Fronting (grammar)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms - Definition and Examples

fronting in grammar
Michael Pearce 


In English grammar, fronting refers to any construction in which a word group that customarily follows the verb is placed at the beginning of a sentence. Also called front-focus or preposing.

Fronting is a type of focus strategy often used to enhance cohesion and provide emphasis.

See Examples and Observations below. Also, see:


From the Latin, "forehead, front"

Examples and Observations

  • "Before the march of the flames were flung picket lines of soldiers." (Jack London, "Story of an Eyewitness: The San Francisco Earthquake." Collier's Weekly, May 5, 1906)
  • "On the stands in nearby orchards were hard, yellow apples filled with powerful juice." (James Salter, Light Years. Random House, 1975)
  • "In June came ponderous heat and mornings like eggshells, pale and smooth." (James Salter, The Hunters. Harper & Brothers, 1956)
  • "Powerful you have become Dooku, the dark side I sense in you." (Yoda, Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones, 2002)
  • "Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother." (Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, 1952)
  • "Legitimacy they no longer trouble to claim. Reason they have shrugged off." (J.M. Coetzee, Age of Iron, 1990)
  • "Bolted and chained in one corner was a television set--by 'color' I mean mostly orange--with reception as fuzzy as I was." (P.J. O'Rourke, "P.J. Meets the Atomic Death Toboggan." Age and Guile, Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995)

Parody of Time Style

  • "Yet to suggest itself as a rational method of communication, of infuriating readers into buying the magazine, was strange, inverted Timestyle. . . .

    "Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind. . . ."

    "Certainly to be taken with seriousness is [Henry] Luce at thirty-eight, his fellowman already informed up to his ears, the shadow of his enterprises long across the land, his future plans impossible to imagine, staggering to contemplate. Where it all will end, knows God!"
    (Wolcott Gibbs, "Time . . . Fortune . . . Life....Luce." The New Yorker, Nov. 28, 1936)

    Types of Fronting in English

    • "It is possible to begin an affirmative clause with the object or complement, in order to make this the topic or give it more immediate importance. This kind of fronting is common in informal speech:
    Very good lesson we had yesterday.
    Strange people they are!

    Fronting of the object is also possible in a more formal style:

    This question we have already discussed at some length.

    In a few exclamatory expressions, a noun is fronted before that, but these are uncommon in modern English.

    Fool that I was!

    Question-word clauses are often fronted.

    What I'm going to do next I just don't know.
    How she got the gun through customs we never found out.

    (Michael Swan, Practical English Usage. Oxford University Press, 1995)

    • Inverted Subject-Verb Order
      "Fronting can also trigger something called inverted subject-verb order. By moving the subject out of its natural environment, it involves a shift of emphasis and represents another aspect to this focus device. In Old English, this inverted order had a considerable dramatic force and was typical of lively narrative sequences. It has still retained a kind of mock dramatic effect, as the examples below show:
      Out jumped the goblins, big goblins, great ugly-looking goblins, lots of goblins. (p. 67)

      Then in crept the Hobbit. (p. 172)

      Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum, a small slimy creature. (p. 77)

      Suddenly came Gollum and whispered and hissed. (p. 77)
      As the above four examples illustrate, these constructions always involve fronted phrases (like directional and positional adverbials) and the verbs are intransitive (typical verbs of movement or location). In these examples, the verbs jumped, crept, lived and came have shifted to precede their subjects the goblin, big goblins, great ugly-looking goblins, lots of goblins, the Hobbit, old Gollum, and Gollum." (Kersti Börjars and Kate Burridge, Introducing English Grammar, 2nd ed. Hodder, 2010)