Is it correct English to write "John he is my husband," or, "Mary she went to the store?"

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Is it correct English to write “John he is my husband,” or, “Mary she went to the store?”

I hear this construction frequently from TV and Radio Journalists. Is there a name for this construction?

rwhissen

Posted 2017-06-18T12:37:39.940

Reputation: 159

21Where are these journalists from, and are they native speakers? – Nathan Tuggy – 2017-06-18T12:55:39.530

17I'm not native speaker but I'd include some punctuation depending on use: "John? He is my husband" or "Mary, she went to the store". – Maciej Piechotka – 2017-06-18T16:40:26.790

5John is the subject of the sentence, as is Mary. There is no need to include a pronoun in either example. – Annabelle Leve – 2017-06-18T13:28:44.637

2Annabelle's comment above is correct - to make her point more clear: "John is my husband" and "Mary went to the store" are the correct way of wording these sentences. – None – 2017-06-18T19:58:23.200

I read it as shortened for something like "This is John; he is my husband." – Mr Lister – 2017-06-19T07:18:52.077

2Can you link to any video examples from journalists? It might help clarify the usage. – 1006a – 2017-06-19T18:12:34.793

Like @1006a said, I think answering this question requires an example. While the answers so far have come up with some examples that might sound like what OP heard, it also seems highly likely to me that this is just a case of incorrect usage. In my experience, this kind of "misplaced pronoun" error is really common among non-native speakers without a good grasp of the language. – R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE – 2017-06-19T20:41:36.910

Answers

45

This construction is common in speech, and in writing which emulates speech. The initial noun phrase acts as a discourse marker to announce a shift of focus to a new or resumed topic; it will usually be emphasized with stress, pitch, and prosody—often a falling pitch similar to 'comma intonation' or rising pitch similar to 'question intonation'. In writing it should be followed by some sort of disjunctive point, such as a comma, dash, question mark or colon.

Most of them are my brothers, but John, he's my husband.

The construction is perfectly grammatical, but it is rarely used in formal writing, which lacks the accompanying vocal resources. Formal writing has other methods for achieving the same marking:

Most of them are my brothers; John, however, is my husband.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2017-06-18T12:37:39.940

Reputation: 176 469

4

Is this, this?

– user178049 – 2017-06-19T01:31:58.790

1@user178049: Yes. – ruakh – 2017-06-19T03:05:09.210

5"The construction is perfectly grammatical" Yes, what you have written Which differs from the ones in the question. – ypercubeᵀᴹ – 2017-06-19T12:16:29.500

5@ypercubeᵀᴹ I use one of the question examples, "John he is my husband", specifically identified as something heard. I describe its use in discourse by providing an appropriate prior context, and I describe the convention for writing it out (viz, with a disjunctive point)--I have now expanded the description of the convention a little. What more do you want? – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-06-19T12:48:11.013

1My only point was that it can't be perfect if it needs comma, dash, whatever or is part of a bigger sentence. – ypercubeᵀᴹ – 2017-06-19T12:56:16.640

2@ypercubeᵀᴹ Every utterance is a piece of a larger discourse. And punctuation is orthographic convention, having only an incidental relationship to grammar--the equivalent of gesture in speech. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-06-19T13:29:09.963

4I think "perfectly grammatical" is a stretch; a number of native speakers would identify those sentences as ill-formed, even with the comma (etc.) It's a fairly common colloquialism, but not an accepted part of the prestige dialect, so I would avoid it in any situation, written or spoken, of "medium" formality or above if you want to sound polished. – SirTechSpec – 2017-06-19T17:28:57.963

1@SirTechSpec I cannot agree. It's entirely acceptable in educated speech. Just for example, at the conclusion of 'Terence, this is stupid stuff' the immensely scholarly Auden writes (in propria persona, not the speech of the opening speaker) "I tell the tale that I heard told. Mithridates, he died old." – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-06-19T17:38:09.810

1Poetry is a separate animal, as Chris Johns points out below. There are many constructions that wouldn't be acceptable in formal prose but are common in poetry. – SirTechSpec – 2017-06-19T17:44:53.267

@SirTechSpec Auden's about as conversational a poet as you'll come by. And I note that you've shifted your ground from '"medium" formality' to 'formal prose'--where I explicitly noted that the construction is rare. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-06-19T17:48:42.777

I would still consider prose of "medium formality" such as a work e-mail to be "formal prose" when compared with e.g. a Facebook message to a friend. No shifting involved. – SirTechSpec – 2017-06-19T17:55:13.820

1@SirTechSpec Hmm ... I'd have no hesitation in using the construction in my own professional communications, which avoid conspicuous formality except in situations calling for strict adherence to the bureaucratic dialect. But then my academic background is in the humanities, where diction has been markedly vernacularized over the last three or four generations; and I am a professional writer whose stock-in-trade is standard English composed for the ear. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2017-06-19T18:17:47.417

1The "but" in your example does seem to make the construction less objectionable in semi-formal prose than it would be to simply launch into it at the beginning of a train of thought. Here there's a kind of division of semantic labor: "John" is the one being contrasted to the brothers; "he" is the subject of the main clause. Without that context, having both "John" and "he" would feel less motivated to me. – hmakholm left over Monica – 2017-06-19T18:23:28.007

I could see there being certain matters of language usage that the business world is stricter about, even for internal communication, than the humanities. And of course, I didn't mean to imply that every office would consider you unprofessional or unpolished for using it, depending on a variety of factors; only that it's good to know there are those for whom that usage would stick out and be perceived negatively, so it's safer to avoid it. – SirTechSpec – 2017-06-19T18:48:25.543

23

As the sentences stand, the pronouns are normally redundant however, there are some circumstances where you would use it with some modifications in punctuation.

The first is in poetic usage where the extra pronoun is used either as a matter of form (this construction is common in folk music) or to preserve metre, e.g:

Mary she went to the store
For to meet with the man she adored
And she watched by the hour
While he measured out flour
And loitered around by the door
Fol a diddle de roll, etc.

Another common construction is in response to a question. For example:

Q: Who is this John you keep mentioning?
A: John? He's my husband.

So overall it is not how native English speakers would usually construct a sentence in casual conversation or writing but neither is it wrong nor particularly inelegant.

Chris Johns

Posted 2017-06-18T12:37:39.940

Reputation: 569

7

Yes, but you are punctuating the sentence improperly. To record this kind of phrase in English, we use the em-dash to set the appositive apart from the rest of the sentence. This gives:

  • John— he's my husband— [rest of sentence].

  • Mary— she went to the store— [rest of sentence].

We use the em-dash to separate the appositive here, as opposed to the more typical comma, because the appositive phrase is an independent clause. You could reword the sentences as follows to make the comma fit in.

  • John, my husband, [rest of sentence].

  • Mary, who went to the store, [rest of sentence].

That said, both formats are grammatically correct and indeed common in spoken English.

The emdash is often represented in written English in keyboard-recorded media via the digraph '--', rather than the more traditional character '—'

Please stop being evil

Posted 2017-06-18T12:37:39.940

Reputation: 374

3

The construction is called "left-dislocation topicalization". Here's a paper1 about the phenomenon, which defines the term in the introduction:

In this paper, I will investigate the information-structural properties of two English structures which utilize word-order variation for such purposes. (1a) and (1b) provide examples for the constructions.

(1) a. Tom, I like.  
    b. Tom, I like him.

The common name in the literature for the configuration in (1a) is "Topicalization" (abbreviated as TOP henceforth), while (1b) is most commonly called "Left-Dislocation" (abbreviated as LD).

[1]On English Topicalization and Left-Dislocation from an Information-Structural Perspective, by Péter Szűcs

Charlie

Posted 2017-06-18T12:37:39.940

Reputation: 69

3

This is common in informal English. You add extra information about the person you have just mentioned. As StoneyB marked in his answer such extra information can be "emphasized with stress, pitch, and prosody":

  • John, he's my husband, has just gone to the shop.
  • Henry, oh, he's working in the garage.
  • Oh, come on, that George of yours, he isn't a nice person.

Depending on what punctuation mark is placed the meaning is different.

  • Mary? She went to the store.
  • John! You naughty kid! Get here immediately!

SovereignSun

Posted 2017-06-18T12:37:39.940

Reputation: 23 612

1The first example doesn't look grammatical to me. I would rephrase it "John, he is my husband. He has just gone to the shop." Also, you can't simple say "you can also use other punctuation marks"; I'm sure, by using a different punctuation mark, the meaning would be different. – user178049 – 2017-06-19T13:16:00.763

@user178049 The first sentence is possible in many ways. Like "John, my husband, has just gone to the shop." and "John, he is my husband. He has just gone to the shop." – SovereignSun – 2017-06-19T13:25:18.143

@user178049 I don't like it as written but if you replaced the comma with an em dash it seems OK ("John -- he's my husband -- has gone to the shop"). – Casey – 2017-06-19T19:38:08.763

1"John (he's my husband) has just gone to the shop." and "John---he's my husband---has just gone tot he shoppe." hold pretty equivalent meanings, Obviously, though, not all punctuation is interchangeable. – The Nate – 2017-06-20T02:58:15.840

It's extra infornation, pure "John has just gone to the shop" is okay. We just add the information about who John is within commas. – SovereignSun – 2017-06-20T05:21:41.317