What is the difference between these two sentences:

John is my friend.
My friend is John.

similar to those two sentences are

My favorite show is Opera.
Opera is my favorite show.

  • 2
    There's no difference in meaning in each pair. The grammar is different though: In the first pair, "John" is subject, and "my friend" is PC, but in the second "my friend" is subject and "John is PC. Same applies to the second pair. This switching of grammatical functions like this only occurs with specifying "be", not with "ascriptive "be". – BillJ Apr 19 '18 at 19:18
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    @BillJ I agree with you in the second case but there is a slight difference between the expressions in the first case. In the second case there is no difference since one can have only one favourite but in the first case 'John is my friend' does not preclude the existence of other friends but 'My friend is John' does (at least in the context of the conversation). If you were at a function with John and someone asked "Who is your friend?" meaning "Who is the friend I have seen you with today?" answering "John is my friend" would seem odd but answering "My friend is John" would be natural. – BoldBen Apr 19 '18 at 20:38
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    'John is my friend' explains who John is. 'My friend is John' identifies the friend someone has asked about. In other words, the way you construct the sentence depends on what conversation came before it. – Kate Bunting Apr 19 '18 at 20:52
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    Normally with "specifying be", the two NPs it connects are reversible, because logically it's an equivalence relation. However, which one comes first is a pragmatic decision, and the usual convention is that the subject NP is old information ("Topic") from the context, while the NP following be is new information ("Comment"). Thus saying My friend is John invites the inference that I have only one friend, unless my friendships already are a topic of conversation. So there is a difference, though it's not a logical one but a pragmatic one. – John Lawler Apr 19 '18 at 21:05
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    On the other hand, the response to that question would not usually repeat "My friend". We'd say "He's John" or "That's John". – Barmar Apr 21 '18 at 18:43

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