I read this sentence in an article by Le Monde:

Figurent également des dates, dont 1786 et 1787, correspondant à peu près aux années de construction des différentes batteries qui protégeaient la rade de Brest.

I found out this is called l’inversion absolue but I’m having trouble understanding why or when it’s used and I can’t really find any resources on it. Could someone explain it a little bit? It seems to be very formal or literary language. Merci beaucoup !

The article is here.

  • This is what I think is a good paper on the so-called “absolute inversion”. I expect it will answer your question in depth.
    – None
    Commented Feb 26, 2020 at 16:40

1 Answer 1


In Using French, inversion is explored under section 3.3.4:

Inversion, it should be noted, is frequently a marked of formal, refined language.

... after which it then proceeds to list a few examples of usage.

It is the first one that applies here:

Often in the official variety of French, when a long subject ... would delay the appearance of the verb and thus impair comprehension.

At root, the quoted sentence, in canonical SV (subject-verb) order, is:

Des dates [...] figurent également.

But because the interesting section is that portion marked by [...], it needs to be focalised. Instead of leaving it in the middle, the interesting section is postponed to the end, and the subject of the sentence has to be carried along with it: postposition of the subject.

What makes this example inversion absolue (as opposed to another type of inversion) is the fact that there is no preceding relative clause marker such as ce que, nor a location/time expression such as l’endroit où or au fil des jours. The sentence goes straight into the verb, and thus it is motivated solely by the consideration above.

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