• "Charles can be very sarcastic when he wishes.
  • "When he wishes, Charles can be very sarcastic.

Is there a word for this kind of inversion?

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    Yes, it's called "Backwards Pronominalization". Not a terrific term, but descriptive enough. There is a fairly simple rule about when it is possible and when it's not. I made up a question about it (#3 on this final exam for my Intro Ling class) . Sep 9, 2014 at 17:37
  • @John: Would that term still apply in, say, ""When you want to, you can be very sarcastic, Charles"? I can imagine this being said by a teacher facing the blackboard, so it's at least possible the pupils behind her don't know who you refers to until the end of the utterance. Sep 9, 2014 at 17:45
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    No, first and second person pronouns are deictic, not referential, and don't have antecedents. Vocatives, which can be placed pretty much anywhere, are optional and don't count as antecedents, since they always name the addressee. Sep 9, 2014 at 17:48
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    Another term used for this, apart from cataphora, is anticipatory anaphora. One interesting thing about your example is that the pronouns and nouns can only be swapped in one of the examples. When Charles wishes, he can be very sarcastic 's fine. He can be very sarcastic, when Charles wishes cannot mean the same thing. Sep 10, 2014 at 14:45
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    @luis I just meant that the grammar of the uses is quite interesting. The inverted version in your example's possible because the occurs in the subordinate clause. Just a slightly irrelevant observation, that's all :) Sep 10, 2014 at 15:43

1 Answer 1


One word is cataphora. Since the noun no longer precedes the pronoun that refers to it, that noun can be called a postcedent. Here's a bit from the wiki article on cataphora:

In linguistics, cataphora ... is used to first insert an expression or word that co-refers with a later expression in the discourse.[1] example of strict, sentence-internal cataphora in English is the following sentence:

When he arrived home, John went to sleep.

In this sentence, the pronoun he (the anaphor) appears earlier than the noun John (the postcedent) that it refers to, the reverse of the normal pattern (anaphora), where a referring expression such as John or the soldier appears before any pronouns that reference it.

[1]: Pragmatics and Discourse: A Resource Book for Students : A, B, C, D. Routledge. pp. 10–. ISBN 978-0-415-25357-4. Retrieved 19 May 2013."

In English this is possible because the inverted clause is subordinate to, or depends on, the following independent clause. It (probably) doesn't work in the opposite direction, i.e. inverting two independent clauses or placing a main clause before a subordinate clause, and leaving the pronoun in the now first clause to refer to a noun in the second.

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    It's not just a question of which clause comes first; it's also a question of which clause commands (i.e, is higher than) the other. The rule is that a personal pronoun may not both precede and command its antecedent. Sep 9, 2014 at 17:50

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