(NC) Verb Shifts


A variety of mood, timing, and humorous effects can be created by selecting verbs which are mismatched. Typically, the pattern is for the first two verbs to establish a pattern which the third verb then violates in some way.

Often, this mismatch is purely semantic. Sometimes, however, the key difference lies in verbs having a different role with regard to the subject or object given in the first part of the line. I call this case a ‘verb shift’.


Subject shift


The subject of ‘mew’ and ‘purr’ is the kitten, the subject of ‘stroke’
is presumably the narrator. The verb shift here induces a change in the reader’s interpretation of the scene; up until the shift, the focus is purely on describing the kitten but ‘stroke’ forces the reader to include the narrator and their actions in the picture.

Object shift


‘Mention’ and ‘notify’ have an object (the alarming possibility) and an
indirect object (the audience) whereas ‘fear’ is intransitive. This is a considerable change in the grammatical roles of the verbs, but nevertheless it often reads quite fluidly. The effect of the shift is to suddenly introduce the speaker’s own feelings into what would otherwise be just a statement of fact — the effect could be humorous or self-deprecating depending on context.

Simple Object Shift


The object of ‘steer’ and ‘control’ is the car, the object of ‘honk’ is the horn. This is a simpler case than 2 because all that changes during the shift is the identity of the object. For some reason, though, this shift often feels more jarring.

2 Replies to “(NC) Verb Shifts”

  1. alt.line.breaks.missing?.lost?.need

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