Resumptive Modifiers

An example of a resumptive modifier from film director John Huston.

In English grammar, a resumptive modifier is a modifier that repeats a key word (usually at or near the end of a main clause) and then adds informative or descriptive details related to that word.

As Jean Fahnestock notes in Rhetorical Style (2011), "The resumptive modifier reaches into a string of terms and pulls out one for the emphasis of repetition."

Examples and Observations

Henry Green: Edith looked out on the morning, the soft bright morning that struck her dazzled dazzling eyes.

Bill Bryson: The lunchroom at Callanan [Junior High School] was like something out of a prison movie. You would shuffle forward in a long, silent line and have lumpen, shapeless food dolloped onto your tray by lumpen, shapeless women--women who looked as if they were on a day release from a mental institution, possibly for having poisoned food in public places.

P.G. Wodehouse: Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.

Joyce Maynard: My grandmother is a woman who used to crack Brazil nuts open with her teeth, a woman who once lifted a car off the ground, when there was an accident and it had to be moved.

Donovan Hohn: Although I come from a family of insufferably handy men--men able to wire a house, rebuild a transmission, or frame a wall without calling an expert or consulting a book--I am profoundly unhandy.

Roff Smith: Everything about a cheetah is designed for speed--pure, raw, explosive speed.

P.G. Wodehouse: It was the sort of morning when the air gives us a feeling of anticipation--a feeling that, on a day like this, things surely cannot go joggling along in the same dull old groove; a premonition that something romantic and exciting is about to happen to us.

Dave Barry: Being generous and hospitable people, Tom and Pat went out and purchased, as a special treat for me, the largest lobster in the history of the Atlantic Ocean, a lobster that had probably been responsible for sinking many commercial vessels before it was finally apprehended by nuclear submarines.

Oliver Wendell Holmes: For there we loved, and where we love is home,
Home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts . . ..

Saul Bellow: Towards the end of your life you have something like a pain schedule to fill out--a long schedule like a federal document, only it's your pain schedule.

John Lanchester: There needs to be a general acceptance that the model has failed: the brakes-off, deregulate or die, privatize or stagnate, lunch is for wimps, greed is good, what’s good for the financial sector is good for the economy model; the 'sack the bottom 10 per cent,' bonus-driven, 'if you can’t measure it, it isn’t real' model; the model that spread from the City to government and from there through the whole culture, in which the idea of value has gradually faded to be replaced by the idea of price.

Robert Benchley: In the first place, there was the ennui. And such ennui as it was! A heavy, overpowering ennui, such as results from a participation in eight courses of steaming, gravied food, topping off with salted nuts which the little old spinster Gummidge from Oak Hill said she never knew when to stop eating--and true enough she didn't--a dragging, devitalizing ennui, which left its victims strewn about the living-room in various attitudes of prostration suggestive of those of the petrified occupants in a newly unearthed Pompeiian dwelling; an ennui which carried with it a retinue of yawns, snarls and thinly veiled insults, and which ended in ruptures in the clan spirit serious enough to last throughout the glad new year.

Thomas Kerns: The practice of spiritual exercise must begin with desire, the desire that the phenomenal world may become diaphanous and that true Being may shine through.

Jacques Derrida: We are still incapable of understanding that the only genuine backbone of all our actions if they are to be moral is responsibility. Responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my firm, my success. Responsibility to the order of Being, where all our actions are indelibly recorded and where, and only where, they will be properly judged."

(Václav Havel, address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, February 21, 1990)

"But, after all, what would be a gift that fulfills the condition of the gift, namely, that it not appear as gift, that it not be, exist, signify, want-to-say as gift? A gift without wanting, without wanting-to-say, an insignificant gift, a gift without intention to give?

Martha Kolln: The resumptive modifier often includes a that-clause, as these examples . . . illustrate:

Remember that well-chosen verbs send a message to the reader, the message that the writer has crafted the sentence with care.

That kind of agentless prose should send up a red flag, a signal that here's a candidate for revision.

The reader assumes from such messages that the writer has certain doubts, doubts that perhaps others may have, thus connecting, as possible fellow doubters, the writer and the reader.

In the following sentence from a book review about the work of Edith Wharton, the reviewer uses a dash instead of a comma to set off a resumptive modifier:

Wharton depicted women caught between constraint and the possibilities of a new sexual freedom--a freedom that she herself enjoyed, though at a high cost.
--Margaret Drabble

. . . Coming at the end of the sentence, in the position of end focus, these modifiers are going to command the reader's attention. And, clearly, they offer the writer a way of adding information, information that might otherwise require a sentence of its own.

Joseph M. Williams: To create a resumptive modifier find a key word, usually a noun, then pause after it with a comma, . . . then repeat it, . . . [and then] add a relative clause:

Since mature writers often use resumptive modifiers to extend a sentence, we need a word to name what I am about to do in this sentence, a sentence that I could have ended at that comma, but extended to show how resumptive modifiers work.