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For example: "Shut were his blinds." vs "His blinds were shut." Is there any meaningful difference between these two? Is the former even grammatically correct?

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    Some more famous examples: "Blessed is the man who trusts in the lord," "Black is the color of my true love's hair," "Bright are the stars that shine dark is the sky", "Late is the hour in which this conjurer chooses to appear", "All mimsy were the borogroves." Commented May 23, 2022 at 10:08
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    Nice Examples , @PeterShor , I want to add "Able was I ere I saw Elba" to the list.
    – Prem
    Commented May 23, 2022 at 14:28
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    This form is used mostly in "Poetry" & "Literature" & when "Emphasis" is necessary. Example: When the Demoted Prince was asked what he wanted, he shouted "Revenge is what I want !" , making it clear that he would get back his kingdom. Here, "I want Revenge !" is not so Emphatic.
    – Prem
    Commented May 23, 2022 at 14:43
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    There are several rules that front constituents. One is Wh-clefting, like White is what I want to paint it from I want to paint it white. As mentioned, it's available where word order is freer, as in poems -- Home is the sailor, home from the sea/And the hunter, home from the hill. Commented May 23, 2022 at 18:34

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Yes, it's just fine. This device strengthens the writing when used judiciously. Literary you may call it,* but it is not unusual in English in any way.

Here’s the longer explanation, with references and citations.


Intransitive verbs that accept as their complement a predicative adjective describing their subject normally follow the standard SVC ordering (subject–verb–complement) in an English sentence, but they do not have to do so. That’s because they are free to avail themselves of CVS ordering instead, whether for reasons of emphasis, rhetorical effect, or poetic meter.

This is sometimes referred to as copular inversion, but it is not restricted to the verb be.

Here are other examples from published works:

  • His Bill was Raven-black, and shon like Jet,
    Blue were his Legs, and Orient were his Feet:
    White were his Nails,
    like Silver to behold,
    His Body glitt'ring like the burnish'd Gold.
    (―Chaucer, Tale of the Nun’s Priest)

  • Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
    To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
    And in the calmest and most stillest night,
    With all appliances and means to boot,
    Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!
    Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
    (―Shakespeare, Henry IV Part 2)

  • With reason hath deep silence and demur
    Seized us, thought undismayed. Long is the way
    And hard
    , that out of Hell leads up to light.
    Our prison strong, this huge convex of fire,
    Outrageous to devour, immures us round
    Ninefold; and gates of burning adamant,
    Barred over us, prohibit all egress.
    (―Milton, Paradise Lost)

  • Weary were the forests, dark on either side;
    Weary were the marshes, stretching far and wide;
    Weary were the wood-piles, strewn upon the bank
    Weary were the cane-groves, growing wild and dank;
    Weary was the wilderness, without a house or spire;
    Weary were the log huts, built upon the sand;
    Weary were the waters, weary was the land;
    Weary was the cabin with its gilded wall,
    Weary was the deck we trod — weary — weary all:
    Nothing seems so pleasant to hope for or to keep,
    Nothing in the wide word so beautiful as sleep,
    As we journeyed southward on our lazy ship,
    Dwindling, idling, loafing, down the Mississip.
    ...
    Whence the sound of music ? Whence the merry laugh ?
    Surely boon companions, who jest, and sing, and quaff ?
    No! the slaves rejoicing⸺happier than the free,
    With guitar and banjo, and burst of revelry !
    Hark the volleyed laughter ! hark the joyous shout !
    Hark the nigger chorus ringing sharply out !
    Merry is the bondsman ; gloomy is his lord ;
    For merciful is Justice, and kind is Fate's award.
    (―Charles Mackay, Life and Liberty in America: Or, Sketches of a Tour in the United States and Canada, published in two volumes over 1857–1859)

  • Unwearied then were Durin's folk;
    Beneath the mountains music woke:
    The harpers harped, the minstrels sang,
    And at the gates the trumpets rang.
    (―Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 1957)

And here are some contemporary prose examples:

  • Cold ran the blood of a Finnish farmer one day in 1931. His two-year-old child had been playing outside his cottage near the Russian border. Now the baby was the gone.
    (―The New Yorker, 1933)
  • Thirteen thousand years ago, the Age of Great Mammals came crashing to a close in the Western Hemisphere. Lost were the giants of the elephant clan: the mammoths, mastodons, and gomphotheres, which had maintained a presence in North America for twenty million years.
  • Forgotten were the elementary rules of logic, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

Those prose examples are completely unremarkable. They cannot be attributed to a poet’s games with word ordering to fit the meter. They are nothing more than fronting for emphasis and variation:

  • Cold ran the blood....
  • Lost were the giants....
  • Forgotten were the rules....

Poetry more readily admits other word orders than published prose, and prose more than pedestrian dialogue at the pub. Walter Scott even here uses not CVS but SCV order:

  • Nor nearer might the dogs attain,
    Nor farther might the quarry strain
    Thus up the margin of the lake,
    Between the precipice and brake,
    O'er stock and rock their race they take.
    Close on the hounds the Hunter came, To cheer them on the vanished game;
    But, stumbling in the rugged dell,
    The gallant horse exhausted fell.

Scott’s deliberately archaizing SCV order is more like the SOV word order sometimes seen with transitive verbs where the object comes before the verb, as for example seen twice in the traditional marriage vow of:

  • With this ring I thee wed
    ... till death do us part.

If you vary the word order too much or too often, it can begin to sound a little unnatural. But to do so occasionally improves the writing so that it doesn’t sound plodding and dull.


Footnotes

  • "Literary you may call it" is a deliberate example of the device, although this time with a ditransitive verb whose final argument is adjectival. It's simply fronted for emphasis, without any inversion at all.
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  • I can tell you and Sven apart a third the way down nowadays. Gone is my innocence. Commented Jun 8, 2022 at 18:43
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The former sentence, "Shut were his blinds" is grammatically correct. The difference in meaning lies in emphasis: Shut were his blinds puts more emphasis on shut, while His blinds were shut puts more emphasis on his blinds.

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    I'd say the major difference one picks up if one is subjected to 'Shut were his blinds' is that it gives rise to unbelief. 'Old Tom Bombadil is a merry fellow, Bright blue his jacket is,' is wonderful, but 'Bright blue his smartphone is' takes us to the realms of the ludicrous. Commented May 28, 2022 at 18:42

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