Of course it would be preferable to say, "He put a box on the shelf," but is it incorrect to say "He put on the shelf a box?"

This sentence was an item on a test for people with aphasia. The target sentence is "He put the box on the shelf." Inversions are acceptable if they're correct. An easier example is "She is giving the boy a present" for "She is giving a present to the boy."

  • You may agree it is grammatical, but saying it reveals that English is not your native language.
    – GEdgar
    Jan 4, 2019 at 22:09
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    That inversion of the normal word order is more poetic than current custom would probably bear. If you mean to go that route, however, I recommend using the verb placed instead of put.
    – Robusto
    Jan 4, 2019 at 22:14
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    In contemporary English, it is generally frowned upon to put between a verb and its object anything, This was not always the case; it was much more common in 19th and early 20th century novels. So if this was common in the 19th century, but people don't do it anymore, can it really be called "ungrammatical"? People certainly do call it that today. Jan 4, 2019 at 22:23
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    @GEdgar That depends on the context and purpose of what is said/written.
    – Tuffy
    Jan 4, 2019 at 22:31
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    Just a note that if there were several items being placed, eg. "He put on the shelf a box, a pen and a book." then the inverted word order seems (to me) more acceptable and even appropriate.
    – pbasdf
    Jan 5, 2019 at 0:00

3 Answers 3


Not only is this word order correct, it may also be the preferred order in the special case where the direct object ("a box" in your example sentence) is modified by one or more lengthy modifier phrases and clauses. For example:

He put on the shelf a box of mementos that his grandmother had brought from the Old Country when she fled from the murderous persecutors who were pursuing her.

The above inversion sounds much better than the normal SVO order:

He put a box of mementos that his grandmother had brought from the Old Country when she fled from the murderous persecutors who were pursuing her on the shelf.

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    Lists also benefit from the same ordering: He placed on the shelf a box of mementos, three candles, his wallet, and the spare change from his pocket.
    – Robusto
    Jan 5, 2019 at 14:55

It's only correct if it's in a poetic context. If somebody said this in normal conversation (or wrote it on a test answer), I would say it's incorrect. It isn't technically ungrammatical, but only because English is so flexible about word order that almost nothing is utterly wrong.

If this is on a test for language defects, then yes, it seems to me that it's "wrong" in the sense that it could be a sign of an issue.

  • Not “technically ungrammatical” is exactly the answer I Jan 5, 2019 at 6:26
  • Not “technically ungrammatical” is exactly what I needed to know. I’m testing the ability of a person already diagnosed with aphasia to construct a grammatically correct sentence. Jan 5, 2019 at 6:36

The order of words is grammatically wrong.

The correct order of words is the affirmative sentence is SVO (subject+ verb+ object).

In this sentence the subject 'he' is followed by the transitive verb 'put' which needs the direct object 'the box' .

'On the shelf' is the adverbial modifier of place and must follow the other parts of the sentence.

The inversion is only possible and necessary for the reader's comfort, when the object is followed by a long attributive construction.

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    No, it’s not “grammatically wrong.” It’s just unusual.
    – Robusto
    Jan 4, 2019 at 22:42
  • Let me point out that your third sentence isn't in strict SVO. It has a prepositional phrase first (which looks to me like an adverbial modifier of place) and not following the rest of the sentence like you say it should. But it's still perfectly grammatical. Jan 4, 2019 at 23:50
  • The question is about a simple sentence not a sentence with an attributive construction when the inversion is necessary for the reader's comfort .
    – user307254
    Jan 5, 2019 at 7:33
  • My comment was trying to point out that your statement "The correct order of words in the affirmative sentence is SVO," is much too broad. Answers that mislead people who don't already know English grammar are not very helpful. Jan 5, 2019 at 12:36

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