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I was wondering what the subject of the following sentence is:

Inside were mounds of gold coins.

Is it "inside," or "inside is an adverb here? Has the sentence had a "there" before "were" that has been omitted by some rule?

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    The subject is "mounds of gold coins". The sentence exhibits what is called 'subject-dependent inversion'. Here the locational dependent "inside" has been inverted with the subject "mounds of gold coins". The basic order would be "Mounds of gold coins were inside". – BillJ Jun 2 '17 at 13:18
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    I would expect this in a context like "Smaug lived in the Lonely Mountain. Inside [of it] were mounds of gold coins." – Tavian Barnes Jun 2 '17 at 18:26
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    The real tip-offs here are the plural conjugation and the fact that "inside" is (almost?) never a noun without an article or possessive pronoun. – MackTuesday Jun 3 '17 at 1:20
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Inside were mounds of gold coins

The subject is "mounds of gold coins".

The sentence exhibits what is called 'subject-dependent inversion'. Here the locational dependent "inside" has been inverted with the subject "mounds of gold coins".

The basic order would be Mounds of gold coins were inside.

Traditional grammar treats "inside" as adverb, but in modern grammar, it is analysed as a preposition.

  • +1 I've deleted my answer, which neglected to mention the inversion. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 2 '17 at 14:04
  • @StoneyB: Oh man, I'd given +1 to both of you. Both of your answers were great and helpful and had mentioned something that the other one hadn't. For example, your answer had mentioned that inside here is a complete preposition phrase. – Diamond Jun 2 '17 at 14:16
  • @StoneyB I'm not sure you needed to delete your answer, sometimes another perspective on/description of the same thing is useful. It was also probably a better answer than mine ;)! – SteveES Jun 2 '17 at 14:55
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    Would "There is/are" and "Here is/are" also be subject-dependent inversions? – philologon Jun 2 '17 at 23:38
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    @philologon The existential "there" found in "There is a fly in my soup" is not an inversion, but the locative "there" in "There are my keys" is an inversion of "My keys are there". The "here" found in "Here are your instructions" is an inversion alternating with the uninverted "Your instructions are here". – BillJ Jun 3 '17 at 7:30
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The quoted sentence is an example of an inverted sentence.

Unlike a standard sentence, which has the order [subject] [verb] [complement/nothing (depending on the verb)], it begins with the complement, the adverb Inside in this case, and ends with the subject, mounds of gold coins. This gives more emphasis to inside, and adds a bit more dramatic tension to the sentence as you have to read to the end to find out what was inside.

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