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 Ling 131: Language & Style

Topic 2 (session A) - Being creative with words and phrases > Manipulating word classes > Verby styles

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Session Overview
(Semi) Automatic poetry
Introducing word classes
More on word classes
Manipulating word classes
Changing word class - affixation
Changing word class - functional conversion
New words for old
Word class problems
Word class checklist
Useful Links
Grammar Website

Manipulating word classes

Verby styles

Consider the extract below, from a magazine for young women. Its style is dominated by the verbs, in spite of the fact that the overall proportion of verbs in the passage is lower (9.6%) than the Ellegard average (12.1%). We have highlighted the verbs for you, using a different colour


Why don't you ...
Twist and wrap the corners of a plain white shirt around your waist for a crossover effect ...
Get out your sequin party skirt and team it with a day jacket - a naval-style blazer say - for a surprisingly sophisticated evening look ...
Forget about colour rules - mix turquoise with orange and green ...
Dash into your nearest haberdashery department in search of fabulous buttons ...
Wear two pairs of opaque tights for maximum matt effect ...

(Cosmopolitan, February 1991)

Comments about meaning and effect

In spite of the fact that the article is talking about different possible things to wear, in terms of effect, it appears to be presenting fashion choice for its readers as a highly dynamic activity. This article gives choosing what to wear an image which corresponds to the self-image of the group being aimed at.

Analytical comments

Most of the verbs chosen are dynamic (e.g. 'twist', 'wrap', 'mix', 'dash') and/or transitive (e.g. 'twist', 'wrap', 'mix', 'wear') and, as a consequence, the other verbs which pattern with them tend to take on similar qualities by association. Thus 'team' and 'wear' take on dynamic qualities not normally associated with them. The graphological effect of lineation forces the verbs to the left-hand edge of the text, which also helps to make the reader focus on them rather more than the other words in the text. This effect is called foregrounding, something which we explore in more depth in Topic 3 in this course.


A "verby" task

Below is an extract from a novel. Write down what effects you associate with the writing and what part the verb choice plays in it. Then compare your findings with ours.

[Context: The extract below is from near the beginning of a novel about a man who is drowning. He has apparently managed to cling to a piece of rock and is struggling not to be swept off it by the sea. In fact, at the end of the novel, we discover that his struggles to stay alive have all been a terrible fantasy. He drowned fairly quickly (he never managed to get his sea boots off) and his 'struggle for survival' was a hallucination in his dying moments, induced in his dying brain by the sensation it registered as his tongue rubbed against his teeth.]

We have numbered the sentences and highlighted the verbs for ease of reference.

(1) His legs kicked and swung sideways. (2) His head ground against rock and turned. He scrabbled in the white water with both hands and heaved himself up. (3) He felt the too-smooth wetness running on his face and the brilliant jab of pain at the corner of his right eye. (4) He spat and snarled. (5) He glimpsed the trenches with their thick layers of dirty white, their trapped inches of solution, a gull slipping away over a green sea. (6) Then he was forcing himself forward. (7) He fell into the next trench, hauled himself over the wall, saw a jumble of broken rock, slid and stumbled. (8) He was going down hill and he fell part of the way.

(William Golding More about William Golding, Pincher Martin, p. 42)

Our analysis


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