The gardens stretched back to some reasonable-looking pasture land on which grazed a few cattle and sheep.

Why is this inversion valid here? I would expect maybe "on which there grazed" (as in "there comes a time") if an inversion were to be happen.

  • 1
    You'll have to ask the writer why they chose that construction rather than the less formal "... some reasonable-looking pasture land which a few cattle and sheep grazed on", or "... some reasonable-looking pasture land where a few cattle and sheep grazed".
    – BillJ
    Jan 3 at 14:12
  • The author avoids ending the sentence with a preposition, as in: The gardens stretched back to some reasonable-looking pasture land that a few cattle and sheep grazed on. Jan 3 at 14:18
  • 2
    It's a totally grammatical choice, wouldn't work in informal conversation, but works superbly here. A literary usage. Jan 3 at 14:26
  • @tchrist the question you linked to has the dummy "there" though (OED 4.a — 4. Used unemphatically to introduce a sentence or clause in which, for the sake of emphasis or preparing the hearer, the verb comes before its subject .... a. with intransitive verbs ), which I address in the question
    – Artefacto
    Jan 3 at 19:42
  • @Artefacto Okay, that's a bit distracting then, and perhaps I was too hasty so I'll reopen. English has all sorts of different kinds of "triggers" for subject–verb inversion that are not strictly mandatory but can sound more elegant. It may be that the "pied piping" trigger where you pull up some preposition that normally follows a given verb to create a “PREPOSITION which VERB SUBJECT” subordinate clause like "There’s the pole on top of which stood the eagle” works differently from the locative inversion of “Atop the telephone pole rested an eagle”.
    – tchrist
    Jan 3 at 20:32

Subject-Verb Inversion

1. After expression of "some place"

Five beach umbrellas were on the beach.

On the beach were five beach umbrellas.

In front of the house stood some giant trees.

To the north is the stream that the settlers will have to ford.

2. After "no not never"

Not once did I miss a question.

Never had I seen such a glorious sight.

On no occasion did they say that to me.

No sooner had we entered the hall than the ceremony began.

Nowhere did he see her.

At no time did he go out of the house.

3. After "rarely, hardly, scarcely, not only, barely, only, seldom, little"

Seldom has their secretary made such mistakes.

Only after he saw her did he understand.

Rarely had he finished the exam when the teacher collected the papers.

4. After "so, neither, nor" So happy was she that she danced around the room.

I liked the coffee, and so did Mike.

I was born in Seoul. So was my father.

5. When if is omitted in conditionals

If he had seen you, he would have greeted you.(Had he seen you, ~.)

If anything should happen in my absence, ask him.(Should anything happen in my absence, ~.)

If it were not for the sun, nothing could live.(Were it not for the sun, ~.)

Source: One of my TOEFL books.


This reminds one of hyperbaton which is defined as

a figure of speech that uses disruption or inversion of customary word order to produce a distinctive effect (from thoughtco.com).

You will also find this remark on the same site.

Hyperbaton is often used to create emphasis. Brendan McGuigan notes that hyperbaton "can tweak the normal order of a sentence to make certain parts stand out or to make the entire sentence jump off the page" (Rhetorical Devices, 2007).`

Now, your context does not seem to be a rhetorical figure of speech, but the definition of inversion I found on the same site caught my attention:

In English grammar, inversion is a reversal of normal word order, especially the placement of a verb ahead of the subject (subject-verb inversion). The rhetorical term for inversion is hyperbaton. Also called stylistic inversion.

This is what I would call your sentence: an instance of stylistic inversion.

Consider the following examples, in which there are inversions similar to yours:

  1. "Not in the legions/ Of horrid hell can come a devil more damned/ In ills to top Macbeth." (William Shakespeare, Macbeth)

  2. "Half an hour later came another inquiry as to tugs. Later came a message from the Irene, telling of the lifting of the fog." (The New York Times, April 7, 1911)

  3. "There in the dusty light from the one small window on shelves of roughsawed pine stood a collection of fruitjars and bottles with ground glass stoppers and old apothecary jars all bearing antique octagon labels edged in red upon which in Echols' neat script were listed contents and dates." (Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing. Random House, 1994)

I must say that in your sentence, the inversion is beautifully used and instantly transports the reader in a poetic atmosphere. There gazed ... would achieve far less in this respect, but it would not be grammatically incorrect.

  • 1
    Locative inversion is not hyperbaton.
    – tchrist
    Jan 3 at 18:04
  • Ok, I will delete that bit, although it is a quotation. Thank you for pointing it out
    – fev
    Jan 3 at 19:40

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