I. What is Amplification?
Amplification (pronounced am-pluh-fi-key-shuh-n) involves extending a sentence or phrase in order to further explain, emphasize, or exaggerate certain points of a definition, description, or argument.
Amplification can involve embellishment or technical elaboration. Either way, more information is being added.
II. Examples of Amplification
Here are a few examples of amplification which increases the quality of ordinary sentences:
Imagine you are struggling with a math assignment. You go into a tutoring center to talk to a math tutor.
The assignment was complicated.
In this sentence, necessary information is conveyed: the assignment was complicated. But the tutor will need to know what, specifically, made the assignment complicated in order to help.
Sentence using Amplification:
The assignment was complicated because it involved numerous steps. I believe I became lost on step three, but I’m not sure. I may have miscalculated here on step four as well. Can you help me?
Through the use of amplification, you have made clear what you are struggling with, and the tutor can now help you.
Imagine you are at a doctor’s office because you have been feeling sick. Your doctor asks, “What brings you here today?”
I think I’m getting sick.
Once again, more information is needed in order to help the doctor understand the problem.
Sentence using Amplification:
I think I’m getting sick—I’ve been experiencing terrible headaches and drainage, and I’ve just begun to develop a sore throat as well.
Amplification serves to specify with more information and detail.
For a final example, imagine you are attempting to describe just how beautiful a fall day was.
I was overwhelmed with how beautiful a day it was.
This sentence expresses the intended sentiment, but it lacks flowery, descriptive language.
Sentence using Amplification:
I was overwhelmed with how beautiful an autumn day it was—the leaves were an awe-inspiring palette of deep reds, vibrant oranges, and bright yellows, the wind wafted through the crisp air, and the sun shone brilliantly through puffs of cumulus clouds.
Wow! With amplification, a beautiful fall day can project off of the page, transporting the reader into the experience.
III. The Importance of Using Amplification
Amplification provides more information in order to strengthen an important point in a speech. It serves to exaggerate certain statements which can underline comedic or serious intentions. It emphasizes the persuasive aspects of an argument by elaborating why exactly they should be considered. In creative writing, amplification draws attention to the most compelling, vivid, or thought-provoking sections of a narrative. In general, amplification highlights what is most important.
IV. Examples of Amplification in Literature
Amplification characterizes speakers, vividly illustrates scenes and moments, and describes in-depth what is most important.
For an example of amplification in literature, read the beginning of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter:
It is a little remarkable, that—though disinclined to talk
overmuch of myself and my affairs at the fireside, and to
my personal friends—an autobiographical impulse should
twice in my life have taken possession of me, in addressing
This introduction utilizes amplification. Instead of simply saying he has decided to write an autobiography, the speaker explains it in-depth.
For a second example, read this excerpt from The Twits by Roald Dahl:
If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it.
A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.
Dahl uses elaboration to describe in-depth how an ugly person becomes uglier, and how a beautiful person, despite any physical imperfections, remains beautiful. This is more powerful than simply saying “Ugly thoughts make you ugly, but beautiful thoughts make you beautiful.”
V. Examples of Amplification in Pop Culture
Amplification creates compelling and interesting dialogue and lyrics in movies, television, and song.
The main character of the film, Patch Adams, makes the following claim when asked if he has been treating patients in his ranch:
Everyone who comes to the ranch is a patient, yes. And every person who comes to the ranch is also a doctor.
When asked to elaborate, he uses amplification to define “doctor” in-depth and holistically:
Every person who comes to the ranch is in need of some form of physical or mental help. They’re patients. But also every person who comes to the ranch is in charge of taking care of someone else--whether it’s cooking for them, cleaning them, or even as simple a task as listening. That makes them doctors. I use that term broadly, but is not a doctor someone who helps someone else? When did the term “doctor” get treated with such reverence, as, “Right this way, Doctor Smith”… or, “Excuse me, Dr. Scholl, what wonderful footpads”… or, “Pardon me, Dr. Patterson, but your flatulence has no odor”?
This emotional and down-to-earth description of a doctor is an emotional appeal to the judges in the movie as well as to the audience watching at home.
For a second example, read the critic Anton Ego’s speech in the film Ratatouille:
The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: “Anyone can cook.” But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.
Ego uses amplification to clearly explain how the world reacts to something new and how the brave critic must defend it. He also elaborates on the unexpected meal and how it changed his preconceptions. To simply say, “The meal challenged my preconceptions” would miss the larger point: Ego realized a great artist can come from anywhere. As the audience knows, Ego is talking about a rat chef. The eloquence of his explanation highlights just how amazing this little chef is.
VI. Related Terms
Like amplification, auxesis involves the accumulation of information. Auxesis is a specific type of amplification in which words are piled on in order of importance, ending with the most important or triumphant part. Here are a few examples of auxesis:
- We scored a goal. Then another! Forty minutes later, we were winning four to zero!
In this example, the sentences build in order of goals scored and in excitement over winning the game.
- At first, he was a little angry. A few minutes later, his face was red. An hour later, he was fuming!
This example shows an increasingly angry person in increments.
- We planned on a brief coffee date, but then we decided to get dinner, too. Hours later, we were still talking and planning on our next date!
This example shows a relationship developing as a brief date is extended and extended.
Congeries is another specific type of amplification in which words are piled on in order to describe something in-depth. Here are a few examples of congeries:
- He’s a curly, sweet, blonde, little, tiny, fun, funny puppy.
- She was wild and crazy! Bizarre! The most amazing thing! Too much to handle! Wow!
- The speech was interesting, compelling, thought-provoking, overwhelming at times, and so very inspiring.
As can be seen in the above examples, congeries piles on the words, oftentimes adjectives, to fully and enthusiastically describe something.
VII. In Closing
Amplification turns the speakers up on what the audience needs to pay attention to and understand. It can be used to carefully explain, slowly elaborate, or expressively describe. Amplification proves that less is not more. More is more!