Learn English – grammatical term for moving a word to the front or back of a sentence


There is a function in Arabic grammar where you may bring forward in sentence order a word – as well as deferring it.

For example: if the sentence order is Subject – Verb – Object, you can bring the object forward to be before the subject, yielding Object – Verb – Subject or Object – Subject – Verb.

Similarly, if you have Noun Phrase – Verb Phrase, you can move the verb phrase forward so you get Verb Phrase – Noun Phrase.

This is used to add emphasis to the item brought forward. The same applies to moving the item to the end of the sentence.

Is there a grammatical term in English that represents this function or functions?

Best Answer

Moving an element to the front of a clause (often in order to emphasise it) is, quite logically, called fronting.

This is different from inversion (as mentioned in tchrist’s answer) in that inversion usually is not optionally chosen for emphasis, but a mandatory part of various syntactic processes. Questions, for example, normally require subject-auxiliary inversion, as do certain fronted adverbs.

That's not to say the two are entirely unrelated, though. In fact, it used to be that fronting and inversion were quite closely related phenomena: the verb in Germanic languages like English historically tended to like being in second position (the word order is SVO), and in order to keep the verb in that position when fronting some non-subject element, the subject would have to be moved to a position after the verb—in other words, the subject and the verb were inverted. Very frequently, the fronted element would be an object, but it could be just about anything.

In most other Germanic languages, inversion is still the rule when fronting elements, but English has (perhaps under influence from French which employs inversion in a very limited way) gradually abandoned the system: in current English, it is more common for fronted elements to simply be considered outside the clause itself and often set off by a comma. The clause itself can then retain its regular word order.

To give a few examples (word order in parentheses; A is ‘adverbial’; fronted element italicised):

I saw Jane yesterday (SVOA).
Yesterday, I saw Jane (ASVO).
Jane I saw yesterday (OSVA).

In languages like German or Swedish (or indeed some older stages of English), these would be:

I saw Jane yesterday (SVOA).
Yesterday saw I Jane (AVSO).
Jane saw I yesterday (OVSA).

– but of course that doesn't work in current English. For an English example, you have to go back in time, for example to William Shakespeare:

Tybalt: Romeo, the hate I bear thee can afford no better term than this: thou art a villain!
Romeo: […] Villain am I none; therefore, farewell. I see thou know’st me not.
Romeo and Juliet, Act III, scene I

Here the subject predicate villain is fronted to the start of the sentence, with subsequent inversion of the subject and the verb.


What hasn't changed in modern English is that elements can be emphasised by moving them to the head (front) of their clause, that is, by fronting them.

Unlike Arabic, though, moving an element to the end of a clause is not a tactic used for emphasising in English; I am not aware of any word for that.