Why does the following phrase sound old fashioned?

We went swimming later in the afternoon, Jack and I.

I am trying to describe what is happening here by breaking the sentence down into its basic components, but I am having difficulty doing this. The "Jack and I" part is the Noun Phrase, right? Is there a certain language formality to placing this at the end of the sentence behind the comma? Am I crazy in thinking that the above format sounds more formal than "Jack and I went swimming later in the afternoon"?

I'm adding some more information that has come up through the conversation below:

I pulled the line from a young adult book written in 1942. I'm studying the text and trying to identify elements that make it 'feel old.' One of these elements is a general presentation of phrases in a more formal way (as compared to other modern YA publications.)

  • 2
    What do you mean by "sounding old"?
    – Juan P
    Apr 30 '14 at 15:42
  • Am I crazy in thinking that the above format sounds more formal than: Jack and I went swimming later in the afternoon.
    – CanDMan
    Apr 30 '14 at 15:57
  • No, I agree that your second construction sounds more informal. It might be because in your first construction you are setting "Jack and I" off to the side, while in your second construction you are immediately bringing the attention to "Jack and I" thus making it more direct. This makes the sentence shorter and more casual.
    – Juan P
    Apr 30 '14 at 16:00
  • Consider:......"Jack and I went swimming later in the afternoon." Apr 30 '14 at 16:00
  • 2
    That's a right dislocation construction. It is common in informal style (and usually the dislocated pronoun phrase will use accusative case).
    – F.E.
    Apr 30 '14 at 18:04

We went swimming later in the afternoon, Jack and I

This sentence has been done something to.
It's an example of the syntactic rule of Right-Dislocation.
The sentence it's transformed from is

  • Jack and I went swimming later in the afternoon.

The rule copies an emphasized Noun Phrase (which may be subject, object, or oblique) in a sentence, and repeats it, with a different intonation, for emphasis, at the end of the sentence. It's not a movement rule, but a copying rule, since the original NP remains in place as a pronoun.

There's also a rule of Left-Dislocation, which copies the NP to the beginning of the sentence.

Here's the entry from Haj Ross's list of The Top 200+ English Transformations
  (p.4, categorized under "I. Emphasis; A. Pseudoclefts and Dislocations")


  • My horse snores. ➞ My horse, he snores. (via LEFT DISLOCATION), or

  • My horse snores. ➞ He snores, my horse. (via RIGHT DISLOCATION)

In pseudoclefts, this rule will produce related sentences like the following:
Anne's brother left ➞ Anne's brother is the one who left ➞ Anne's brother, he's the one who left."

Some more examples of dislocated sentences:

  • My Uncle Will hates the Dodgers a lot. (Base sentence)
  • My Uncle Will, he hates the Dodgers a lot. (Left-Dislocation of Subject NP)
  • The Dodgers, my Uncle Will hates them a lot. (" of Object NP)
  • He hates the Dodgers a lot, my Uncle Will. (Right-Dislocation of Subject NP)
  • My Uncle Will hates them a lot, the Dodgers. (" of Object NP)

As for why anyone would think any of these are more or less "formal" or "old-fashioned" than others, I can't really say. "Formal" and "old-fashioned" are not linguistic terms, anymore than "fad" or "fancy". Everybody has their own idea(s) about these terms.

  • Do you think the use of right-dislocation in fiction is any more or less common today than it was in 1942? May 1 '14 at 2:57
  • I was born in 1942 and not counting right-dislocations then. Sorry. Apr 12 '20 at 17:49
  • Haha, I'm not old, that's just your opinion! But no, "obsolete", "archaic", and less specifically "old" are well meaningful labels that are in use in linguistics all over the place. It's definition is weak, so weak that pretty much everything is old right now.
    – vectory
    Nov 1 at 18:24
  • "We went swimming later in the afternoon, Jack and I."

That's a right dislocation construction. It is common in informal style (and usually the pronouns in the dislocated noun phrase will use accusative case).

CGEL page 1408:

  • Dislocation of this kind is often found in oral personal narratives and informal writing.

There are good pragmatic reasons why speakers and writers use dislocation. In some contexts, the dislocated versions have advantages over the more basic non-dislocated versions.

The reason why your example sentence seems a bit strange or awkward sounding is probably because the personal pronoun in the dislocated phrase is in nominative case, which is rather unusual (though, if this is fiction, then the author could have done that intentionally to stay consistent with the narrative voice).

Here's a related tidbit. CGEL page 462:

Accusatives are also the only option for the left- and right-dislocaton constructions (which are themselves characteristic of informal style):


  • i. Me, I wouldn't trust him further than I could throw him.

  • ii. I don't much care for it, me.

If you're interested in more info about these kinds of information packaging constructions, you might be able to find it under the topics of right-dislocation (and left-dislocation).

Note that CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL).


By "old" I think you mean, "old fashioned sounding."If that is what you mean, then I think what you are "hearing" as old is the sentence structure. Putting "jack and I" at the end of the sentence is perfectly correct, but that construction is not commonly used now.

  • Yes, that is exactly what I mean. I would love to get some sort of reference source that actually states this. While we can all tell it 'feels old,' the challenge is to clearly state why...and then back it up with published documentation.
    – CanDMan
    Apr 30 '14 at 16:04

In my honest opinion, it seems that formality is directly correlated to how "old" a text feels. It might be due to the formal diction, and one's immediate association with the past due to this diction, that this sense of antiquity is brought to light.

Source comparing informal and formal diction: http://writingcenter.byu.edu/handouts/style/diction.htm

  • Does anyone know a good resource that outlines "formal" vs "informal" diction?
    – CanDMan
    Apr 30 '14 at 16:06
  • Thanks. I guess the more accurate search would be for formal "sentence structure" rather than "diction," as no formal words are being used... just formal sentence structure. Thanks
    – CanDMan
    Apr 30 '14 at 16:16
  • 1
    "Formal" is not a well-defined term. You have to be more specific as to context; what counts as "formal" in one context could be "informal" in another. Plus different people have different opinions about what's "formal"; for instance, many people think that using whom instead of who makes a sentence "more formal". "Formality" is not a one-dimensional scale, and there is no central repository of rules for formal English to which one can appeal. Apr 30 '14 at 17:00

IMHO, a modern speaker would not impose on his reader's attention in this way. He would interrupt himself and insert 'Jack and I' right after 'we'.

So, to a certain degree, this sounds either old: from a time when people just listened with more patience, or over-educated: from an environment where people are expected to pay the price of being hard to follow in order to be unambiguous.

But primarily, to me, as an American, it sounds British. The only people I know who continually suspend forward references of pronouns in order to avoid interrupting themselves come from outside the U.S.


It is the way how people tell something. They begin a sentence with "we" as in "We went swimming later", at the end comes the idea to explain who is meant by "we", so they add "Jack and I" at the end of the sentence.

If you say: Jack and I went swimming later - it is a grammatically correct sentence in normal word order, but it has lost its character of an oral narrative. People don't tell their stories in grammatically correct sentences with normal word order.

  • There is also the idea that delaying the 'reveal' of who went swimming might be the author's intention. I wouldn't say this is the case for this particular selection though. There is certainly a shift in emphasis depending on where the "Jack and I" is placed.
    – CanDMan
    Apr 30 '14 at 16:31

"Jack and I" is in apposition to "We". This gives the possibilities of

(i) "Jack and I, we went swimming";

(ii) "We, Jack and I, went swimming." and

(iii) "We went swimming, Jack and I."

Currently, there are only two reasons for adding "Jack and I"

(a) a context in which the referent of "we" is not clear

(b) as emphasis.

Otherwise, one should be omitted.

Formal and old fashioned often go together. This is not the case here - it is simply old-fashioned.

You have given no context - and you should have - but, assuming this is a Victorian piece of writing, "We went swimming, Jack and I" is used, in this case, to conjure up some idyllic time: the style is dated.

"We went swimming, Jack and I" has a overtly romantic (in the broadest sense) nuance about it that is no longer used other than for novels/poems set in the 19th century and involving the middle classes. (I suppose there has been the odd 20th century author who has used such a style.

The style lost currency in the early to mid-20th century as novels of privilege were replaced by realism.

The saying that you are looking for is "They don't write them like they used to."

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