6

Are the following two examples grammatical?

  1. Write it I have.
  2. Wrote it I did.

Consider as possible contexts:

  • They said that I have to write it, and write it I have. -- (for #1)
  • They said that I wrote it, and wrote it I did. -- (for #2)

MAIN QUESTION: What reasons are there to think that examples #1 and #2 are grammatical or ungrammatical?

These two examples involve preposed verb phrases, which could be used as a form of topicalisation. But what I'm wondering about here is the grammar in relation to the forms of the verb WRITE.


MINOR QUESTION: As a very small secondary concern, is a comma required after it in those two examples, and why or why not? (See the various comments by Curiousdannii below.)

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    This reminds me of a line from Phantom of the Opera - "And what is it that we're meant to have wrote? (er, written)" – Kevin Apr 24 '15 at 14:27
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    Just because Yoda talks like this, it does not follow that the rest of us should. – GEdgar Apr 24 '15 at 15:56
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    Since *I have write it and *I did wrote it are both ungrammatical, so too are these. They should be written it I have and write it I did. No comma is necessary; however, their use is limited, mostly to being a response to such questions as have you written it? and did you write it? – Anonym Apr 24 '15 at 16:39
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    Why close it? It seems to be getting interesting discussion, even if it's happening in an officially incorrect place. If you start with a preposed VP, you're gonna be ignoring the final, and totally predictable, auxiliary stranded at the end of the sentence. By the time you get there speaking, you may well have gone on to the next sentence and just substitute whatever auxiliary verb sounds good; and by the time your addressee gets there in parsing, they're likely to be fobbable off with any old auxiliary, because Aux is all they're waiting for to close the parse. Is that "grammatical"?? – John Lawler Apr 26 '15 at 18:34
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    @Mari-LouA Preposing is just when some phrase which normally occurs later in a ssentence is moved to the beginning. This is sometimes called topicalisation. This just means that we take some piece of info that we're already talking about and put it at the beginning so that the rest of the sentence is like a comment on that topic. Incidentally, Italian speakers do this a lot in Italian and so overuse it in English! – Araucaria Apr 28 '15 at 9:14
5
+100

Are the following two examples grammatical?

  1. Write it I have.
  2. Wrote it I did.

Consider as possible contexts:

  • They said that I have to write it, and write it I have. -- (for #1)

  • They said that I wrote it, and wrote it I did. -- (for #2)

ANSWER TO MAIN QUESTION: In the appropriate context, those two expressions (#1 and #2) would most likely be acceptable in informal or colloquial spoken English, and would be considered to be grammatical by many native English speakers--though, many speakers might consider the usage of "wrote" in #2 to be nonstandard for spoken and written English.

In each of the two sentences for the example contexts, the last coordinate clause has a preposed verb phrase (VP): the VP "write it" in #1, and the VP "wrote it" in #2. Both preposed VPs have verbs that have the identical shape of a verb used in an earlier clause in the sentence; and because of this, that could produce a rhetorical effect which would often be desired by the speaker.

For version #1 in its given context, there usually wouldn't be much doubt as to its grammaticality, since it would be considered to be grammatical in today's standard English according to the 2002 reference grammar CGEL.

For version #2 in its given context, it seems in my opinion to be acceptable, and it would probably be quite reasonable to consider it to be grammatical in today's informal English, and maybe even in today's standard English. But it might be a bit harder to present an iron-clad supporting argument for that position, because it seems that this specific type of construction isn't explicitly discussed in the general vetted grammar sources that are easily available, such as the 2002 reference grammar CGEL or the 1985 reference grammar by Quirk et al.

ANSWER TO MINOR QUESTION: Usually in those types of constructions, a comma is not used to separate the preposed element from the rest of the clause when that element is a complement (which it happens to be in the OP's two examples). Often it would be less acceptable, or even unacceptable, to use a comma in that situation.

Consider the original two examples:

  • They said that I have to write it, and write it I have.
  • They said that I wrote it, and wrote it I did.

and compare them to versions with a separating comma after the preposed element:

  • They said that I have to write it, and write it, I have.
  • They said that I wrote it, and wrote it, I did.

The original versions seem much better to me. In general, though, it will depend on the specific sentence and its context, and on the speaker or writer w.r.t. what they want to accomplish, as to whether or not the use of that kind of comma is acceptable.


Note: Another answer post which has info related to the OP's grammar question is: “and build upon that, but build they have”: Should that 2nd “build” be “built”?


LONG VERSION:


INFORMATION PACKAGING:

The OP's examples are using information packaging constructions. These are constructions that have words and phrases that are not in their canonical or expected "normal" order. Often, these constructions will move elements (word or phrases or constituents) around. Usually there are more constraints and restrictions on these types of constructions, w.r.t. their level of acceptability in the contexts where they are used, than there are on more "normally ordered" constructions.

The two examples (the full sentences which provide some context) are:

  • 1.b. They said that I have to write it, and [write it] I have. -- (for OP's #1)
  • 2.b. They said that I wrote it, and [wrote it] I did. -- (for OP's #2)

Both of the OP's examples (#1.b and #2.b) are using the information packaging construction of complement preposing (2002 CGEL pages 1372-82). And more specifically, they are using VP preposing, which are the VPs "write it" and "wrote it". The following are the more normally ordered versions that would correspond to them:

  • 1.c. They said that I have to write it, and I have [written it].
  • 2.c. They said that I wrote it, and I did [write it].

Notice that the verbs in these two normally ordered versions use the grammatical "written" and "write": "written" is the past-participle verb form for the perfect construction ("have written"); and "write" is the plain form of a verb that heads the VP that is the complement for the matrix verb "did", where the verb "did" is the auxiliary verb "DO" (not the lexical verb "DO").

[Aside: Notice that there's usually another normally ordered version that would also correspond to #2.b which wouldn't use the auxiliary verb "DO": "They said that I wrote it, and I wrote it", which uses the preterite "wrote" instead of the expression "did write". But in this specific case, it doesn't seem to work for the given context.]

In general, there seems to be two factors at work here which are influencing the form that the preposed verb will be taking:

  • One: the form that the verb would have if it was in the normally ordered construction.

  • Two: the form that would more closely match the shape of the verb form that was used by an earlier use of the verb.

As to which form would be more preferable in a specific context, that would usually depend on the context and also on the speaker or writer as to the rhetorical effect that they are trying to accomplish.

Since the OP's two examples are involving two different types of construction (perfect vs auxiliary-DO), I'll split the discussion into two major parts. I'll first discuss the OP's #1 example which involves the perfect construction, since it should be the less controversial of the two. And then after that, I'll discuss the OP's #2 example which involves the auxiliary-DO construction.


EXAMPLE #1: THE PERFECT CONSTRUCTION

  • 1.b.i. They said that I have to write it, and [write it I have]. -- (OP's original #1)
  • 1.b.ii. They said that I have to write it, and [written it I have].

In general, both versions are acceptable in today's standard English. But in this specific context, there would often be a preference for the first version (#1.b.i) which uses "write", and that was what was used in the OP's original #1 version:

  • 1.b.i. They said that I have to write it, and [write it I have]. -- (OP's original #1)

The OP's use of the plain form "write" of the verb would probably often be preferred here (over the past-participle form "written") because the second "write" would then match the shape of the first "write" which was used in the previous clause, and that would give a rhetorical effect which would often be desirable by the speaker.

The two factors influencing the selection of the form of the preposed verb, w.r.t. "written" versus "write", are:

  • One: the form that the verb would have if it was in the normally ordered construction -- for example #1, it is the past-participle "written".

  • Two: the form that would more closely match the shape of the verb form that was used in an earlier use of the verb -- for example #1, the plain form "write", which had headed an infinitival clause located earlier in the example sentence.

As to which form would be more preferable, then, in general, that will depend on the context and on the speaker or writer as to the rhetorical effect that they are trying to accomplish.

This specific issue related to the perfect construction is discussed by the 2002 CGEL on page 1381 (a related excerpt is provided near the bottom of this answer post).


EXAMPLE #2: THE AUXILIARY "DO" CONSTRUCTION

  • 2.b.i. They said that I wrote it, and [wrote it I did]. -- (OP's original #2)
  • 2.b.ii. They said that I wrote it, and [write it I did].

The OP's preterite verb form "wrote" might be preferred here (over the plain form "write") by some speakers because the second "wrote" would then match the shape of the first "wrote" which was used in the previous clause, and that would give a rhetorical effect which would often be desirable by the speaker. Though, some speakers might consider "wrote" to be ungrammatical here (i.e. nonstandard), and they might only consider "write" to be acceptable.

The two factors influencing the selection of the form of the preposed verb, w.r.t. "write" versus "wrote", are:

  • One: the form that the verb would have if it was in the normally ordered construction -- for example #2, the plain form "write", which heads an infinitival clause.

  • Two: the form that would more closely match the shape of the verb form that was used in an earlier use of the verb -- for example #2, the preterite "wrote", which was located earlier in the example sentence.

As to which form would be more preferable, then, in general, that will depend on the context and on the speaker or writer as to the rhetorical effect that they are trying to accomplish (and also on the register).


GRAMMAR INFO FROM VETTED GRAMMAR SOURCES:


The OP's two examples use complement preposing in their second clauses, where the preposed element is a verb phrase (VP). Usually the second clause will involve an auxiliary verb when the preposed element is a VP.

Here are some typical examples. The 2002 CGEL, page 1376:

  • [11.i ] I've promised to help them [ and help them I will ].

  • [11.ii ] It's odd that Diane should have said that, if [ say it she did ].

The preposed VP in [11.i ] is "help them", and in [11.ii ] it is "say it". Notice that the nucleus of the second clause in both examples ends with an auxiliary: "will" for [11.i ], and "did" for [11.ii ]:

  • help them I will
  • say it she did

where the nucleus of each of those clauses would be "I will" and "she did". (note: The nucleus of a clause is the rest of the clause that hadn't been preposed.)

Here are their corresponding versions that don't have the preposing:

  • A.i. I've promised to help them and I will help them.
  • A.ii. It's odd that Diane should have said that, if [ she said it ] / [ she did say it ].

But when the auxiliary verb is the perfect "have" and the preposed element is its complement, then both the past-participle form and the plain form of the verb are acceptable.

The 2002 CGEL page 1381:

Inflection with perfect have

A special issue arises when the preposed element is a complement of perfect have. Compare:

[25]

  • i. He said he wouldn't tell them, [ but tell/told them he has ].

  • ii. He denies he has told them, [ but tell/told them he has ].

Although have normally takes a past participle, it is the plain form of the verb that is preferred in [i ]. The past participle is preferred in [ii ], where it has been used in the preceding clause, but even here the plain form tell is acceptable.


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

Pages 1372-82 (2002 CGEL), which deal with complement preposing, are within chapter 16 "Information packaging" pages 1363-1447, and the major contributors to that chapter are Gregory Ward, Betty Birner, and Rodney Huddleston. Birner and Ward are the authors of the 1998 book Information Status and Noncanonical Word Order in English, and much of chapter 16 was based on their work.

NOTE: The 1985 Quirk et al. is the reference grammar by Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech, Svartvik, A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language.

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    Am I right in thinking that part of the effect of this type of construction is to move the old info to the front of the clause so it links back to the previous sentence thereby putting the auxiliary at the end where it has more emphasis. The reason for our wanting to do this being that the auxiliary position tells us whether the clause is negative or positive - so the clause becomes emphatically positive or negative. ? – Araucaria May 2 '15 at 16:52
  • @Araucaria Er, yes, those could be some of the reasons why preposing is sometimes done. Off the top of my head, I'd think so. – F.E. May 2 '15 at 17:01
  • @Araucaria If you want, you could add/weave the info that's in your comment into the answer post -- when you have the time. :) – F.E. May 2 '15 at 17:41
15

Both are examples of hyperbaton. You can read more about it here, . In their current form, both sentences are ungrammatical. Correct them for tense as follows.

Write it I have.

should be

Written it I have.

Next,

Wrote it I did.

should be

Write it I did.

Once corrected for tense, both sentences can be acceptable English usage, despite the unusual word order.

See too the question and answers to Why is this a hyperbaton? One of the answers even mentions why so called Yoda-speak can be grammatically acceptable!

  • Just checking, so you're saying that write is ok with the have in the first example? It doesn't need to be written? (Nice links btw) – Araucaria Apr 25 '15 at 13:19
  • @Araucaria Oops, no! I need to edit that! – Ellie Kesselman Apr 25 '15 at 13:44
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    Are you sure that "Write it I have" is ungrammatical? – F.E. Apr 26 '15 at 18:31
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    @F.E. Yes, I am sure. As a stand-alone sentence, it is ungrammatical. As part of two clauses, broken up by punctuation, it can be grammatical. This is an (awkward) example: "During the three years it has taken to write it, I have had some wonderful experiences." That is a completely different sentence structure though. – Ellie Kesselman Apr 27 '15 at 2:09
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    @phoog - Good catch! Yoda wasn't in the original movie, but in the second in the series, in 1980. – Hot Licks Apr 30 '15 at 22:32
4

Technically they are incorrect and should have been:

Written it I have. = I have written it.

Write it I did. = I did write it. = I wrote it.

It is the same reason we would say "Done it I have" rather than "*Did it I have".

The second one could for even more emphasis or rhetorical effect be phrased:

I wrote it, yes I did. ("did" here is a pro-verb, grammatically separate from the earlier phrase.)

People often make mistakes with the tense because the verb is rarely fronted in English. It is more common to front other things like nouns or adjectives:

Many books I have read.

Truly surprised I was.

I disagree that fronting verbs is invalid English because they are indeed used, though mostly found in poetry. Here are some non-poetry examples I found:

And escape he did. (some random written piece)

And come they did. (some BBC blog article)

It is also not a recent phenomenon (as some might claim started with Yoda).

And come he did. (History of English (1730))

To clarify my answer, I consider legal writings or news publications from the US or the UK as a reference point for standard English, because there is a whole spectrum of dialectical variants of English. For example in some places "I have went" is commonly used among the native English speakers, even though it would be considered incorrect in most other places.

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    "Technically they are incorrect and should have been:" <== Er, I was going to up-vote your answer, except for that. You are 3/4ths right. Well, maybe more than that due to the good info in the rest of your post. Okay, maybe your post is 85 percent right. Maybe 90 percent. Heck, your answer post is the best one here so far. +1 ! :) – F.E. Apr 26 '15 at 18:39
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    @F.E.: Thanks! But seriously, if you can find me evidence that those two sentence constructions in the question are established usage, I would edit my answer not to say "incorrect". =) – user21820 Apr 27 '15 at 5:56
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    @F.E.: Well I'm not (yet) convinced by the grammar you cite. What is their evidence? Can you find me a few examples of news publications from the US or Europe that actually use such constructions? Pazzo's answer does not provide much good evidence, as (1),(2) are useless and (3),(5) are blog or forum posts. (4),(6) are the only ones left, but the English language proficiency of the authors is unknown. – user21820 Apr 28 '15 at 4:45
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    @F.E.: Oh? (Pardon the digression, but previously we would use a subjunctive there, and some older grammars even state that "if I was" is wrong when it is a counter-factual condition expressing a wish.) As for CGEL, I would disagree that it is grammatical in today's standard English, but perhaps it may be used in today's non-standard English (which would incidentally be among majority of English speakers such as on blogs or forums). I consider news publications or legal writings as a reasonable reference point for standard English, so I would be glad if you can find any examples from these. – user21820 Apr 28 '15 at 5:16
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    @user21820 In some languages, such as French, there IS a standards authority for determining what is grammatical and what is not. For French, I think it is called the Academie Francais. For English, there is no such authority. Regardless, I up voted your answer, as I believe it to be correct. I don't know what a "serious grammarian" is, but I do know that EL&U user John Lawler is a bona fide linguist. He does not reference CGEL as canon. – Ellie Kesselman Apr 28 '15 at 11:37

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