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This interdependence of the sentences of a composition complicates the matter of sentence building a great deal, for the writer is constantly confronted with a changing set of conditions as the factors which go to determine the structure of his sentence. He must not only seek to express a given thought properly; he must seek, also, to express that thought harmoniously with other thoughts. This means that he must attend carefully to such matters as the proper articulation or joining together of his sentences, the placing of the emphasis on just the right thing, and the avoidance of anything like monotonous sameIneSS.
Variety in the structure of the sentence is an especially important thing, but in most cases this will be satisfactorily attained if the writer attends carefully to the articulation of his sentences, and to the proper placing of the emphasis. As the thing to be emphasized will vary, the emphasis will have to be placed now on this, and now on that sentence element, and this will make it necessary to vary the plan of the sentence from time to time.
In the normally constructed sentence, the order of the constituent parts is, subject, verb, object, and verbmodifier; and when this order is followed, no special emphasis is given to any one part. The verbmodifier, to be sure, from the fact that it occupies the most prominent position in the sentence,—that is to say, the end,-has slightly more emphasis than any other part; but it has no special emphasis. Special emphasis can be given to any particular part only by placing that part in a position it would not normally occupy. Thus a verb-modifier placed at the end of the sentence is only slightly emphasized; placed at the beginning, it is made strongly emphatic. Similarly, a subject placed at the beginning receives little or no emphasis; placed at the end, it becomes strongly emphasized. Hence the general rule to secure emphasis in the sentence is, Change the natural order of the parts and bring the part to be emphasized to one or other of the naturally prominent positions in the sentence, namely, the beginning or the end. In the following sentences, for example, note how the plan of the sentence varies according as the emphasis is placed on this or that sentence element:
We found inefficiency and corruption everywhere. (Normal arrangement; verb-modifier slightly emphasized.)
Everywhere we found inefficiency and corruption. (Inverted order; object slightly, verb-modifier strongly emphasized.)
Inefficiency and corruption we found everywhere. (Inverted order; verb-modifier slightly, object strongly emphasized.)
Great is Diana of the Ephesians. (Inverted order; predicate adjective emphasized.)
Flashed all their sabers bare. (Inverted order; verb strongly emphasized.)
On whatever side we contemplate Homer, what principally strikes us is his wonderful invention. (Inverted order; subject emphasized.)
A too frequent use of the inverted order must, of course, be avoided, since that would give an air of unnaturalness to one's style. The great majority of one’s sentences ought obviously to be normal in their structure. This is why the very frequent use of the periodic sentence is objectionable. In the periodic sentence, an essential part is withheld until the end,that is, the sentence does not become grammatically complete until the last word is given; but as this last or “key ’’ word, as it is sometimes called, is usually a word that does not ordinarily come at the end, the effect of the sentence arrangement is generally one of inversion, and if this effect is repeated too often, the style will seem to the reader stiff and unnatural. When sparingly and judiciously used, however, the periodic sentence tends to give to one's style an air of firmness, vigor, and finish.
6. THE CHOICE OF WORDS
“The first merit which attracts in the pages of a good writer, or the talk of a brilliant conversationalist,” says Stevenson, “is the apt choice and contrast of the words employed.”" There is no doubt of the truth of this. Not only the first merit, but the greatest merit which a good piece of writing possesses is a pleasing style. In the last analysis, it is style rather than structure which gives discourse its effectiveness.
Precisely wherein lies the secret of style, it is not easy to say; style is of so subtle and elusive a nature that it defies exact analysis. To a certain extent, obviously, it is dependent upon the structure of the sentences and paragraphs of the discourse, but to a
* See his Style in Literature.
much greater extent it is a matter, as Stevenson puts it, of the ‘‘ apt choice and contrast of the words employed.” We judge a writer's style, not so much by the way he models his sentences and paragraphs, as by his choice of words and his phrasing, that is to say, by his ability to find the right word to express his ideas and by his ability at the same time to put those words into effective combinations. The ability to find the right word for the occasion, presupposes, of course, the possession of a good vocabulary. The writer must have at his command a stock of words adequate to the needs of the thought he wishes to express, else he will often be at a loss to find just the right word to express his idea. If his command over words is not what it should be, he should set about improving it at once. The best way for him to do this, perhaps, is to read as widely as possible, and especially with an eye to the exact meaning of the words he reads. In his search for the right word to express his idea, the writer ought to take three things into consideration: (1) the need of being understood, (2) the need of being true to his own thought, and (3) the need of being effective. In short, the things one should strive for, in choosing one’s words, are clearness, accuracy, and force. Clearness, naturally, is the first thing to be considered. The function of language being to communicate thought, it follows that that quality in a writer’s discourse which enables his thought to be understood is the most desirable. The aim of every writer, therefore, should be to express himself in such a way as to enable his readers to grasp his thought without difficulty. No one who writes otherwise can be said to possess a good style. A good style is always lucid; and, other things being equal, the more lucid the style the better it is. Every obstacle that hinders the thought of the writer from becoming at once apparent to the reader is a defect of style, and should, if possible, be removed. The reader's attention should be left perfectly free to be concentrated upon the thought, and should not be diverted from the thought to the medium through which that thought is conveyed. Choosing words for clearness, now, means choosing words which have a well-understood and generally accepted meaning; and this, in turn, means choosing words which have the sanction of good usage. For practical purposes, we may regard these words as those used by the best writers of the present day. The young writer who would avoid mistakes in the matter of his choice of words would do well, therefore, to make as wide an acquaintance with the standard authors of the present day as possible. If he follows their example, he is not likely to use words which will be misunderstood or objected to by his readers. There is one thing, perhaps, which the young writer needs to be specially cautioned against, and that is the indiscriminate use of slang. Slang terms are often among the most familiar terms in the language; but they are never recognized as being really a part of the language. There is always a suggestion of vulgarity or bad taste about them. As a rule, they are rather vague in meaning and very short-lived. Hence,