Oxford Guide to English Grammar; John Eastwood; Oxford University Press 1994-09

Page 56-57

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3 Inversion after an adverbial

a In this sentence the pattern is subject + verb + adverbial of place.

A furniture van was outside the house.

When the adverbial of place is in front position, there is inversion of the subject and the ordinary verb be.

Alan walked along Elmdale Avenue and found number sixteen without difficulty. Outside the house was a furniture van.

The adverbial (outside the house) is in front position to link with what has gone before. The new information (a furniture van) comes at the end of the sentence.

We can do the same with other verbs of place and movement, e.g. come, go, lie, sit,stand.

The room contained a table and four chairs. On the table lay a newspaper.

The palace is heavily guarded. Because inside its walls sit the European leaders.

With such verbs, a pattern without inversion is possible but less usual.

On the table a newspaper lay.

There is no inversion with most other kinds of verbs.

Outside the house two women were talking.

NOT Outside the house were talking two women.

NOTE For There was a furniture van outside the house, • 50

related: subject vs subject-complement; inversion

  • That is not a hard-and-fast rule. Attestations can be found for Outside were two women talking and Outside were talking two women and analogues of that pattern, though normally you'd have there were.
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 14:03
  • Are you questioning the sentence in the grammar guide, or are you asking if the different sentence in the title of your question is acceptable? Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 16:13
  • 2
    If you inserted a comma after "two women", the sentence would surely be quite OK. "Outside the house were two women, talking" or maybe "Outside the house were two women, knitting".
    – JeremyC
    Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 21:55
  • @Jason Bassford the different sentence, which I thought about while reading the book.
    – Zhang Jian
    Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 2:37


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