I recently read the following in a schoolbook:

Wrote the researchers, "[...]"

I wonder if this is correct English. I have seen it a couple of more times. Is this just a matter of preference? English doesn't really have a very liberal word order, unless you're writing poetry or the like.

Can anyone tell me what this is called? I found some information on subject-verb inversion, but it only seems to be when the object is in front, but in this case, the word order is verb-subject-object.

  • 7
    It's literary. Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore.'
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 15:04
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    Yeah, that sounds logical, but my confusion arose from the fact that this was an example of a scientific news article.
    – jocap
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 15:08
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    There are very few instances of using the VSO structure in English, and I don't regard quotes as direct objects. 'Have you the money?' is an acceptable (in BrE, at least) example. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 15:26
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    If one googles the phrase "wrote the researchers" there are numerous examples where this construction was selected. From a brief review of the usage found there, the authors seem to be using the quotation to carry the idea of the narrative. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 15:29
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    News articles about science are written like stories, with dialog, and the usual writing conventions for reporting dialog, like "XYZ ABC", said Bill, or Said Bill, "XYZ ABC". It's only in writing, never in spontaneous speech (though some storytellers use it), and it's not normal inversion. It's just artistic variation for the purpose of non-repetition. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 18:36

3 Answers 3


Wrote the researchers, "[...]"

This is an archaic form of "The researchers wrote, '...'" but it is still used for literary purposes.

So it is correct but only in specific contexts. People would certainly understand what was meant but it may feel a bit odd.

  • How archaic is it? I read it all the time in news articles and have (as a non-native English speaker) never understood the stylistic implications of it. Are these writers getting carried away or is it a natural written language variation (as stated by@JohnLawler in the comments above)?
    – Jonatan
    Commented Sep 9, 2016 at 17:48
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    @Jonatan: It is suitable and common stylistic choice for news articles.
    – MrHen
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 20:01

Having read in a German textbook that this word-order (SOMETHING - VERB - SUBJECT) is impossible in English, I immediately suspected that this wasn't the case. Since then I've noticed that it actually crops up quite a lot, e.g.:

"On the front lawn grazed several cows."

"In the villages all around lived many poor black workers."

"The city is flanked by imposing craggy cliffs from where looms the granite-clad facade of a five-star hotel."

All these examples were taken from recent newspaper articles. They sound perfectly natural to me, although this word order is clearly optional and is much less common than it is in German. It's easy to do a thought-experiment and realise that in many examples it would just sound plain weird, although it's difficult to identify why it sounds natural in some sentences and not others.

I think Jocap's example ("Wrote the researchers...") sounds noticably more formal because the sentence is simply (VERB - SUBJECT) rather than (SOMETHING - VERB - SUBJECT).


One of the things that is going on here is "fronting" - thanks to the inbuilt flexibility of English word-order, we've always the choice what we want our readers to read first, and the connotations change with the choice we make; "wrote the researchers" prepares you for the verbatim report itself, where "the researchers wrote" might lead to thoughts about its validity. Compare "Said Sally" (here's the thing said) & "Sally said" - a little of the telling-tales-in-the-playground about it, no?

Another, not-unrelated aspect here is the "written" vs "spoken" - your VS order is more common in written English, whereas the "Sally said" form smacks of the heard; authority in English still sticks to the "written" form, and I assume a paper using phrases like "Wrote the researchers" is in the authority game...


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