Syntactical expressive means and stylistic devices


Иностранные языки, филология и лингвистика

Its expressive effect may be based on the absence of logically required components of speech parts of the sentence formal words or on the other hand on a superabundance of components of speech; they may be founded on an unusual order of components of speech the change of meaning of syntactical constructions and other phenomena. The object is placed at the beginning of the sentence: Talent Mr. The adverbial modifier is placed at the beginning of the sentence: My dearest daughter at your feet I fall. However in modern English and American...



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Основы теории изучаемого языка                                                                        Стилистика английского языка

                                                                Лекция 9

                                                                                                                                Syntactical Expressive Means and Stylistic Devices

Lecture 9

Syntactical expressive means and stylistic devices.

Different syntactical phenomena may serve as an expressive stylistic means. Its expressive effect may be based on the absence of logically required components of speech - parts of the sentence, formal words or on the other hand on a superabundance of components of speech; they may be founded on an unusual order of components of speech, the change of meaning of syntactical constructions and other phenomena.

All syntactical devices can be classified based on the following aspects:

  1.  Compositional patterns of syntactical arrangement
  2.  Particular ways of combining parts of the utterance
  3.  Particular use of colloquial constructions

The structural syntactical aspect is sometimes regarded as the crucial issue in stylistic analysis, although the peculiarities of syntactical arrangement are not so conspicuous as the lexical and phraseological properties of the utterance.

  1.  Compositional patterns of syntactical arrangement.

Stylistic inversion

Stylistic inversion aims at attaching logical stress or additional emotional coloring to the surface meaning of the utterance. Therefore a specific intonation pattern is the inevitable satellite of inversion
Stylistic inversion in Modern English is the practical realization of what is potential in the language itself.
The following patterns of stylistic inversion are most frequently met in both English prose and poetry:
1. The object is placed at the beginning of the sentence: "Talent Mr. Micawber has; capital Mr. Micawber has not."
2. The attribute is placed after the word it modifies. This model is often used when there is more than one attribute: "With fingers weary and worn..."
3. The predicative is placed before the subject: "A good generuos prayer it was"
The predicative stands before the link verb and both are placed before the subject: "Rude am I in my speech..."
4. The adverbial modifier is placed at the beginning of the sentence: "My dearest daughter, at your feet I fall."
5. Both modifier and predicate stand before the subject: "Down dropped the breeze..."

However, in modern English and American poetry, as has been shown elsewhere, there appears a definite tendency to experiment with the word-order to the extent which may even render the message unintelligible, In this case there may be an almost unlimited number of rearrangements of the members of the sentence.

Detached construction

A specific arrangement of sentence members is observed in detachment, a stylistic device based on singling out a secondary member of the sentence with the help of punctuation (intonation). The word-order here is not violated, but secondary members obtain their own stress and intonation because they are detached from the rest of the sentence by commas, dashes or even a full stop as in the following cases: "He had been nearly killed, ingloriously, in a jeep accident."

"Sir Pitt came in first, very much flushed, and rather unsteady in his gait." (Thackeray).

The essential quality of detached construction lies in the fact that the isolated parts represent a kind of independent whole thrust into The sentence or placed in a position which will make the phrase (or word) seem independent. But a detached phrase cannot rise to the rank of a primary member of the sentence—it always remains secondary from the semantic point of view, although structurally it possesses all the features of a "primary' member. This clash of the structural and semantic aspects of detached constructions produces the desired effect—forcing the reader to interpret the logical connections between the component parts of the sentence. Logical ties between them always exist in spite of the absence of syntactical indicators.

In the English language detached constructions are generally used in the belles-lettres prose style and mainly with words that have some explanatory function, for example:

"June stood in front, fending off this idle curiosity — a little bit of a thing, as somebody said, 'all hair and spirit'..."


Detached construction as a stylistic device is a typification of the syntactical peculiarities of colloquial language.

Detached construction is a stylistic phenomenon which has so far been little investigated.

A variant of detached construction is p a re n t h e sis,

"Parenthesis is a qualifying, explanatory or appositive word phrase, clause, sentence, or other sequence which interrupts syntactic construction without otherwise affecting it, having often % characteristic intonation and indicated in writing by commas, brackets or dashes."

In fact, parenthesis sometimes embodies a considerable volume of predicativeness, thus giving the utterance an additional nuance of meaning or a tinge of emotional coloring.

Parallel Construction

Parallel construction is a device which may be encountered not so much in the sentence as in the macro-structures dealt paragraphs and so on. The necessary condition in parallel construction is identical, or similar, syntactical structure in two or more sentences or parts of a sentence in close succession, as in:

"There were, ..., real silver spoons to stir the tea with, and real china cups to drink it out of, and plates of the same to hold the cakes and toast in." (Dickens)

Parallel constructions are often backed up by repetition of words (lexical repetition) and conjunctions and prepositions (polysyndeton). Pure parallel construction, however, does not depend on any other kind of repetition but the repetition of the syntactical design of the sentence. Parallel constructions may be partial or complete. Partial parallel arrangement is the repetition of some parts of successive sentences or clauses, as in:

"It is the mob that labour in your fields and serve in your houses—that man your navy and recruit your army,—that have enabled you to defy all the world, and can also defy you when neglect and calamity have driven them to despair." (Byron)

The attributive clauses here all begin with the subordinate conjunction that which is followed by a verb in the same form, except the last (have enabled). The verbs, however, are followed either by adverbial modifiers of place (in your fields, in your houses] or by direct objects (your navy, your army). The third attributive clause is not built on the pattern of the first two, although it preserves the parallel structure in general (that+verb-predicate+object), while the fourth has broken away entirely.

Complete parallel arrangement, also called balance, maintains the principle of identical structures throughout the corresponding sentences, as in:

"The seeds ye sow — another reaps, The robes ye weave—another wears, The arips ye forge — another bears."

(P. B. Shelley)

Parallel construction is most frequently used in enumeration, antithesis and in climax, thus consolidating the general effect achieved by these stylistic devices.

Parallel construction is used in different styles of writing with slightly different functions. When used in the matter-of-fact styles, it carries, in the main, the idea of semantic equality of the parts, as in scientific prose, where the logical principle of arranging ideas predominates. In the belles-lettres style parallel construction carries an emotive function. That is why it is mainly used as a technical means in building up other stylistic devices, thus securing their unity.

Chiasmus (Reversed Parallel Construction)

Chiasmus (Reversed Parallel Construction) is based on the repetition of a syntactical pattern, but it has a cross order of words and phrases. Chiasmus is a pattern of two steps where the second repeats the structure of the first in a reversed manner.

E.g.: Mr. Boffin looked full at the man, and the man looked full at Mr. Boffin.

This device is effective in that it helps to lay stress on the second part of the utterance, which is opposite in structure. This is due to the sudden change in the structure which by its very unexpectedness linguistically requires a slight pause before it.

As is seen from the examples above, chiasmus can appear only when there are two successive sentences or coordinate parts of a sentence. So distribution, here close succession, is the factor which predetermines the birth of the device.

There are different variants of the structural design of chiasmus. The first example given shows chiasmus appearing in a complex sentence where the second part has an opposite arrangement. The second example demonstrates chiasmus in a sentence expressing semantically the relation of cause and effect. Structurally, however, the two parts are presented as independent sentences, and it is the chiasmatic structure which supports the idea of subordination. The third example is composed of two independent sentences and the chiasmus serves to increase the effect of climax.


Enumeration is a stylistic device by which separate things, objects, phenomena, properties, actions are named one by one so that they produce a chain, the links of which, being syntactically in the same position (homogeneous parts of speech), are forced to display some kind of semantic homogeneity, remote though it may seem.

Most of our notions are associated with other notions due to some kind of relation between them: dependence, cause and result, likeness, dissimilarity, sequence, experience (personal and/or social), proximity, etc.

In fact, it is the associations plus social experience that have resulted in the formation of what is known as "semantic fields." Enumeration, as an SD, may be conventionally called a sporadic semantic field, inasmuch as many cases of enumeration have no continuous existence in their manifestation as semantic fields do. The grouping of sometimes absolutely heterogeneous notions occurs only in isolated instances to meet some peculiar purport of the writer.

"Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend and his sole mourner." (Dickens)

"The principal production of these towns... appear to be soldiers, sailors, Jews, chalk, shrimps, officers and dock-yard men"(Dickens, "Pickwick Papers")


Suspense is arranging the matter of a communication in such a way that the less important, subordinate parts are amassed at the beginning, the main idea being withheld till the end of the sentence. Thus the reader's attention is held and his interest is kept up.

E.g.: "Mankind, says a Chinese manuscript, which my friend M. was obliging enough to read and explain to me, for the first seventy thousand ages ate their meat raw." (Charles Lamb)

Climax (Gradation)

Climax (Gradation) is an arrangement of sentences (or homogeneous parts of one sentence) which secures a gradual increase in significance, importance, or emotional tension in the utterance.

E.g.: "Little by little, bit by bit, and day by day, and year by year the baron got the worst of some disputed question." (Dickens)

A gradual increase in significance may be maintained in three ways: logical, emotional and quantitative.

Logical с l i m а х is based on the relative importance of the component parts looked at from the point of view of the concepts embodied in them. This relative importance may be evaluated both objectively and subjectively, the author's attitude towards the objects or phenomena in question being disclosed. Thus, the following paragraph from Dickens's "Christmas Carol" shows the relative importance in the author's mind of the things and phenomena described:

"Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, 'My dear Scrooge, how are you? When will you come to see me?' No beggars ignored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it -was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men's dogs appeared to know him, and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails, as though they said, 'No eye at all is better than #n evil eye, dark master!'"

Emotional с l i m а х is based on the relative emotional tension produced by words with emotive meaning, as in the first example with the words 'lovely', 'beautiful', 'fair'.

Of course, emotional climax based on synonymous strings of words with emotive meaning will inevitably cause certain semantic differences

in these words — such is the linguistic nature of stylistic synonyms—, but emotive meaning will be the prevailing one.

Emotional climax is mainly found in sentences, more rarely in longer syntactical units. This is natural. Emotional charge cannot hold long. As becomes obvious from the analysis of the above examples of climatic order, the arrangement of the component parts calls for parallel construction which, being a kind of syntactical repetition, is frequently accompanied by lexical repetition. Here is another example of emotional climax built on this pattern: p "He was pleased when the child began to adventure across the           floors on hand and knees; he was gratified, when she managed the trick of balancing herself on two legs; he was delighted when she first said 'ta-ta'; and he was rejoiced when she recognized him and smiled at him." (Alan Paton)

Finally, we come to quantitative climax. This is an evident increase in the volume of the corresponding concepts, as in:

"They looked at hundreds of houses; they climbed thousands of stairs; they inspected innumerable kitchens." (Maugham)

Here the climax is achieved by simple numerical increase. In the following example climax is materialized by setting side by side concepts of measure and time:

"Little by little, bit by bit, and day by day, and 'year by year the baron got the worst of some disputed question." (Dickens)

What then are the indispensable constituents of climax? They are:

a) the distributional constituent: close proximity of the component parts arranged in increasing order of importance or significance;

b) the syntactical pattern: parallel constructions with possible lexical


c) the connotative constituent: the explanatory context which helps the reader to grasp the gradation, as no... ever once in all his life, nobody ever, nobody, No beggars (Dickens); deep and wide, horrid, dark and tall (Byron); veritable (gem of a city).

Climax, like many other stylistic devices, is a means by which the author discloses his world, outlook, his evaluation of objective facts and phenomena. The concrete stylistic function of this device is to show the relative importance of things as seen by the author (especially in emotional climax), or to impress upon the reader the significance of the things described by suggested comparison, or to depict phenomena dynamically.

Anticlimax is an arrangement of ideas in ascending order of significance, or they may be poetical or elevated, but the final one, which the reader expects to be the culminating one, as in climax, is trifling or farcical. There is a sudden drop from the lofty or serious to the ridiculous.

E.g.: "This war-like speech, received with many a cheer, Had filled them with desire of flame, and beer." (Byron)

Suspense and climax sometimes go together. In this case all the information contained in the series of statement-clauses preceding the solution-statement are arranged in the order of gradation.


Antithesis is based on relative opposition which arises out of the context through the expansion of objectively contrasting pairs.

E.g.: "A saint abroad, and a devil at home." (Bunyan) "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." (Milton)

Antithesis is a structure consisting of two steps, the lexical meanings of which are opposite to each other.

E.g.: In marriage the upkeep of a woman is often the downfall of a man.


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