Is it correct English to write “John he is my husband,” or, “Mary she went to the store?”

I hear this construction frequently from TV and Radio Journalists. Is there a name for this construction?

  • 22
    Where are these journalists from, and are they native speakers? Jun 18, 2017 at 12:55
  • 5
    John is the subject of the sentence, as is Mary. There is no need to include a pronoun in either example. Jun 18, 2017 at 13:28
  • 17
    I'm not native speaker but I'd include some punctuation depending on use: "John? He is my husband" or "Mary, she went to the store". Jun 18, 2017 at 16:40
  • 2
    Annabelle's comment above is correct - to make her point more clear: "John is my husband" and "Mary went to the store" are the correct way of wording these sentences.
    – user57039
    Jun 18, 2017 at 19:58
  • 2
    Can you link to any video examples from journalists? It might help clarify the usage.
    – 1006a
    Jun 19, 2017 at 18:12

5 Answers 5


This construction is common in speech, and in writing which emulates speech. The initial noun phrase acts as a discourse marker to announce a shift of focus to a new or resumed topic; it will usually be emphasized with stress, pitch, and prosody—often a falling pitch similar to 'comma intonation' or rising pitch similar to 'question intonation'. In writing it should be followed by some sort of disjunctive point, such as a comma, dash, question mark or colon.

Most of them are my brothers, but John, he's my husband.

The construction is perfectly grammatical, but it is rarely used in formal writing, which lacks the accompanying vocal resources. Formal writing has other methods for achieving the same marking:

Most of them are my brothers; John, however, is my husband.

  • 4
    Is this, this? Jun 19, 2017 at 1:31
  • 6
    "The construction is perfectly grammatical" Yes, what you have written Which differs from the ones in the question. Jun 19, 2017 at 12:16
  • 5
    @ypercubeᵀᴹ I use one of the question examples, "John he is my husband", specifically identified as something heard. I describe its use in discourse by providing an appropriate prior context, and I describe the convention for writing it out (viz, with a disjunctive point)--I have now expanded the description of the convention a little. What more do you want? Jun 19, 2017 at 12:48
  • 2
    @ypercubeᵀᴹ Every utterance is a piece of a larger discourse. And punctuation is orthographic convention, having only an incidental relationship to grammar--the equivalent of gesture in speech. Jun 19, 2017 at 13:29
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    I think "perfectly grammatical" is a stretch; a number of native speakers would identify those sentences as ill-formed, even with the comma (etc.) It's a fairly common colloquialism, but not an accepted part of the prestige dialect, so I would avoid it in any situation, written or spoken, of "medium" formality or above if you want to sound polished. Jun 19, 2017 at 17:28

As the sentences stand, the pronouns are normally redundant however, there are some circumstances where you would use it with some modifications in punctuation.

The first is in poetic usage where the extra pronoun is used either as a matter of form (this construction is common in folk music) or to preserve metre, e.g:

Mary she went to the store
For to meet with the man she adored
And she watched by the hour
While he measured out flour
And loitered around by the door
Fol a diddle de roll, etc.

Another common construction is in response to a question. For example:

Q: Who is this John you keep mentioning?
A: John? He's my husband.

So overall it is not how native English speakers would usually construct a sentence in casual conversation or writing but neither is it wrong nor particularly inelegant.


Yes, but you are punctuating the sentence improperly. To record this kind of phrase in English, we use the em-dash to set the appositive apart from the rest of the sentence. This gives:

  • John— he's my husband— [rest of sentence].

  • Mary— she went to the store— [rest of sentence].

We use the em-dash to separate the appositive here, as opposed to the more typical comma, because the appositive phrase is an independent clause. You could reword the sentences as follows to make the comma fit in.

  • John, my husband, [rest of sentence].

  • Mary, who went to the store, [rest of sentence].

That said, both formats are grammatically correct and indeed common in spoken English.

The emdash is often represented in written English in keyboard-recorded media via the digraph '--', rather than the more traditional character '—'


This is common in informal English. You add extra information about the person you have just mentioned. As StoneyB marked in his answer such extra information can be "emphasized with stress, pitch, and prosody":

  • John, he's my husband, has just gone to the shop.
  • Henry, oh, he's working in the garage.
  • Oh, come on, that George of yours, he isn't a nice person.

Depending on what punctuation mark is placed the meaning is different.

  • Mary? She went to the store.
  • John! You naughty kid! Get here immediately!
  • 1
    The first example doesn't look grammatical to me. I would rephrase it "John, he is my husband. He has just gone to the shop." Also, you can't simple say "you can also use other punctuation marks"; I'm sure, by using a different punctuation mark, the meaning would be different. Jun 19, 2017 at 13:16
  • @user178049 The first sentence is possible in many ways. Like "John, my husband, has just gone to the shop." and "John, he is my husband. He has just gone to the shop." Jun 19, 2017 at 13:25
  • @user178049 I don't like it as written but if you replaced the comma with an em dash it seems OK ("John -- he's my husband -- has gone to the shop").
    – Casey
    Jun 19, 2017 at 19:38
  • 1
    "John (he's my husband) has just gone to the shop." and "John---he's my husband---has just gone tot he shoppe." hold pretty equivalent meanings, Obviously, though, not all punctuation is interchangeable.
    – The Nate
    Jun 20, 2017 at 2:58
  • It's extra infornation, pure "John has just gone to the shop" is okay. We just add the information about who John is within commas. Jun 20, 2017 at 5:21

The construction is called "left-dislocation topicalization". Here's a paper1 about the phenomenon, which defines the term in the introduction:

In this paper, I will investigate the information-structural properties of two English structures which utilize word-order variation for such purposes. (1a) and (1b) provide examples for the constructions.

(1) a. Tom, I like.  
    b. Tom, I like him.

The common name in the literature for the configuration in (1a) is "Topicalization" (abbreviated as TOP henceforth), while (1b) is most commonly called "Left-Dislocation" (abbreviated as LD).

[1]On English Topicalization and Left-Dislocation from an Information-Structural Perspective, by Péter Szűcs


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