1

Why is this sentence ungrammatical?

There put a student an amazing answer to the test.

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  • 3
    Please provide the intent of the quote. The community can then comment on whether the quote grammatically conveys that intent.
    – Lawrence
    Sep 15, 2019 at 3:02
  • A student had a test and he/she came up with an amazing to it. I am looking at there-insertion and why having a there at the beginning is making the sentence ungrammatical.
    – User384789
    Sep 15, 2019 at 18:42

1 Answer 1

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It’s not ungrammatical. It’s simply a marked order rather than the normal order.

The normal order of English is subject–verb–object (SOV) for transitive verbs and subject–verb–complement (SVC) otherwise. The important thing is that normally English is SV, not VS. Swapping that marks the use as special.

We consider anything where the verb precedes the subject to be inversion, even if it’s just one part of a multiword verb involving auxiliaries.

Your sentence uses inversion to make it verb–subject–object (VSO), which is not very common in English. For inversion, English needs some sort of trigger, including locative inversion (for example, Down the street came the firetruck or There goes your sister) and question-triggered subject–auxiliary inversion (for example, Where did you put the keys?). There are a few other inversion triggers than just these two.

Leaving aside for the moment the matter of how native speakers would express what you’ve curiously written here as putting an answer to a test, I’ll give all six possible orderings of S and V and O. For simplicity, I’ll ignore for now your expletive there that got stuck out in front and leave out the to the test for just a moment. That leaves us with:

S = a student
O = put
V = an amazing answer
  1. SVO: A student put an amazing answer.
  2. OSV: An amazing answer a student put.
  3. SOV: A student an amazing answer put.
  4. VSO: Put a student an amazing answer.
  5. VOS: Put an amazing answer a student.
  6. OVS: An amazing answer put a student.

If you fuse the to the test bit to the right of the object each time, you get this:

S = a student
O = put
V = an amazing answer to the test
  1. SVO: A student put an amazing answer to the test.
  2. OSV: An amazing answer to the test a student put.
  3. SOV: A student an amazing answer to the test put.
  4. VSO: Put a student an amazing answer to the test.
  5. VOS: Put an amazing answer to the test a student.
  6. OVS: An amazing answer to the test put a student.

But if you let the adjunct float free, you get:

S = a student
O = put
V = an amazing answer
A = to the test
  1. SVOA: A student put an amazing answer to the test.
  2. SVAO: A student put to the test an amazing answer.
  3. OSVA: An amazing answer a student put to the test.
  4. OSAV: An amazing answer a student to the test put.
  5. SOVA: A student an amazing answer put to the test.
  6. SOAV: A student an amazing answer to the test put.
  7. SAOV: A student to the test an amazing answer put.
  8. SAVO: A student to the test put an amazing answer.
  9. OVSA: An amazing answer put a student to the test.
  10. OVAS: An amazing answer put to the test a student.
  11. OASV: An amazing answer to the test a student put.
  12. OAVS: An amazing answer to the test put a student.
  13. VSOA: Put a student an amazing answer to the test.
  14. VSAO: Put a student to the test an amazing answer.
  15. VOSA: Put an amazing answer a student to the test.
  16. VOAS: Put an amazing answer to the test a student.
  17. VASO: Put to the test a student an amazing answer.
  18. VAOS: Put to the test an amazing answer a student.
  19. ASOV: To the test a student an amazing answer put.
  20. ASVO: To the test a student put an amazing answer.
  21. AOSV: To the test an amazing answer a student put.
  22. AOVS: To the test an amazing answer put a student.
  23. AVSO: To the test put a student an amazing answer.
  24. AVOS: To the test put an amazing answer a student.

I tend to view your leading There as a mandatory dummy or expletive there not an actual locative (L) one, but you could use that to create a fairly normal-sounding L+VSO+A ordering using locative inversion:

  • There put a student an amazing answer to the test.

When in fact is what you did.

But really, you don’t “put” answers to tests. You give or write or suggest answers to test. You can also give tests answers (SVIO) under dative alternation. For example:

S = a student
O = gave
V = an amazing answer

with either of

I = the test
A = to the test

yields things like these (not exhaustive):

  1. SOVA: A student an amazing answer gave to the test.
  2. SOIV: A student an amazing answer the test gave.
  3. SVIO: A student gave the test an amazing answer.
  4. SVOA: A student gave an amazing answer to the test.
  5. SVAO: A student gave to the test an amazing answer.
  6. SIOV: A student the test an amazing answer gave.
  7. SAVO: A student to the test gave an amazing answer.
  8. OSVA: An amazing answer a student gave to the test.
  9. OSAV: An amazing answer a student to the test gave.
  10. OVSA: An amazing answer gave a student to the test.
  11. OVIS: An amazing answer gave the test a student.
  12. OISV: An amazing answer the test a student gave.
  13. OIVS: An amazing answer the test gave a student.
  14. OAVS: An amazing answer to the test gave a student.
  15. VSOA: Gave a student an amazing answer to the test.
  16. VSIO: Gave a student the test an amazing answer.
  17. VSAO: Gave a student to the test an amazing answer.
  18. VOSA: Gave an amazing answer a student to the test.
  19. VOIS: Gave an amazing answer the test a student.
  20. VISO: Gave the test a student an amazing answer.
  21. VIOS: Gave the test an amazing answer a student.
  22. IOSV: The test an amazing answer a student gave.
  23. ASOV: To the test a student an amazing answer gave.
  24. ASVO: To the test a student gave an amazing answer.
  25. AOVS: To the test an amazing answer gave a student.
  26. AVSO: To the test gave a student an amazing answer.
  27. AVOS: To the test gave an amazing answer a student.

Since English is an SVO language, anything other than these two would be highly marked:

  1. SVIO: A student gave the test an amazing answer.
  2. SVOA: A student gave an amazing answer to the test.

You can’t play too many games with marked word orders without risking confusion. There are just a few that people are expecting, like inversions (meaning VS not SV) for locatives and questions, or OSV which fronts the object for topicalizing, style, or emphasis.

On the other hand, focussing words like only or just can float pretty freely. Lots more of these make sense, but still only a few in the face of many:

F = only
S = one student
V = gave
I = the test
O = an amazing answer
  1. FSVIO: Only one student gave the test an amazing answer.
  2. FSVOI: Only one student gave an amazing answer the test.
  3. FSOVI: Only one student an amazing answer gave the test.
  4. FOSVI: Only an amazing answer one student gave the test.
  5. SFVIO: One student only gave the test an amazing answer.
  6. SFVOI: One student only gave an amazing answer the test.
  7. SFOVI: One student only an amazing answer gave the test.
  8. SVIFO: One student gave the test only an amazing answer.
  9. SVIOF: One student gave the test an amazing answer only.
  10. SVFIO: One student gave only the test an amazing answer.
  11. SVFOI: One student gave only an amazing answer the test.
  12. SVOIF: One student gave an amazing answer the test only.
  13. SVOFI: One student gave an amazing answer only the test.
  14. SOFVI: One student an amazing answer only gave the test.
  15. SOVIF: One student an amazing answer gave the test only.
  16. SOVFI: One student an amazing answer gave only the test.
  17. OVSFI: An amazing answer gave one student only the test.
  18. OVSIF: An amazing answer gave one student the test only.
  19. OVFSI: An amazing answer gave only one student the test.
  20. OVFIS: An amazing answer gave only the test one student.
  21. OVISF: An amazing answer gave the test one student only.
  22. OVIFS: An amazing answer gave the test only one student.
  23. OSVFI: An amazing answer one student gave only the test.
  24. OSVIF: An amazing answer one student gave the test only.
  25. OSFVI: An amazing answer one student only gave the test.
  26. OSFIV: An amazing answer one student only the test gave.
  27. OSIVF: An amazing answer one student the test gave only.
  28. OSIFV: An amazing answer one student the test only gave.
  29. OFVSI: An amazing answer only gave one student the test.
  30. OFVIS: An amazing answer only gave the test one student.
  31. OFSVI: An amazing answer only one student gave the test.
  32. OFSIV: An amazing answer only one student the test gave.
  33. OFIVS: An amazing answer only the test gave one student.
  34. OFISV: An amazing answer only the test one student gave.
  35. OIVSF: An amazing answer the test gave one student only.
  36. OIVFS: An amazing answer the test gave only one student.
  37. OISVF: An amazing answer the test one student gave only.
  38. OISFV: An amazing answer the test one student only gave.
  39. OIFVS: An amazing answer the test only gave one student.
  40. OIFSV: An amazing answer the test only one student gave.
  41. VOSFI: Gave an amazing answer one student only the test.
  42. VOSIF: Gave an amazing answer one student the test only.
  43. VOFSI: Gave an amazing answer only one student the test.
  44. VOFIS: Gave an amazing answer only the test one student.
  45. VOISF: Gave an amazing answer the test one student only.
  46. VOIFS: Gave an amazing answer the test only one student.
  47. VSOFI: Gave one student an amazing answer only the test.
  48. VSOIF: Gave one student an amazing answer the test only.
  49. VSFOI: Gave one student only an amazing answer the test.
  50. VSFIO: Gave one student only the test an amazing answer.
  51. VSIOF: Gave one student the test an amazing answer only.
  52. VSIFO: Gave one student the test only an amazing answer.
  53. VFOSI: Gave only an amazing answer one student the test.
  54. VFOIS: Gave only an amazing answer the test one student.
  55. VFSOI: Gave only one student an amazing answer the test.
  56. VFSIO: Gave only one student the test an amazing answer.
  57. VFIOS: Gave only the test an amazing answer one student.
  58. VFISO: Gave only the test one student an amazing answer.
  59. VIOSF: Gave the test an amazing answer one student only.
  60. VIOFS: Gave the test an amazing answer only one student.
  61. VISOF: Gave the test one student an amazing answer only.
  62. VISFO: Gave the test one student only an amazing answer.
  63. VIFOS: Gave the test only an amazing answer one student.
  64. VIFSO: Gave the test only one student an amazing answer.
  65. SOFIV: One student an amazing answer only the test gave.
  66. SOIVF: One student an amazing answer the test gave only.
  67. SOIFV: One student an amazing answer the test only gave.
  68. SFOIV: One student only an amazing answer the test gave.
  69. SFIOV: One student only the test an amazing answer gave.
  70. SFIVO: One student only the test gave an amazing answer.
  71. SIOVF: One student the test an amazing answer gave only.
  72. SIOFV: One student the test an amazing answer only gave.
  73. SIVOF: One student the test gave an amazing answer only.
  74. SIVFO: One student the test gave only an amazing answer.
  75. SIFOV: One student the test only an amazing answer gave.
  76. SIFVO: One student the test only gave an amazing answer.
  77. FOVSI: Only an amazing answer gave one student the test.
  78. FOVIS: Only an amazing answer gave the test one student.
  79. FOSIV: Only an amazing answer one student the test gave.
  80. FOIVS: Only an amazing answer the test gave one student.
  81. FOISV: Only an amazing answer the test one student gave.
  82. FVOSI: Only gave an amazing answer one student the test.
  83. FVOIS: Only gave an amazing answer the test one student.
  84. FVSOI: Only gave one student an amazing answer the test.
  85. FVSIO: Only gave one student the test an amazing answer.
  86. FVIOS: Only gave the test an amazing answer one student.
  87. FVISO: Only gave the test one student an amazing answer.
  88. FSOIV: Only one student an amazing answer the test gave.
  89. FSIOV: Only one student the test an amazing answer gave.
  90. FSIVO: Only one student the test gave an amazing answer.
  91. FIOVS: Only the test an amazing answer gave one student.
  92. FIOSV: Only the test an amazing answer one student gave.
  93. FIVOS: Only the test gave an amazing answer one student.
  94. FIVSO: Only the test gave one student an amazing answer.
  95. FISOV: Only the test one student an amazing answer gave.
  96. FISVO: Only the test one student gave an amazing answer.
  97. IOVSF: The test an amazing answer gave one student only.
  98. IOVFS: The test an amazing answer gave only one student.
  99. IOSVF: The test an amazing answer one student gave only.
  100. IOSFV: The test an amazing answer one student only gave.
  101. IOFVS: The test an amazing answer only gave one student.
  102. IOFSV: The test an amazing answer only one student gave.
  103. IVOSF: The test gave an amazing answer one student only.
  104. IVOFS: The test gave an amazing answer only one student.
  105. IVSOF: The test gave one student an amazing answer only.
  106. IVSFO: The test gave one student only an amazing answer.
  107. IVFOS: The test gave only an amazing answer one student.
  108. IVFSO: The test gave only one student an amazing answer.
  109. ISOVF: The test one student an amazing answer gave only.
  110. ISOFV: The test one student an amazing answer only gave.
  111. ISVOF: The test one student gave an amazing answer only.
  112. ISVFO: The test one student gave only an amazing answer.
  113. ISFOV: The test one student only an amazing answer gave.
  114. ISFVO: The test one student only gave an amazing answer.
  115. IFOVS: The test only an amazing answer gave one student.
  116. IFOSV: The test only an amazing answer one student gave.
  117. IFVOS: The test only gave an amazing answer one student.
  118. IFVSO: The test only gave one student an amazing answer.
  119. IFSOV: The test only one student an amazing answer gave.
  120. IFSVO: The test only one student gave an amazing answer.

As for your initial There there, I'm not sure whether to best read it as an actual adverb like the first word of There did we draw a line in the sand or Then came the days of the king, or as more of a dummy or existential word like There goes the neighborhood or There once was a man from Nantucket or In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

But either way it helps to license, or at least support, your inversion that follows it.

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  • Thank you so much, but how about the there-insertion?
    – User384789
    Sep 15, 2019 at 0:40
  • @personallearner I'm not sure whether to best read it as an actual adverb like There did we draw a line in the sand or Then came the days of the king, or as more of a dummy or existential word like There goes the neighborhood or There once was a man from Nantucket or In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. But either way it helps to license, or at least support, your inversion that follows it.
    – tchrist
    Sep 15, 2019 at 0:43
  • Perhaps Orwell's Sixth needs mentioning somewhere; I'll paraphrase as 'outlandish strings are worse, less acceptable, than ungrammatical ones'. Dec 24, 2022 at 15:23

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