When is inversion between the subject and the object or the subject and the complement possible?

For instance:

I stood at the window watching the kids play. <---> At the window watching the kids play stood I.

We were playing football <---> football were playing we.

The notebook stood besides the bed <---> Besides the bed stood the notebook.

I think you understand what I mean already. Are all of these sentences correct? Are there exceptions to that rule? Also, what context are these structures used in? It looks a bit like a literary style to me.

  • In your third sentence, you should use beside (next to) not besides (instead of). Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 14:42
  • Short answer, none of those work as written or punctuated. And you are not really inverting subject and object. We were playing football = Football we were playing [that would be a subject-object inversion]
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 20, 2018 at 14:50

3 Answers 3


The particular inversion that is possible is the locative inversion. This makes the third example possible, the first example marginally possible, and the second is not correct.

In the locative inversion, a prepositional phrase indicating location is fronted, and the subject inverts with the verb:

John stood beside the bed -> Beside the bed stood John.

However, this is not generally done with pronoun subjects.

Here the prepositional phrase is "beside the bed" the subject is "John" and the verb is "stood".

Similarly there is a locative phrase "at the window", so you might invert

At the window stood I, watching the kids play.

You might also move the "watching...play" to the front too. However it is somewhat odd, as the subject is a pronoun

But there is no locative phrase in the second example.

Now, none of these are subect-object inversions... They are all Subject-verb inversions. Subject-object inversions are not part of English, however "yoda speak" (in which the object is fronted) is possible.

Your second example is an inversion of subject and object, and it is ungrammatical.


I would say it's almost always possible, but this is a poetic style that sounds artificial and dramatic, and doesn't really work except in an appropriate context.

For example, suppose I show up to meet my friends 10 minutes after the appointed time, and instead of saying, "I am late", I exclaim

Late am I!

It might sound funny or it might just sound weird, depending on my character. In the same way, you should avoid using most inversion until you understand its use.

All three of your examples are (more or less) correctly inverted, although as Jason Bassford points out the last one should be

Beside the bed stood the notebook.

It's unusual for something like a notebook to stand, though unless it's very large. It would be more common to say the notebook lay beside the bed ... but perhaps there's a reason it's standing up.

  • Is there really any difference between "beside" and "besides"?
    – F0rg1v3n
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 16:46
  • @F0rg1v3n Yes, there is, unfortunately. Besides is normally used as an adverb meaning "in addition to; apart from" while beside is a preposition meaning "at the side of, next to" If you ask that as a separate question I can give you more detail.
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 17:28

The sentences you proposed are OK, but unusual. In other words,

Perfect they are, if Yoda you are!

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