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Jules Verne: Les Aventures du capitaine Hatteras.

In first chapter i've encountered sentence:

Aussi, à bord du Nautilus, ancré non loin, un groupe de matelots se livrait-il à mille conjectures sur la destination du Forward.

I can't understand why we need hyphen + pronom here: this is not a question, not imperative, and not a dialog.

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It' a grammar rule: in French you have to insert a hyphen between the verb and the subject pronoun when they are inverted, whatever the reason for the inversion. That means we need a hyphen:

  • When asking a question: Où es-tu ?
  • In incidental clauses: Je suis dans ma chambre, répondit-elle.
  • And whenever a word or a phrase requires the inversion.

Aussi placed at the beginning of a sentence is a coordinator and marks a consequence or an explanation. In this case, the verb and subject of the sentence it introduces can be reversed.

In the case of aussi the inversion is not compulsory (Aussi un groupe de matelots se livrait ... would be possible). In some cases the inversion is compulsory, it is the case with peut-être (Peut-être est-elle dans sa chambre), encore (Encore faudrait-il qu'elle soit arrivée), sans doute, probablement, and a few more.

Note that in the imperative there's no subject, just a verb (Parle !). I expect you meant the imperative of reflexive verbs, as in Lave-toi les mains ! where toi is the reflexive pronoun.

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  • I remember being taught in school that questions do not allow inversion of the verb and a non-pronominal subject, requiring instead that the non-pronominal subject remain in preverbal position and then repeated by a resumptive pronoun; e.g., “Depuis quand ton père est-il malade ?”, not “*Depuis quand est ton père malade ?”. This is different from other constructions, where non-pronominal subjects do invert: “Le médecin que connaît l’avocat”, “« Non », répondit Marie”, “Tomba un voile de brume” (poetic). I have only just now learnt that the restriction found in questions also applies to → Feb 24 at 18:46
  • → inversion caused by a sentence-intial adverb like ainsi, aussi, etc., so that inversion in such cases adds a resumptive pronoun after the verb. I think I would naturally have said, “Peut-être ma mère peut-elle [qqc.]”, but “Aussi un groupe de matelots se livrait-il…” is definitely new to me. Feb 24 at 18:49
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    @JanusBahsJacquet An answer about containing a few links to find out more about this inversion when the sentence begins with an adverb.
    – None
    Feb 24 at 19:01
  • "in French you have to insert a hyphen between the verb and the subject when they are inverted" -> between a verb and a weak pronoun, really, there'd be no hyphen in "blabla, dit Paula", and as you note there's also a hyphen with inverted object pronouns, like in lave-toi Feb 25 at 20:54
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    @Eauquidort Merci ! j'avais oublié un mot. On a beau se relire...
    – None
    Feb 26 at 7:07

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