1

Can I start a sentence with a long noun phrase acting like a direct object?

  • The ice cream that I bought yesterday, I put it in the fridge.
  • The man sitting over there, I know him.
2
  • Yes, you can. See my answer.
    – BillJ
    Sep 26, 2022 at 17:52
  • Yoda you may sound like if too often you do it, but wrong it is not. "That statement may be many things, but wrong it isn't.")
    – keshlam
    Sep 26, 2022 at 18:13

4 Answers 4

1

[1] [The ice cream that I bought yesterday], I put it in the fridge.

[2] [The man sitting over there], I know him.

These are both examples of left dislocation', a type of construction that has an extra noun phrase (bracketed) located to the left of the main part of the clause, consisting of subject and predicate, called the nucleus. The extra noun phrase is set apart prosodically from the rest of the clause.

The idea is that there is a pronoun in the nucleus which is anaphorically linked to the detached element. In [2], for example, "the man sitting over there" is antecedent for the pronoun "him" in the nucleus.

The pronoun can have various functions within the nucleus, such as direct or indirect object, complement of a preposition etc. In your examples, the pronouns "it" and "him" are direct objects.

0

When talking, you might say:

The ice cream that I bought yesterday, [pause] I put it in the fridge.
The man sitting over there, [pause]I know him.

The intonation is slightly different with those.

But in writing, you'd use:

The ice cream I bought yesterday I put in the fridge.
I know that man over there.

0

Generally speaking, according to formal English grammar, no, you cannot, but it does happen in some speech.

What you have done here is take a complete sentence, with subject, verb, and object (like I put it in the fridge), and then stuck a noun phrase on the front (like The ice cream that I bought yesterday); this is called left dislocation (thank you, @BillJ). This is more common in informal speech.

To be formally correct, you can make the noun phase into the subject (The ice cream that I bought yesterday was put into the fridge by me) or the object (I put the ice cream that I bought yesterday in the fridge), but it can't just be "floating" at the beginning of a sentence.

If you use this kind of left dislocation in speech, it will be understood, but I would avoid it in formal contexts (e.g., "My thesis, its topic is...").

3
  • You know it amuses me that on SE French, I suggested a tag for: spoken French. It raised such a ruckus that some individual posted five different refutations of it. There is one for English. This question is a perfect example of why we need it. Cheers.
    – Lambie
    Sep 26, 2022 at 14:47
  • @stangdon Actually, you can. It's called 'left dislocation'.
    – BillJ
    Sep 26, 2022 at 17:55
  • @BillJ A fair point. I'll adjust my answer because I feel like it should be mentioned, but I also feel like this occurs almost exclusively in informal and spoken English.
    – stangdon
    Sep 26, 2022 at 17:57
0
  • (1) The ice cream that I bought yesterday, I put it in the fridge.
  • (2) The man sitting over there, I know him.

You can do this, it is grammatically valid. But it is unusual, and may sound odd to a fluent speaker. This is not because the initial noun phrase is long, but because of the inversion of subject and object. Consider a sentence with the same form, but a very short initial noun phrase:

  • (3) Sally, I know her.

Sentence (3) sounds quite odd to my ear,, although I can imagine a context in which it would be natural.

Sentence (1) would be more naturally phrased as:

  • (1A) I put The ice cream that I bought yesterday in the fridge.

The meaning is much the same, and the structure is more natural. The only reason I can see for choosing (1) over (1A) or something like it is to emphasize the object, or perhaps as part of a dialog, something like:

A: What did you do with the ice cream? B: The ice cream that I bought yesterday? I put it in the fridge.

But that is not quite the same structure because o the rhetorical question.

Similarly, sentence (2) would be more natural as:

I know the man sitting over there.

Again, sentence (2) suggests a dialog including a rhetorical question to me:

A: Have you ever met the man in the blue shirt?
B: The man sitting over there? I know him.

Bu again, that is not the same grammatical structure.

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