2

On the wallpaper there is a horse.

Is the sentence correct or must I change it somehow?

In other words:

Is there any difference between these sentences?

  1. There is a picture of a horse on the wallpaper.

  2. On the wallpaper there is a picture of a horse.

My question relates to a phone screen.

Does the sentence beginning with "On" sound artificial to you or is it perfectly correct?

Could I write?:

On the phone screen there is a wallpaper of a horse.

On the phone screen there is a horse wallpaper.

or

On the phone screen is a wallpaper of a horse.

On the phone screen is a horse wallpaper.

  • 4
    What exactly do you mean? Are you talking about the pattern on the wallpaper, or did a horse walk into your house whilst you were decorating? More background information, please! – JavaLatte Aug 22 '16 at 19:00
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    @masterkomp: RE: I'm sorry. I should have been more precise. That's the best thing you've said all day! :-) I find these questions you've been asking quite interesting. However, I hope you've learned a lesson: you can't ask, "Can I say X to describe Y?" unless you provide a very clear picture or description of exactly what Y is! In the future, please take a little extra time to ask a question that won't require so many clarifications and edits. – J.R. Aug 22 '16 at 21:43
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    @Araucaria and I disagree, until the OP clarified, please see edit history, nobody really understood what he was on about. Please also see JavaLatte's first comment. – Mari-Lou A Aug 22 '16 at 21:48
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    @Araucaria please see my first comment, and the links, I was the first to guess the OP might be referring to a screensaver. My comment, if you don't mind, was very helpful. – Mari-Lou A Aug 22 '16 at 21:55
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    @Araucaria There's no difference in meaning? There's no difference between an image you download on your phone, and a roll of wallpaper. That's news to me. – Mari-Lou A Aug 22 '16 at 21:59
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A sentence which begins with a preposition, like yours, is perfectly correct, and it would be inaccurate to characterize it as sounding artificial. Your sentence as written is not wrong, and one reasonable interpretation of your sentence is exactly what you intended to say. It is not the way most native English speakers would express this particular thought, but in literature and formal writing you will find many beautifully-composed sentences which begin with On. To cite just a few:

On my volcano grows the grass,—
A meditative spot,
An area for a bird to choose
Would be the general thought.


On the Mountains of the Prairie,
On the great Red Pipe-stone Quarry,
Gitche Manito, the mighty,
He the Master of Life, descending,
On the red crags of the quarry
Stood erect, and called the nations,
Called the tribes of men together.


On the beach at night alone,
As the old mother sways her to and fro, singing her husky song,
As I watch the bright stars shining—I think a thought of the clef of the universes, and of the future.

These examples illustrate the way in which a sentence beginning with On may be perceived, and that may be part of the reason why your first sentence strikes some native English speakers as mildly humorous: the juxtaposition of a form which brings to mind poetic expression with such prosaic things as a horse and wallpaper seems incongruous, especially before we learn that the wallpaper here is a background image on an electronic screen.

Below is one example of the image your sentence might conjure in the mind of the reader:
Horsepaper

Because the preposition on can mean so many things in English, your sentence lends itself to an interpretation which brings to mind a humorous image. It is sometimes important to express a thought carefully in order to avoid unintentional Ambiguity; as some of the commentary to your question indicates, this is a fertile source of humor.

There are many ways in which your sentence might be interpreted. If you wish to describe a background image (sometimes referred to as wallpaper) for use on a computer or handheld device, you might say:

  • The background image pictures a horse.
  • The wallpaper* image shows a horse.
  • On the computer wallpaper is a picture of a horse.
  • There is a picture of a horse on the wallpaper*.

* This could denote any kind of wallpaper, even the kind we put on walls.

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    I appreciate you including the image of the horse on the wallpaper; that's an important point to make about inherent ambiguities in English. However, I strongly disagreed with the way you worded your original assertion: Your sentence is correct only if this is what you wish to describe. Horsefeathers! The preposition on has multiple meanings, and there is nothing wrong with saying, "There are horses on this wallpaper." It's not any different than asking, "Whose face is on this coin?" – J.R. Aug 22 '16 at 21:37
  • /me searches for images of pinnine equines... – P. E. Dant Aug 22 '16 at 21:44
  • @J.R. And now? (I'm reminded here of Put the book in the bag on the table.) – P. E. Dant Aug 22 '16 at 21:50
  • @P.E.Dant - Oh, that's a good edit. (I'd remove my downvote if I had cast one, but I figured you'd fix this in pretty short order, so I didn't bother.) – J.R. Aug 22 '16 at 21:52
  • Apparently I still have a downvote because I neglected to shadow the horse! – P. E. Dant Aug 22 '16 at 21:55
1

This construction is grammatically correct and will be readily understood, although it's perhaps a bit unusual. It's more associated with old-fashioned or poetic writing, e.g. Tolkein's famous opening line

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

but it's not strange enough that anyone would think it was out of place. It certainly does not mean that there's an actual horse standing on the wallpaper.

  • +1 However, I do not agree it's odd. It is only odd without the previous sentence. – Araucaria Aug 22 '16 at 21:40
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    Although it could mean there was a horse standing on a roll of wallpaper (very unlikely, but possible). I'm reminded of Groucho Marx's famous quip: The other day I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know. – J.R. Aug 22 '16 at 21:40
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    @P.E.Dant - If it weren't for prepositions, verb tenses, and words like could and would, we probably wouldn't need to have an ELL. :-) – J.R. Aug 22 '16 at 21:55
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    @Mari-LouA They are both equally ambiguous/not ambiguous depending on the context. In almost any context they are not ambiguous at all. But one thing is for certain: it makes no difference whether it's an existential construction or not. The comments and answers on this post are seriously unhelpful for future users. The question is whether we can prepose the PP here. – Araucaria Aug 22 '16 at 22:13
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    @Araucaria the title and the first quote are different. The OP is asking about eight sentences, no one told him to do that. – Mari-Lou A Aug 22 '16 at 22:15
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Both sentences are correct although I find the second more natural. I would be more likely to use the first one as part of a fuller description of the phone as in "My phone is a black iPhone6. On the wallpaper is a picture of a horse." Having said that I would probably say, in this context, "The wallpaper is a picture of a horse." since most phone wallpapers are single images. Hope this helps.

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