English grammar notes - fronting
Fronting is common with the following grammar elements:
Adverbials (place and movement)
On the table stood a vase of flowers .
(A vase of flowers stood on the table.)
There is / there are
Next to the window was a bookcase.
(There was a bookcase next to the window.)
Huge it was .
(It was huge.)
An absolute fortune it must have cost.
(It must have cost an absolute fortune.)
Gone were the designer sunglasses.
(The designer sunglasses were gone.)
Clauses with question words
Why she married him I really don't know.
(I really don't know why she married him.)
On the ground floor was a vegetable shop.
Into the room rushed my father.
Gone were the polite smiles and enthusiastic sales patter.
Tiny it was.
Two hundred pounds I paid for it.
Never have I seen such a terrible mess.
Why she cut her hair I cannot imagine.
When part of a sentence is moved from its normal position to the beginning of the sentence, we call this fronting. The part of the sentence moved to the front might be the object or some other compliment, an adverbial or even the main verb itself.
Fronting is used by writers (authors, journalists etc) for dramatic effect. It is sometimes used in speech for emphasis, especially the shorter forms with adjectives and clauses containing question words.
It is useful to be able to recognize fronting when you see it. However, you do not need to use these structures to demonstrate a good working knowledge of English.
These notes cover some of the more common uses of fronting. There are others but they are not very common.
*Students should not think that fronting is a general structure for giving emphasis. There are other, far more common, ways of giving emphasis more generally (adverbs, superlative adjectives, auxiliaries, cleft sentences etc.)
Fronting with adverbials of place and movement
Inversion (changing the position of the subject and verb) is common with fronting.
The garage was on the right of the house.
On the right of the house was the garage.
Note: The subject 'garage' and verb 'was' change position.
However, sometimes there is no inversion.
My mother had planted geraniums around the sides of the lawn.
Around the sides of the lawn my mother had planted geraniums.
Note: The subject and verb do not change position.
Rules for fronting with inversion
The subject and verb change position in the following situations:
(a) When the main verb is 'be'.
(b) When the main verb is a verb of place: sit, stand, live, lie etc,
or movement: go, walk, run, swim, fly etc.
The subject and verb do not normally change position when:
(a) the verb is transitive (i.e. it takes an object).
(b) when the subject is a pronoun (he, she, it, they etc.).
(c) when a transitive verb is followed by an adverb of manner (slowly, happily etc.)
(d) with verbs other than those of place and movement.
(e) with continuous tenses.
A large white cat sat in the middle of the bed.
In the middle of the bed sat a large white cat.
Note: The subject and verb change position. 'Sit' is a verb of place and it is intransitive here.
The robbers ran out of the bank.
Out of the bank ran the robbers.
Note: The subject and verb change position. 'Run' is a verb of movement and it is intransitive here.
They rushed into the street.
Into the street they rushed.
Note: The subject and verb do not change position. 'Rush' is a verb of movement, but this time the subject 'they' is a pronoun.
An old man sat quietly in the corner.
In the corner, an old man sat quietly.
Note: The subject and verb do not change position. 'Sit' is a verb of place, but it is followed by an adverb of manner - quietly.
He'd written her address on a small piece of paper.
On a small piece of paper he'd written her address.
Note: The subject and verb do not change position. 'Write' is not a verb of place or movement and it is transitive - it takes the object 'her address'.
Sentences with 'there is / are
There's a small store room next to the kitchen.
Next to the kitchen is a small store room.
Note: The word 'there' is omitted and the subject and verb change position.
Fronting with negative adverbs of frequency: never, rarely etc
This is quite common and can express surprise, disapproval etc.
I've never seen such careless work.
Never have I seen such careless work.
Note: The subject and verb change position.
I've rarely eaten such a delicious meal.
Rarely have I eaten such a delicious meal.
Note: The subject and verb change position.
Fronting with question-word clauses
We don't know when he left.
When he left we don't know.
Note: The subject and verb don't change position.
I can't understand why she didn't tell us.
Why she didn't tell us I cannot understand.
We have know idea where she has gone.
Where she has gone we have no idea.
Nobody knows how he escaped.
How he escaped nobody knows.