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I was reading a simple story for Spanish beginners. There was a sentence which read, "A las 8 comienzan a abrir las tiendas." I interpreted it as, "At 8 am, they start to open their shops." But, the translation says, "At 8 am, the stores begin to open." and this makes sense.

I am confused about the structure of the sentence. If Las tiendas is the subject, why does it appear in the end of the sentence. Shouldn't the right translation would be, "A las 8, las tiendas comienzan a abrir."

1 Answer 1

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The sentence:

  1. A las 8 comienzan a abrir las tiendas.

is actually ambiguous as it can mean:

1.a. At 8 they start to open the stores.

1.b. The stores start to open at 8.

However, the normal interpretation will be 1.b. Unlike in English, where the usual word order is Subject-Predicate, in Spanish we often find the Predicate before the Subject. In the sentence at issue, the adverbial "a las 8" attracts the verb, which makes sentence 2. below sound unnatural (i.e. it does not flow as easily as 1):

  1. A las 8 las tiendas comienzan a abrir.

Sentence (2) is a correct sentence too, but will be more usual than (1) when the verb phrase is longer, thus making a postposed subject less likely:

  1. A las 8 las tiendas comienzan a abrir y a atraer a cientos de consumidores. (At 8 stores start to open and attract hundreds of consumers)

If the adverbial of time is placed at the end, then the normal order will be Subject-Predicate:

  1. Las tiendas comienzan a abrir a las 8.
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  • Thanks for answering me in details. I am confused in general when the predicate comes before the subject. Is it only when the adverbial phrase comes in the beginning and the verb is small? Is there any general rule for predicate coming before the subject? Mar 24 at 8:25
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    I don't think there is a general rule. There may be several rules and we can discover them on a per-case basis as I did in this case. Emphasis sometimes has its say when it comes to defining the position of the subject and the predicate.
    – Gustavson
    Mar 25 at 0:25

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