Voice Lessons: Syntax
“The seven years’ difference in our ages lay between us like a chasm: I wonder if these years would ever operate between us as a bridge.” James Baldwin, “Sonny Blues”
1. What function does the colon serve in this sentence?
2. How would the meaning and impact of the sentence change if the sentence read as follows
- The seven years’ difference in our ages lay between us like a chasm, and I wondered if these years would ever operate between us as a bridge.
Write two independent clauses; join the two with a colon, giving emphasis to the independent clause which follows the colon. If necessary, use Baldwin’s sentence as a model.
“’I’m clean, Carlito, I’m not using.’ My voice dropped to a whisper. “I’m not using.’ And oh, God, I found my mind, thinking. Wonder what it would be like again? Wonder what it would be like again? Wonder what it would be like again? Wonder …” Piri Thomas, These Mean Streets
Thomas repeats the question Wonder what it would be like again? Three times in the passage. What effect does this repetition have on the impact of the passage?
At the end of the passage, Thomas uses ellipses to indicate an omission of words required for complete syntactical construction but unnecessary for understanding. What words are mission? What impact does this omission have on the passage?
Imagine that you are very hungry and are on the way to the best restaurant in town. Describe what you feel as you anticipate a great diner. In your description use questions and ellipses, as Thomas does. What impact do these questions and ellipses have on the description.
“When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at the trees.” Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street
What kind of grammatical structure is repeated in this sentence? What is the effect of this repetition?
This is a periodic sentence, a sentence which delays the subject and verb to the end. What idea is emphasized by the end-focus in this sentence?
Write a periodic sentence about getting a bad grade on a test. You may use Cisneros sentence as a model.
“When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at the trees.”
HIGGINS: Yes: that’s what drives me mad: the silly people don’t know their own silly business. George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion
1. What is the purpose of the two colons in this sentence?
2. What function does the yes at the beginning of the sentence serve?
Write a sentence about a TV show you deplore. Using Shaw’s sentence as a model, state what you don’t like about the show in a succinct clause following a colon.
Yes: that’s what drives me mad: the silly people don’t know their own silly business.
“While we do these things, these deeply momentous things, let us be very clear, and make very clear to all the world, what our motives and objects are.” Woodrow Wilson, “President Woodrow Wilson Presents an Ideal to the War Congress”
1. This is a periodic sentence, one in which the subject and verb are delayed until the final part of the sentence. This creates syntactic tension and emphasizes the ideas at the end of the sentence. What ideas are stressed in this periodic sentence?
2. How would it change the effectiveness of the sentence if we rewrote it as:
- Our motives and objects must be clear to all the world we do these deeply momentous things.
Using Wilson’s sentence as a model, write a periodic sentence about music censorship. How does the syntax of your sentence affect its meaning?