Fronting: Definition and Examples

Apple tree in Porto Portugal
"On the stands in nearby orchards were hard, yellow apples filled with powerful juice," wrote James Salter.

LIVINUS / Getty Images 

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. When used in conversation, fronting allows the speaker to place attention at the beginning of a sentence to make a story more compelling.

How Fronting is Used

Fronting has a variety of functions in discourse, especially in the maintenance of cohesion. It can be used to organize the flow of information in a text, express contrast, and give emphasis to particular elements. In particular, fronting serves as a device to to make non-subject elements the theme of a sentence

Pearce, Michael. The Routledge Dictionary of English Language Studies. Routledge, 2007.

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.

Börjars Kersti, and Kate Burridge. Introducing English Grammar. Arnold, a Member of the Hodder Headline Group, 2001.

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!

Gibbs, Wolcott, and Thomas J. Vinciguerra. Backward Ran Sentences: the Best of Wolcott Gibbs from The New Yorker. Bloomsbury USA, 2011.

Examples of Fronting

Jack London

"Before the march of the flames were flung picket lines of soldiers."

James Salter

"In June came ponderous heat and mornings like eggshells, pale and smooth."

Yoda

"Powerful you have become Dooku, the dark side I sense in you."

Ernest Hemingway

"Never have I seen a greater, or more beautiful, or a calmer or more noble thing than you, brother."

J.M. Coetzee

"Legitimacy they no longer trouble to claim. Reason they have shrugged off."

James Salter

"On the stands in nearby orchards were hard, yellow apples filled with powerful juice."

P.J. O'Rourke

"Bolted and chained in one corner was a television set--by 'color' I mean mostly orange--with reception as fuzzy as I was."