- In the park is Mary.
- In the park Mary is.
- Mary is in the park.
(1) In the park is Mary
The way the information is organised in this sentence is very interesting. If you look at it quickly, you may think that In the park is the subject of the verb be - but it isn't! When we use constructions like this, we rearrange the parts of the sentence for a special reason. Afterwards, it isn't always easy to see what function the different parts of the sentence have. The grammar of the sentence is perfectly correct, though.
What is the subject?.
Let's take a closer look at how the sentence works. Let's compare two similar sentences:
- In the park is a statue.
- In the park are two statues.
Verbs in English agree with their subjects for number and person. Here we can see that the verb be is taking the third person singular form is in the first example, and the plural form are in the second. The only thing that is different about the two sentences is that in 1) a statue is singular and in 2) two statues is plural. This seems to suggest that the statue(s) might be the subject.
Someone might complain about this: In tha park is not really a proper 'thing'! Maybe it is the subject, but we can use it with either a third person singular or a plural verb form. This is a quite reasonable theory, so let's test it:
- In the park are Mary. (X)
This is definitely very wrong indeed. In this construction the verb must agree with the noun phrase that comes after it. This is strong evidence that Mary is the subject in sentence 1) . Some more evidence for this is that sentence 1) gives us exactly the same information as:
This sentence has all the same words as sentence 1, and it has the same literal meaning. In this sentence Mary is definitely the subject!
The rest of the sentence.
If Mary is the subject of 1), what is in the park? It looks like what some people call an adverbial phrase, but it doesn't have the same function in this sentence. Compare these two examples:
- I am playing football in the park.
- Mary is in the park.
In the first sentence in the park is giving us extra information about the action described in the sentence. It is not essential. It is not important for the structure of the sentence either. We can take it away and the sentence is still fine. So here in the park is an adjunct - it is extra. In the second sentence , in the park seems to be essential information. And if we take it away, both the meaning and the grammar are bad, as we can see:
- I am playing football. (correct)
- Mary is. * (X)
In the second sentence the verb be needs a complement - another phrase to complete the sentence. If we don't have it, the sentence is badly formed. Here, in the park is the complement of the verb be ( - in the same way that cheese is the complement of the like in the sentence I like cheese). It is not extra information.
Sentence (1) is an example of subject-complement inversion. This means that the subject moves to the end of the sentence and the complement moves to the beginning. It is very common with complements that tell us where something happened or where something is. With the verb be this kind of inversion is only possible with a complement and not with an adjunct (read adverbial phrase). Compare:
- My only friend is in the garden / In the garden is my only friend. (correct)
- My only friend is happy in the garden / In the garden is happy my only friend. (wrong)
With other verbs we can sometimes do subject-adjunct inversion, but only for very special reasons. It is much more rare. Here is an example though. Notice that there is no auxiliary verb necessary here. - this is not subject-auxiliary inversion:
- Five years later came the first world war.
When do we use subject-complement inversion?
We normally use this kind of inversion because we want to put the new or interesting information at the end of the sentence where it has more emphasis. Sometimes we do it because we want to link the complement with something we have already been talking about. However, if we have already been talking about the subject but we haven't been talking about the complement, we cannot do subject-complement inversion:
- There was a huge garden outside the palace. In the garden were three grizzly bears. (correct)
- There was a huge garden outside the palace. In front of the long hallway was the garden. (X)
(2) In the park Mary is.
This is the same sentence as (1), but the information is arranged slightly differently. This time we see the adjunct (read adverbial) in the park at the beginning of the sentence. Then we see the subject, Mary and at the end of the sentence we have the verb is. It is quite an unusual sentence. It is an example of topicalisation. This is when we take some old information and put it at the beginning of the sentence so that the rest of the sentence has more emphasis. Here is how we might use this sentence:
- Bob said that Mary might be in the park, and in the park Mary is!
Here we want to give contrastive stress to is. This means that we want to give the sentence strong positive emphasis. We have taken the old information in the park and moved it to the front of the clause. This means that is is at the end of the sentence where it will get more emphasis. Notice that although Bob said that Mary was in the park, we don't know that she is in the park until we read the very last word in the sentence. This means that this information still counts as new information for us.
Here is another example of topicalisation.
- Mary, I hate. You, I love.
Here the writer wants to contrast hate and love. By putting the direct objects Mary and You as topics at the beginning of the sentence, the verbs hate and love have more emphasis as they are now at the end of the sentence.
This interesting question is about information packaging. This means it is about how we organise the information in a sentence. The normal way to package information in a sentence is Subject, Verb then Complement as in:
Usually when we rearrange the normal order in a sentence, it is because we want the information at the END of the sentence to have more emphasis. We cannot usually put old information at the end of a sentence. We put the new interesting information there.
Subject complement inversion is very, very common with the verb BE:
- Opposite the cinema is the post office.
- In the park was a handsome tiger.
- In the box was a tiny key.
- In the beginning was the word.
The important thing to remember is to put old information at the beginning and new information at the end.
Topicalisation on the other hand is quite rare. We do it so that some important words are at the end of the sentence. Usually the word(s) we move to the beginning of the sentence will be old information. The end of the sentence should have the most important information.
Hope this is helpful!