I read a story, called The Little Fish. But I don't understand why the following sentence use ‘Remarked’ began. Usually, sentences always begin with a noun.

“I can imagine!” remarked the fish.

I'm confusing about the structure of this sentence. Why don't author uses "The fish remarked."? I think the order is matter.

  • Usually, after a quotation such as, "I can't believe he did that!" exclaimed the boy., we use a lowercase letter to begin the following sentence since it describes the quotation; therefore, it should be, "I can't imagine!" remarked the fish. – Nick Dec 27 '17 at 21:22
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    The writer used that word order because he liked it better. If you're writing a story you can use the other order. They mean the same thing, but one or the other may better fit the "tone" the author seeks. – Hot Licks Dec 27 '17 at 21:36

You see this construct a lot in literature, particular among quotes within a dialogue. It's not uncommon to see this order flip-flopped within a lengthy dialogue, partly (I believe) to make the flow seem less repetitious.

For example, from Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White:

Mr. Arable stopped walking.

"Fern," he said gently, "you will have to learn to control yourself."

"Control myself?" yelled Fern. "This is a matter of life and death, and you talk about _controlling myself." Tears ran down her cheeks and she took hold of the ax and tried to pull it out of her father's hand.

"Fern," said Mr. Arable, "I know more about raising a litter of pigs than you do. A weakling makes trouble. Now run along!"

"But it's unfair," cried Fern. "The pig couldn't help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?"

Mr. Arable smiled. "Certainly not," he said, looking down at his daughter with love. "But this is different. A little girl is one thing, a little runty pig is another."

"I see no difference," replied Fern, still hanging on to the ax. "This is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of."

A queer look came over John Arable's face. He seemed almost ready to cry himself.

"All right," he said. "You go back to the house and I will bring the runt when I come in. I'll let you start it on a bottle, like a baby. Then you'll see what trouble a pig can be."

As a footnote, I believe it's customary to put pronouns first, as was done here; said he is not nearly as common as he said. However, the replied Fern in this dialogue could have just as easily been Fern replied.

  • This is true, but said he is not wrong just because it is not all that common anymore. – Nick Dec 27 '17 at 22:09
  • @Nick - I never said it was wrong, but thanks for clarifying. – J.R. Dec 27 '17 at 22:25
  • I know you didn't, J.R. I was just clarifying. – Nick Dec 28 '17 at 5:13

It's called inversion or sometimes anastrophe. Inversion is when we reverse the normal "subject-verb" construction to form a "verb-subject" construction:

"I can imagine!" said he.

"I am neither a kind man, nor am I a fool."

"Were I a very rich man, I would buy a yacht and sail the ocean blue." ("ocean blue" is also inverted here: adjective-noun becomes noun-adjective)

"Should he have any questions, he can call me at this number."

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    "I can answer this!" remarked Nick. – Andrew Dec 27 '17 at 20:48
  • Yes, "remarked Nick" means "remarked he". – Nick Dec 27 '17 at 20:49
  • There are problems with inversion that mess with many native speakers. For instance, "There are you" is how it should be said since we say, "There are five people (there are they)", but most people switch it back to "There you are" so as not to have weird constructions like this. "There am I in the picture" thus becomes, "There I am in the picture." – Nick Dec 27 '17 at 20:51
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    This is also where the confusion with "It's me" has come from. In correct Modern English, it should be "It is I", but normally this is not said unless we have a relative clause following: "It is I who will end up doing all of the work." This is a misconstruction of the older sense in Middle English (if I remember correctly) of "It am I". – Nick Dec 27 '17 at 20:56
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    In modern English, it should be 'It's me.' Pullum himself has said "If there's a ring at the door and when you ask 'Who is it?' the reply is 'It is I', send them packing. It's not somebody you want to meet." [paraphrased] " 'I can imagine!' said he" is another weirdness marker. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 27 '17 at 22:22

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