Perhaps this question has already been answered somewhere but I don't even know how to begin to articulate it in its full generality so finding an answer has been difficult. Linguistics is not my field.

Take for example, two Nietzsche quotations (one could find many more; Nietzsche loves using this construction):

"If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."


"Is man merely a mistake of God's? Or God merely a mistake of man?"

A more clear cut example I made up would be:

"Are the humans destroying the environment or is the environment destroying the humans?"

In generality, the construction has the same verb, and the two clauses differ solely by exchanging the subject and object. Is there a technical term for this construction? I would like to investigate how authors use this construction and I would like to access some secondary literature about this construction. Thanks!

  • This isn't really a linguistics question but I'm not sure if there's another SE site where it would fit better. Maybe the Literature one?
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 0:01
  • 2
    This has nothing to do with "SVO" or "OVS", which applies only to the subject and direct object of transitive sentences. Some of these examples are transitive sentences, but none of them are OVS. Hence the question itself is incorrect and will do no one any good.
    – jlawler
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 0:33
  • as @jlawler says, this doesn't have anything to do with OVS word order, rather we have two clauses, differing only by the fact the second has which noun is the subject, and which the object reversed. I've made an edit to reflect this fact. Hopefully the question is still clear
    – Tristan
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 10:29

1 Answer 1


This is a rhetorical figure called an antimetabole (from the Greek ἀντιμεταβολή, lit. something like counter-change), which is (usually considered) a special kind of chiasmus. It's common in a lot of languages.

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