Romeo loves Juliet

I have recently been thinking about the range of nuances that are available in English. Take the statement “Romeo loves Juliet”.

We can emphasise the whole statement:
Romeo loves Juliet! (Gosh, I’m so excited!)”.

Or we can emphasise each word. In fact, each word might receive one of two levels of emphasis:
“Who loves Juliet?” “Romeo loves Juliet.” v “Paris loves Juliet.” “No, Romeo loves Juliet!”
“Romeo likes Juliet.” “No, Romeo loves Juliet.” v “Romeo hates Juliet.” “No, Romeo loves Juliet!”
“Romeo loves who?” “Romeo loves Juliet” v “Romeo loves Rosaline” “No, Romeo loves Juliet!”

In fact, too much emphasis on “loves” can turn the statement into sarcasm: “Romeo LOVES Tybalt!”

(It is very difficult to indicate the exact level of emphasis typographically!)

Different ways of negation might also bear different nuances. “Romeo doesn’t love Juliet” tells us that the whole statement is untrue, but not which part in particular. We can emphasise one part:
Romeo doesn’t love Juliet. (Paris does.)”
“Romeo doesn’t love Juliet. (He’s just using her for sex.)”
“Romeo doesn’t love Juliet. (He loves Rosaline.)”

The same goes for questions:
Romeo loves Juliet? (I don’t believe you!)”
Romeo loves Juliet? (I thought Paris did) or (You said Paris did) or (I thought you said Paris did.)”
“Romeo loves Juliet? (I thought you said he hated her.)”
“Romeo loves Juliet? (I thought he loved Rosaline) or (You said he loved Rosaline) or (I thought you said he loved Rosaline.)”

“Who loves Juliet?” (standard) v “Who loves Juliet? (Did you say ‘Romeo’?)” v “Who (in the whole world) loves Juliet?”
? “Romeo whats Juliet” or “Romeo does what to Juliet?”
“Romeo loves who(m)?” v “Who does Romeo love?” (standard) v “Who(m) does Romeo love? (Did you say Juliet?)”

Several other possibilities exist, most of which have further options:
Negative questions: “Romeo doesn’t love Juliet?”, “Doesn’t Romeo love Juliet?” v “Doesn’t Romeo love Juliet? (It’s, like, totally obvious!)”

Tag questions: “Romeo loves Juliet, doesn’t he?” (standard, expecting positive answer) v “Romeo doesn’t love Juliet, does he?” (standard expecting negative answer) v “Romeo loves Juliet, does he? (Huh? HUH?)” v * “Romeo doesn’t love Juliet, doesn’t he?” v “Romeo does love Juliet, doesn’t he?”

Passive voice: “Juliet is loved by Romeo.” etc

Cleft constructions: “It is Romeo who loves Juliet.”, “It is Juliet who(m) Romeo loves.” etc

Some of these options overlap in nuance. The major factors are: emphasising “Romeo”, or “loves” or “Juliet”; whether it is a spontaneous statement or question, or whether the statement is in response to previous statement or question, or the question is in response to a previous statement; and the previous knowledge of the speaker and/or listener.

It is very possible that I’ve missed some available constructions, and it is certainly possible that there are more nuances available.


2 thoughts on “Romeo loves Juliet

  1. Here’s a missed one: Romeo *doesn’t* love Juliet. (asterix for italics) – As in, “Will you stop saying Romeo loves Juliet?; Romeo *doesn’t* love Juliet.”

    BTW, there’s definitely an “m” on “It’s Juliet whom Romeo loves.” Where Juliet, the first noun, is the object, the pronoun (who) goes into the genitive and thus gains an M – probably the only reason I know this is because it’s very important in German, and one of the nominative-genitive changes was WER (who) to WEM (whom).


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