emphatic positions in a sentence.


New Member
This is a question about “sentence order”. Here is the thing.
'The writer's options', a writing guidebook says: there are two basic facts about sentence order. The first is that the sentence has naturally emphatic positions. the end of the sentence is the most emphatic positions; the beginning of the sentence is the next in emphasis; and the middle of the sentence is least emphatic.''

I've been puzzled with this principle. Precisely, I just don't know what the 'being emphatic' exactly means. For example, I just don’t know in what occasion I should say 'tomorrow I will tell you a story.' and in what occasion ,I should say' I will tell you a story tomorrow'?

According to the principle, 'tomorrow' in the end is more emphatic than 'tomorrow' in the beginning. but to me, the two sentence is same in every ways. So what is the difference between them? I think they are same. Am I right? Thanks for your help.
  • Renaissance man

    Senior Member
    "Tomorrow I will tell you a story" is the answer to the question "what will you do tomorrow?" As story has the most emphatic position, it's the key to the phrase.

    "I will tell you a story tomorrow" answers the question "when will you tell us a story?"

    Although sentence order alone may not be enough - to truly change emphasis here, "story" should preferably take a definite article.


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    It is misleading to use the word 'emphatic'. It is not really emphasis that makes the difference in order. You can emphasize any word in any position. (Examples: not really emphatic; any word; it is misleading.) Often no word is emphasized.

    There is no single answer, but one key thing that often makes a difference is that old information comes first, then new.

    A: What's going to happen tomorrow? [Introducing 'tomorrow'.]
    B: Tomorrow I'm going to tell you a story. [Now we already know something is happening tomorrow, so put it at the front and then say what.]

    Another key thing is that complements come before adjuncts. A complement is necessary for the meaning of another word, an adjunct is not (an adjunct often indicates time or place). When you tell, you have to tell someone (e.g. me), and you have to tell something (e.g. a story). So 'tell' has two complements, and these get mentioned first:

    I'm going to tell you a story.

    After they're out of the way, we mention the less important thing: when it will happen. I'm going to tell you a story tomorrow. When you say this in a natural, unemphatic tone, the last important word gets the main accent: I'm going to tell you a story tomorrow. The voice falls on 'story'.

    As I said before, any word can be emphasized, wherever it is: I'm going to tell you a story tomorrow (not today). But most sentences do not have any emphasis.


    Senior Member
    I just don't know what the 'being emphatic' exactly means.
    I'd say 'a naturally emphatic position (of a sentence)' is a position where a word or phrase automatically receives extra attention on the part of the reader.

    According to the American Heritage Dictionary, one of the meanings of the term 'emphasis' is "prominence given to a syllable, word, or words, as by raising the voice or printing in italic type." This definition seems to agree with entangledbank's view. However, the dictionary notes that the term can also be used in a less specific way to mean "special forcefulness of expression that gives importance to something singled out; stress." That seems to be the sense in which the writer of the topic text is using the term. ~ Here are some extracts from the grammar where the term 'emphasis' is used as in the topic text:
    • "Because puts more emphasis on the reason, and most often introduces new information which is not known to the listener/reader."
    • "A whole sentence can be given extra emphasis by using a cleft structure with what and the verb happen."
    • "If a negative adverb or adverbial expression is put at the beginning of a clause for emphasis, it is usually followed by auxiliary verb + subject." (Swan, 2005).
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