The Emphatic 'Do' in English Grammar

pen drawing underline for emphasis
Getty Images

The emphatic do is a particular use of the verb do (do, does, or did) to add emphasis to an affirmative sentence. The emphatic do is far more common in speech than in formal written English. Unlike ordinary auxiliary verbs, which are typically unstressed in speech, the emphatic do is almost always stressed

Examples of the Emphatic Do

Rather than trying to understand through definitions alone, take a look at these examples of the emphatic do in various contexts. You really do see this verb form more than you might think.

  • "Now, I don't speak Chinese, but I do speak a little Polish, a little Korean, and a few words in half a dozen other languages. This comes from my living in New York City where I encountered people from every nationality on a regular basis," (Vickers 2011).
  • "I know it doesn't look like it, but I really do work hard around here. It's just that I'm so disorganized that I never finish anything I start,"​ (Rubin 1992).
  • "If you start asking questions and the guy runs away, that's exactly what you want. It sets you up to meet someone who does want what you want," (Durant 2004).
  • "I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try to visit those in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity," ​(King 1968).
  • "'Do be quiet, Larry!' she said impatiently. 'Don't you hear me talking to Daddy?'" (O'Connor 2009).
  • "What a swell person you are to back me up the way you do on this job! We do do things together, don't we?" (Hickok 1998).

Do as an Auxiliary

Do often functions as an auxiliary or helping verb in a sentence, and when it's added before a verb, the verb becomes an emphatic verb. "[I]n the absence of an auxiliary, a form of do can be added to carry the stress:

He polishes his car every week. → He DOES polish his car every week.
He polished his car yesterday. → He DID polish his car yesterday.

When the do transformation is applied to a verb in the past tense, such as polished, the do will carry the past marker, as it does in negative statements and questions. Note that the resulting emphatic verb is did polish; the main verb is the base form, polish. In its role as a stand-in auxiliary, do has no effect on meaning. It merely acts as kind of operator that enables us to add emphasis to sentences not containing auxiliaries or be and to transform them into negatives and questions," (Kolln and Funk 1997).

Emphasizing Different Parts of a Sentence

The emphasis isn't always on "do" when the emphatic do is added to a sentence. Depending on how a sentence is uttered, the focus could be on any word, as the authors of English Grammar: A University Course prove: "The following advertisement illustrates the possibility speakers have of assigning focus to practically any item. Some of these utterances could be interpreted as contrastive, others simply as emphatic.

DO you know what kind of a day I've had?
Do YOU know what kind of a day I've had?
Do you KNOW what kind of a day I've had?
Do you know WHAT kind of a day I've had?
Do you know what KIND of a day I've had?
Do you know what kind of a DAY I've had?
Do you know what kind of a day I'VE had?
Do you know what kind of a day I've HAD?
Well, DO you?" (Downing and Locke 2006).

Sources

  • Downing, Angela, and Philip Locke. English Grammar: A University Course. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2006.
  • Durant, Lauren. "9 Questions to Ask Your New Lover." Interview by Nikitta A. Foston. Ebony. Mar. 2006.
  • Hickok, Lorena. Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. Edited by Rodger Streitmatter, The Free Press, 1998.
  • King, Martin Luther. "The Drum Major Instinct." Sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church. 4 Feb. 1968, Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Kolln, Martha, and Robert Funk. Understanding English Grammar. 5th ed., Allyn and Bacon, 1997.
  • O'Connor, Frank. "My Oedipus Complex." The Best of Frank O'Connor. Aflred A. Knopf, 2009.
  • Rubin, Lillian B. Worlds of Pain: Life in the Working-Class Family. Basic Books, 1992.
  • Vickers, Damon. The Day After the Dollar Crashes: A Survival Guide for the Rise of the New World Order. John Wiley & Sons, 2011.