A maxim from Strunk and White is “Put the emphatic word last”. But there’s a special elegance in deciding what word to put last.
I’ll share with you four dramatic options:
- End with a weighty word
- End with “of” + a weighty word
- End with a chiasmus
- End with a suspension
How to end with a weighty word
When we get close to the end of a sentence, we expect words that deserve stress: weighty words. So if that special spot has a word that has little semantic or grammatical weight, we are disappointed.
For example, compare the following:
Those are studies only the most politically naive psychologists would be willing to give support to.
Those studies are projects only the most politically naive psychologists would be willing to give support.
The latter example is more satisfying, because it ends on a weighty noun, while the latter ends on a feather-light preposition.
Here is a hierarchy by weight:
- Prepositions (of, in)
- Adjectives/adverbs (slow, slowly)
- Verbs (swim)
- Nouns (bridge)
- Noun forms of adjectives or verbs, aka nominalizations (decision, happiness)
Here is E.B. White again. Notice his use of nouns at the end of clauses:
Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.
Remember that certain words have more semantic (meaning-based) weight than others.
... by the end, like the client, I warmed up to his message.
It would be less emphatic to end with "I warmed up to his message, like the client", since client has less semantic weight than message.
How to end with “of” + a weighty word
This is used in some words from Winston Churchill:
... the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
To quote Williams, because I can't say it better:
The light of (followed by the lighter a or the) quickens the rhythm of a sentence just before the stress of the climactic monosyllable, old.
Compare Churchill's words with this version:
the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the Old World's rescue and liberation.
This version doesn't pack the same punch.
How to end with a chiasmus
A chiasmus is a fancy Greek term for reverse parallelism.
"Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." -John F. Kennedy.
See how the second part of the sentence flips the part of speech of the first? That's a chiasmus.
Here's a classic:
"I am Sam. Sam I am." - Dr. Seuss
And some more complex ones:
A concise style can improve not only our own thinking but the understanding of our readers.
Fancy, no? This one doesn't come naturally to me, but I hope to explicitly use it sometime in a tweet.
How to end with a suspension
For clarity, you generally start a sentence with its point. But you can forgo this best practice to create a dramatic climax.
Consider the following:
Because Year 12 is the year in which I finished writing Figuring (though it emanates from my entire life), and because the sentiment, which appears in the prelude, is the guiding credo to which the rest of the book is a 576-page footnote, I will leave it as it stands: There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives.
- Maria Papova
Let me rewrite this to be less dramatic (and boring):
There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives, because Year 12 is the year in which I finished writing Figuring (though it emanates from my entire life), and because the sentiment, which appears in the prelude, is the guiding credo to which the rest of the book is a 576-page footnote.
Use this one in moderation, because it does sacrifice some clarity.