Is it optional to front the verb in sentences like the one below when an adverbial precedes?

In the film, appear two more girls who think that Dallas is quite rude.

I have already checked the answers to a similar thread but they do not exactly address my question.

  • Sounds semi-Yodaish to me! :P
    – BiscuitBoy
    Dec 10, 2015 at 16:02
  • 3
    @tchrist not quite the same question. Also, until I just added mine, none of the answers were correct.
    – Jascol
    Dec 10, 2015 at 17:11
  • @Jascol Absolutely correct about this not being a dupe, but your answer over there isn't quite on the money (I've left you a comment there). Dec 11, 2015 at 14:19
  • 1
    @Jascol The other answers there are all wrong too (apart from the venerable StoneyB's, but that one doesn't address the core question). If you want the real answer to the question, read John Lawler's comment over there under the question. Dec 11, 2015 at 14:43
  • 1
    @M-b OK, have done you a proper answer now! Dec 12, 2015 at 23:16

3 Answers 3


Short answer

If the phrase that is being fronted is a Complement of the verb, then it is often best to use Subject-dependent inversion, and if you don't your sentence may sound ungrammatical.

If the fronted element is an Adjunct instead of a Complement, the inversion is not necessary.

It will generally not give good results if the phrase that has been fronted is part of an idiom where it normally follows the verb. For this reason the Original Poster's example is only marginally acceptable at best. The phrase to appear in (a film) has an idiomatic meaning.

Full answer

In the film appear two more girls who think that Dallas is quite rude.

Before we get going we should probably state that the comma after film should not be there, and would be considered "ungrammatical" in this type of inversion.

This example is a bit strange. It doesn't work very well, but this is not necessarily to do with the inversion per se. It's because the preposition phrase in the film is not a proper locative phrase. Secondly, the preposition in belongs with the verb appear. Together these two words have an idiomatic meaning that is slightly different from the sum of their parts (consider A genie appeared in the distance and Di Caprio appeared in Titanic). If you separate them for any reason the idiom doesn't work very well. The following sentences are both not very good:

  • *In the film Di Caprio appears.
  • *In the film appears Di Caprio.

We can test the same kind of thing with appear and other idioms:

  • *Out of sorts De Niro appeared.
  • *Out of sorts appeared De Niro.

These are both bad too. What this shows is that we don't seem to be able to move the preposition phrase in the way that we would be able to if this idiomatic meaning wasn't there:

  • In the distance, Di Caprio appeared.
  • In the doorway appeared a grisly monster.

These examples are both fine. Notice that in the first example there in the distance is an Adjunct (read Adverbial) and a comma is therefore appropriate, but in the second sentence in the doorway is a Locative Complement and no comma is permissible.

Subject-Dependent inversion

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.

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 locative 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.

  • There at the end of the long corridor was the gruesome Flibbertigibbetty

The Original Poster's question

The Original Poster's question involves an attempt by a Spanish writer at such an inversion. It doesn't work well for the reasons given further above. However, the Original Poster's main concern is whether this kind of inversion is obligatory if the locative phrase is fronted.

The answer to this question is that it seems to depend on whether the locative (or other) phrase is a Complement or an Adjunct. Some verbs set up a special space for certain types of phrase. So the verb PUT for example sets up a space for a thing that's being moved and another for the destination of that thing:

  • They put [the box] [on the table].

Those two phrases the box and on the table are therefore Complements of the verb PUT.

Now, an Adjunct is an extra phrase that we can stick onto a phrase to give us more information. They are usually preposition phrases or adverbs, but they can also be noun phrases too:

  • Bob punched me on Wednesday.

In the phrase above on Wednesday is an Adjunct. It has no special relationship with the verb punch. The verb punch does not set up a special slot for a time that the punching takes place.

Now, if we have a verb like BE which can take a Locative Complement, then if we front the Complement, the sentence will sound very odd if we don't also move the Subject to the end of the clause:

  • On the corner is a post-office.
  • *On the corner a post-office is. (awkward if not ungrammatical)

However, occasionally we get Subject-dependent inversion with Adjuncts instead of Complements. Here is one with a temporal Adjunct, instead of locative one:

  • Seven years later came the great famine.

In cases like this where the fronted phrase is an Adjunct and not the Complement of the verb, the sentence will still sound fine if there is no inversion and the Subject appears in its normal position:

  • Seven years later the great famine came.

The first sentence might be considered preferable here because it reveals the Subject dramatically at the end of the sentence. The second example has the rather tame came as the final word. They're both grammatically fine, though.

Notice that we normally expect to be able to move Adjuncts to the beginning of the clause without causing inversion:

  • I went to the shops on Wednesday.
  • On Wednesday I went to the shops.
  • 1
    +1 Note that the comma after In the film would be appropriate if the sense were "In the film as opposed to the book". (But if the work in question is The Outsiders, this doesn't seem to be the case: according to the Cliff's Notes the girls appear in the book, too.) Dec 12, 2015 at 13:35

No. The sentence

  • *In the film, appear two more girls who think that Dallas is quite rude.

is ungrammatical. That's the way German does it, all right, but not English.

Subject-Verb inversion is rare in English; we have Subject-Auxiliary inversion instead.

First, if a verb appears before the subject, it must be an auxiliary verb, not a main verb.
Consequently, appear, which is a main verb, could not be inverted.

Second, Subject-Auxiliary inversion occurs only under very specific circumstances, like questions

  • Have you cleaned your room yet?

and also when negative adverbs of time, place, or circumstance are fronted
  (these are negatives that negate the whole clause, so they should be up front)

  • Nowhere/Never/At no time/Under no circumstances will he clean his room.

Fronting other adverb phrases doesn't trigger inversion

  • In that way/At the party/With no special skill, he will open the champagne.

Even if they're negative, like with no special skill, they don't negate the whole clause.

Third, Subject-Auxiliary inversion is obligatory under these circumstances, even if there is no auxiliary verb in the verb phrase. In that case, Do-Support supplies an auxiliary do to be inverted.

  • He cleaned his room yesterday => Did he clean his room yesterday?
  • I saw him at no time. => At no time did I see him.
  • If i'm not wrong this other answer english.stackexchange.com/a/96624/117419 seems to explain why "In the film" calls for inversion. What do you think about it?
    – M-b
    Dec 11, 2015 at 12:38
  • 1
    It's not subject-verb inversion it's subject-dependent inversion. It's grammatical in the right context, namely that the girls have nor been mentioned before but that the film recently has. It will sound ungrammatical out of context, but may not in its natural environment. It would be better with there insertion, no doubt. Dec 11, 2015 at 14:09
  • Consider In the warren a hobbit lived and In the warren there lived a hobbit. Dec 11, 2015 at 14:14
  • 2
    Actually, I've revised my opinion about the sentence. I think the problem is that we don't normally front PP's when the verb plus preposition combination has its own idiomatic meaning. Consider In the distance appeared a tall man dressed in black, which seems ok, and In the film appeared a tall man dressed in black. which seems wonky. Maybe it's because in the film isn't really a locative phrase. Dec 11, 2015 at 14:43
  • 1
    @M-b: "in the film" is not an actual location, so you can't use locative inversion, as described in the other answer. Dec 12, 2015 at 12:41

It sounds fine, to me. I think it's from

Two more girls who think that Dallas is quite rude appear in the film.

by, first, preposing the locative:

In the film, two more girls who think that Dallas is quite rude appear.

then Ross's Heavy NP Shift, which moves to the end the heavy NP "two more girls who think that Dallas is quite rude" (see Heavy NP shift):

In the film, appear two more girls who think that Dallas is quite rude.

  • Interesting analysis! Does heavy NP shift normally apply to Subjects as opposed to verb phrase internal complements? (i.e. does Ross discuss it?) Dec 13, 2015 at 12:00
  • 1
    I don't know, @Araucaria. It's easy to see that in this case, the application of Heavy NP Shift depends on the preposing of the locative. A web search showed that there is a considerable literature on Heavy NP Shift, and I just didn't feel like working through it.
    – Greg Lee
    Dec 13, 2015 at 15:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.