Is it okay if I rearrange the sentence

The apple on the table was green
The green apple was on the table

to put the adjective in front, as the first word, like

Green, was the apple on the table

All of them sound acceptable to me. Why is that? What is this called?

Also, does the meaning of the sentence change? Does it place more emphasis on different things?

  • 3
    The comma in the third sentence is superfluous. Nevertheless, the sentence is grammatical albeit rather archaic. It puts emphasis on the greenness of the apple rather than the apple itself.
    – Anonym
    Sep 27, 2014 at 18:15
  • 2
    Not merely 'rather archaic', but exclusively literary. You would only find this today in fiction or song lyrics aiming at a very old 'feel'. Sep 27, 2014 at 18:32
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers Regally speaking, both King Henry VIII’s Green Groweth the Holly and Théoden King’s “Dark have been my dreams of late” come to mind — or to the mind come, as you like it. :)
    – tchrist
    Sep 27, 2014 at 22:29
  • 1
    @Crosscounter It is exasperating how often, quickly, and wrongly those of limited experience in English literature equate any variation from SVO ordering to “Yoda-speak”. This is nothing whatsoever like that. So-called “Yoda-speak” is nothing more than OSV ordering, and this at most is OVS, which is completely different. Calling it Yoda-speak is linguistically and historically ignorant: English has always enjoyed more flexibility in word ordering should occasion demand it than is commonly today credited. See this answer and its citation.
    – tchrist
    Sep 28, 2014 at 0:08
  • 1
    @tchrist thanks for rectifying that. Always good to know the true roots. Sep 28, 2014 at 0:12

2 Answers 2


Green was the apple on the table.

This is an example of subject-dependent inversion. There are many types of inverted sentence. This one has a very specific pattern which makes it very different from others. Looking at the three sentences, it would be easy to think that the structure of the three sentences were completely unrelated:

  1. The apple on the table was green.
  2. The green apple was on the table.
  3. Green was the apple on the table.

The structure of sentence (1), where Predicator is the function carried out by the verb is:

  • Subject, the apple on the table; Predicator was; Predicative complement green

The subject there is a Noun Phrase the apple modified by the Preposition Phrase on the table. The Adjective green describes the subject.

Sentence 2, on the other hand is structured so:

  • Subject, the green apple; Predicator was; Locative Complement, on the table.

This time the Noun apple is modified by green. The complement, the locative Preposition Phrase on the table is now describing the green apple, the subject.

Sentence 3, actually has exactly the same structure as sentence 1. The subject is the apple on the table, the predicator is was and the predicative complement is green.

Subject-dependent inversion is an information packaging device where the subject moves to the end of the sentence and the dependent, in this case the complement, to the beginning. This is what has transformed sentence (1) into sentence (3). There are four notable aspects to subject-dependent inversion. Firstly it is much more common with Prepositional Phrases than Adjectives and it's very infrequent with Noun Phrases. Inversions with Preposition Phrases are actually quite frequent in everyday speech:

  • At the end of the garden is the potting shed.
  • There goes the bus.
  • Over the road are the chemist's and the Post Office.

Secondly, it usually happens with the verb BE, and rarely with other verbs.

Thirdly, with the verb BE it can only happen with a complement of the verb , not with an adjunct (read adverbial). Consider:

  • My only friend is in the garden / In the garden is my only friend. (correct)

  • My only friend is happy in the garden / In the garden is happy my only friend. (wrong)

Finally, there is a constraint that the subject contain new information. It can not already have been mentioned in the conversational text so far.

The reasons for using Subject-Dependent inversion are usually either that we wish to link the complement with the previous sentence:

  • The Police station's at the end of the Road. Opposite the Police station is the ...

Or alternatively, if we haven't mentioned the subject yet, we may want to make it more prominent by moving it to the end of the sentence, the position that commands the attention of the listener.

In the case of Adjectival complements which are only one word, such as green, this type of Subject-Dependent inversion is quite rare. As mentioned in the comments, it gives a very literary, if not archaic, effect. Arguably it does seem to put emphasis on the first word of the sentence. This is very unusual, because the beginning of a sentence usually carries the least emphasis. It would rarely be found in formal writing or in everyday conversational speech.

  • 1
    A great answer is that :-)
    – Frank H.
    Sep 27, 2014 at 22:53
  • 2
    Equative sentences have unusual properties. As usual, the predicate determines; however, in these cases either side of the be can be the predicate. I recall a paper on the subject (circa 1975, but I can't remember where it was published) that used the example sentence An Italian was her dancing master and Her dancing master was an Italian. Sep 28, 2014 at 0:22
  • @FrankH. Always appreciated is a pun :) Sep 28, 2014 at 1:52
  • Or, if you're small and green yourself, "Green the apple on the table was."
    – Kevin
    Sep 28, 2014 at 5:25
  • 1
    @Apples Kevin, well it's very rare but it does happen: No, no, no, Jane, I hate, it's Barbara I love! As Kevin points out this is very unusual and we very, very rarely do this if we aren't aliens! However, it doesn't count as inversion when we do, because, as you say, the Predicator follows the verb. It is normally referred to as topicalisation. This is when we take any word, but often a direct object, and move it to the front of the clause or sentence to mark it as the central topic of this sentence Sep 29, 2014 at 13:54

Yes, it is ok to rearrange the sentence as per your example. It is called an inverted sentence.

From Wikipedia:

An inverted sentence is a sentence in a normally subject-first language in which the predicate (verb) comes before the subject (noun).

As @Anonym commented, the comma in the third example is superfluous. Inverting the sentence structure does change the emphasis, putting it on the greenness of the apple. Saying instead "on the table was the green apple" would emphasise that the apple was on the table.

  • 1
    It's as OK to rearrange the sentence the way you suggest as it is to speak like Yoda. Possibly. Sep 27, 2014 at 19:20
  • @EdwinAshworth Are you saying that even you cannot tell the difference between SVO and OVS ordering, or that you have forgotten this sound advice?
    – tchrist
    Sep 28, 2014 at 0:10
  • 1
    SVO and OVS occur in English, along with lots of other stuff. However, it's all rule-governed, and there should be a derivation, rather than a definition like Wikipedia's, which basically ignores the details that would distinguish one rule from another. Sep 28, 2014 at 0:24
  • @tchrist I'm saying that one certainly needs to 'learn to distinguish between the bogus and the genuine antique'. I'm quite happy with Yoda's later utterances, but Apples I know not. StoneyB's advice makes sense, and should be taken on board by anyone not wishing to sound ridiculously affected in normal conversation. Incidentally, I'm a little perturbed that you seem able to jump to the conclusion that saying X is like (etc) Y might imply that the speaker believes X to be Y. Sep 28, 2014 at 14:29
  • @EdwinAshworth I am annoyed that any change to word order means people immediately say Yoda! Yoda! Yoda! Yoda! Yoda! Yoda! Yoda! Yoda! Yoda! Yoda! Yoda! Yoda! Yoda!. It’s like a knee-jerk response, and it’s stupid.
    – tchrist
    Sep 28, 2014 at 14:56

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