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The Language of Emphasis

Lately, I’ve been noticing some of the ways we can emphasize our opinions and ideas in English. There are many ways to do this, with word choice, punctuation and intonation, for example. But let’s look at the following quotes from two musicians, from an article in Vox magazine called “Celebrate Black History Month by Remembering these Influential Musicians” by Marisa Whitaker.

The full text is here:

Here’s what I’m talking about:

1. Using “to me” to emphasize your personal opinion or idea.

The article states: “Beginning as a classical pianist, there wasn't much Nina Simone couldn't musically attain. Yet, it was her outspoken activism throughout her career that paved the way for female and Black artists to use their platforms for change. ‘I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty,’ Simone says in a Netflix documentary titled What Happened, Miss Simone? One result of those times was her civil rights anthem, "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," which was a tribute to her close friend and playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin in the Sun.”

Nina Simone could have said, “That is my duty,” and we would have understood that she feels passionately about “reflecting the times and situations in which she finds herself” through her art. But she emphasizes her idea about personal duty further by using, “to me.” “To me” can be used at the beginning of a sentence, or, as Ms. Simone uses it, in the middle of the sentence. “To me” is a succinct, yet powerful way to underscore your deeply held thought, idea or opinion.

How could you use “to me” to emphasize your personal opinion or idea?

2. Using repetition and synonyms to emphasize your personal opinion or idea.

The article states: During her rise to fame, it was unheard of for a woman to play guitar, but she responded, Can't no man play like me. I play better than a man.’ Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, people you may have thought initiated rock 'n' roll, all name Tharpe as an influence. Rock 'n' roll began with a Black woman, and it's hard to point out a musician that hasn't been inspired by Tharpe.”

Sister Tharpe could have used just one of her comments and we would have understood that she was challenging popular opinion about the ability of a woman to excel at playing the guitar. But she powerfully delivers her message with two sentences with the same meaning. The repetition sets it in stone.

Think: How could you use two sentences that mean the same thing to emphasize your opinion or idea? Start by finding synonyms – words or phrases that have the same meaning:

“Everyone in my family enjoys fresh pasta the most. It’s simply everybody’s favorite!

In "real life": Just this morning, I encountered the second type of repetition for emphasis of an idea.

In a breathing exercise narrated by Richie Bostock (, he instructed us on how to exhale: “Remember, that exhale is easy. That exhale is effortless. There’s nothing to do on the exhale. You don’t need to do anything. You don’t need to put in any effort. Just relax all those muscles.” Notice the repetition and synonyms Richie uses to emphasize his idea about exhaling.

To me, that repetition sounds (and feels) good!

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