From "you cannot tame them" to "you cannot them tame " or "them cannot you tame"? (I think "them you cannot tame" is correct, like "to the battle we go". but that is not what I need.)

Original Post

Hello, George, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange.

George Yury posted:

From "you cannot tame them" to "you cannot them tame " or "them cannot you tame"? (I think "them you cannot tame" is correct, like "to the battle we go". but that is not what I need.)

You are right that "Them you cannot tame" works as a rearrangement of "You cannot tame them." In "Them you cannot tame," the direct object of "tame" has been topicalized, or moved to the front of the sentence.

Topicalization of the VP is also possible: "Tame them you cannot." However, that is not an everyday thing to say, and would need a special context—a very special context (I hesitate even to propose one)—to sound natural.

In poetry and song, rules concerning rule order can sometimes be bent. ?" You cannot them tame" is not inconceivable (but very risky); however, *"Them cannot you tame" is pure garbage from a grammatical standpoint.

In older English, word order varied more than it does now, and Present-Day English has some fossilized expressions from earlier periods. Thus, while "He her married" doesn't work, "I thee wed" still does (in the marriage ceremony).

Last edited by David, Moderator

Thanks. And what about the reverse order in dialogs, where "Bla-bla-bla," he said and "Bla-bla-bla," said he are both correct? Is that the only case when a predicate can precede the subject?

George Yury posted:

And what about the reverse order in dialogs, where "Bla-bla-bla," he said and "Bla-bla-bla," said he are both correct? Is that the only case when a predicate can precede the subject?

That is a case of full inversion. Inversion (apart from that found in questions) is more common when auxiliary verbs are involved, the auxiliary verb preceding the subject. This is called subject–auxiliary inversion.

Adverbs with negative polarity induce subject–auxiliary inversion when fronted: e.g., "Never before have I seen such a widespread illness." This type of inversion is often optional with BE: "Attached is the report"; "In the garden was a frog."

A case of full inversion that resembles the type you are asking about is the biblical "Thus saith the Lord." We also see full inversion sometimes when directional adverbs are fronted: "In walked Tony."

This topic is rather big. Books have been written on inversion.

George Yury posted:

Then would the full inversion of my phrase be "tame them cannot you"?

Full inversion cannot be used in a sentence like yours, with a direct object. *Tame them cannot you is another case of pure grammatical garbage. It goes beyond simply being incorrect to being something that no English speaker would ever utter or write under any circumstances, except perhaps as an example of nonsense. If you want to use full inversion, use intransitive verb phrases with fronted adverbials or participial phrases.

Last edited by David, Moderator

Brrr. I am totally confused. So "Tamed by you cannot be they " is correct (if "Attached is the report" is), and "Tame them cannot you" is nonsense? What's the rule - not to use direct object ahead of the verb in case of full inversion, while it is still possible in form of "you cannot them tame"?

Hi, George Yury,

You should reread David's posts above, which are indeed very clear. One thing is topicalization (fronting a part of the sentence that normally appears elsewhere within the sentence) and another is full inversion (where the main verb appears before the subject).

You can topicalize the object or a complement. With topicalization, contrast is quite frequent:

Them you cannot tame.
- Similar they may be, but equal they are not.

or the nonfinite (infinitive, present or past participle) forming part of the verb phrase, with the auxiliary remaining after the subject:

Tame them you cannot.
Trying he is, but doing his best he is not.
Tamed him you have, but defeated him you have not.

Full inversion is a different phenomenon whereby the main verb precedes the subject:

- Attached is the report.
- Here comes my friend.
- There went my train.

OK, but what's the rule where full inversion can and cannot be used? Does it depend on the presence of the direct object of the main verb, and is it the only "no-go" marker?

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