The onomasiological approach in stylistic syntax is aimed at finding out
what sublanguage is involved and what expressive value a syntactical unit
(sentence or other utterance) has, treated in abstraction from its
environment. What is studied here is the syntactical paradigm, i.e. a set of
parallel (more or less equivalent, interchangeable, though formally different)
syntactical structures and their comparative stylistic significance.
It is known that the sentence, as distinct from units of lower levels, is
n sequence of relatively independent lexical and phrasal units (words and
word combinations). What differentiates a sentence from a word is the fact that the sentence
structure is changeable: the sentence is not a unit of constant length
possessing neither upper nor lower limitations — it can be shortened or
extended; it can be complete or incomplete, simple, compound, or complex.
Its constituents, length, word order, as well as communicative type
(assertion, negation, interrogation, exhortation) are variable.
1-A. Stylistically significant are: elliptical sentences, nominative sen-
tences, unfinished sentences, as well as sentences in which certain aux-
iliary elements are missing.
Ellipsis. The term 'elliptical sentence' implies absence of one or both
principal parts (the subject, the predicate). typical of colloquial speech.
Another variety with a very wide currency is the pattern in which the
finite verb of the predicate is missing. The first sentence of the following
example lacks the link-verb are;
In informal speech, the striving for brevity permits leaving out the
subject and the modal verb of a complex predicate.
An extreme case of ellipsis can be observed in the sentence consisting
of only three words, which sentence, however, is compound expressing
"Perhaps, perhaps not." (Clifford)
In works of fiction, elliptical sentences are made use of either to
reproduce the direct speech of characters, or to impart brevity, a quick
tempo and (sometimes) emotional tension to the author's narrative.
"He became one of the prominent men of the House. Spoke
clearly, sensibly, and modestly, and was never too long. Held the
House where men of higher abilities 'bored' it." (Collins)
Beside oral speech and fiction (which aim at economy and expressiveness, respectively), ellipsis is common to some special types of texts.
All kinds of elliptical constructions (including special ready-made
formulas) are resorted to in telegraphic messages. The reason is clear:
every word is paid for.
Aposiopesis. This term, which in Greek means 'silence', denotes
intentional abstention from continuing the utterance to the end. The
speaker (writer) either begins a new utterance or stops altogether. It goes
without saying that an utterance unfinished due to external reasons (state
of agitation, sudden change of circumstances) is not a stylistic device, as
in the following case:
KEITH (letting go her arms ): My God! If the police come — find me here — (He dashes to the door. Then stops). (Galsworthy)
Nominative sentences. The communicative function of a nominative
sentence is a mere statement of the existence of an object, a phenomenon:
"London. Fog everywhere. Implacable November weather."
They arouse in the mind of the hearer (reader) a more or less isolated image of the object,
Absence of auxiliary elements. The term implies the form-words or
'operators' (as opposed to notional words): auxiliary verbs, articles,
prepositions, conjunctions. All these elements, except conjunctions, are
omitted in careless colloquial speech; conjunctions, both in colloquial
speech and fiction.
1-B. Redundance of syntactical elements. Material and structural
overloading occurs in various types of utterances. Thus, a complex
sentence, as opposed to a simple one, is a type of utterance in which the
'addresser' (speaker, writer) intends to place as much information as
possible. The reasons are clear: in oral
communication, limitations of memory prevent the speaker from using
prolonged elaborate constructions,
Types of syntactical redundance viewed paradigmatically. A paradigmatic approach presupposes comparing units of the same rank.
Repetition is purely syntactical whenever what is repeated is not a
word, but an abstract syntactical position only. This is observed in any
sentence comprising two or more homogeneous parts
Prolepsis, or syntactic tautology. The term implies recurrence of the
noun subject in the form of the corresponding personal pronoun. The
stylistic function of this construction is topicalization (communicative
emphasis) of the 'theme'. The noun subject separated from the rest of the
sentence by the unstressed pronominal subject comes to be detached from
the sentence — made more prominent, more 'rheme-like':
"Miss Tillie Webster, she slept forty days and nights without
waking up." (O. Henry)
3. Revaluation of syntactical meanings. Grammatical meanings, similar
to notional meanings (which will be treated in the next chapter), can be
'shifted', i.e. used figuratively. In otherwords, grammatical forms (in our
case syntactical) are sometimes used not in their original sphere — they
perform a function which is not theirs originally.
Quasi-affirmative sentences. This provisional term denotes a certain
variety of rhetorical question, namely those with a negative predicate.
The implication of such a negative question is an affirmative statement:
'Isn't that too bad?' = 'That is too bad.'
Types of Syntactic Connection Viewed Stylistically
Words, phrases, clauses, and sentences are connected with one another
in speech. Words and phrases are mostly combined with their environment
semantically, sometimes by means of auxiliary elements (prepositions and
conjunctions). Clauses and independent sentences can be joined to one
another asyndetically (in this case the connection is purely semantical);
more often, conjunctions or other connectors are employed.
Stylistically relevant are changes in the type of connection between
the aforementioned units.
Detachment. There are two types of relations between parts of the
sentence directly opposed to each other. The first is the subject —
predicate (or the theme — rheme) relation. To the second type belongs
any other connection: that of an attribute to its head-word, of an object
or an adverbial modifier to its predicate verb. Connections of the second
type resemble one another: as distinct from the predicative connection
which marks the act of communication, the other three serve the
purpose of naming, not the purpose of sending new information to the
listener (reader). Attributive, objective and adverbial word
combinations perform virtually the same function in speech as do single
words. This can be easily proved by comparing the following pairs of
She was a beautiful woman. — She was a beauty.
He spoke indistinctly. — He mumbled.
We exchanged letters. — We corresponded.
Thus, we have established two polar types of syntactical relations
within the sentence: the communicative type and the nominative type.
Between these two types, however, there is an intermediate type,
effected by the 'detachment' of a secondary part of the sentence. De-
tachment is specific phonetical treatment of a word or word-group: in-
stead of the usual articulation when the word (phrase) is fused with its
environment, the speaker makes a short pause before (and often after) the detached segment and lays special stress on it. As a result of this, the
word (phrase) appears to be opposed to the rest of the sentence — to what
precedes it and follows it. Hence, the detached part is underlined as
something specially important. From the viewpoint of communicative
syntax, it acquires a 'rheme-like' status — it becomes 'semi-com-
municative', not just nominative.
In writing and in print, detached parts are separated from the rest of
the sentence by punctuation marks (mostly by commas or dashes). Unusual
placement in the sentence (inversion — see above) is also a sure sign of
The general stylistic effect of detachment is strengthening, empha-
sizing the word (or phrase) in question. Besides, detachment imparts
additional syntactical meanings to the word or phrase. The second of the
following two sentences comprises a detached phrase which can be
qualified as an adverbial modifier of concession:
"I met John with his friend the other day."
"How could John, with his heart of gold, leave his family?"
Practically speaking, any secondary part may be detached:
Attribute: "Very small and child-like, he never looked more than
Appositive: "Brave boy, he saved my life and shall not regret
"And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted nevermore!" (Рое)
Direct object: "Talent, Mr. Micawber has, capital, Mr. Micawber
has not." (Dickens)
Prepositional object: "It was indeed, to Forsyte eyes, an odd
Subordination and coordination. Clauses and independent sentences
are combined either by way of subordination or coordination. Besides,
they maybe combined asyndetically, in which case it is hard to say whether
we observe asyndetic subordination or asyndetic coordination.
It often happens that the same semantic relations between two
neighbouring utterances may be expressed in three different ways:
"When the clock struck twelve, he came" — subordination.
"The clock struck twelve, and he came" — coordination.
"The clock struck twelve, he came" — asyndetic connection.
The reader must know from his own experience that the use of complex
sentences, especially with complicated phrasal conjunctions (or, to be more
exact, set phrases used as 'conjunction equivalents' for a conjunction can
never be a phrase: it is a word, one word, as any other part of speech),
such as in view of the fact that or with regard to the circumstances of
which... is a sure sign of formal written types of speech. True, the use of
complex sentences is by no means alien to everyday oral communication,
only the conjunctions preferred are much simpler — when, where, if and
But on the whole, in oral speech we mostly find either asyndeton, or
frequent use of the 'universal' coordinative conjunction and. Its function
becomes clear only due to the general semantic correlation of the clauses
"You never can tell in these cases how they are going to turn out
and it's best to be on the safe side." (Dreiser)
Here, the conjunction and evidently signalizes the relation of cause
and consequence between the two clauses.
"Open that silly mouth of yours just once, and you'll find your-
self in jail, right alongside the black boy!" (Gow and D'Usseau)
This compound sentence is an equivalent of a complex sentence with a
subordinate clause of condition (If you open...).
"It is funny that they [the mice] should be there, and not a crumb,
since Mr. Timothy took to not coming down just before the war."
( Galsworthy )
Here, the conjunction and introduces something like an adverbial
clause of concession (although there is not a crumb here...).
What is naturally expressed by coordinating conjunctions in ordinary
speech, may be rather artificially made into a complex sentence with a
pedantic subordinate clause (in legal matters):
"I gave the key to Mr. Smith, who then passed it to Mrs. Brown."
What the witness had really said before his testimony was put to paper,
looked simpler and shorter:
"I gave the key to John, and he to Jane."
Parenthetic words, phrases and sentences. They either express
modality of what is predicated or imply additional information, mostly
evaluating what is said or supplying some kind of additional informa-
tion. Parenthetic elements comprising additional information seem to
be a kind of protest against the linear character of the text: the language
user interrupts himself trying in vain to say two things at once.
Words, phrases and sentences of modal meaning may be divided into
two classes: those expressing certainty and such as imply different degrees
Examples of the first class are logically superfluous: they do not add
anything to what is meant without them, except showing the speaker's own
doubt of what he says and his attempt to make himself believe what he says.6
Compare John will come tomorrow with John will surely come
tomorrow, John will certainly come tomorrow, John will come tomorrow,
for sure, John will come tomorrow, I'm sure.
Modal words, phrases, and sentences of the second class are essential:
they turn a positive statement into mere supposition (maybe, perhaps,
probably, presumably, I suppose, I guess, etc.). Examples would be
Parenthetic segments comprising additional information perform a
number of stylistic functions.
One of the most important potentialities of such parentheses is the
creation of the second plane, or background, to the narrative, or a
mingling of 'voices' of different speech parties (cf. the metaphorical term
introduced by M.M. Bakhtin: 'polyphony').
In the following extract one can see the feverish succession of thoughts
in Clyde Griffiths' mind:
"... he was struck by the thought (what devil's whisper? — what
evil hint of an evil spirit?) — supposing that he and Roberta — no,
say he and Sondra — (no, Sondra could swim so well, and so could
he) — he and Roberta were in a small boat somewhere and it should
capsize at the very time, say, of this dreadful complication which
was so harassing him? What an escape! What a relief from a gigantic
and by now really destroying problem! On the other hand — hold —
not so fast! — for could a man even think of such a solution in
connection with so difficult a problem as this without committing
a crime in his heart, really — a horrible, terrible crime?" (Dreiser)
In other cases, the parenthetic form of a statement makes it more
conspicuous, more important than it would be if it had the form of a
subordinate clause. The following example serves to illustrate it:
"The main entrance (he had never ventured to look beyond that)
was a splendiferous combination of a glass and iron awning, coupled
with a marble corridor lined with palms," (Dreiser)
Compare the possible variety beyond which he had never ventured to
look. It sounds like a casual, not very expressive remark made in passing.
As distinct from subordinate clauses, parentheses are independent
enough to function as exclamatory or interrogative segments of declara-
"Here is a long passage — what an enormous prospective I make
of it! — leading from Peggoty's kitchen to the front door."
( Dickens )
"That bit of gold meant food, life... power to go on writing
and — who was to say? — maybe to write something that would
bring in many pieces of gold." (London)