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A listed company uses the following sentence structure in all its press releases:

Says John Smith, Director, ABC Ltd, “The credit profiles of FMCG companies are likely to remain stable, supported by ...”

Is using "Says" at the beginning of a sentence grammatically correct?

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    "Yes." "No." "Says who?" – nnnnnn Jan 29 at 8:59
  • @nnnnnn you didn't even need that example. The OP have helpfully provided one of their own. – RegDwigнt Jan 29 at 12:29
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    Also, questions normally use inversion, whereas the OP's example isn't a question. – CJ Dennis Jan 29 at 13:24
  • It's arguably valid syntax. Not idiomatic generally, but sometimes seen in things like press releases. – Hot Licks Jan 29 at 13:28
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Quotative inversion is discussed in the style guide The Right Word at the Right Time: A Guide to the English Language and How to Use It (p301). It has this example:

'No, you cannot,' said Mrs Robinson.

It goes on to note:

Certain modern writers...dislike this convention, and insist on retaining the usual word order. ... This blanket objection seems needlessly strict.

In three specific cases, however, inversion should be avoided. First, when the subject is a pronoun rather than a noun.

  • ?'No, you cannot,' said she.

This now sounds laughably old-fashioned.

The second case is all too modern, in the view of many purists; that is, when the presentational material comes at the start of the sentence:

  • ?Said Mrs Robinson: 'No, you cannot.'

Associated with American news-magazines in particular, this rather awkward structure is now fairly common in the journalism of Britain and other English-speaking countries as well. Avoid using it unless you are quite sure that it is in keeping with the style of the publication or acceptable to your readers.

The third case in which inversion should be avoided according to the style guide is with 'more complex' verbs such as admonished.

The OP's sentence is a second-case example, and according to the style guide it is most often found in newspapers or magazines. The special language of newspapers is commonly called journalese. Further evidence for regarding this usage as journalese comes from Social Stylistics: Syntactic Variation in British Newspapers. The author cites a work by Crystal and Davey (Investigating English Style. 1969) which notes in the section on journalese that:

Verbs of speaking, such as say, declare or explain are often inverted with the subject as in Said Dr Mason... .

So, the usage is not ungrammatical but fairly rare and may momentarily distract the reader.

References:

Inversion - Wikipedia

Quotative inversion: Language Log

Social Stylistics: Syntactic variation in British Newspapers (Google Books)

  • All too modern? Simple Simon says "No." – Edwin Ashworth Jan 29 at 15:33
  • @EdwinAshworth. And then there's the first line of the great King Crimson song I talk to the wind: 'Said the straight man to the late man' - albeit a bit more modern that Simple Simon. – Shoe Jan 29 at 15:37
  • Reminds me of Nietzsche’s Thus spake Zarathustra and of Poe’s Quoth the Raven “Nevermore”. – tchrist Jan 29 at 15:38
  • @tchrist. Yes, such usage works well in songs or poems (The Raven quoth: 'Nevermore' doesn't have quite the same ring to it!). But it is on my (probably overlong) list of words or usages in journalese that get up my nose. – Shoe Jan 29 at 17:08
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It's called subject–verb inversion, and it's grammatically correct, although some forms are found more often than others. So both

Says John Smith, "The credit profiles of ..."

and

John Smith says, "The credit profiles of ..."

are idiomatic, although the second form is more likely to be found in speech. The first is a stylistic choice emphasising formality.

  • Specifically it is called quotative inversion. The link is to a LanguageLog post by linguist Arnold Zwicky. – tchrist Jan 29 at 14:40
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    I've checked Google hits for "John Smith says" (45 000+) and ". Says John Smith" (0/100 relevant [verb-initial in sentence] hits in the first 100 hits). Idiomatic? I'd say stylistic, formal ... but rarefied. And sometimes quirky ('Said Simple Simon to the pieman, "Let me taste your ware." ') – Edwin Ashworth Jan 29 at 14:49

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