“I never said she stole my money” has 7 different meanings depending on the stressed word.
Whether it is verbal communication or written, how you structure your words can play an integral role. It is very important to emphasize the correct words if you do not want there to be any miscommunication. On which word the emphasis is placed can completely change the meaning of what we are communicating.
In any language, even the most simplest of sentences can have many levels of meaning based on the word you stress. We will illustrate this phenomenon using an example. Consider the following sentence someone may have said upon having money stolen:
“I never said she stole my money”
Simply read, the sentence can be taken to mean that the person never said that their money had been stolen by the girl/woman. However, this sentence can have seven different meanings, depending on which word we put an emphasis on. We will explain each of them separately. “I never said she stole my money” When the emphasis is placed on “I”, the person means to say that THEY never said that she stole their money. Rather, someone else had said it and this person implicitly agreed with them. “I never said she stole my money” If emphasis is placed on “never”, the person may be trying to imply that the entire idea of someone stealing money is downright outrageous. In other words, they are denying ever blaming the girl/woman for stealing the money. “I never said she stole my money” When the emphasis is being placed on “said” the person may be implying that she stole their money but never said it out in these words. In other words, there is no way to prove that the person blamed her for stealing the money. “I never said she stole my money” If the person places emphasis on “she”, they are stating that they never implied that the girl/woman stole their money. Rather, they are trying to explain that someone did steal their money but not necessarily her. “I never said she stole my money” When the person emphasizes the word “stole”, they mean to say that they never considered their money STOLEN by the girl/woman. Rather, the money had been missing and it was her who had it but it could have been borrowed. “I never said she stole my money” When emphasis is placed on the word “my”, the person considered the money stolen but not their own money. So when they said these words, they were trying to saying that they never said their own money was stolen, rather they were referring to someone else’s stolen money. “I never said she stole my money” If the individual is placing emphasis on “money”, they are trying to say that it was not money that was stolen. In other words, they did not say that the girl/woman stole their MONEY, rather something else. The person may be trying to say that she stole stuff which cost them money to replace. As we can see, there are many different ways in which this sentence can be understood. A simple act of shifting the emphasis can completely alter the meaning implied by the speaker or the writer. The important point to remember is that the true meaning of the sentence is also expressed through the stressed word or words. It does not just end at the emphasized words. In more complex sentences which employ punctuations, the placement of a comma or colons can also change the meaning of the sentence significantly. We can illustrate this using a classic example:
- A woman without her man is nothing.
- A woman: without her, man is nothing.
The first sentence implies that a woman is completely dependent on a man i.e. she would be nothing without him. By just adding the colon and comma in the second sentence, we have changed the meaning of the sentence into something opposite. It now implies that it is the man who is dependent on a woman, without whom he would be nothing. Using another example, we can show that even something as small as a hyphen can completely change the meaning of a sentence.
- You will be required to work twenty four-hour shifts.
- You will be required to work twenty-four hour shifts.
In conclusion, it is pretty evident that the words you stress and the placement of punctuations can fully modify the underlying meaning of a sentence. This is why we have to be very careful in making sure our words are not misinterpreted. This is especially important when it comes to written communication where the tone cannot be judged easily. You never know when a small comma or an incorrectly emphasized word can end up causing a huge amount of misunderstanding