Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fronting exercises (with a bit of subject-verb inversion)

These ten exercises are intended to give students some pretty intensive practice in fronting. They cover the more common forms of fronting, and include basic instructions on how it is done. For more detail on how they are formed and why we use fronting you could have a look at my post on 'Exploring Inversion and fronting' (link at the bottom).

The basics

Fronting means putting at the beginning of the sentence something that usually comes later. This is usually done for emphasis or special effect, or sometimes to link to something that has gone before. Elements that are fronted include:
  • Prepositional phrases
    At the back of the room stood a few couples,chatting
    Normal sentence order: A few couples stood at the back of the room chatting.
  • Comparative adjectives
    The salmon was good, but even better was the dessert that followed it.
    Normal sentence order: The dessert that followed it was even better.
  • Objects
    He bought a whisky and a beer. The whisky he downed immediately.
    Normal sentence order: He downed the whisky immediately.
  • Noun clauses (wh-clauses, that clauses,infinitive clauses)
    That she had been swimming was obvious.
    Normal sentence order: It was obvious that she had been swimming.
There are quite a few other elements that can also be fronted, as we shall see in the following exercises.

Fronting and inversion

Those first two examples include subject-verb inversion, whereas the second two don't, so we can divide fronting into those forms where inversion is usual, and those where there is no inversion.
Some subject-auxilary inversion also involves fronting, such as inversion with fronted negative adverbials. But I think this is better treated as inversion, and I haven't included any exercises with subject-auxiliary inversion here - there are links to some at the end of this post.

An introduction to fronting - a rather extreme example

The following little passage has twenty examples of fronting, some involving inversion, some not. You might find it a bit difficult first time. But it should be a lot easier after you've dont the other exercises. See how many you can spot and then look at my comments below.
Exercise 1Underline the elements you think have been fronted, by clicking on them (elements will go red when moused over). Then decide how many involve subject-verb inversion.
There are eight instances of fronting with subject-verb inversion, and twelve of fronting without inversion.
(1) Slowly, he walked into the room. (2) Occupying almost the whole of one wall was an enormous fireplace and (3) in front of the fire lay an equally enormous dog. A cat was sleeping peacefully next to the dog. (4) In the middle of the room was a table, and (5) lying on the table were two letters, clearly addressed to him. He opened one of them, glanced at it quickly and threw it on the fire. (6) The second he read more carefully before putting it into his pocket.
(7) At that moment the door opened and (8) there stood Fiona, his ex-wife, which was something of a surprise, to put it mildly. (9) How she had got into the house, he had no idea. (10) That she was even in Britain came as a bit of a shock; he had thought her to be in Paris. She was a clothes designer, and (11) to further her career in the fashion world, she had moved there some time before. (12) And further her career she had certainly done; (13) these days he could hardly open a paper without seeing her name.
(14) To see her acting as if she owned the place didn’t really surprise him. (15) For her, it was typical. (16) Much more surprising was the way she was dressed - in a smart business two-piece suit. He couldn't remember ever having seen her in a suit before. (17) Particularly striking was the slim leather briefcase she held in her gloved hand. (18) Not so quite so reassuring, however, was the amount of luggage she was carrying; (19) a flying visit this obviously was not! (20) But, strange though it sounds, he was really rather pleased to see her.

With subject-verb inversion (8)

  • Fronted participles - 2, 5
  • Fronted prepositional phrases of place - 3, 4
  • Fronted adverbial there - 8
  • Fronted adjectives - 16 (comparative), 17 (particularly + adj), 18 (not so + adj)

Without inversion (12)

  • Fronted adverb of manner - 1
  • Fronted object (noun phrase) - 6, 19
  • Fronted adverbial of time - 7
  • Fronted wh- clause - 9
  • Fronted noun clause (without preparatory it) - 10 (that), 14 (infinitive)
  • Fronted infinitive of purpose - 11
  • Fronted echo verb - 12
  • Fronted adverbial of time - 13
  • Fronted adjective complement (prepositional phrase) 15
  • Fronted adjective + concessive though - 20

An important note about the exercises

  • Use capital letters where necessary
  • Don't use any punctuation
Answers - At the bottom of the post you will find a row of answer buttons. If you have problems, click on the appropriate button and return to the exercise. But try and answer all the questions in each exercise first; I've deliberately put the answers at the end so it's not so tempting to 'cheat'.

Common examples of fronting with here, there, up, down etc

Fronting with here and there is often used in an informal style. Fronting with simple adverbs like up, down, off and away is especially used when talking to children.
Fronting with simple adverbs is also used in songs and nursery rhymes. Here's a verse from the famous Australian traditional song Waltzing Matilda:
Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong.
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag:
"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me."

Glossary (adapted from Wikipedia)

  • jumbuck - a sheep
  • billabong - a small area of water found alongside a meandering river.
  • swagman - a man who travelled the country looking for work.
  • glee - joy, happiness
  • tucker bag - a bag to carry food (tucker) in
  • Waltzing Matilda - travelling the country looking for work
Exercise 2Use your intuition to complete the sentences, using the words given below each sentence. Start with an adverb and invert where possible (about half of the questions).
1. Look! , now
comes here she
2. , "Miss! Miss! I know the answer".
hand up went his
3. Hurry up! .
comes here bus our
4. , children, it's time for school.
go off you
5. , try this.
go you there
6. You let go of the balloon, and .
goes it away
7. , one white coffee.
you are here
8. Right children, to bed.
off go you
9. Look! , over there.
friends are there my
10. Bad sales results again, so , I'm afraid.
our there bonus goes
11. Down came the rain and .
the up umbrellas went
12. So, , lost in the middle of the forest.
were there we
13. , who sat down beside her.
came spider along a
(Nursery rhyme - Little Miss Muffet)
14. In another moment after it (the White Rabbit).
Alice went down
(Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland)
15. When from France, who invited me to her house.
this girl comes up
Bob (Song by Bb Dylan - Dylan's 115th Dream)
Notice the difference:
  • Here comes the bus
  • Here she comes
So we can see that:
  • When the subject is a noun, we invert
  • When the subject is a pronoun we don't invert
Subject-whole verb inversion can usually only happen with nouns, not with pronouns.

Fronting combined with subject-verb inversion

More common forms of fronting with subject-verb inversion include:
  • Fronting adverbial expressions of place, direction and time
  • Comparing with what's gone before - adjectives
  • Fronting participles
  • Fronting subject complements - noun phrases

Fronting adverbial expressions of place, direction and time

You could perhaps try the exercise, using your intuition, before you look at the principles. Or you may prefer to look at the principles first - Show the principles
In a narrative style we can front adverbials expressions of place and direction (usually preposition phrases). Often this involves subject-verb inversion:
  • At the end of the road stood an old windmill.
  • Up the hill came a group of hikers.
There are a few contexts where we can't or don't usually invert with verbs of position or movement:
  • with pronouns
    At the end of the road he stood, looking at the windmill.
    Up the hill they came, more and more of them.
  • when an intransitive verb is followed by an adverb of manner
    At the back of the hall, a young girl stood silently holding a candle
    Along the road the old man trudged wearily.
  • with continuous tenses
    In the corridor, some boys were standing talking.
  • with transitive verbs
    On the table the old woman had placed a lace tablecloth.
    Up the hill a man was pushing a wheelbarrow.
And we don't usually invert with verbs not expressiong position or movement:
  • In the other room Sheila picked up the phone.
    On the floor the children played with their toys.
But we can use inversion in some passives
  • On the table had been placed an old tablecloth
    At the end of the road could be seen an old windmill.
Exercise 3Rearrange the words in italics to make or complete the sentences, starting with a prepositional phrase, as in the example. Invert where possible (which is in the majority of cases)
EG. the table small bed beside a stood
Beside the bed stood a small table.
1. a small the among cottage was trees
2. a child on small the lay bed
3. some gate wandered cows the through
4. was across road a man grass mowing the the
5. ran the he stairs up
, taking them two by two.
6. into room men burst the three
, wearing identical clothes.
7. portrait of fireplace a man the hung a above
in uniform.
8. the fierce at young sat woman desk looking a
9. the had some placed someone flowers on table
10. seen a in could group of the distance riders be
11. of the car a man large out rather stepped
12. out car side a street of shot a dangerously
into the main road.
13. sky in the kite high flew red a large
14. ran river floor valley along the a small
15. round soldiers a marched the of corner group
We don't invert:
  • When the verb does not express position or movement, or is in a continuous tense (4)
  • When the subject is a pronoun (5)
  • With a transitive verb (9) - unless it's in the passive
  • When a verb of position or movement is accompanied by an adverb of manner (12)

Fronting other adverbial expressions

We can also front other adverbials expressions, especially of time and sequence, with be or verbs of place or movement (especially come). Again, inversion is often used with nouns, but not with pronouns. Expressions include:
  • first, then, next, after that, finally
Exercise 4Rearrange the words in italics to make or complete the sentences, starting with an adverb or adverbial expression. Invert where possible.
Today's party political conference news:
1. among young people.
a was unemployment debate first about
2. concerning a possible wealth tax.
followed heated discussion a then
3. , given by the prime minister.
the came finally the key speech conference of
And now a look at the rest of the evening's programmes:
4. .
sharks a documentary about next is
5. of our new drama series.
episode that first comes after the
6. And at the latest films.
than scheduled look a originally later be will

Comparing, contrasting and highlighting with adjectives

Comparatives and superlatives, together with other forms of comparison with adjectives, are sometimes fronted before the verb be, often to link with something said before:
  • Even more surprising is his attitude to women.
  • Best of all was the trip round the lake.
  • Particularly recommended are the seafood dishes.
  • Just as surprising was his reaction.
  • Well worth a trip are the nearby mountains.
Exercise 5Rewrite the sentences, putting the adjective expressions to the front, as in the examples above. Don't use any punctuation.
1. The first act was pretty good. The second act was better still.
The first act was pretty good. .
2. The design of the house is striking, but its history is even more interesting.
The design of the house is striking, but .
3. The way they welcomed us was nicest of all.
4. Her younger brother is just as good at chess as Samantha.
5. Jenny Brown was by far the youngest competitor.
6. My cousin was even more fortunate, winning second prize.
, winning second prize.
7. The main course was fine, but the dessert was not so tasty.
The main course was fine, but .
8. The science museum is definitely worth a look.
9. The rest of the the book was rather less exciting.
10. The fourteenth century parish church is also worth a visit.
11. The novel use of horns in the second movement is particularly impressive.
12. His latest book is equally as good as anything he has written before.

Fronting participle clauses

We can sometimes front a verb phrase by turning it into a participle and adding the verb be, with the original subject coming after be. This often happens with prepositonal phrases of place and movement. It is often used to set the scene in narratives, so be is usually in past simple.
  • Active verbs: -ing forms
    A old man lay in the doorway.
    Lying in the doorway was an old man.
  • Passive verbs: -ed forms
    A large car was parked in the driveway.
    Parked in the driveway was a large car.
  • Notice what happens to past perfect passive forms:
    A heavy chain had been hung across the gateway.
    Hung across the gateway was a heavy chain.
Exercise 6Rewrite the sentences fronting with -ing or -ed participles, as in the examples above.
1. Some cows were grazing in the field.
2. Several trees had been uprooted by the storm.
3. A large tree blocked the road.
4. A large sofa occupied most of one wall.
5. There was a baroque fountain situated at the end of a broad avenue.
6. A picturesque old cottage was set back from the road.
7. The days when holidaymakers flocked to Blackpool are long gone.
8. An old man carrying a rucksack was walking slowly up the hill.
9. Black Beauty is leading the race.

Fronting subject complements etc

We've already seen how some adjective phrases that normally follow be, especially comparatives and superlatives, can be fronted. We can do the same with some noun phrases and adverbial expressions. Notice what happens to words like also:
  • The end of the eighteenth century was a period of great turmoil in Europe.
    A period of great turmoil in Europe was the end of the eighteenth century.
  • His latest novel is in the running for the Booker Prize.
    In the running for the Booker Prize is his latest novel.
  • The council's cycle path programme is also under threat.
    Also under threat is the council's cycle path programme.
Exercise 7Change the emphasis of these sentences by moving the part after be to the front. In one question there is no inversion.
1. Pride and Prejudice is Jane Austen's best-known novel.
2. Peter Hedley and Janet Johnson were also in the cast.
3. Its size is one thing that you should take into consideration.
4. A Swiss army knife is a particularly useful tool to take with you.
5. Pat Smith has been the frontrunner from start to finish in this contest.
6. This is the gadget I was talking about, and it is a very useful gadget.
This is the gadget I was talking about, .
7. Mauritius is another place worth considering for your holidays.
8. And David Thomson is this year's winner of the literature prize.
9. Jumping Jack Flash has been in the lead from start to finish.
10. Peter Jackson is also in line for promotion.

Fronting without inversion

  • Fronting objects, wh-clauses and infinitives of purpose
  • Fronting noun clauses
  • Fronting adjectives (and adverbs) in concession clauses etc

Fronting objects etc

For emphatic effect, we sometimes front objects, wh-clauses functioning as objects or similar, and infinitives of purpose:
  • She was wearing glves and a scarf. She had bought the scarf in the sales.
    ... The scarf she had bought in the sales.
  • I don't know what he wants to do with his life.
    What he wants to do with his life I don't know
  • He wants to move to a larger firm to gain more experience.
    To gain more experience he wants to move to a larger firm.
Exercise 8Make these sentences more emphatic by moving an element to the beginning, as in the examples above.
1. I'm just not prepared to accept this sort of behaviour.
2. I can't think where she could have got to.
3. She's taken up jogging to try and lose weight.
4. He gives what spare money he has to charity.
5. He does not consider a week a particularly long time to wait.
6. I'll be talking about the problems with this method at some length.
7. They didn't say whether the work will be finished on time.
8. He got a new bike and a train set. He got the train set from his aunt.
He got a new bike and a train set. .
9. I really can't stand people being rude like that.
10. He's gone on a special course to perfect his skills.

Fronting noun clauses

Noun clauses - for example that clauses and to-infinitive clauses usually follow introductory it, as do some wh- clauses. These are sometimes inverted for emphasis (dropping it), especially when there's an element of surprise, disbelief or mystery:
  • It's rather surprising that he didn't know about the meeting.
    That he didn't know about the meeting is rather surprising.
  • It's always been our mission to put a man on Mars.
    To put a man on Mars has always been our ambition.
  • It's amazing how she always gets it absolutely right.
    How she always gets it absolutely right is amazing.
Exercise 9Rearrange the words in each question to make one sentence (starting with a noun clause, as in the examples above)
1. have was big to so late a it left mistake
2. it she why bit did a a of is mystery
3. the field out is the of known how cows got not
4. that believe is to say he thing a should such difficult
5. knowledge common happened next what is
6. should that happened all at this have unfortunate is

Fronting with concession and contrast

We can sometimes front an adjective (or adjective phrase) or adverb in concession clauses with though (but not although or even though).
We can do the same with some other clauses involving concession (especially with may, certainly, undoubtedly), followed by but. Look at these patterns:
  • Although she is good at chess, her brother occasionally beats her.
    Good at chess though she is, her brother occasionally beats her.
  • Even though he ran fast, he just couldn't keep up with the others.
    Fast though he ran, he just couldn't keep up with the others.
  • They may be bigger, but are they better?
    Bigger they may be, but are they better?
  • It's undoubtedly well-made, but does it what we want it to do.
    Well-made it undoubtedly is, but does it what we want it to do.
Exercise 10Make these sentences more emphatic by moving an adjective or adverb to the beginning, and making any other necessary changes, as in the examples above.
1. Though he was badly shaken he managed to help the others to safety.
, he managed to help the others to safety
2. She may be talented, but that doesn't excuse her behaviour.
, but that doesn't excuse her behaviour.
3. The journey was certainly fast, but it was not comfortable.
Fast the journey certainly was, .
4. Though he tried hard, he just couldn't reach the shelf.
, he just couldn't reach the shelf.
5. She may be highly qualified, but she's rather lacking in experience.
, but she's rather lacking in experience.
6. His education was undoubtedly expensive, but did it really benefit him?
, but did it really benefit him?

Other examples of fronting

  • Fronting a verb which echoes a previously mentioned verb
    He promised to finish it on time, and finish it on time he did.
    She said she'd beat the record, and beat it she has.
  • Detached fronted verb phrases (informal)
    Makes a nice tiramasu, your mum.
    Talks a lot, that girl.
  • Detached fronted subjects and objects, echoed with pronouns (informal)
    That friend of yours, he's just crashed into your car!
    That book you were talking about, I've just bought it.


Related posts - inversion, fronting and other forms of emphasis



  1. What's the correct answer for ex. 3, 13th question? I think I have tried all combinations to no result

  2. Sorry, I hadn't seen the buttons to see the solutions. By the way, there was a word missing (high), so it is a relief to see it was not really my fault. :-)

    Great page, really useful, thanks a lot!

  3. Sorry about that; I've fixed it now. Glad you liked it even so.

  4. Would you be kind enough to tell me the title of the book from where you took the little passage (excercise 1)?

  5. Hi Seaeyedgirl - I doubt it's in any book, as I wrote it myself, in the days when I rather fancied myself as a budding story-teller (not)!

  6. These exercises helped a lot, thank you very very much!

  7. I find your whole work great but sometimes quite challenging (which is good!). Could you please tell me the answer to exercise 3, 8? i'm trying and can't find the correct answer. Thanks in advance!

  8. Thank you so much for your thorough work here. This has been a great resource for me, as I prepare my students online for college applications and college-level writing.