Amplification is a rhetorical device that’s used to improve a sentence or statement with additional information.
The information that is added in order to create amplification makes the sentence more interesting and more impactful. Readers should walk away from the sentence with a full and clear picture of what the writer was trying to say. The reader might find sentences that do not use this technique flat and unmemorable. But, it should be noted, not every sentences needs or benefits from amplification. Not every sentence needs to be altered with the technique.
Definition and Explanation of Amplification
The purpose of amplification is to bring the reader’s attention to an idea that they might otherwise have missed. With more information, the sentence should be worth more and be easier to understand. The sentence is amplified, meaning that its power and purpose is increased, making it more important in the larger written work.
Examples of Amplification
The Scarlett Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne
In The Scarlett Letter, readers can find a great example of amplification in the first part of the novel, the introduction. The writer is trying to explain why he wanted to write an autobiography and rather than simply stating that he wanted to write one and then did so, he adds in extra details.
It is a little remarkable, that—though disinclined to talk overmuch of myself and my affairs at the fireside, and to my personal friends—an autobiographical impulse should twice in my life have taken possession of me, in addressing the public.
He considers the curious fact that he never wants to talk about himself with his friends but an “autobiographical impulse” took hold of him.
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
In one specific passage of Our Mutual Friend, Dickens takes the term “bran-new” and elevates it. He ensures that the reader does not leave this section of the text without fully understanding what he means with the phrase.
Mr. and Mrs. Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick and span new. All their furniture was new, all their friends were new, all their servants were new, their place was new […]
The passage continues on for several more lines with the writer continuing to mention things like “they themselves were new” and a “brand-new baby.”He uses the word “new” numerous times in these lines making sure that the reader knows exactly how “new” everything is. Even without any broader context about what the story is about, it’s easy to catch Dickens’ speaker’s tone in these lines.
The Twits by Roald Dahl
In this passage, Dahl explores what happens to those who are “ugly” and those who are “beautiful.” Here is the passage where Dahl is speaking about ugliness:
If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it
It’s not just physical ugliness that Dahl is concerned with but that which lies inside one’s heart and mind. Here he is speaking about beauty:
A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.
He’s suggesting that someone with good thoughts can’t ever be “ugly.” He makes sure the reader knows exactly what he means by this when he adds on clear descriptions of wonky noses and crooked mouths corresponding with beauty.
Amplification and Congeries
Congeries is a type of amplification in which words are piled up on top of one another. This is also related to accumulation. For example:
Her book was thrilling, compelling, terrifying, overwhelming at times, and so very surprising.
This technique does not ensure good writing, nor does it ensure that the reader is going to find the sentence interesting, but it is something that occurs within some stories and novels. One is more likely to find the technique in children’s literature than that for adults.
Amplification and Auxesis
Auxesis is another similar literary device. It is also related to accumulation and congeries. But, rather than piling words up, the writer adds sentences or clauses one after another in order of importance. For example:
At first, they were mostly entertaining. Then, a few minutes later, they started to get tiring. After that, we all decided to just walk out and go home.
Why Do Writers Use Amplification?
Writers use amplification in order to repeat something they’ve already said but with added meaning and additional allusions. The original description was not enough to adequately convey their thoughts so they take the time to add more sentences and additional phrases that should improve the overall experience with the sentence. They want readers to walk away feeling a certain way and by adding onto the original sentence, they are doing so.
Amplification is also a way of persuading the reader towards a specific opinion about a character or experience. It highlights someone’s actions, such as the “new” lives of the Veneerings in Our Mutual Friend, and through repetition and creative language makes the reader feel a certain way about it.
Often, amplification is also used to draw the reader’s attention to the most interesting part of the narrative, or at least the most interesting part of that chapter or paragraph. It ensures that the reader doesn’t breeze past it without seeing it for what it is.
Related Literary Terms
- Accumulation: a literary device that relates to a list of words or phrases that have similar, if not the same, meanings.
- Abstract diction: occurs when the poet wants to express something ephemeral, or ungraspable.
- Imagery: refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. These are the important sights, sounds, feelings, and smells.
- Juxtaposition: a literary technique that places two unlike things next to one another.