Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

(Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams)

Does anyone know how this sentence might be analyzed according to Verspoor and Sauter's 'English Sentence Analysis' (2005)? I feel 'a small unregarded yellow sun' should be the subject, and 'lies' the predicator; but I don't know whether the first part of the sentence is a subject attribute, adverbial, or something else. Also I can't find any justification for the subject occurring so late in the sentence (if indeed sun is the subject).

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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    Yes: it's an example of subject-dependent inversion. Here, the subject and a dependent of the verb, i.e. "far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy". The latter is a dependent of the verb "lies"m though other verbs are possible, e.g. "be" in "On the table was a beautiful vase of flowers". This kind of inversion puts the subject in final position, where it typically receives greater phonological prominence than in its basic position.
    – BillJ
    Dec 30, 2021 at 12:52
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    You'll be lucky to find someone familiar with the work. Here, ACGEL, CGEL and McCawley, and perhaps Aarts, are seen as pre-eminent, except, one hopes, where more recent scholarship challenges fairly fixed views. // The Wikipedia article, while not endorsed as one would wish, does contain some references to respected authors. Dec 30, 2021 at 13:06
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    This isn't exactly rocket science! In your example, the subject and a dependent of the verb "lies" have switched places, or inverted, hence the term' subject-dependent inversion. The inversion combines preposing of the PP "far out in the uncharted backwaters... ", and postposing of the subject "a small unregarded yellow sun". It's as simple as that.
    – BillJ
    Dec 30, 2021 at 13:22
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    Be aware that (though I can't see much difficulty in analysis here of the Loc - V - S structure) different analyses, and certainly different terminologies for even near-identical analyses, exist, and that some speak as if this isn't true. Dec 30, 2021 at 13:23

1 Answer 1


The usual sentence order would be: "A small unregarded yellow sun lies far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy." This version has the usual Subject followed by Pedicate (verb) format. What Adams has done here is postpone the Subject to the end (this in linguistics is called fronting: a technique writers employ mostly for the purpose of emphasis.)

Fronting is a type of focus strategy often used to enhance cohesion and provide emphasis. When used in conversation, fronting allows the speaker to place attention at the beginning of a sentence to make a story more compelling.

Fronting has a variety of functions in discourse, especially in the maintenance of cohesion. It can be used to organize the flow of information in a text, express contrast, and give emphasis to particular elements. In particular, fronting serves as a device to to make non-subject elements the theme of a sentence.

Pearce, Michael. The Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies. Routledge, 2007.

Fronting can also trigger something called inverted subject-verb order. By moving the subject out of its natural environment, it involves a shift of emphasis and represents another aspect to this focus device. In Old English, this inverted order had a considerable dramatic force and was typical of lively narrative sequences. It has still retained a kind of mock dramatic effect, as the examples below show:

Out jumped the goblins, big goblins, great ugly-looking goblins, lots of goblins.

Then in crept the Hobbit.

Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum, a small slimy creature.

Suddenly came Gollum and whispered and hissed.

As the above four examples illustrate, these constructions always involve fronted phrases (like directional and positional adverbials) and the verbs are intransitive (typical verbs of movement or location). In these examples, the verbs jumped, crept, lived, and came have shifted to precede their subjects the goblin, big goblins, great ugly-looking goblins, lots of goblins, the Hobbit, old Gollum, and Gollum.

[Thought Co.]

  • Thanks for your replies both! That's roughly what I was thinking (but with less clarity than your answers provided). Huddleston and Pullum's 'A Student's Introduction to English Grammar' seems to treat it as a subject-dependent inversion (p.258). However I cannot seem to find any provision for such a sentence in Verspoor and Sauter (2005), which is the text I am supposed to be analyzing the sentence according to. Dec 30, 2021 at 12:46
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    @fatherlennard So how do they analyse it? H&P are right; it is a case of subject-dependent inversion.
    – BillJ
    Dec 30, 2021 at 12:49
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    @fatherlennard I've never heard of Verpoor & Sauter, so I've no idea how they would handle it. Have you some sort of allegiance to them?
    – BillJ
    Dec 30, 2021 at 12:57
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    @fatherlennard I understand that, but if no one here has read their book, how could anyone possibly answer your question?
    – BillJ
    Dec 30, 2021 at 13:07
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    I can't respect a book when the cover is typeset in f---ing FF Scala Sans, a typeface just shy of Comic Sans in its cheeziness.
    – FeRD
    Dec 30, 2021 at 13:22

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