20 June 2010

"Postposing" explained

"It's like watching something from America," said one resident of Whitehaven, a gentle Georgian town on the north-western English coast. [The Economist 5 June 2010 p.33]
In that sentence, the subject is positioned after the verb - it has been postposed.  "This improves intelligibility because the subject is rather long (it has an attached supplement, the noun phrase a gentle Georgian town on the north-western English coast)."

Compare this sentence, which would benefit from postposing:
"Galleries and magazines send him things, and he doesn't even open them," Zhao Zhao, a younger artist who works as one of Ai's assistants, said. [The New Yorker 24 May 2010 p.56] 
Text from Language Log, which has a discussion of this topic.


  1. As one of the commenters on the Language Log pointed out, The New Yorker has a warehouse full of odd style rules. Two in addition to the postposing thing that drive me crazy are the magazine's extravagant use of commas where they're not needed ("When he died, in 1981, of cancer..."), and its rule of spelling out numbers ("The contributions to his campaign totaled more than one hundred and eighty-eight thousand four hundred dollars...").

    Lately I've noticed small grammar and spelling errors creeping into TNY. They probably laid off some low-level copyeditors to save money, but they could afford to hire them back if they'd just stop using so many commas and start using numbers--think of the money they'd save on wasted ink.

  2. Maybe it's the fact that I am German, or that I studied computer science, but the first sentence feels & reads a lot more natural, to me.
    The first sentence reads cumbersome, to me. I had to re-read the middle part twice to make sure you said that the former was better than the latter and not vice versa.

  3. Re-reading my comment, it seems I messed it up..

    The latter sentence feels "better" to me.


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