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If I change this sentence

We could not communicate through the phone.

to

Through the phone, we could not communicate.

Does it still remain grammatically correct? Is it OK like that? What's the difference?

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they look correct, but the second one sounds very stilted. It does stress the fact that it was the telephone that was the problem –  mplungjan Apr 20 '11 at 7:58
    
Both are okay but the second seems to imply something more. Through the phone, we could not communicate. However, through the __, we could. This is because the focus of the sentence is not on the communication but on the phone. –  Karl Apr 20 '11 at 8:10
    
I don’t know about other dialects, but in the US by phone is much preferred to through the phone. –  Jason Orendorff Apr 22 '11 at 17:26

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Both of these are acceptable, though the focus in each is different.

By placing different parts of sentence at the front, you make them more important.

In the first sentence, the focus is on communication and the inability to do it. You could extend this as follows:

We could not communicate through the phone, though we could use it to (do something else).

In the second, the focus is on the phone and its uselessness in the situation. It could be extended thus:

Through the phone, we could not communicate but through the (something else), we could.

This works when written. However, in spoken language, stress and intonation could alter the focus regardless of word order.

As a matter of preference, I would tend toward the first example, simply because it is the natural order of the sentence without clauses being juggled and extra punctuation being added. I would only choose the second if I specifically wanted to alter the focus, as explained above.

Hope that helps.

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Indeed, this type of structure is called "fronting" and is specifically used for focus. Note that an adverbial phrase that belongs to the sentence often comes first (eg "On the other hand") but one that is part of the verb phrase normally comes after the verb, and fronting it makes it highly "marked" (as linguists say). –  Colin Fine Apr 20 '11 at 14:54

Actually, I get the feeling that you are strugging with the arrangement of this sentence because of the preposition "through." Communication is what takes place between two or more people, and it does not take place "through" a phone. Perhaps something like "While speaking on the phone, we could not communicate well," would suffice (or "we could not communicate while speaking on the phone."

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Communication can also take place between two objects, like a computer and server or cell phone and network tower. In these instances, saying "through the internet" or "through the network" work just fine. –  joulesm Dec 6 '12 at 9:34

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