OPEN WITH AN INTRODUCTORY SERIES OF APPOSITIVES, THEN A DASH AND A SUMMARIZING SUBJECT

This pattern begins with a cluster of appositives. An appositive we may define as another naming for some noun.  After the appositive comes a dash, followed by a summarizing word.  These summarizing words may be: such, all those, these, these many, each, which, what, something, someone.  Sometimes this summarizing word may serve as the subject of the sentence; sometimes it may merely modify the subject.

A highly stylized sentence, this pattern becomes effective for special places in your writing, places where you want to squeeze a lot of information into the same slot.  The commas come between the appositives in the series; the dash follows the series; a summary word must occur at the beginning of the main clause.

EXAMPLES

1.  The trees and the earth and the green water on the lakes, the near-hills and the far-off hills—all told their stories.

2.  The crack of the lion tamer’s whip, the dissonant music of the calliope, the neighs of Arabian stallions—these sounds mean “circus” to all children.

3.  To struggle, to exist, and so to create his own soul—this process becomes man’s great task.

4.  Love, hate, resentment, fear, anger, ambition—such emotions direct our day-dreams!

5.  Frank McCourt, Sandra Cisneros, Toni Morrison—writers in the twentieth century have achieved fame through their discussions of the disenfranchised.

6.  The Mona Lisa, La Vita Nuova, the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel—what an imagination those Italian artists had!

7.  An old picture, a haunting fragrance, a sudden view of a half-forgotten scene—something unexpectedly triggers our nostalgia for the past.

8.  Gas chambers, concentration camps, crematories—these ghastly institutions tortured European Jews during the Holocaust.

9.  Courtesy, correctness, conciseness—these constitute the three essentials in a business letter.

10.  Doritos, Red Bull, Guitar Hero—these were my whole life.

USE AN EMPHATIC APPOSITIVE AT THE END OF A SENTENCE, FOLLOWING A COLON

Waiting to define an idea until the end builds a sentence to a climax and provides a pattern for a forceful, emphatic appositive at the end of the sentence, where it practically shouts for the reader’s attention.  Use the colon in this pattern. It has more formality, and it usually comes before a rather long appositive.

EXAMPLES

1. Most contemporary philosophies echo ideas from one man:  Plato, a student of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle.

2. A soldier goes AWOL for a specific purpose:  to hide from the MP’s.

3. Adjusting to a new job requires one quality:  the ability to adapt.

4. Immigrants lost an unrecoverable currency:  their native language.

5. After reading Wiesel’s Night none of us can forget the horrible legacy of Hitler’s campaign: the slaughter of six million Jews.

6.  Workers are finishing the Essex Tower:  a huge sky-scraper looming over Battery Park.

7.  The Rockettes rehearsed their new number:  an absurd display of legs in feathers.

8.  Penelope sat dumbfounded on the floor as her mother hysterically screamed at her to organize the contents of her room:  the scattered pellets of a slashed bean bag, the crumpled faces of passé pin-up boys ripped from teen-beat fantasies, an enormous clump of soiled clothes, the naked figures of her Malibu Barbie Beach Bungalow Playset.

USE AN EMPHATIC APPOSITIVE AT THE END OF A SENTENCE, FOLLOWING A DASH

For a more informal construction, you may use a dash instead of the colon before a short, emphatic appositive at the end of a sentence. Dashes almost always precede a short, climactic appositive, whereas a colon will generally precede longer appositives.

EXAMPLES

1. Adjusting to a new job requires one main quality—adaptability.

2. Most contemporary philosophies echo ideas from one man—Plato.

3. The relatively few salmon that do make it to the spawning grounds have another old tradition to deal with – male supremacy.

4. The grasping of sea weeds reveals the most resourceful part of the sea horse—its prehensile tail.

5. In 1984 an omnipresent figure tyrannizes man’s daily life—Big Brother.  (Citizens of Oceania are tyrannized by an ominous figure—Big Brother.)

6. Elie and his father use every bit of skill and cunning to avoid the most terrifying of all terrors—selection.

USE AN INTERNAL SERIES OF APPOSITIVES OR MODIFIERS, ENCLOSED BY A PAIR OF DASHES

Appositives will rename and modifiers will describe something named elsewhere in the sentence. Because this kind of series serves as a dramatic interruption within the sentence and may even have commas, you must use the dash before it and after it.

EXAMPLES

1. All the scholarly disciplines and especially all the sciences—physical, biological, social—share the burden of searching for truth.

2. “Which famous detectives—Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe or Dick Tracy—will you take as your model?” the sergeant asked.

3. All of Poe’s writing strengths—structure, vocabulary, imagery—catapulted him to the top of literary fame.

4. The dream of the 1950s American coed—becoming a child bride, producing soggy babies, acquiring a suburban mortgage and a two-car garage—frequently turned into a nightmare.

5. Many aspects of nature—the trees and the earth and the green water on the lakes—told their stories.

6.  Mortimer Turpitude—the doleful lawyer of the firm, Dewy, Cheetum, and Howe—threw darts at a portrait of his nemesis, Perry Mason.

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