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In in matters political, one can notice the inversion of the standard adjective-noun order. Here's an example in context:

political obligation is only one consideration among many in a determination in how we ought to act in matters political

I would have expected "in political matters." When can such construction be used? Is it fit to writing as well as speech, or would you rather say "in political matters" when in colloquial contexts?

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Smells like MATTers matheMATical — and VEGEtable and MINeral. Damn, you’ve given me an ear-bug! – tchrist Jun 3 '12 at 17:41
You can always use the normal order like "political matters" in such places. So, if you are not a native speaker, stick to that. You can't get unto trouble that way. – GEdgar Jun 3 '12 at 23:33
Thank you, GEdgar. I'd like to raise the bar of my English skill, so I'll retain both. As far as I can tell, the inverted form is more used in formal writing. – Giorgiomastrò Jun 4 '12 at 13:43
up vote 4 down vote accepted

While done much less often in English than some other languages, such inversions are used for emphasis. Here the 'matter' is more important and the fact that it is a 'political matter' is less important. Try removing the adjective and see if it significantly alters the meaning. In this case the second 'political' only adds a bit more clarity.

We use these constructs sparingly, but in both conversation and writing. If it had been worded as you expected, it would've been understood the same, because we tend to emphasize the subject, verb and object and place less emphasis on prepositional phrases and their objects.

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And as I previously commented, it would appear that “matters” may be more often subject to adjectival inversion than random other words. – tchrist Jun 3 '12 at 19:16
I suspected that matter were more likely to have this kind of construction. The reason may be that matter has a very loose and general meaning, almost like thing, so the focus falls rather on the adjective, which conveys the real meaning, as Tear--Here-- perfectly explained. – Giorgiomastrò Jun 3 '12 at 19:47

While you can analyse this as an inversion, I think there is another analysis which has some attraction: as a condensed relative clause.


matters political

is an abbreviation of

matters which are political

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I thought of that, but I ruled it out because it seems that the postponed adjective with matters is idiomatic, in a sense. – Giorgiomastrò Jun 4 '12 at 13:41

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