It's very common to say:

  1. "Here he comes."

  2. "Here comes the man."

But what about:

  1. "Here comes he."

  2. "Here the man comes."

Is there a rule about the order of noun and verb in inversion?

It will be too much if all the inversions are considered, so let us talk about adverb inversions only, such as:

  1. "Here comes the rainbow."

  2. "Off we go."

  3. "In the room is the man lying."

  • English likes putting pronouns before verbs; it always has.
    – Anonym
    May 13, 2015 at 15:43
  • 5
    @Anonym Does it? Has it? :) May 13, 2015 at 17:47
  • @Araucaria: It does. But the question isn't about what it likes
    – Tushar Raj
    May 13, 2015 at 18:44
  • 1
    How about "The bus comes here" and "Here comes the bus"? Those two don't have the same meaning, do they? Why do you suppose that is?
    – F.E.
    May 13, 2015 at 19:30
  • 1
    @Araucaria A correction is then in order: English pronouns tend to precede verbs, except in questions.
    – Anonym
    May 13, 2015 at 19:34

4 Answers 4


Information packaging constraints

Here comes he.

This sentence would usually be considered malformed, whereas Here comes Bob would be considered perfectly correct. Both are cases of what is known as Subject-dependent inversion.

Subject-dependent inversion has to do with the linguistic concept of information packaging. In other words it is about how we arrange the order of words and phrases in a sentence.

The vast majority of non-canonical phrase orderings in English are due to the status of particular words and concepts in terms of the current discourse; in particular, whether items are considered as old or new in the conversation. Most importantly they make use of the fact that we prefer to put things that have already been discussed in the recent discourse at the beginning of the sentence. New concepts and information tend to come at the end. It is the end of the sentence which carries the most emphasis, not the beginning.

A general constraint on the felicity of most types of phrase reordering, therefore, is that phrases that are preposed should if possible be discourse old (already have been talked about) or be in the speaker's or listener's immediate vicinity. The general motivation for doing this is so that some other phrase will then appear towards or at the end of the sentence where it will receive the most emphasis, and be easier for the listener to process. For this reason there is an even stronger constraint on elements which are propelled from their canonical position towards the end of the sentence: these items should usually be discourse new. They should not already have been being talked about. There are, of course, some exceptions to this 'rule'. For example, items that the speaker wants to give contrastive stress to may be moved to sentence final position, where they will receive the most emphasis.

Locative and temporal adjuncts (read adverbials) buck this general trend, in that whilst putting new information at the beginning of a sentence seems to put a lot of strain on the listener, the preposing of locative complements seems to make it easier to process sentences where nearly all the information is new.

These types of considerations are usually what motivates the use of (long) passives, existential constructions, so-called it clefts and, of course, subject-dependent inversion. Compare the following pairs, where the first has a canonical phrase ordering and the second uses some alternative form of information packaging:

  1. a. I've been studying the Mona Lisa. Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa.

    b. I've been studying the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci.

The (b) example here is better. The first is rather stilted. The reason the passive sentence works well is that the Mona Lisa links back to the first sentence, whilst Da Vinci, which is new to the discourse, takes the prominent position at the end.

  1. a. A cafe is on the corner.

    b. There's a cafe on the corner.

    c. On the corner is a cafe.

Example (a) feels very awkward here. The reason is that a cafe is new information. We know this because of the use of the indefinite article, "a". It's awkward and difficult to process in this position. Both (b) and (c) examples are fine. The existential, there is, construction gives the reader a split second to anticipate the introduction of a new entity into the discourse. The (c) example uses subject-dependent inversion. This places the locative adjunct, which is relatively easy to process, at the beginning of the sentence. The phrase a cafe, in contrast, gets transported to the end of the sentence where it receives the most emphasis (compare the prominence of cafe in this example, with its relatively weaker status in the existential).

Here comes he.

The reason that this sentence will strike most readers as odd is that he occurs in a very prominent position at the end of the sentence. This position would normally be reserved for new entities, especially if we have specifically changed the normal canonical word order of the sentence. The fact that we are using a pronoun here means that we must already have been talking about this man in the previous discourse. Having a discourse old word shunted into this position goes against our natural language expectations and seems to jar. However, we might possibly be able to manufacture a scenario where this might be acceptable. For example imagine the following exchange:

  • The only person who could save us now is Bob.
  • Oh, look! Here comes he!

In the exchange above, we might possibly consider the sentence grammatical. The reason for this is that in some sense Bob really is arriving anew in the discourse. In the original sentence Bob was a displaced entity, far from the immediate environment. Bob's entry into the immediate vicinity of the speakers makes him new and newsworthy again. In any case, whether or not this is the main reason for the increased acceptability of this inverted sentence, the fact is that Bob is centre stage in this sentence and can therefore be moved to this emphatic position.

  • +1. -- aside: "They should not already have been being talked about." <-- "been being", [snicker snicker snort snort]
    – F.E.
    May 13, 2015 at 18:43
  • +1 for a good answer, but I don’t think there is any increased accaptability in your imagined scenario at the end. It still feels extremely jarring to me. Perhaps slightly (but only slightly) more acceptable to me: “We really need Josh and Katie to get here, right now!” — “Oh look, there comes he, at least, though I still don’t see her anywhere.” Even here, though, I’d naturally say “There he comes, at least”. Exception: the copula (as usual): “Oh look, there’s him, at least” is about as natural to me as “Oh look, there he is, at least”. May 13, 2015 at 19:03
  • Note that 'Here am I!/.' is seen as archaic rather than ungrammatical, and 'Here am I, left high and dry' is emphatic and unremarkable (other than rather literary-sounding). Mar 8, 2020 at 14:19

One other detail, putting aside analysis, is that English shares a certain preference for putting the verb second in some phrases with German, where it is not just a preference but a rule in most cases. In English, we have retained that pattern in many cases where we are never taught that this is any kind of rule (because it isn't anymore).

This shows its head in phrases like:
"Long live the king!"
"Long have you hunted me. Long have I eluded you." (The Return of the King)
"Now is the winter of our discontent. Made glorious summer by this sun of York..." (Richard III)
"Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all." (Psalm 34:19)
"Gone are the days when... "
"Fain would I dwell on form; fain, fain deny." (Romeo and Juliet)
"Never have I ever..."
"Pop! goes the weasel!"
"This have I done for my true love."

In German, all of these would have to have the finite verb in 2nd place and any non-finite verbs all at the very end of the clause. We lost that last bit long ago, but this verb-second feel is very evident in German.
It is especially pronounced when there is a modal verb in second place and other verbs later in the sentence. The fact that it sounds archaic would suggest that it comes to English directly from German.

Regarding pronouns, English shares another detail with German: phrases like "Pick it up." In all of these kinds of phrasal verbs in English, you can put the object either between the verb and the preposition/adverb or at the end; but a pronoun must be in the middle, never at the end:
"Pick the banana up." = "Pick up the banana."
"Pick it up." =/= *"Pick up it."


The inconsistency is caused in part by the transition of English from one word order system to another. The old one is the V2 word order of Germanic languages. Whatever we want to stress (or if there is nothing we want to stress, by default the subject) is moved to the front. The conjugated verb comes in second position (hence "V2"). Then everything else:

Here comes the man.

English is particularly fast in the process of moving from V2 word order towards pure SVO (subject-verb-object) word order. Whereas in German and other Germanic languages V2 word order still holds if we use a personal pronoun for "the man", this is no longer the case in English:

Hier kommt er. (Literal translation: Here comes he.)

Here he comes.

An important reason for this is probably that personal pronouns are very common and typically appear right in front of the verb. English speakers no longer fully understand V2 word order intuitively, so the strength of the association "he comes" (in this order) makes this variant win over the old word order.

(This close association between the pronoun and the verb is an early step towards the pronoun becoming a prefix of the verb. Some further developments that we can expect to happen when we are all dead: More and more often, instead of replacing nouns, pronouns will reinforce them as in "The man, he comes". Finally this construction will become mandatory, i.e. except in some old proverbs this will become the only way of speaking. At the same time, pronouns will take on the character of prefixes to the verb. Maybe "he comes" will still be pronounced essentially the same way, but "he swims" will sound like "hooms" and "she was" like "shoss". Note that some of today's contractions such as "it's" can be interpreted in this way. The result will be a language with verbs inflected for person and number, but at the beginning rather than the end. Note that some of today's languages have this feature, and that the more familiar way of inflecting verbs - at the end - came up much the same way in previous languages in which the pronouns came after the verbs before they merged.)

By the way, special word order for pronouns is not restricted to English. In Romance languages, pronouns also often appear in other positions than nouns.


"Here comes he" makes "he" very emphatic. Everyone knows who He is.

For example 'Out goes she.' is the title of a book of Street Games. As in:

As I was walking by the lake //I saw a little rattlesnake. //I gave him so much jellycake, //It make his little belly ache. //1, 2, 3, out goes he (or she)]1

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