✲ I her admire.
(James McCawley, The Syntactic Phenomena of English)

The sentence above is unacceptable; yet consulting “That I do” (John Steinbeck’s East of Eden),
Her I admire’ seems to be acceptable. Is it really so?


1 Answer 1


Her I admire.

This is fairly common: the object of a clause is moved to the head to make it the focus. (The technical term is left dislocation.) The device is usually employed to distinguish one member of a class from all the others:

A: I don't think much of the 50s stars as actresses.
B: What about Woodward?
A: Now her I admire.

The dislocated object always receives extra vocal emphasis, so this doesn't work very well with a 'heavy' constituent:

? Kant's Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Present Itself as a Science I'm very fond of.

This structure is quite different from

I her admire

where the object is advanced only to the left of the verb, not to the head of the clause. This was common in Old English, especially in subordinate clauses; declined throughout Middle English and was still acceptable (although uncommon) in Early Modern English; and is still to be found a little later in Latin-influenced poetry and rhetoric (I'm looking at you, John Milton!); but it is not employed in Present-day English.

marks an utterance as unacceptable ? marks an utterance as possibly unacceptable

  • Or even when we use which, for example, "..compassion, which this person lack" here, "which" is the object but proceeded the subject "person". right?
    – hbak
    Nov 18, 2018 at 21:11

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