Monday, October 29, 2007

Locative Inversion

‘To Lausanne goes Singapore’s hopes’ (Today headline, 24 October 2007).

Goes is wrong; make it go. In English, the verb agrees with the subject; here, the subject is the plural noun phrase Singapore’s hopes, hence the plural verb go.

Despite coming before the verb, To Lausanne is not the subject but an adverbial of place (i.e. a ‘locative’). In the headline, the subject and the adverbial have been inverted; the normal word-order is Singapore’s hopes go to Lausanne. This phenomenon is technically known as ‘locative inversion’.

Other common examples: Down the hill ran the sheep; Into this crowded market segment comes Fuji’s latest offering; On the wall hangs a masterpiece by Holbein the Younger.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I have a question regarding tenses. In the sentence below,

'I saw John enter the shop just now.'

how do we explain the use of 'enter' instead of 'entered' since the verb in front is in the past form 'saw'?

The -ing form has also been commonly used as in 'I saw John entering the shop just now'. Is this correct?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi, there

The explanation boils down to one simple fact: in English, the verb agrees with the subject.

Here, 'saw' agrees with the subject 'I'. It cannot agree with 'John' because 'John' is the object -- that, also, is why 'enter' can't agree with 'John', since it's not a subject in the main clause.

How do we show that 'John' is object? By using subject ('he') and object 'him') pronouns as a test: note that we can say 'I saw HIM enter the shop', but not 'I saw HE enter the shop'. Similarly, we cannot say *'HIM entered the shop' (but we can say 'HE entered the shop').

Hence, 'enter' can only be a non-finite form. As you point out, we have two non-finite options: either 'enter' or 'entering'.

If we say 'I saw John enter the shop', we're focusing on the process as a completed event. By contrast, in 'I saw John entering the shop', the focus is on reporting the event as it happened.

(Perhaps a clearer example might be 'destroy/destroying': use 'destroy' when you want to focus on what he accomplished, but 'destroying' when you want to say that you saw it as it happened.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the clear explanations.