What is the point in putting an adverbial phrase or clause at the beginning of a sentence?

Does that have anything to do with emphasizing?

Example 1

At a female bar, female bartenders serve you drinks.

Example 2

Female bartenders serve you drinks at a female bar.

Example 3

Because I did not understand him, I asked him again the same question.

Example 4

I asked him again the same question because I did not understand him.

But I think even with (2), with the stress on the right words, we can convey the same meaning as the Example 1.

For example, putting stress on "female bar" in Example 2, and it convey the same implication as the Example 1, which means that female bartenders serving drinks only at a female bar.

  • 3
    Placement at the beginning of the sentence announces the subject/context. The semantic focus is the type of bar. In American football the ball can be kicked or thrown. Nov 8, 2023 at 10:56
  • @TimR Is it always like that or sometimes, it does not matter where the clause or phrase is whether it is at the beginning or end. I remember some sources say they don't make significant differences. But I might be wrong. Can you shed some light on this?
    – vincentlin
    Nov 8, 2023 at 11:03
  • 1
    Texts and conversations are different. Texts must establish context and focus, whereas conversation has more freedom to meander, and the people talking get second chances to clarify based on feedback. Nor do texts have the intonational range of live speech. Nov 8, 2023 at 11:06
  • I think you're mistaken in your final paragraph. Literally, examples #1 and #2 mean the same. A potential nuance of difference is that #1 might imply only female bartenders (not males) serve in a "female bar", whereas #2 might imply that female bartenders only serve in female bars (not other bars). If anything, putting stress on the last two words in #2 further accentuates that ONLY in female bars sense (along with perhaps implying that "female bars" are an exciting, exotic, or otherwise noteworthy concept). But precise context is everything, so nothing I say here is "fixed". Nov 8, 2023 at 11:16
  • 1
    What @TimR says in his first comment reflects a common nuance (of "implication", not explicitly or definitively stated). So there's a tendency for, say, On Sundays I work to carry a slightly different nuance compared to I work on Sundays. The first is more about what (usually?) happens on Sunday, whereas the second focuses on when I work. So the first might better carry the implication ...so I won't be going for a day out at the beach on Sunday, whereas the second might be a better fit with ...so I can't fix your car on Saturday - it'll have to wait until Sunday. Nov 8, 2023 at 12:37

2 Answers 2


It is not about basic meaning that can be derived from the sentence taken as a whole but about the ordering of information so that the information is delivered in an order that is conducive to the ideas the author or speaker is trying to convey and no unnecessary momentary confusion is created for the listener or reader.

If the first thing I said to you after we sat down at a table was:

Kicking and throwing are both permitted. I'm talking about the ball -- in American football.

you might be a little confused for a second or two. But if I said

In American football, the ball may be kicked or thrown.

then you'd have the context first, and there'd be no confusion on your part.

Casual conversations often resemble the first example above. Sometimes speakers will blurt out the thought that's in their head at that moment, and the words arrive in an order that is far from optimal.


One big difference between your examples is that the prepositional phrase "at ___" can be misunderstood for a second meaning, while "because of ___" can't.

In this case, you mean "A female bar is characterized by having female bartenders." The phrase "at a female bar" isn't really focusing on location, like "at the bar" vs "at a table." But when we put "at a female bar" at the end, it sounds like an explanation or elaboration of how the drinks get served: "They serve drinks." "Where do they serve them?" "At a female bar."

But "at __" has this problem, while "because I did not understand him" doesn't, just because this is an idiomatic use of "at ___" (or similar phrases like "in ___"). In this construction, "at X, Y happens" can mean "X is defined as a place where Y happens." While "Y happens at X" can simply mean "Y happens, and X is the location." Meanwhile, "because of" doesn't have this double function, and so can be understood in either syntax.

We often order our sentences so that the part we want to emphasize comes first. Consider these:

The Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. The Magna Carta was signed in 1215.

My emphasis is on the events, and the years are there to tell something about them. But,

In 1970 the most popular song was "Bridge Over Troubled Water." In 2022 it was "Heat Waves."

Here my emphasis is on the years, and the songs are there to tell something about them.

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