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"Not is he brave who kills a tiger, but rather, the real brave man is the one who controls his anger."

I read this sentence, and it attracted me a lot because of its unique construction, i.e. Not+state verb+ subject..., but the question is if this is grammatical. Although this seems to give much powerful meaning as compared to the following:

"He is not brave who kills a tiger, but rather, the real brave man is the one who controls his anger."

The usual construction: Subject + state verb+ not...

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    Yes, it's grammatical, and obviously literary. It belongs in the information packaging domain, where it has subject-auxiliary inversion triggered by negative "not".
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 8:05
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    Where did you "read" that sentence exactly?
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 21:01
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    Personally, I think the proper (archaic or inverted) construction here would be: Not brave is he who kills the tiger. I have never, ever seen Not is [adjective] in my entire life! It smacks of bad translation. Really bad.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 21:04
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    The more I read this, the more things I see that show me this is not originally in English. It's just a poor translation. "a real brave man", really?? Come on. Not brave is he who kills the tiger as the truly brave man is the one who contains his anger. Much better.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 21:18
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    What about it xeesid, where did you find this?
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 22:28

3 Answers 3

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This usage is parallelled in modern English:

Some adverbs (e.g. hardly, little, never, only, scarcely and seldom) have a negative meaning. When we use these at the beginning of the clause, we invert the subject and verb: Hardly had we left the hotel when it started to pour with rain.

We also invert the subject and verb after not + a prepositional phrase or not + a clause in front position: Not for a moment did I think I would be offered the job, so I was amazed when I got it. (From https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/negative-adverbs-hardly-seldom-etc )

The following would undoubtedly be grammatical:

  • "Hardly is he brave who kills a tiger."
  • "Scarcely is he brave who kills a tiger."
  • "Never is he brave who kills a tiger."

However, we would never say "Not is he brave who kills a tiger". I would be tempted to consider the "Not is he brave" variant ungrammatical in modern English. I do not think that a learner who produced this sentence today could expect their work to be marked correct.

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  • What about "Not indeed is he..."?
    – xeesid
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 10:14
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    "Not indeed is he" sounds extremely unnatural, but maybe marginally better than "Not is he". "Not at all is he" would be an improvement, but the resulting sentence would still be rather awkward. "Scarcely is he brave", on the other hand, is something I might genuinely write if I were aiming for an elevated, literary style.
    – rjpond
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 13:23
  • We know all that -- archaic, old-fashioned, unnatural, literary in the extreme, call it what you like. But the OP simply asked if the sentence is grammatical, which it is.
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 13:56
  • @BillJ Granted. And you have already given your view. I said I would be tempted to regard "Not" on its own in this position as ungrammatical in modern English. Languages change over time and so does what's considered grammatical. Plus, native speakers (including linguists) often find that the grammaticality of something is suspect without necessarily being outright wrong (so you see grammarians put a "?" in front of phrases, for example). It's not always possible to give a straightforward yes/no to whether or not something is grammatical. But you feel that it is and I respect that.
    – rjpond
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 13:59
  • On what basis do you say those are undoubtedly grammatical? It seems to me that a minimal requirement is for the adverbs to be pre-positioned to the adjectives: hardly brave is he//scarcely brave is he, and so on with the inversion after those two.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 18:19
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Both of these are very archaic, and will be found only in old texts and poetry. Even there, the "Not is he brave" was a poetic form back in the day.

The contemporary version of these would be:

"It's not the one who kills a tiger, who is brave, but rather the one who controls his anger."

Of course without the archaic grammar it doesn't sound nearly as profound.
After all, quidquid latine dictum sit altum videtur.

Addressing grammar - English doesn't seem to have any 'facilities' for obsoleting archaic grammar, so everything no matter how archaic is still considered valid, 'legal' grammar because there was a time when they were. So, yes, technically these two are grammatical. On the other hand, they don't even edge into the 'contemporary' territory; they are valid archaic grammar, with no application in modern English beyond deeply archaic stylization.

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    OK, but the question is whether it's grammatical.
    – BillJ
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 8:18
  • Could you provide a source for "Both of these [ . . . ] will be found only in old texts and poetry"? As the OP should, but this answer should stand on its own. Granted, I haven't read much poetry, but I'd expect it to be "Not brave is he", not "Not is he brave". (Any "Not is [subject] [PC]" would do)
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 17:21
  • @M.A.R. Not is * the, Observe how the plot dwindles. "He is not * who" produces a link too long to paste, you can try it in nGram yourself, the trend is similar.
    – SF.
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 18:52
  • Perhaps most striking...
    – SF.
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 19:02
  • The percentages are so small, and I was not able to get into the books at all. Ngrams does not cut it for me. You need to provide a grammatical explanation, in my view. Also, I don't know any languages that have "facilities" for obsoleting archaic grammar." (is that even English?).
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 19:10
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Bad Translation Revealed

This sentence: "Not is he brave who kills a tiger, but rather, the real brave man is the one who controls his anger." is not grammatical in English, due to "Not is he brave". The sentence is poor translation from another language.

Inversion in English is used with some regular expressions such as: Not only: "Not only did he rush his speech, he mangled it." Notice: it's same as the question form: did he rush

Uninverted that would be: "He not only rushed his speech, he mangled it."

There are adverbs that also allow for this: "Never have I seen such a thing". for "I have never seen such a thing".

Inversion allows for the subject-verb to be inverted but also an auxiliary is often inserted as one finds in questions: Did he ever sing that day.

Here are some more taken with everyday features taken from a site that explains inversions:

Wonderful is the way I feel.
Here are some other examples of inversion a person might say:

Shocked, I was. Tomorrow will come the decision. How amazing this is.

inversion

For this, "Not is he brave who kills a tiger", to be properly inverted, it has to be:

  1. Not brave is he who kills a tiger. [subject and verb inverted]

The phrasing "not is he brave" sounds like Spanish or Portuguese: No es valiente un hombre que mata un tigre or Não é valente um homem que etc.. You can do that in Spanish and Portuguese but not in English.

  1. the real brave man

In colloquial speech, we say: "Oh, he was a real brave man". to mean: "He was a really brave man". In other words, the adverb should be really and not real. Otherwise, it would not match a formal level of language as this sentence should do.

In a properly translated poetic-type text as this one purports to be, one would see something like: for the truly brave man is the one who

that but rather also smacks of translation and is not merited here in English.

  1. "controls his anger" sounds overly modern, if the point is to have a beautifully rendered sentence that sounds formally good contains is better here.

Rewritten to sound like a proverb that has been well translated (though I have zero idea what language this actually comes from):

"Not brave is he who kills a tiger for the truly brave man is the one who contains his anger."

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