We are aiming for clarity, precision and sophistication. This page enables us to think about grammar, punctuation, words in their context, sharper descriptions and the language techniques an author uses etc etc etc. It helps you realise that analytical precision is important for depth of thinking and depth of analysis – skills that are critical to success in all of your English-related tasks.
To all avid word learners: when writing your own sentences, please make sure you note (and copy) the author’s grammatical construction.
For example, (please see example below): Scrooge … “beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker’s book.” (beguiled is a transitive verb; it takes a direct object)
Please note, you cannot turn the verb into an adjective and use a “that” (relative clause): “I was beguiled that my enemy couldn’t come to the party.”
21. “Katharine would have unquestionably denounced him to the Thought Police if she had not happened to be too stupid to detect the unorthodoxy of his opinions.” (1984 George Orwell)
to denounce: to deplore, to condemn openly, or vehemently, to give information against, accuse
orthodoxy; conforming with established or accepted standards, as in religion, behaviour or attitudes; conforming to the Christian faith as established by the early Church.
“There was a direct, intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy.” (1984 George Orwell)
chaste; pure, decent, modest; and
orthodoxy; conforming with established or accepted standards, as in religion, behaviour or attitudes; conforming to the Christian faith as established by the early Church
“A thrush had alighted on a bough not five metres away.” (1984 George Orwell)
to alight; to step out of or get down from; to come to rest; settle; land
“It ducked its head for a moment, as though making a sort of obeisance to the sun, and then began to pour forth a torrent of song.
obeisance ; an attitude of deference or homage; a gesture expressing obeisance;
“Winston watched it (the bird/the thrush) with a sort of vague reverence. For whom, for what, was that bird singing?” (1984 George Orwell)
reverence, n. a feeling or attitude of profound respect, usually reserved for the sacred or divine; devoted veneration; an outward manifestation of this feeling, esp. a bow or act of obeisance; the state of being revered or commanding profound respect
“The music went on and on, minute after minute … never once repeating itself, almost as though the bird were deliberately showing off its virtuosity.” (1984 George Orwell)
virtuosity, n. virtuous – adj. characterised by or possessing virtue or moral excellence; righteous; upright
“Qualities that in a desperate expedition across the icy solitudes of the Polar region would have made him the leader, the guide, the counsellor, whose temper, neither sanguine nor despondent, surveys with equanimity what is to be and faces it, came to his help again.” (To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf)
Solitude: the state or situation of being alone; lonely
Sanguine: optimistic or positive, especially in an apparently bad or difficult situation.
Despondent: in low spirits from loss of hope or courage.
Equanimity: calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.
Have a go at the “neither… nor…” construction.
We usually use “with equanimity” – ie the noun phrase
“It was a room of disorder and disarray. It was as if the wind which so often clamoured about the house succeeded in entering this single room and after whipping it into turmoil stole quietly away to renew its knowing laughter.” (The Boat, Alistair MacLeod)
Wow! note the alliteration and personification in these rhythmic sentences.
a clamour: a loud persistent outcry, as from a large number of people; a vehement expression of collective feeling or outrage; a loud and persistent noise; to clamour – v. to make a loud noise or outcry; make a public demand
“Elizabeth was of a calmer and more concentrated disposition; but, with all my ardour, I was capable of a more intense application, and was more deeply smitten with the thirst for knowledge.” (Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)
Disposition: a person’s inherent qualities of mind and character.
Ardour: great enthusiasm or passion.
Smitten: be strongly attracted to someone or something
Notice the focus on opposites and the use of nominals.
“She was dressed in mourning; and her countenance, always engaging, was rendered, by the solemnity of her feelings, exquisitely beautiful.” (Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)
Mourning: the expression of sorrow for someone’s death.
Exquisite: extremely beautiful and delicate.
Solemnity: the state or quality of being serious and dignified.
Note the noun phrase: “The solemnity of her feelings”; “solemn” is the adjective
“Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern … and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker’s book.” (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)
(melancholy: a constitutional tendency to gloominess or depression, a sad thoughtful state of mind, pensiveness
to beguile: to charm, to fascinate)
the repetition stands out – melancholy is both a noun and an adjective – adj – characterised by, causing, or expressing sadness, dejection. melancholic – adj. relating to or suffering from melancholy
Note the irony and alliteration – beguile; banker’s book
The men were “gored, kicked, bitten, trampled on”. They made a bolt for the main road. “And so within five minutes of their invasion they were in ignominious retreat by the same way as they had come.” Animal Farm.
Note the string of past tense verbs and note the prepositional phrase: “in ignominious retreat”
(ignominy: public disgrace, shame, dishonour)
“Gertrude’s chin contracted and dimpled and her eyes puckered like burst apricots.” (Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker)
(to pucker: to gather or contract; (a soft surface such as the skin of the face) into wrinkles or folds; a pucker: a wrinkle, crease or irregular fold.)
I like the alliteration and the freshness of the simile
“Miss Dimm was extremely short-sighted … She’d always kept her hair in a short page-boy bob and worn a white blouse tucked firmly into a voluminous gathered skirt.” (Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker)
(voluminous: of great size; quantity, volume, or extent, consisting of or sufficient to fill volumes, prolific in writing or speech)
Nice description of the teacher that condones the bullying of Myrtle Dunnage.
“And above all, no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind. Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers.” (Animal Farm by George Orwell)
Tyrannise: rule or treat (someone) despotically or cruelly.
Nice parallel adjectival phrases with the subject “we” controlling the sentence. (The adjectival phrases consist of antithesis!)
“At one end of the barn, on a sort of raised platform, Major was already ensconced on a bed of straw, under a lantern which hung from a beam.” (Animal Farm by George Orwell)
“was ensconced” an adj:
Verb: to ensconce (oneself) in a comfortable, safe place.
A beautiful word to use in cosy circumstances
“Dick’s literalness, his pragmatic approach to every subject, was the primary reason Perry had been attracted to him, for it made Dick seem, compared to himself, so authentically tough, invulnerable, ‘totally masculine’.” (In Cold Blood by Truman Capote)
Pragmatic: dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations; (practical, matter of fact)
Authentic: of undisputed origin and not a copy; (genuine, real, original)
Invulnerable: impossible to harm or damage; (strong, secure)
(Note the contrasting characteristics: opposites attract)
“Mr Clutter seldom encountered trespassers on his property; a mile and a half from the highway, and arrived at by obscure roads, it was not a place that strangers came upon by chance.” (In Cold Blood by Truman Capote)
Seldom: not often; rarely (hardly ever)
Obscure: not discovered or known about; uncertain, unclear, unknown.
Note the syntax: two adverbials to highlight the remoteness of the place: the main clause has the subject “it” which controls all clauses.
Note, too the prepositional phrase: and “arrived at” by …
“Gradually the plans (of the windmill) grew into a complicated mass of cranks and cog-wheels, covering more than half the floor… Only Napoleon held aloof”. (George Orwell, Animal Farm)
Note the alliteration
aloof: distant, unsympathetic, supercilious in manner, attitude or feeling
(supercilious; displaying arrogant pride, scorn or indifference)
John Steinbeck: “She smiled archly and twitched her body. “Nobody can’t blame a person for looking”, she said.”
Archly: in an amused way that suggests you know more about something than someone else does:
Notice the body language and the tension between the characters. Excellent for creative writing.
“Lennie’s eyes moved down over her body, and though she did not seem to be looking at Lennie she bridled a little.” (Curley’s wife meets Lennie and George, Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck)
to bridle: (from bridle, the part of the harness of a horse around the head); the verb: to draw up the head and draw in the chin, as in disdain or resentment, to be resentful or annoyed)
The tension is palpable; this is the very beginning of Lennie’s end! It’s a smart foreshadowing tactic.
“Atticus kept us in fits that evening, gravely reading columns of print about a man who sat on a flagpole for no discernible reason”. (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Discernible: to discern, to recognise or perceive clearly.
Dickens: “He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything and underwent the strangest agitation.”- Scrooge in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
To corroborate: to confirm or support (facts, opinions) esp. by providing fresh evidence (really useful for argument analysis)
to agitate: to excite, disturb or trouble
Notice the tripling of past tense verbs, ending in a noun phrase
(good for argument / language analysis: to corroborate one’s view with significant evidence such as clinical trials)
“Atticus grinned dryly. ‘You just told me,’ he said. ‘You stop this nonsense right now, every one of you.’ (To Kill a Mockingbird)
dryly: in a dry manner
I love the “grin” and the manner – dryly, An interesting combination that reveals a lot about character. (The right word saves a paragraph.)
Note for creative writing.
Uncle Jack tells Scout: “Such conduct as yours required little understanding. It was obstreperous, disorderly, and abusive ..”
(To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee)
(obstreperous: noisy or rough, especially in resisting restraint or control)
(often used for dogs!)
“She had always been too hard on me, she had at last seen the error of her fractious ways, she was sorry and too stubborn to say so.” (Scout of Calpurnia (her caregiver) To Kill A Mockingbird)
(fractious: irritable and unruly)
(a nice insight into Scout’s 8-year-old mindset as she tries to work out the tension between herself and Calpurnia, ironically owing to Scout’s aversion to stereotypical lady-like customs and her audacious manner)
“You told me to never use words like that except in ex-extreme provocation, and Francis provoked me enough to knock his block off.” (Scout to Uncle Jack)
(to provoke: to anger or infuriate; to incite or stimulate)
provocation: something that causes indignation, anger)
Note the use of nominals – noun phrases – coupled with the colloquial expression to capture the simplicity and complexity of Scout’s thoughts.