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Would you illuminate if there is any difference between the two? When/where would you rather use one than the other?

  1. In the park is Mary.

  2. In the park Mary is.

The normal word order for English sentences is subject then verb. If sentence #1 is correct, why does the verb come before the subject?

If sentence #2 is not common, or is ungrammatical, why can't the subject come before the verb?

Or is "in the park" the subject?

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    The second one is Yoda. – Avigrail Jan 26 '15 at 10:58
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    How did this question get three close votes? It's an excellent question!!! I'd like to see one of the close-voters try and answer it properly. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jan 28 '15 at 10:43
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    Hi Nima, your question had three close-votes and I think it's an excellent question. I've had a little edit to make it clear what the interesting problem is - and added a bounty. If you want to roll back the edits that's fine. Or you could just edit a full stop or something and my name will disappear from under your post. Nice question +1 :D – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jan 28 '15 at 11:07
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    Of course, if I was to visit the park, then there's the obvious: "In the park is the handsomest tiger in the world!" :D – F.E. Jan 28 '15 at 21:37
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    The second one, "In the park Mary is," sounds like: "In the park, Mary exists," which is awkward. – Pyraminx Jan 29 '15 at 23:42
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Because Merry is both a name, and another word for happy, I’m going to change it to John to cut down on confusion.

1) “In the park John is.”

This (1) is wrong. I'll leave it to someone who is better able to explain grammatical details to go over why.

2) “In the park is John.”

This (2) is grammatically correct, but it is very unusual to use this word order with a person, especially in such a simple sentence. It is a little more common with objects, or a group of people, like “In the park is a playground. On the playground is a group of kids.” It is still a less common word order, and often used to sound poetical, or because it helps a listener keep track of objects and phrases in a long, complicated sentence. When you put the phrase ‘In the park’ first, you are emphasizing the important of the park over whatever follows.

3) "John is in the park."

This (3) is by far the most normal and preferred way to say it.

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  • “In the park John is.” - While doing Noun-Name can be a little ambiguous (The River Wild/The Wild River vs. The Park John/John Park), I think the main reason it's wrong is because American English Just Doesn't Do That. Putting the verb at the end of the sentence primes the listener/reader to expect that John is doing something in the park. In the park, John is reading. In the park, John is singing. In the park, John is playing with his child. – A.Beth Jan 27 '15 at 6:12
  • Hmmm, At the bottom of the garden is a shed. Opposite the post office is a chemist's. Under the bridge lives a crocodile ... Here comes Bob, In the beginning was the word. In the box was a tiny key. I'm not sure these kinds of sentences are very unusual at all! :-) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jan 28 '15 at 10:46
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    @Araucaria Good point. They are less common than using SVO word order, but unusual was too strong. – Karen Jan 28 '15 at 16:45
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    Also, perhaps consider: "In the park is an old lady chopping the heads off puppies". . . . er, or something like that. :D – F.E. Jan 28 '15 at 19:35
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    Also, there's: "In the park was a handsome tiger." – F.E. Jan 28 '15 at 19:36
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The first sentence, "In the park is Mary", is grammatically correct, but is awkward. Using the normal SVO (subject-verb-object) word order - "Mary is in the park" - is far better and more understandable.

The second example, "In the park Mary is", might work in poetry or a song, but it's certainly not a standard way of constructing a sentence like that.

The only time that it is acceptable in standard English to reverse the order of the subject and verb is in the case of a question. Consider the following examples:

  1. Mary is in the park.
  2. Is Mary in the park?

In the case of the statement (example #1), the subject, Mary, comes first, followed by the verb. The sentence is completed by the prepositional phrase that describes the subject.

In the question (example #2), the verb comes first ("is"), followed by the subject ("Mary").

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The conventional word order is:

Mary is in the park.

Your two example sentences are grammatically correct, and they mean the same thing. However, they use unconventional word order. Conventional word order is at the familiar "center" of everyday speech. The more unconventional the word order in a sentence, the further away from familiar is its structure, and the harder it can be to understand. Unconventional word order is at the hazy fringes of the language, somewhere between the common grammatical forms you hear most of the time, and ungrammatical nonsense.

The main reason for using unconventional word order is to create unusual rhetorical effects, such as creating a high ceremonial register, emphasizing a word that would attract little attention in ordinary word order, presenting thoughts in a desired sequence, or creating a poetic rhythm. To understand or predict the effect of unconventional word order requires "an ear for the language", which takes a lot of experience.

(1) "In the park is Mary" emphasizes Mary much more than does "Mary is in the park." Also, it sounds more ceremonial, and it leads a listener to imagine the park before imagining Mary. See the example of the orchestra pit here to illustrate why you might want to make a listener imagine the elements of a sentence out of their customary sequence.

(2) "In the park Mary is" is very unusual but still grammatical—just barely. If you don't say it just right, a listener will think you stopped your sentence in the middle. To prevent the listener from expecting an ‑ing verb after is (such as "In the park, Mary is walking"), you have to speak the sentence with unusual rhythm and intonation. For me, it comes out In the PARK, Mary is with all three syllables of Mary is at the same low pitch that normally indicates the end of a sentence. Consequently, this word order puts enormous emphasis on park. The main reason you would use this word order is for poetry. Situations that call for this word order in everyday conversation are extremely rare.

Well-known examples

A well-known and influential sentence that follows a sequence similar to (2), but is even more scrambled, occurs at the start of this poem:

My mind to me a kingdom is;

  Such perfect joy therein I find,

As far exceeds all earthly bliss

  That God or Nature hath assigned.

[Edward Dyer, 1543–1607]

Even better known is the Christmas carol "We Three Kings of Orient Are" (video with text here). In both cases, the unusual word order is obviously motivated by the need to rhyme. The Christmas carol includes other inverted sentences that set up rhymes, such as "Frankincense to offer have I", and even a noun with one adjective before it and another adjective after it: "Star with royal beauty bright."

Why many native speakers get this wrong

As the other answers suggest, many native speakers will tell you that (2) is wrong, not just unusual. Partly this is because speaking a language fluently is quite a different thing than consciously understanding how that language works (especially for a native speaker), and partly it's because most native speakers limit their speech to the most conventional and familiar forms of expression. They seldom explore the expressiveness that the language provides in unusual ways of combining words. They've been exposed to traditional poetry and Christmas carols, but they don't actively invent their own poetry or write expressive prose, so they're not readily aware of unusual grammatical possibilities until you point out examples they're familiar with.

How to learn this

As someone learning English, you should know the following:

  1. The conventional word order.

  2. A few well-known examples of unusual word order, such as you can find in nursery rhymes, well-known songs, and Shakespeare. These should be well-known, because that will give you a well-grounded sense of which forms of expression "stretch" the language only a little and which forms push the limits of comprehensibility. Some unusual word orders appear in stock phrases, like "in times past", which can be slightly varied for rhetorical effect and still sound fairly normal.

  3. Conventional and unconventional forms of expression actually work the same way: they extend or combine familiar word combinations, and they ask the listener to make sense of the extension. Unconventional forms just go further. English grammar in general is hard to capture with rules because there is a large and unruly collection of familiar word combinations to vary, and it's hard to set any well-defined limits to how you can reasonably vary them.

I think it's best to learn these things mainly by example and practice, not by memorizing explicitly formulated rules. When you learn by example and practice, you learn to perceive the language the same way a native speaker does. Through example, you learn to empathize with native speakers' confusion when they hear ungrammatical sentences, and you develop your own feeling for how unusual forms of expression create unusual rhetorical effects. That gives you the ability to create your own unusual rhetorical effects when you want to. Memorizing rules teaches you memorized rules, not empathy or expression.

It sounds prudent to avoid unusual word order when first learning the language, and I think that's right, but I have one basis for doubt: children learn a lot of their language from nursery rhymes, and nursery rhymes often have unusual syntax. I think learning some nursery rhymes is actually a good idea once you've mastered the most common sentence forms.

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    Oh, had I more than one point to bestow! Excellent answer. (It has been driving me quietly bonkers to hear so many fellow native speakers claim that #2 was not grammatical.) – Codeswitcher Jan 30 '15 at 8:15
  • Could you please provide some vetted grammar sources to support some of your opinions? For instance: "The main reason you put the verb before the subject is to create unusual rhetorical effects", can you support that opinion? Also, could you provide some supporting evidence for "Both sentences are grammatically correct," especially for #2 "In the park Mary is.", to show how it is grammatical in today's standard English. – F.E. Jan 30 '15 at 9:01
  • Oh, be aware that inversion commonly occurs in closed interrogatives, e.g. "Is Tom at the store?" – F.E. Jan 30 '15 at 9:09
  • @F.E. Sorry, I don't know of sources that document this kind of thing, but you can google. For example, here's something I found in about one minute. Note that I would disagree with authorities that disagree with me. It wouldn't surprise me if some authorities proscribe unusual forms for the reasons similar to those that make native speakers are unaware of their own potential to use them. – Ben Kovitz Jan 30 '15 at 9:12
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  1. In the park is Mary.
  2. In the park Mary is.
  3. Mary is in the park.

Sentence (1)

(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:

  • Mary is in the park.

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)

Sentence (2)

(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.

Conclusion

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:

  • Mary is in the park.

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!

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In the park is Mary. (passive sentence) read below.

it will be used for stating that Mary is in the park. It is actually a passive sentence because the
subject "Mary" comes after object "park" or you can say at the end of the sentence. Whereas in active sentence, the subject "Mary" will come before the object "park".

The active sentence of this would be this:

Mary is in the park. (active sentence) (look subject is now before the object).


Moreover,

In the park Mary is

It is actually not a sentence but, a phrase or you can say "a part of a sentence" because it not stating something completely. For ex. a sentence would be In the park Mary is playing.Therefore, it wouldn't grammatically wrong sentence but, a incomplete sentence.

If you don't know about active and passive voice, proceed to this site : EnglishPage or ask in the comments and if you didn't understand something, you can ask me that too with no hesitation. I'll surely reply you or edit my answer.

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  • Hi, hope you don't mind, I've changed the name in your post because the name in the question has changed! If you edit your post and fiddle about with a full stop, my name will disappear from under your answer! :-) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Jan 28 '15 at 11:10
  • That's not a problem.. :) – MihirUj Jan 28 '15 at 12:23
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    I'm just wondering if this really is a passive. The reason I'm not sure is that we usually see a past participle in passives in English sentences: Eg "My bag was stolen". I can't see a past participle in the OP's sentence :-) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Feb 1 '15 at 13:19
  • Then convert this sentence into passive voice Mary is in the park. – MihirUj Feb 1 '15 at 13:24
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    @MihirUj It's not possible. – snailplane Feb 2 '15 at 21:26
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Number 2 is incorrect but not for the reason you think. In the park Mary is. This just does not make sense it is just incompeate it make me feel like: In the park Mary is....WHAT! If you wanted to use this structure you could say: In the park is Mary.

To answer your question the subject can go before the verb as such:

In the park stood Mary.

Hope this helps!

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  • I think that, in "In the park stood Mary", the subject is still "Mary". But it does seem that you might be on to something when you see that "In the park Mary is" as being awkward. Why do you suppose it is so? Maybe it has something to do with the stranded "is" not being able to be stranded like that? Maybe you could explain a bit more about that? :) – F.E. Jan 29 '15 at 4:36

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