I had a private student who brought in a short story for me to mark.

The narrator in the story is a girl violinist who performs in a concert and is spotted by a talent scout. He's so impressed by her performance, he offers a contract to play in a band (student insisted it was not an orchestra). The public rave about her and offers of work begin to flood in from all over the country. The short story ends with this line:

It is so began my story of success.

I suggested

“And so began my story of success” or “So began my story of success”

I tried to argue that because so is used as an intensifier with adjectives, e.g. it is so expensive, it was so wonderful, and rarely used with verbs. As a result, the phrase “It is so began my story” was very awkward-sounding. I then said there was no need for the subject pronoun and an auxiliary verb. But he wasn't convinced by my on-the-spur-explanation. In Italian it would be:

E così ebbe inizio la mia storia.

Its word for word translation would be (poetic) “So has begun my story of success” or “so my story of success begun” neither of them sound idiomatic to my ears. As I tried other possible alternatives with it is so + past participle the expression:

It is so written

surfaced to mind, a phrase that I used to hear as a child in church or at school (I attended a convent). I told my student I would look up the grammar because I had now become curious myself. Are these examples grammatical?

I checked with Google books and it reports 30,000 results for it is so written, zero results for "it is so began" and only three examples with it is so begun.

  • This learned man is aware that it is so written once in Hosea, and twice in Amos ; books written two hundred years before the captivity ;

  • It is so written as to be intelligible and instructive to the mere beginner, while, at the same time, it contains a store of learning, from which even the greatest masters of their profession need not be ashamed to draw.

  • This, it is true, is but imperfect as yet ; but it is so begun that it will undoubtedly be perfected. But such as it is, their sanctification is not the cause of it, but it is the cause of their sanctification.

I also tried it is so spoken and found only 22 results

  • We are sure this was a good work; it is so spoken of by the apostle, Jas 2:25; and she did it by faith, such a faith as set her above the fear of man.
  • It is not the utterance of God's word in an unknown speech that bringeth faith, but when it is so spoken that it is understanded of them that hear it, and that faith through the operation of the Holy Ghost ensueth;
  1. What explanation can I offer my private student that helps him understand why “it is so began my story...” or “it is so begun my story...” are both ungrammatical?
  • I want to say that it is because the tenses of the verbs 'is' and 'begun' disagree, but the verb phrase 'has begun' is something that is acceptable so I'm thinking this sentence isn't necessarily ungrammatical, instead just awkward-sounding. Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 8:56

2 Answers 2

  1. It was written so.
  2. It began so.

The sentences above have so as an Adjunct. We can front the Adjuncts. If we do we get:

  1. So it was written.
  2. So it began.

However, we cannot have:

  • *So it was began. (ungrammatical)

Why? Well there is no auxiliary BE in sentence (2), so there is no reason to insert one in version (4). Notice as well that after the passive auxiliary BE we require a past participle, not a past simple form. If this was the intended meaning of the sentence (which it isn't) we would need begun. This would be grammatical but strange. We might possibly be able to conjure up a scenario where we would want to say this sentence. But the grammatical version would be:

  • So it was begun.

There should be a clear line of distinction between an intransitive and transitive verb. To begin is used as an intransitive verb as in:

The story of my success began so.

If you invert the above sentence to emphasize the adverb "so" (it is not an intensifier) which is used to mean "in the way described or demonstrated before", the sentence is changed to:

So began the story of my success.

The inversion of "so" is more distinct when it means "similarly" or "also" as in:

Times changed and so did (changed) I.

In the above sentence, to change is an intransitive verb and it is not the past participle of to change, but simple past form.

In your example, the past form of to begin should be used as it is an intransitive verb.

"It is so written/begun" is a different construction as "written" and "begun" are the past participles of to write and to begin and the sentence is in the passive voice as to write/begin is used as a transitive verb. The same rule applies to "It is so spoken". To speak is a transitive verb.

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