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Is it correct to begin sentences with adjuncts? To which degree are the sentences below acceptable? Do you need a special context to license this word order, or can you start a text with these sentences?

  1. In the first part of the book the author describes the influence of the drug on the neural system.

  2. Early this morning my friend left the house.

  3. Ideally, the literature section will contain all references to previous work on the topic.

  4. On the pretext of watching a Saturday night show, I lingered in front of the TV until 11.30 p.m..

  • 3
    Those are all well-formed and idiomatic sentences. – Erik Kowal Jul 28 '14 at 20:31
  • 2
    As with any other optional placement, adverbial phrases and clauses can go in a number of positions, including the initial position. However, this calls special attention to the moved constituent ("adjunct" isn't a terribly useful word, since too many people mean too many different things by "adjunct"; so I don't use it), and the speaker had better have a good reason to start off with it. – John Lawler Jul 28 '14 at 21:34
  • What John said. It's probably always possible to imagine a specialised context for just about any "fronted" adjunct/adverbial phrase - but it's not always going to be easy, given OP's start a text constraint which prevents us conjuring up appropriate preceding [con]text. – FumbleFingers Jul 28 '14 at 23:14
  • Your comments are appreciated, but it would be nice to get a proper answer, which would ideally include an example of a "good reason to start off" not with a subject. – Olga Jul 29 '14 at 0:16
  • Yodaism: To school, with her, I came. Breaking the glass, on the table together we jumped. For country, for fame, for fortune, on this adventure we embarked. Grammatical reverse-polish-notation. – Blessed Geek Jul 29 '14 at 1:42
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There is absolutely no grammatical reason to avoid starting a sentence with these adverbial phrases: as I noted in my comment above, all of your query sentences are well-formed and idiomatic.

Stylistically speaking, such phrases are useful devices for creating a context for the subsequent description that is a little more sophisticated and nuanced than the effect which would be produced by straightaway leading with the main point.

For example, your sentences 3) and 4) immediately present the reader with the point of view of the writer/narrator.

Taking 4) as an example:

On the pretext of watching a Saturday night show, I lingered in front of the TV until 11.30 p.m.

from the outset, it is clear that somewhere in the situation that is being described, there is a motivational conflict. At this point we don't know whether it is an internal one (perhaps the narrator knows she should really be studying instead of watching TV), or an external one (her friend has invited her to a party she doesn't really want to attend, and she is trying to put off going out for as long as she can) -- but in any event, the way the sentence starts immediately sets up certain expectations in the reader regarding a conflict that will become more explicit later on.

Contrast this with a more basic treatment:

I lingered in front of the TV until 11.30 p.m., watching a Saturday night show.

This conveys the same information about the narrator's actions, but reveals a lot less about her state of mind. Here, the only clue to the latter is the use of lingered instead of a word with more neutral connotations like remained.

To sum up, this example illustrates how a fronted adverbial phrase can serve as a device to introduce suspense into a description.

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