I referenced and Why are the subject and the verb inverted after the conjunction 'as'?, but they discuss only declarative statements (like my French question here).

Sadly, the technical linguistic terms in ♦ confuse me. It discusses (majuscules mine)

the exclamative's subject getting postposed (with the resulting overall effect SIMILAR to subject-dependent inversion)
...Notice that version #2 has the exclamative phrase ("how widespread") fronted

  1. Does subject-verb inversion differ from "the subject to be postposed "? What's the latter called?

  2. Where does fronting feature here? Is it another separate concept (so the third one)?

  3. Does a question always allow inversion of the subject and verb? Where might it not?

For example, I guess that the author inverts below, because it's easier to place the short verb ahead of the lengthy subject clause (that I've greyed)?

Can the law hold that consulting God for guidance is permissible but consulting any other non-corporeal entity is not allowed? If so, what will the court say is the validating element in religious faith in contradistinction to superstitious faith?

Source: p 160, How the Law Works, Gary Slapper, 2014.

  • By the way, reference is generally used as a verb when you are referring someone else to a source, not when you refer to the source yourself. Aug 20, 2014 at 16:37
  • See here about heavy-NP shift.
    – Nico
    Aug 20, 2014 at 20:47
  • Echo questions don't permit inversion.
    – user230
    Aug 22, 2014 at 8:11

1 Answer 1


The inversion in question (and in questions!) is not subject/verb inversion but subject/auxiliary inversion.

That is, these inversions require that the first component of the verb group be an auxiliary verb (but BE is always treated as an auxiliary). If no auxiliary is present in the declarative form, a form of DO is employed to provide the required auxiliary.

In your sentence the inversion has nothing to do with the verb is; that is the verb in the subordinate clause which is the object of the verb say:

[SUBJThe court] [VERB GROUP [AUXwill] [MAINsay]] [OBJ.CLAUSEsomething] is the validating element ...

'something' is replaced with 'what', which is fronted;
auxiliary 'will' and subject 'the court' are inverted;
everything else remains in place.

What [AUXwill] [SUBJthe court] [MAINsay] is the validating element ...?

This inversion is mandatory in questions.

  • I do not understand the meaning of the last sentence of this answer. You don't mean it is mandatory to invert an auxillary and subject in order to form a question?
    – user6951
    May 13, 2015 at 23:13
  • @pazzo Yes. You can give interrogative intonation to echoic declarative sentences, and even incorporate interrogative pro-forms, in order to demand repetition or qualification of something previously put forward. But this is not what we ordinarily mean by "question". May 14, 2015 at 1:49

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