I was reading a passage and encountered the following sentences:

The advent of the mechanical clock meant that although it could be adjusted to maintain temporal hours, it was naturally sited to keeping equal ones. With these, however, arose the question of when to begin counting.

In the second sentence arose is an intransitive verb so "the question of when to begin counting" can not be its object. I think it is its subject and the typical word order is:

With these, however, the question of when to begin counting arose.

Why the author have changed the order of verb and subject in here?

Is this order changing grammatically correct?

3 Answers 3


It is grammatical, but there is a combination of two different processes going on here, both rather literary.

The first is topicalization, by which a phrase is brought to the front of the sentence to give it prominence, or to link more clearly to what has come before - here With these.

That process does not usually cause the subject and verb to invert: see the examples in the Wikipedia article I linked to.

But here a second process has occurred, that of extraposition. Because the subject is long (the question of when to begin counting) and the verb only a single word, this rule allows them to be inverted.

So the pattern is

The question of when to begin counting, however, arose with these.


With these, however, the question of when to begin counting arose.


With these, however, arose the question of when to begin counting.


"However" comes second, whichever sentence structure is used. Not the second word, but the second constituent.

There are some expressions, all with a negative polarity, which can come first and always trigger inversion: phrases such as never, in no way, and in few places. This is not an example of that construction.

Extraposition usually swaps the verb or auxiliary with a long phrase that qualifies the subject, leaving the simple subject in place:

With these, however, the question arose of when to begin counting.

Both forms are possible here: this one leaves the simple subject (the question) in place; but because of the topicalized phrase, your original form is also possible, as it does not leave the verb standing first.


You are correct that the phrase is the subject of arose. The word order is grammatically correct, and it's an option for the writer in that sentence. It has the effect of placing when to begin counting alone at the end of the sentence, in a position of emphasis.

  • But as I know subject should come first in a sentence!! For example "He went." and "Went he." are two options for an speaker and both are grammatically correct?
    – alireza
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 17:16
  • Went he, as it stands, is very uncommon, but it occurs. Check google books for examples. There are other examples here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverted_sentence Here is an example from Wikipedia: Off the coast of North Carolina lie the Barrier Islands, a popular summer resort area. Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 21:27
  • The subject typically comes first in a sentence but it's not a requirement. (English is a Germanic language... look at German... sometimes we behave like German.) For some reason I first think of the famous palindrome "Able was I ere I saw Elba" -- that is a little strange, but totally grammatically sound.
    – equin0x80
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 16:26
  • Obviously you won't say in normal everyday speech "To the store went I!" -- but it's possible -- especially in poetry.
    – equin0x80
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 16:27

(I assume your "naturally sited" is an error for "naturally suited".)

You are asking about the statement "With these, however, arose the question of when to begin counting." You would like to parse this grammatically. Let's first drop the "however", and let's describe "the question of when to begin counting" as "Q":

"With these arose Q." Clearly that's identical in meaning to: "Q arose with these."

There's nothing that makes this unacceptable. You did ask: WHY did the author change the ordering -- which is a rather interesting question. I believe it's topicalisation (placing the topic of a sentence in an important position, so that it gets more attention).

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