5

Is it grammatical to say:

So happy I am today!

instead of

I am so happy today!

16
  • 5
    It is legal to say it. You will not be arrested, or even fined. However, it's ungrammatical, if that matters. May 20, 2015 at 13:43
  • 1
    @JohnLawler what about calling John Lawyer?
    – Yohann V.
    May 20, 2015 at 13:44
  • 1
    Note it's .. am I for you, not .. I am for you. I.e, subject-auxiliary inversion has occurred because of the fronting of the predicate. That's the old rule. Now we only do that for negative adverb fronting Never have I seen X but not *Frequently have I seen X. As for grammaticality, it's complex, but the main constraint is that it has to occur frequently in the speech of natives, and it has to be rule-governed (and not a speech error, which are common). As Pullum puts it, competence is what you expect, performance is what you get. May 20, 2015 at 15:44
  • 2
    only if you are Yoda
    – isJustMe
    May 20, 2015 at 16:05
  • 3
    OK, that last edit went a little too far into the "don't significantly edit a question after it's been answered" realm...
    – Catija
    May 20, 2015 at 18:36

6 Answers 6

4
  1. *So happy I am today!

  2. So happy am I today!

In the Original Poster's example, (1), the complement of the verb BE has been preposed. The normal phrase order would be:

  • I am so happy today!

It is perfectly grammatical to prepose the complement of the verb BE in this way. However, when we prepose phrases starting with the degree adverb so, this triggers obligatory subject-auxiliary inversion. In other words the subject of the sentence and the auxiliary verb change places:

  • *So surprised he was that he forgot to reply. (ungrammatical)
  • So surprised was he that he forgot to reply.

In order for the Original Poster's sentence to be grammatical we need to change the order of the subject and auxiliary verb BE, as in (2):

  • So happy am I today!

This would normally be considered a type of exclamation. The change of phrase order gives it a certain literary style. You would be very unlikely to hear it in normal conversation!

7
  • 2
    Fantastic. Clears my doubt. Well, so happy am I, to see this explanation!!
    – Ravi OpenSource
    May 20, 2015 at 14:11
  • @RaviOpenSource Glad to be of service! Remember to come back and check for other answers later. They might have something useful to say too! :) May 20, 2015 at 14:13
  • I sure will. I do learn a lot from this site; always amazed at the promptness of the responses.
    – Ravi OpenSource
    May 20, 2015 at 14:14
  • 1
    Whoa! When I saw this thread, I was going to ding you about it, as it seemed to be about what we had recently discussed. The OP's example seems exclamation-y and I thought you would argue that it was acceptable! So me now puzzle! So puzzled I am! I'm going to get me-self up and maybe start the coffee early, and then re-look at this all stuff. Are you sure you don't want to be supporting the acceptability of the OP's example? Hmm . . .
    – F.E.
    May 20, 2015 at 17:25
  • 4
    @F.E. To be honest, it sounds fine to me, even though lots of people are suggesting that it's ungrammatical...
    – user230
    May 20, 2015 at 17:30
1

The conventional way to say this is, "I am so happy today!"

English speakers occasionally say things like, "Happy am I" rather than "I am happy". But this is very rare and unusual. It could work in poetry or song lyrics, or perhaps if you are trying to emphasize "happy" over "I".

1

"So happy am I, today!"- correct, puts emphasis on the state of happiness, rather than on "I am".

This may not be the way we speak all the time, though. "I am interested in your work" is what we normally say, instead of "Interested am I, in your work."

0

So with all the arguments and brainstorming /brainsharing, I assume, "so happy I am..." is at least colloquially, if not formally apt—something that is in ratification of my wont, already!!

2
  • If you want to use the expression in everyday language, then it seems the best option is to go with what is gramatical in everyday speech, which is So happy am I today. It sounds much more eloquent than the version you ask about.
    – user6951
    May 21, 2015 at 23:54
  • It's not "colloquial", if by that you mean a kind of sloppiness or error that's tolerated in casual conversation, like this. The sentence has an expressiveness to it that's more appropriate to song or poetry than conversation. It just depends on whether you think such unusual rhetoric is appropriate to the situation. I just edited my answer to include a context where it's clearly called for. I'm sure some will still disagree, though—there can be no unanimity regarding unconventional word order.
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 22, 2015 at 5:28
-1

When Marty McFly returned back from the future and said "So happy I am today" it was reasonably grammatical. But in most situations it isn't.

3
  • Do you have a source for this quote? I just watched that movie and I don't recall the line... I'm sure it would have stuck out, given its oddness.
    – user6951
    May 20, 2015 at 18:35
  • Who said it is a quote? It is an obvious association.
    – gnasher729
    May 22, 2015 at 19:15
  • By placing the statement between quotation marks, YOU did.
    – Ast Pace
    Jul 15, 2015 at 3:33
-1

Unconventional but grammatical

Yes, "So happy I am today" is grammatical. The word order is unconventional. The ordinary, prosaic word order would be "I am so happy today." The customary poetic inversion would have "am I": "So happy today am I", "So happy am I today", etc.

Because "So happy I am today" has unconventional word order, it creates unusual and strong emphasis. To a listener, the unexpected order is jarring at first. This forces the listener's mind to find a way make grammatical sense of the sentence, and that suggests that you must be emphasizing something different than the usual word order would emphasize. Usually unconventional word order puts the emphasis on the last word in the sentence, but in this sentence, I think the emphasis goes on "so happy". It appears that you are emphasizing your particular degree of happiness as unusual or remarkable.

The unusual word order might lead a listener to parse the sentence differently than you expect. The word "so" can mean "consequently" or "very" (and a few other things, too). At the beginning of a sentence, it usually means "consequently". So, a listener might understand your sentence to mean the same as "Consequently I am happy today," perhaps referring to a cause that you explained earlier, or perhaps leaving the cause mysterious. Of course, with the unconventional word order, that would be "Consequently, happy I am today."

Rhythm

When you say the unconventional sentence out loud, the word "am" needs to be drawn out longer than usual—longer than in "I am so happy today." In "So happy I am today", the word "am" should last as long as the syllable "-day". Without that, a listener may think that you misspoke, even though the sentence is grammatical. You can prevent the parsing described in the previous paragraph by drawing out "So" for the same amount of time as "am" and "-day".

In musical notes, the rhythm of "So happy I am today" would probably go something like this (not exactly):

♩ ❘ ♪ ♪ ♪ ❘♩ ♪ ❘ ♩

When you use unusual word order, rhythm becomes more important for maintaining comprehensibility.

On the differences of opinion

As you've seen in the other answers and comments, some people argue that "So happy I am today" is ungrammatical, on the basis of explicitly defined rules about exactly when and how inversion must happen in English. John Lawler said that to be grammatical, "it has to occur frequently in the speech of natives, and it has to be rule-governed." I think that's wrong on both counts. Poetic speech gets much of its expressiveness from the fact that it uses forms that do not occur frequently in speech, and I understand English grammar to work something like English common law: not by rules, but by precedents—by echoing and varying previous speech, bending and adjusting it to the unique concerns and pressures of each case, in ways that no finite set of rules could ever fully capture.

Here's an illustration of how contextual pressures can make your sentence more correct than the customary inversion:

So happy I am today!

And so happy I'll be tomorrow!

Are you watching my feet? So happ'ly they beat!

So lightly they step, these engines of pep!

I've permanently stamped out sorrow!

This verse draws upon other elements of the language, such as the fact that the contraction "I'll be" doesn't ordinarily get inverted, as well as rhythm and rhyme (and repetition), to make the non-inverted constructions sound normal. For example, "So lightly do they step" would correspond to "So happy am I", but "So lightly do they step" would be a grammatical error (or at least very awkward) in the sentence above, so it further reinforces "So happy I am".

But the verse illustrates an important grain of truth in the other side: "So happy I am today" does not occur in ordinary speech. It's poetic speech. It can easily sound ungrammatical if you don't support it with other cues, like prosody, juxtaposition with a parallel grammatical form (like "I'll be" above), and—especially—a situation or meaning that calls for unusual speech. Figuring out what those other cues need to be in order to establish grammaticality requires a lot of intuition, which can only be learned from long experience. And of course, different listeners have different levels of willingness to stretch conventional forms.

14
  • 1
    Hi Ben, You accurately reflect the exact shade of emotion I carry, when I say "So happy I am today!". I seem to have kicked quite a storm here with this topic, which I was perturbed with for quite some time–with a sense of guilt too, whether I was speaking a grammatically acceptable language. Deeply appreciate your explanation. May 20, 2015 at 18:16
  • @pazzo Indeed, I wouldn't say "So happy am I today" or even "I am so happy today" in the quarterly financial report. I'll try to add something to clarify that the wording is poetic. Regarding "formally", do you mean strict rules as in chess or "formal logic"?
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 21, 2015 at 12:36
  • Well I've clarified my stance.
    – user6951
    May 21, 2015 at 14:14
  • +1 for the "differences of opinion" part. I think it's important to acknowledge that each of us has our own copy of English, never quite the same as anyone else's. Our concept of a Standard English is something of a convenient fiction. It's very useful, but we shouldn't be surprised when we find people have differing judgments on something people don't say very often.
    – user230
    May 21, 2015 at 19:58
  • @pazzo I didn't explain all of why it's grammatical (I'm not sure that would be of value to the OP), but I did explain what's wrong with evaluating the sentence's grammatically by checking it against explicit, formal rules. I'm curious to hear what you think, as you're also aware of English grammar's ability to bend far beyond ordinary usage (or at least you were a December ago).
    – Ben Kovitz
    May 21, 2015 at 20:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .