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inversion question

English translation: They are both fine

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17:03 Apr 2, 2004
English to English translations [PRO]
General / Conversation / Greetings / Letters
English term or phrase: inversion question
A few months ago, an American colleague with whom I worked on a regular basis claimed that a construction which I was given to using was old-fashioned and rather obsolete.

My version: "We are looking for new students", said the headmaster.
His version: "We are looking for new students", the headmaster said.

Personally, I don't see anything wrong with my version - in fact I think it reads far better than the other one. Is this a US vs. UK/Ireland difference, is it down to opinion (and opinionated colleagues), or have I been reading too much Jane Austen?

I'd appreciate any comments, particularly from fellow native speakers on both sides of the pond.

All the best


Ian
xxxIanW
Local time: 21:59
English translation:They are both fine
Explanation:
As a Paddy, I think I'd use them more or less interchangeably. I'd probably go more for ".....", X said, when X was a proper name, but I couldn't say why.

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Note added at 15 hrs 40 mins (2004-04-03 08:44:26 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

From Fowler (1999): Some of the conditions in which inversion is usual, desirable, or permissible are as follows: (a) in the formulaic setting down of direct speech: \'Hey!\' shouted Mrs. House, who sat inside with her jumpsuit around her knees - New Yorker, 1992. But this is optional: \'I was out in the orchards a while back,\' Milton said - W. Trevor, 1992.

So, inversion in this case is \'usual, desirable or permissible\', but also optional.
Selected response from:

MJ Barber
Spain
Local time: 21:59
Grading comment
Thanks for all your input. I'm still not convinced that there is anything wrong with this type of construction. Admittedly, "said he" tends to bring on Enid Blyton flashbacks, but otherwise if it only strikes two of my colleagues as being old-fashioned, then I think I'll carry on using it as I always have done. Perhaps a little less, though ...
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer

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Summary of answers provided
4 +6Depends on where the emphasis is wantedxxxElena Sgarbo
5 +4They are both fine
MJ Barber
5 +3your version is correct, at least in the UK
Hacene
3 +1'Fraid I agree with your colleague, Ian...
Tony M
4I see absolutely no difference
Edward L. Crosby III


  

Answers


7 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +6
Depends on where the emphasis is wanted


Explanation:
"We are looking for new students", said the headmaster.

In this case it is a bit more important that the one who spoke was the headmaster (and not someone else).


"We are looking for new students", the headmaster said.

In this case it is a bit more important that someone did speak. Perhaps an uncomfortable silence was broken or a general thought (about the need for students) was eventually verbalized.


Nuances of emphasis aside, Ian, I think that your version in general sounds more natural.

Cheers,
Elena


xxxElena Sgarbo
Native speaker of: Native in SpanishSpanish

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  jccantrell: Agree. As an American, I would turn your American's version around as: The headmaster said, "We are...
17 mins
  -> Good point. Thanks, jc

agree  perke
37 mins
  -> Thanks, perke

agree  Craft.Content
7 hrs
  -> Thanks nbhairav

agree  Huijer
18 hrs
  -> Thanks Liesbeth

agree  hookmv
1 day3 hrs
  -> Thanks, Veronica

agree  Jörgen Slet
1 day7 hrs
  -> Thanks, Jörgen
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8 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +3
your version is correct, at least in the UK


Explanation:
this is part of the rules for integrating direct speech in a line
"speech," verb object. Inversion is not acceptable as it applies only to questions.

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 39 mins (2004-04-02 17:43:19 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

http://www.teachers.net/lessons/posts/2894.html
http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~cs5014/fall.95/courseNotes/WebPages/5.T...
http://esl.about.com/library/grammar/blreported.htm?once=tru...

doing this research, I realised that in your example, the headmaster is a subject. The tendance would be to put \'the headmaster said\' before the statement. When putting it after, as Elena said, it is a question of emphasis, but it works only with 3rd person singular parataxis structure using the verb \"to say\" or \"to think\" [Angela Downing, p.296-300], in all other instances you have to use the structure \"speech,\" subject verb as in \"I\'ll take the cases,\" he whispered or \"I said come in, Mrs XX!\" John barked at her.

Hacene
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:59
Native speaker of: Native in FrenchFrench
PRO pts in category: 8

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Vicky Papaprodromou
2 mins
  -> cheers Vicky

agree  Jörgen Slet
1 day7 hrs
  -> cheers Jörgen

agree  senin
2 days4 hrs
  -> cheers
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4 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): +4
They are both fine


Explanation:
As a Paddy, I think I'd use them more or less interchangeably. I'd probably go more for ".....", X said, when X was a proper name, but I couldn't say why.

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 15 hrs 40 mins (2004-04-03 08:44:26 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

From Fowler (1999): Some of the conditions in which inversion is usual, desirable, or permissible are as follows: (a) in the formulaic setting down of direct speech: \'Hey!\' shouted Mrs. House, who sat inside with her jumpsuit around her knees - New Yorker, 1992. But this is optional: \'I was out in the orchards a while back,\' Milton said - W. Trevor, 1992.

So, inversion in this case is \'usual, desirable or permissible\', but also optional.

MJ Barber
Spain
Local time: 21:59
Works in field
Native speaker of: English
PRO pts in category: 12
Grading comment
Thanks for all your input. I'm still not convinced that there is anything wrong with this type of construction. Admittedly, "said he" tends to bring on Enid Blyton flashbacks, but otherwise if it only strikes two of my colleagues as being old-fashioned, then I think I'll carry on using it as I always have done. Perhaps a little less, though ...

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  Vicky Papaprodromou
7 mins

agree  Jörgen Slet
1 day7 hrs

agree  senin: well from another paddy I would have to agree with you ;-)
2 days4 hrs

agree  RHELLER: both are correct; in the U.S. it is most common to see subject followed by verb/ she remarked/ he shouted/ they declared
2 days20 hrs
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15 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5
I see absolutely no difference


Explanation:
from an American perspective.

"We're leaving now," said Tom.
"We're leaving now," Tom said.

6 of one, 1/2 dozen of the other.

Edward L. Crosby III
Local time: 12:59
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
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4 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 3/5Answerer confidence 3/5 peer agreement (net): +1
'Fraid I agree with your colleague, Ian...


Explanation:
Depending on the register, I'm afraid "said the Headmaster" does indeed sound pretty dated to my British ears; reminds me of 'Billy Bunter' books of the 50s, and Enid Blyton

Just my opinion, for what it's worth!

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 1 day 5 hrs 34 mins (2004-04-03 22:38:05 GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

A delightful example, that actually plays on the \'quaint\' feel of the inversion, will be familiar to many Brits of my age:

\"Time for bed!\" said Zebedee.

Tony M
France
Local time: 21:59
Works in field
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in category: 285

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  chica nueva: Tend to agree. But (Ian) it really depends on the style of the text. In what circumstances would you be translating such a sentence (is it literature, a modified transcript???)
2 hrs
  -> Thanks, Iai'an! Good point there... All a question of register, of course
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