Inversion with Nouns

Inversion - French word order
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Inversion avec noms

In French, inversion is not limited to pronouns – it can also be done with nouns and proper names, though this is a bit more complicated.

Sometimes inversion with nouns/names is required, while at other times it’s optional.

Required inversion

1) Direct speech

In direct speech, the normal word order subject + verb must be inverted to verb + subject.

– Je pense, dit l’infirmière, qu’il y a encore de soupe.   "I think," the nurse said, "there’s more soup."
– Je n’ai pas faim, répondit Céline.   "I’m not hungry," responded Céline.

 In English, this inversion is optional – these are equally correct:

"I think," said the nurse, "there’s more soup."
"I’m not hungry," Céline responded.

2) Questions

In questions, when the subject is a noun or name, that subject remains in place and is repeated in the form of a subject pronoun, which inverts with the verb.

Cette voiture est-elle à vendre ?   Is this car for sale?
Les profs ont-ils puni la classe ?   Did the teachers punish the class?
Robert cherche-t-il la solution ?   Is Robert looking for the solution?

 It might seem odd, but this is grammatically correct French. If you don’t like how it sounds, you can use est-ce que instead, but of course that makes the question less formal.

Stylistic inversion

Sometimes inversion is optional – it’s just a question of style / formality.

1) After a relative pronoun or indefinite relative pronoun

Où est le resto dont parlent Pierre et Solange ?   Where’s the restaurant that Pierre and Solange are talking about?
Où est le resto dont Pierre et Solange parlent ?  
Ce qu’ont souffert les réfugiés syriens est affreux.   What the Syrian refugees have suffered is awful.
Ce que les réfugiés syriens ont souffert est affreux.  

2) After a comparison

Tu es plus studieux que n’a prétendu ta sœur.   You’re more studious than your sister claimed.
Tu es plus studieux que ta sœur n’a prétendu.*  
Les devoirs sont moins difficiles que n’ont dit mes camarades de classe.   The homework is less difficult than my classmates said.
Les devoirs sont moins difficiles que mes camarades de classe n’ont dit.*  

3) To emphasize the subject, particularly in poetry.

Tomba un voile de brume.
Un voile de brume tomba.
  A veil of mist fell.

* Why is n’ in front of the verb? That’s the ne explétif.

Part 1: Inversion with pronouns

  Notes

  • There’s no hyphen when inverting a noun or name.
  • When inversion is optional, both choices are equally correct, but inversion is more formal.

 Related Lessons

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French inversion

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