This is a doubt from the poem Television by Roald Dahl and it is there in our 10 STD school textbook. I and my teacher had a bit of conflict with the figures of speech here:

...In almost every house we've been,
We've watched them gaping at the screen...

My teacher says that the above sentence is inversion, saying that the correct order is We've been in almost every house..., and that while indentifying figures of speech, we have to refer each line separately.

I argued that we can't consider it that way and that it is not inversion as the sentence is in proper order.

Please explain me what is right and what is wrong. Please give a complete analysis of the sentence also.

Thank you.

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    The two lines of the poem, if written as prose, would have a perfectly acceptable word order.
    – WS2
    Apr 30, 2016 at 16:12
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    I tend to side with you. But notice that there is a reading of the first line where your teacher is correct. The two lines can be parsed: "We've been in almost every house; We've seen them gaping at the screen." The two-line sentence of the poem is syntactically ambiguous. Both your and your teacher's readings are acceptable and make sense.
    – DyingIsFun
    Apr 30, 2016 at 16:14
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    @Silenus - That would change the meaning of the sentence entirely. They have not been in almost every house (that would be impossible.) The inversion, if there is any, is the second phrase with the first: "We've watched them gaping at the screen in almost every house we've been." Apr 30, 2016 at 16:45
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    @medica: It does change the meaning, but perhaps it is possible that we have been in every house—for example, if the context dictates that this is only about every house in a certain street, or if it is a deliberate exaggeration, or whatever. But perhaps that doesn't fit the actual context, which I haven't seen? Apr 30, 2016 at 17:08
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    No, it’s not inversion, but something called preposing. This involves putting an element before the subject when its basic position would be after the verb. In your example, the preposed element is a preposition phrase adjunct which has been relocated (preposed) to the beginning of the sentence.
    – BillJ
    Apr 30, 2016 at 17:57

1 Answer 1


You and your teacher may both be right, although your reading is more likely to be that intended by Dahl.

Typical inversion is that between subject (we) and verb (have), which is not the case here. But you might call this a kind of inversion too, since the adverbial phrase in almost every house is normally placed after be in the sense of being present at a location. Then the first line is an independent sentence, and the second line is a second independent sentence. In formal prose, you would not use a comma between those sentences, then, but rather a full stop or a semicolon.

However, a more likely interpretation is this:

In almost every house [that] we've been [in],

we've watched them gaping at the screen.

We read this as an omitted that. The result is that the first line is not a sentence but merely an adverbial phrase; the core of the adverbial phrase is in almost every house, and the that clause adds some information to this house, specifying that we are talking about only about those houses that we have been in.

This type of construction, with omitted that, is far more common than the one your teacher had in mind, so I think this is the best interpretation.

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