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I saw the following sentence in a book:

That people were so willing to respond is one measure of the importance of the topic.

Is there any reason to bring the "that" clause to the beginning of the sentence? Does it differ in meaning from the normal sentence?

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  • Have a look at the section titled Why do we use inversion and fronting? Taken in isolation I can't see any particular nuance imparted by your cited example, but if you consider it in the full context, I suppose it's possible your fronted clause is being used as a cohesive device to link a clause or sentence to what has just gone before (one of 3 specific possibilities covered there). But most likely it's just a "meaningless" random stylistic choice. – FumbleFingers Jun 10 '17 at 14:13
  • Fronting it stresses the importance of the topic. Starting 'One measure' stresses the analytical methodology (ie that there are various measures). – Edwin Ashworth Jun 10 '17 at 14:19
  • So that we can understand your question properly, can you please add what you consider to be the 'normal' sentence? – Lawrence Jun 10 '17 at 14:20
  • @FumbleFingers That sentence is located at the beginning of the paragraph. So, I don't think it is relevant to its previous text (as there is nothing before this). Thank you for the link you provided. – Omid Reza Abbasi Jun 10 '17 at 14:21
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    Actually, that is the 'basic' order. It is one measure of the importance of the topic that people were so willing to respond is the extraposed counterpart, which many people would prefer. – BillJ Jun 10 '17 at 14:36
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[That people were so willing to respond] is [one measure of the importance of the topic].

This is an equative sentence, identifying one noun phrase with another, joined by is. One of the noun phrases is a subordinate clause, a that-complement. Such clauses occurring as subject noun phrases (as here), are subject to Extraposition with many verbs, including be.

  • It is [one measure of the importance of the topic] [that people were so willing to respond].

However, equative sentences can be reversed, since this is an equivalence relation.

  • [One measure of the importance of the topic] is [that people were so willing to respond].

This isn't a movement of the clause so much as a swapping of the noun phrases, similar to what happens with reciprocal verbs like marry. There's no difference between the two sentences, except that Extraposition is ungrammatical without a clause as subject:

  • *It is [that people were so willing to respond] [one measure of the importance of the topic].
  • So you say the sentence in the book is ungrammatical? – Omid Reza Abbasi Jun 10 '17 at 15:27
  • No. The sentence that I said is ungrammatical is not the sentence in the book. – John Lawler Jun 10 '17 at 16:30

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