Sleeping Quarters or Sleeping Quarters?

Candice M. Coleman, Ph.D.


If I were to say to you “She’s an Italian professor,” with no stress on any particular word, would you know what I mean? Is she a professor of Italian (instead of French, for instance) or, a professor (instead of some other occupation) who happens to be Italian? It could be either since I haven’t given you any vocal clues. We have to look at the meaning and the implied contrasts to determine the most logical word to emphasis in a particular context.

Lamar explains this Analytical Reading concept in the book Giving the Sense: How to Read Aloud With Meaning (p. 40). In her discussion of the Relative Emphasis of Nouns and Adjectives, she states,

... whenever you stress one [word] and subdue the other, you are generally implying a contrast or comparison with the stressed idea. You need to ask yourself whether that contrast or comparison is logical.

For a Bible example, let’s look at Ephesians 2:6:

... and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

In the noun/adjective combination “heavenly places” you want to determine if you should stress “heavenly” or “places” to make the meaning clear. Let’s ask some questions to find the implied contrasts. If you stress “places,” do you mean to imply a contrast between heavenly people and heavenly anything else? If you stress “heavenly” and subdue “places,” aren’t you implying that we should sit together not in earthly places, but in heavenly ones?

Isn’t this reading more logical and meaningful? If you agree, you will probably decide to stress “heavenly,” the adjective, and subdue “places,” the noun.

But, sometimes stressing the noun might be more appropriate. Look at John 10:28:

... they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

At the end of the verse is the noun/adjective combination “my hand.” Again by looking for for the implied contrast we might ask,is “my hand" an implied contrast with your hand or Sarah’s hand? Or, is the writer stating simply that “no one is going to take them out of my grasp”? If you agree that’s the meaning, you’d want to stress “hand” and subdue “my.” This reading is not just meaningful, but also conversational.

Have you noticed how frequently we find Bible verses and phrases that contain the word “thing” with a preceding adjective – “good thing,” “all things,” “creeping things”? There are over 500 of them! Because “thing” is a word that generally has little meaning of its own, in conversation we usually stress the adjective (“good,” “all,” “creeping”). Read some of these phrases out loud and emphasize “thing.” You’ll hear how awkward it often sounds.

Something, everything, nothing 

Unless you’re talking about the old Sci-Fi movie, The Thing, it not only sounds awkward it doesn’t make much sense.

The exception is when “thing” indicates an object, “I like having my things around me,” or if it’s in contrast (stated or implied) with a “thought” or “idea” — “I like working with things better then ideas.”

Sometimes, choosing to emphasize either the noun or adjective still doesn’t make the meaning as clear as it could be. In this kind of situation, look at the option of stressing both words fairly equally.

In Ps. 51:10, aren’t both “clean” and “heart” new ideas? (See “Pardon My Asking ... What’s New?”)

Create in me a clean heart, O God; ...

If you read, “Create in me a clean heart,” aren’t you’re implying a contrast with some other kind of heart? If you read, “Create in me a clean heart,” do you mean to imply a contrast with a clean stomach or clean lungs? Of course not! In this case, try stressing “clean” and “heart” fairly evenly with a fraction more stress on “heart.”

Create in me a clean heart, O God; ...

Look also at Matt: 16:40:

... could ye not watch with me one hour?

Here‘s another implied contrast. Isn’t Jesus asking Peter, “couldn’t you stay awake and pray with me for even one hour? I didn’t ask you to do it for two days!”

Be alert! Sometimes an entire noun/adjective combination is an old idea, so you would subdue both words. For example, in Acts 10:39 we read,

And we are witnesses of all things which he did ...

If we just finished reading in verse 38 about how Jesus was “doing good, and healing” aren’t those the “all things” mentioned in verse 39? Then, it’s an old idea. What might be the new ideas in this case? “Witnesses”?

And we are witnesses of all things which he did ...

I find determining the logical emphasis of nouns and adjectives really fun and fairly easy to work out ... when I ask myself the right questions. So which is it, sleeping quarters or sleeping quarters? Are you trying to indicate a place for soldiers to bed down or that the quarters in their pockets are very tired?!

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©2019, Say It Well! Permission is given to reprint this article if the following is included: Reprinted by permission of Dr. Candice M. Coleman. She can be reached at 386-402-7047.