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English is a language with a generally fixed SVO (+ inversion in questions) word order. However, sometimes adverbs that are related to the main verb can be shifted to the start of the sentence, like in this sentence, for emphasis.

But can I sometimes move objects to the start? Like here: "At least one thing we'll have to produce by ourselves" where "at least one thing" was moved for emphasis (as far as I understand, "at least one thing" is direct object here). Is it grammatical, if yes, does it sound right, if no, will it be understood/do native speakers make similar mistakes?

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    At least one thing [that] we'll have to produce by ourselves isn't a sentence - it's just a noun phrase. To make a sentence you need to precede it by There is. Where I'm sure everyone will agree that "is" is a verb, for the standard SVO pattern, but "there" isn't so easily categorised. I'm prepared to say it's at least "a bit nouny", though, so it's a kinda "subject". May 8, 2023 at 23:54
  • If what you mean is more like We have to produce at least one thing ourselves (so hopefully, at least one such thing can exist, even if it doesn't yet), you need to express it like that, otherwise you're just introducing random contrived possible meanings for no good reason. May 8, 2023 at 23:57
  • That noun phrase has a relative clause modifying it. Relative clauses always contain noun phrases coreferential with the antecedent of the noun phrase, which are turned into relative pronouns and moved to the beginning of the clause. Since the relative which/that is not the subject, it's deletable, and has been deleted here. But if you put it back, you see that the clause has a subject and an object, and that the clause modifies that noun phrase, and that the noun phrase hasn't been moved at all because it's not in a sentence. May 10, 2023 at 16:36
  • I don't see that anything has been 'moved' here. The OP's sentence is the obvious natural way to express things. What is less obvious is that there is a gap in the infinitival clause marking the object of "produce", understood as "thing": "at least one thing we'll have [to produce ___ ] by ourselves".
    – BillJ
    May 11, 2023 at 6:44
  • @rSha I don't see that anything has been "shifted to the start of the phrase". As written it is the obvious natural way to express things. What is less obvious is that there is a gap in the infinitival clause marking the object of "produce", understood as "thing": "at least one thing we'll have [to produce ___ ] by ourselves". One leading grammar calls it a 'hollow clause' because there is something missing, i..e. there is a hole somewhere inside it; in this case the object of "produce".
    – BillJ
    May 11, 2023 at 9:52

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Yes, you can front a direct object (typically to emphasize it). For example:

The red car I like; the blue one, not so much.

However, this can sometimes sound unnatural, for example if the reason for emphasizing the object is not clear to the audience or the object is lengthy. (English likes to postpone lengthy elements, not front them.) This can lead to Yodaisms. (See the Wikipedia article on "anastrophe".)

Your example sentence sounds awkward to me, but I think that it might work if context made clear the reason for the emphasis. For example:

A: We won't have to produce anything during our stay. The staff will make everything that we require.
B: But what about object X? The staff can't make that.
A: You're right! Then at least one thing we'll have to produce by ourselves.

However, I took some effort to contrive that dialogue, and I still find the last sentence marginal. I agree with FF (in a comment above) that it would sound better if it were reworded.

As for your last question ("will it be understood/do native speakers make similar mistakes"): Context will often make the meaning clear, but not always. When you gave the example with no context, there was some potential for confusion, as FF noted. Yes, native speakers sometimes use unnatural word order (as speakers of all languages do), but you should try to avoid such mistakes, of course.

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  • But the word order is natural in, for example, "There is at least one thing we'll have [to produce __] by ourselves". In fact, it's the only possibility in an existential clause like this.
    – BillJ
    May 9, 2023 at 10:13

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