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Lesson 9: Using Signal Phrases

Consider the following sentence:

The new regime imprisoned 8,000 people within the first month (Bernstein).

There is nothing wrong with that sentence, but often your writing can be improved by adding a “signal phrase.”

According to author Dennis Bernstein, the new regime imprisoned 8,000 people within the first month.

In the above example, the phrase “According to author Dennis Bernstein” is a signal phrase. A signal phrase alerts your reader that you are about to present evidence.

A signal phrase quite often consists of three parts:

  1. The full name of the witness.
  2. An appositive which identifies the witness.
  3. Some version of the word "says".

Here is an example:

In the above example, “an expert on the Cold War” is an appositive for “Joe Smith.” (An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that identifies another noun). In a signal phrase, appositives usually answer the question: What is the occupation of the witness?

Consider these examples:

Who are you going to believe? Obviously, the second witness is more credible—unless, of course, our janitor has some first-hand information, in which case you might write:

The third part of the signal phrase is a verb that is roughly equivalent to “says”. Consider these examples:

Here is a list of some useful signal phrase verbs:

 
  • acknowledges
  • adds
  • admits
  • addresses
  • argues
  • asserts
  • believes
  • claims
  • comments
  • compares
  • confirms
  • contends
  • declares
  • denies
  • disputes
  • emphasizes
  • endorses
  • grants
  • illustrates
  • implies
  • insists
  • notes
  • observes
  • points out
  • reasons
  • refutes
  • rejects
  • reports
  • responds
  • suggests
  • thinks
  • writes
Note: The phrase “according to” also serves the same function as a signal phrase verb.
 


Check Your Understanding:

  1. What is a signal phrase?
  2. A signal phrase often consists of three parts. What are those parts?
  3. When introducing a witness with a signal phrase, what purpose does the appositive serve?

Quiz: MLA 9