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EMPHASIS

EMPHASIS. A use of language to mark importance or significance, through either intensity of expression or linguistic features such as STRESS and INTONATION. The classical sense of emphasis as something added to language survives in the phrases add emphasis to or lay emphasis on. It is generally achieved by any means that draws attention to a syllable, word, phrase, idea, event, or social situation, such as the increase of intensity and volume on at once when someone says ‘Do it at once!’ Here, print marks, by means of ITALICS and an EXCLAMATION MARK, what is achieved in SPEECH by an increase in the volume of sound (usually accompanied by a change of expression).

In speech, writing, and print

(1) Spoken emphasis is usually achieved by changing STYLE, PITCH, TONE, RHYTHM, STRESS, or any combination of these. Typically, people emphasize something by speaking more loudly or by shouting, but they can also be emphatic by speaking more quietly, intensely, clearly, quickly, or slowly. The normal rhythm of delivery can change so as to stress each word or syllable firmly and equally: DO—IT—AT—ONCE. Contrastive stress, involving rhythm and intonation, is commonly used to emphasize a word or point: MARY should do it (not Joan), Mary SHOULD do it (and not avoid her responsibilities), Mary should DO it (rather than do nothing). (2) Emphasis in WRITING is usually achieved by underlining or capitalizing words, and by using exclamation marks. In print, italics or other lettering are also used. The same word can therefore be emphasized as: ‘Put the BOOK on the table’, ‘Put the book on the table’, ‘Put the book on the table.’ A whole sentence can be emphasized as an order (Put the book on the table!), the exclamation mark implying anger, insistence, loudness, or any combination of these.

In grammar and style

(1) In its various emphatic uses the auxiliary verb is generally stressed. Prominent among them is contrastive emphasis on the positive or negative: Why didn't you tell me?—I DID tell you; They say they've paid, but they HAVEn't. The contrastive emphasis may be on tense (Robert WAS—and still IS—a happy child) or aspect (She is living in Birmingham and HAS been for a long time). The emphasis may, however, be non-contrastive, conveying emotion: What HAVE you done?; Where ARE you going?; We ARE sorry; I DO like your hair. The term emphatic pronoun refers to a reflexive pronoun used to emphasize a noun phrase, as in ‘The town itself is very old’ and ‘Well, you said it yourself.’ (2) A variety of devices alone or in combination serve to create emphases of style: a long sentence followed by a short sentence; a quiet tone followed by a loud tone; a dramatic pause; a change of direction; a deliberate omission; an unexpected silence; change in word order (This I can do without as opposed to I can do without this); REPETITION, especially towards a climax (I want you to do it, I insist that you do it— and you'll do it NOW!); figurative usage such as metaphor and rhetorical question (Would you have believed he could design such a rhapsody in stone?).

When a technique is overused or too many devices occur at the same time the result is overemphasis; when a technique is underused or too few devices occur the result is underemphasis. An intention to be emphatic is often introduced by such formulas as I must emphasize that … , I cannot sufficiently emphasize that … , We lay emphasis here on … , I must stress that … , and This report underlines the fact that … See ALLITERATION, CAPITAL, EXAGGERATION, HYPERBOLE, INVERSION, LITOTES, MEIOSIS.

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emphasis

em·pha·sis / ˈemfəsis/ • n. (pl. -ses / -ˌsēz/ ) special importance, value, or prominence given to something: they placed great emphasis on the individual's freedom. ∎  stress laid on a word or words to indicate special meaning or particular importance. ∎  vigor or intensity of expression: he spoke with emphasis and with complete conviction.

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emphasis

emphasis intensity of statement XVI; intensity of feeling, etc. XVII; prominence XIX. — L. emphasis use of language to imply more than is said — Gr. émphasis orig. (mere) appearance, f. EM-2 + base of phaínein show.
So emphatic XVIII. — late L. — Gr. emphatical †allusive, suggestive; strongly expressed or expressive. XVI.

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emphasis

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