a corresponding confusion as to whether it was also a trope. The translators of Quinitilian, Butler (1921, III, 325–27) and Russell (2001, III, 449–51), differ in their labeling.

Notes:

(1.) The two Associated Press postings appeared on the Washington Post and New York Times websites respectively: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A56075-2003Juli.html?nav+hptop_ts. and http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/international/AP-Iraq.html?pagewanted=print&position=. Neither is still available. Still another version, which corrects the details but keeps the separate independent clauses, is posted on another site: “Rocket-propelled grenades slammed into U.S. military vehicles in two attacks in and around Baghdad on Tuesday, and an explosion at a mosque in the town of Fallujah killed 10 Iraqis and injured four others.” Jim Krane, “New Violence Wracks Iraq: Explosion at Mosque Kills 10 Iraqis” (July 1, 2003, Associated Press) http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/0701-01.htm.

(2.) In written texts in English, a sentence can be defined as whatever begins with a capital letter and ends with some concluding punctuation (period, question mark, exclamation mark). The “sentence” of spoken discourse is much more difficult to define. It can be approximated by a prosodic description. Whatever ends with falling intonation is typically a statement, and whatever ends with rising intonation is typically a question.

(3.) Distinguishing between sentence and clause here follows standard practice in rhetorical stylistics, beginning in the third book of the Rhetoric, where Aristotle described the period, akin to our sentence, as a compositional unit made up from cola, akin to our clauses (Kennedy 1991, 240–41).Grammarians certainly have many other ways of describing sentences. One system, for example, defines a nucleus, essentially the verb, accompanied by various participants such as the causative agent, immediate agent, experiencer, benefactee, content, and place. See Nida et al. 1983.

(4.) http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/malcolmxballot.htm; accessed 3/20/2005. The American Rhetoric site has since replaced the April 3 version of Malcolm X's “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech with one delivered on April 12 in Detroit. The later version lacks this conditional clause and several that appear just before it, but it uses others: If they draft you, they send you to Korea and make you face 800 million Chinese [consequence from a hypothetical circumstance]; If you—If you go to jail, so what? If you black, you were born in jail. If you black, you were born in jail, in the North as well as the South [consequence from a hypothetical circumstance—though not hypothetical for Malcolm X, who spent years in jail].

(6.) Some editors and style sheets want restrictive clauses to use that and nonrestrictive clauses to use which.

The fish that are bottom feeders collect more toxins in their flesh.

The fish, which are bottom feeders, collect more toxins in their flesh.

(p.201) Observing a “that/which” distinction is the mark of a contemporary edited style. It was certainly not the rule in older prose which used which to introduce restrictive clauses (like this one).

In current usage, it is also common to dispense with the relative pronoun or the conjunction that marks the relative clause or noun clause.

The dress that she borrowed was ruined. ® The dress she borrowed was ruined.

The employee whom he hired was an engineer. ® The employee he hired was an engineer.

In these examples, thatand whom are the direct objects in the relative clause: she borrowed that (the dress); he hired whom (the employee). Since the word the relative pronoun refers to occurs immediately before it, the pronoun can be dropped. If the relative pronoun is the subject of its clause, it cannot be deleted.

The employee who came late was an engineer ≠ The employee came late was an engineer.

In another common ellipsis, the that introducing a noun clause reporting what someone said is dropped without a loss of clarity.

Leila said that she is coming tomorrow ®

Leila said she is coming tomorrow.

(7.) Noun clauses can fill any of the following grammatical slots.

Subject: Whether the ship survived the storm is still uncertain.

Direct object: No one doubted that she was the winner.

Indirect object: He will give whoever comes first a special prize.

Object of a preposition: He will give the tickets to whichever contestant wins.

Object of an infinitive: He wants to know how he can become famous.

Object of a participle: Calculating what the car would cost, George had regrets.

Object of a gerund: Knowing that your parents love you gives children the courage to try new things.

Complement (Predicate nominative): The prize will be whatever you want to have from the store.

(8.) The term phrase is not used here as it is used by many grammarians and discourse analysts who call participial and infinitive phrases clauses with nonfinite verbs, that is, verbs without tense. This text maintains a robust distinction between clauses, whether independent or dependent, which have both subjects and verbs with tense, and phrases, which do not have both these elements. Another source of confusion may occur for those familiar with transformational/generative grammar, where the term phrase refers to any group of noun + modifiers (noun phrase) or verb + modifiers/complements (verb phrase). In this text, the term phrase is used for detachable units of modification, corresponding to the sense of phrase in traditional grammar and of the comma in rhetorical discussions of style.

(9.) By morphology, there is no way to tell a present partciple, an –ing form of a verb, from a gerund, a noun created by adding –ing to a verb (see p. 46). Context usually clarifies the difference, but ambiguous sentences like the following can occur: Racing cars can be dangerous. The first two (p.202) words in this sentence can be read as a gerund, racing, plus its object, cars. In that case the sentence means that the activity of racing a car is dangerous—presumably to the drivers. But those first two words can also be read as a present participle modifying a noun; there is a certain type of car called a racing car. In that case, the sentence means that cars that are racing can be dangerous—presumably to bystanders. Usually the context solves this kind of ambiguity.

Confusion can also occur in sentences with linking verbs: Hell is waiting in line. Read one way, this sentence has hell as its subject and is waiting as its verb in the present progressive tense. It means that, hell is waiting—for you, for someone—in line with other things that are waiting. But read another way, hell remains the subject, but the verb is only the linking verb, is. The remainder of the sentence is a gerund functioning as a predicate noun, waiting, with a modifying prepositional phrase, in line.

(10.) A problem can occur when the participial phrase refers to an element that is not actually in the sentence: Hoping for a good outcome, the meeting began in an atmosphere of expectation. Hoping is something that humans do, and there is no human in this sentence. Good sense requires a construction like the following: Hoping for a good outcome , the committee members began the meeting in an atmosphere of expectation. The problem illustrated here is the error of the dangling modifier, so called because the modifying participial phrase has nothing to attach to in the sentence. Caveats: Some commentators argue that some apparently dangling modifiers should be looked at as adverbial modifiers of an entire clause, not as adjectival modifiers that have to refer to a single element, so they are not really errors. Besides, these constructions occur so frequently that their commonness “exonerates” them under the license of usage.

(11.) According to a frequently repeated rule, writers should not “split infinitives.” A “split” infinitive has an adverb wedged between the to and the verb. Star Trek fans will recognize this “error” in the mission statement: “To boldly go where no man has gone before.” An editor would put the adverb after the verb: to go boldly.

Does this rule make sense? It is of course impossible to split an infinitive when it is one word, so perhaps this “rule” in English came from a mistaken borrowing from classical grammar. However illogical its origins, a preference does persist in some people's minds for always putting the adverb after the verb in an infinitive phrase. Observing this preference is usually the sign of a more formal text. In informal speaking and writing, splitting the infinitive is common.

(12.) Some grammarians and style commentators do not restrict the notion of apposition to nouns. They label any immediate rephrasing—whether of a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb—an appositive (Tufte 2006). In this text, appositives reprise nouns.

(13.) Several confusions plague this figure. Quintilian addressed the problem of distinguishing the epitheton from antonomasia or renaming. Quintilian clarifies that sometimes a modifier can indeed become a substitute name. His example is “he who sacked Numantia and Carthage.” Quintilian observes that if the name Scipio is added to this phrase, the phrase becomes an epithet again. Because a modifying phrase could function as an antonomasia, there was a corresponding confusion as to whether it was also a trope. The translators of Quinitilian, Butler (1921, III, 325–27) and Russell (2001, III, 449–51), differ in their labeling.