"What went we out into this wilderness to find?"

This is the first dialogue of the movie 'The VVitch'. I can't understand how this sentence is correct. I asked my teacher, she told me that it is a structurally liberal sentence that is used to create an impact on the reader. I checked many grammar checking websites (like Grammarly, Becorrect, Ginger, &c.) and found this sentence correct. Please help.

  • Movies don't hafta follow the rules for correctness. Those are just for kids in schools; nobody talks that way in real life. Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 18:55

1 Answer 1


Do you mean The Witch? It is set in the 1630s. In English then, subject-verb inversion was grammatical with any verb, not just with auxiliary verbs and modal verbs, as today.

By contrast, in modern English, subject-verb inversion is possible only with auxiliary verbs and modal verbs, not with lexical verbs such as "went". The modern English way to ask the question is "What did we go out into this wilderness to find?". (Yes, you might come across questions with subject-verb inversion, when the speaker is deliberately adopting old-fashioned usage, or is quoting an idiom which arose when this inversion was still grammatical, but that's not what this thread is about.)

(Not sure why the question is tagged [british-english], though. The way this usage differs from modern English is historical, not regional.)

  • 4
    I think it's a conscious echo of Matthew 11:7 in the King James Bible, where Jesus asks the people who went to look for John the Baptist in the desert "What went ye out into the wilderness to see?" Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 8:14
  • I'm not so sure the modern English doesn't allow subject-verb inversion with lexical verbs. Example: "Says who?" Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 1:44
  • @AndreasBlass Yes, but you would never say "Says who we don't have a reason to go out into the wilderness?" Commented Jun 6, 2021 at 15:10

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