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It is possible to say this:

  1. It formed inside him an ambition to teach his students all the more.

I brought the "inside him" to the front of the noun phrase "an ambition to..." since the noun phrase was too long as below.

  1. It formed an ambition to teach his students all the more inside him.

But I realized that it does not always work.

  1. He kept in the book bag an apple. (Does not work --- so literary)

  2. I have to say: He kept an apple in the book bag.

3rd one sounded so literary that I would not consider using it if I were writing just a formal email or an essay. So, why is it possible to reverse the order and still make it sound normal only in 1st sentence?

Is it usable only with noun and noun phrases, or is it also possible with adjectives?

Please give me some examples of reversed sentences that includes preposition that includes both time and place.

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    He kept in the book bag a wooden apple that he had had ever since his visit to the forestry visitors centre five years previously works (even without an apostrophe). Far better than placing 'in the book bag' at the end of the sentence. This shows that there are no inviolable syntactic restraints; what sounds right, what links adverbials more closely to what they're modifying, what is clearer and less clunky are the deciding factors. (And I'd say sentence (2) here is at best very clumsy.) – Edwin Ashworth Sep 1 '15 at 23:06
  • I'm not sure that any of your sentences mean what you intend them to mean. In the first one, what does the initial 'It' refer to? Does it refer to an entity in a previous sentence that you have not given us? If not then your sentence is incorrect. At best you need to add some punctuation. – chasly from UK Sep 1 '15 at 23:07
  • It refers to an entity in a previous sentence. To make long story short, this "it" is a situation he went through. – sooeithdk Sep 1 '15 at 23:10
  • @Edwin Ashworth Is there a name for this usage? I would really like to look at some of the examples. – sooeithdk Sep 1 '15 at 23:15
  • @EdwinAshworth: Probably no inviolable constraints, but constraints still, as you say; "clunky" and "what sounds better" can probably be specified, even though the factors may be to some degree semantic. – Cerberus Sep 1 '15 at 23:40
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  1. It formed inside him an ambition to teach his students all the more.

  2. It formed an ambition to teach his students all the more inside him.

  3. He kept in the book bag an apple. (awkward or marked)

  4. He kept an apple in the book bag.

The differing acceptability of these examples is due to a phenomenon known as HEAVY NOUN PHRASE SHIFT. It gives us the illusion that we are able to move the preposition phrases in the sentence around, but really what we are moving is not the preposition phrases; it's the noun phrase ambition to teach his students all the more on the one hand and an apple on the other.

We term a noun phrase as heavy when it is long. You'll notice that the noun phrase ambition to teach his students all the more is very heavy. The noun phrase an apple is, of course, rather light. When a noun phrase is the Direct Object in a sentence, it normally occurs directly after the verb (or if there is an Indirect Object, after the Indirect Object). If there are other phrases, for example locative or temporal Adjuncts or Complements, we cannot just switch their positions willy-nilly, or the sentence will be deemed ungrammatical:

  • *I met in the office canteen just now Bob.

In the sentence above I put the Direct Object Bob after the Adjuncts (or "adverbials") in the office canteen and just now. Because Bob doesn't directly follow the verb, the sentence would be regarded as ungrammatical. However! If we make the Direct Object very heavy, in other words if we make it long we can move the Direct Object to the end of the sentence, no problem:

  • I met in the office canteen just now that guy Bob who you bumped into the other day.

Now that the Direct Object is a ten word noun phrase, that guy Bob who you bumped into the other day, we can move it right over all the other phrases to the end of the sentence. It is perfectly grammatical.

In the Original Poster's examples (1) is fine because the noun phrase an ambition to teach his students all the more is heavy enough to move to the end of the sentence past the preposition phrase inside him. But in the Original Poster's third example, an apple is too short to justify moving to the end of the sentence. It needs to come after the verb and before the preposition phrase in the book bag to sound natural. But this has nothing to do with the preposition phrase, it's just because the noun phrase, the Direct Object, is very light. The feeling that we're moving the preposition phrase is a kind of illusion.

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    Those are just now and in the office canteen, right? Thank you for your answer! It provided clarity to me. – sooeithdk Sep 2 '15 at 0:29
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    @StoneyB But, of course, if it was right after ambition then it could equally well be a PP post-modifying the noun. So there could be noun-modifiers or clause ones. But the only way, I reckon, to have inside him before the DO is if the DO moves. The PP could be a Locative Complement or an Adjunct in the clause structure, but it would still normally have to come after the DO. For example, the OP's book-bag example has in the bag as a Locative Complement, but it still needs to after the DO unless the DO's long. – Araucaria Sep 2 '15 at 0:42
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    @sooeithdk Inter alia, because yesterday cannot be taken to modify ability, wheras inside him is the location of the ability. After ability is the only place in the sentence where you can't put yesterday. – StoneyB Sep 2 '15 at 0:46
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    @sooeithdk That last example you gave is an instance of extraposition from noun phrase movement. This is when we take some phrases that are post-modifying the noun and move those to the end of the sentence. So for example we can have I met that man today from the tax office. In that sentence the PP from the tax office has been moved out of the noun phrase that man from the tax office and put at the end of the sentence. That's what's happening in your "ability to fly" example. The infinitival modifier has broken off and moved to the end. ... – Araucaria Sep 2 '15 at 0:48
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    @sooeithdk Yeah ... the thing is, in the Real World (as opposed to isolated sentences in textbooks), some things in the sentence are more important than others, and what you focus on is getting the important things where they'll be noticed -- then everything else tends to fall into place. – StoneyB Sep 2 '15 at 1:06
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You'd be better off saying "It formed in him . . ." rather than "It formed inside him . . ."

"He kept in the book bag an apple" sounds as though you just got off the boat from Germany. (Or maybe off the train from somewhere in rural Pennsylvania. You know, as in "Throw Mama from the train a kiss.") You have two choices with that sentence. If you're focusing on what he kept in the book bag, say "In the book bag, he kept an apple." If you're focusing on where he kept apple, say "He kept an apple in the book bag."

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