Monday, April 6, 2009


What is inversion and how to use it?

In statement it is usual for the verb to follow the subject, but sometimes this word order is reversed.

We can refer to this as inversion. There are two main types of inversion:

when the verb comes before the subject (optional inversion)

In the doorway stood her father. (or …her father stood.)

• when the auxiliary comes before the subject and the rest of the verb
phrase follows the subject (inversion
is usually necessary)

Rarely had he seen such a sunset. (not Rarely he had see …)

Inversion brings about fronting , the re-ordering of information in a sentence
to give emphasis in a particular
place. Often this causes an element to be
postponed until later in the sentence, focusing attention on it.

Inversion after negative adverbials

When we begin a sentence with a negative adverb or adverbial phrase,
we sometimes have to change the usual word order of subject and
verb (often using an auxiliary verb) because we want to emphasise
the meaning of the adverb. We use inversion when we move a negative adverb
which modifies the verb (never, nowhere, not only, hardly etc.) to the beginning
of a sentence. For example:

I had never seen so many people in one room. (= normal word order)

Never had I seen so many people in one room. (= inversion)

There are adverbs and adverbial expressions with a negative,
restrictive or emphatic meaning, which are followed by inversion
when placed first in a sentence. The most common adverbs ad adverbial
expressions with negative, restrictive or emphatic meaning that are
followed be inversion are:

Seldom, Rarely, Little, Nowhere, Nor even one, In no way
Scarcely/Hardly/Barely … when, No sooner … than, Not only … but (also)
On no occasion/account/condition, In/Under no circumstances
Only after, Only later, Only once, Only in this way, Only by,
Only then, Only when, Only if, Not till/until, Never, Never
before, Not since, Neither/Not/So, Well (formal) etc:

‘I like chicken’, ‘So do I ’.

Well did he remember the night the earthquake struck.
On no occasion was the girl allowed to say out late.
Never had he had such a terrifying experience.
Little did he know what his decision would lead to.

• Time relationships

We use inversion:

1. after ‘negative’ adverbs which emphasise a time relation at the beginning of a sentence:

No sooner had I put the phone down than it rung again. Hardly / Scarcely / Barely had I got my breath back when it was time to go again. Seldom do we have goods returned to us because they are faulty.

2. after phases that use not:

Not until he apologies will I speak to him again Not since I was little have I had so much fun. Not for one minute do I imagine they’ll come back. Not once was she at home when I phoned.

3. after some time phrases that use only + a time expression or
only + prepositional phrase:

Only after several weeks did she begin to recover. Only later did she realise what had happened. Only then did he remember he hadn’t got his keys. Only when I’ve finished this will I be able to think about anything else. Only in the last few days has the truth started to emerge. Only by keeping a signal-fire burning did the woman manage to alert her rescuers. Only later didn’t she realize that she’d been given the wrong change. Only once did I go to the opera the whole time I was in Italy. Only by chance had Jameson discovered where the birds were nesting. Only in this way was she able to complete the report by the deadline.


Only after, only by, only if, only when, not until/till when placed at the
beginning of the sentence for emphasis, require the inversion of the subject
and the auxiliary verb in the main clause:

Only after all her guests had left did she wash the dishes. Only by standing on a chair could he reach the shelf. Not till the last guest had left were we able to relax. Not until I saw him did I remember we had met before. Not until did I see him I remembered we had met before.

• Frequency

We also use inversion after ‘negative’ adverbs at the beginning of a sentence to emphasise:

1. frequency:

Never have I been so taken aback. Rarely do they fail to get away for a holiday. Seldom is that pop group out of the news. Hardly ever did he wear a suit.

2. how infrequently things happen:

Little did she realise what was about to happen.
(= She didn’t realize or didn’t realize sufficiently)

Nowhere was a replacement to be found.

• General emphasis

We often use inversion for general emphasis with phrases that use only:

Only by patience and hard work will we find a solution. Only in this way do we stand any chance of success.

We can also use it with phrases that use no:

At no time would he admit that his team played badly. In no way should this be regarded as an end of the matter. On no account are you to repeat this to anyone. Under no circumstances can we accept the offer.

• Not using inversion

We use inversion when the adverb modifies the verb, and not when it modifies the noun:

Rarely seen during the day, the badger is a famously shy animal. (= inversion)

Hardly anyone knows about it. (= no inversion)

Inversion in conditions

• Conditional type 1

In formal contexts we can omit if or other conditional words and start the sentence with should:

Should you change your mind, please let me know.

• Conditional type 2

We use be to in a fairly formal way to express conditions. It suggests that the
speaker has no influence over whether the condition will be fulfilled or not.
Are to, am to and is to suggest the condition may be fulfilled.
Were to (or, informally, was to) emphasises that the condition is very unlikely.
Using the conditional if- clause is one way to express such conditions; however,
we can omit if or other conditional words and start the sentence with were
(but this is not possible with are):

Were we to take on more staff, how could we afford to pay them? Were the vote to go against me, I’d resign. Were he to agree, he’d probably become the next coach. Were you a brighter fellow, you’d have gone along with the scheme.

• Conditional type 3

We use an Unreal Past Perfect in the if-clause when we are thinking about how
things might have been different. In the conditional sentence we can omit if or
other conditional words and start with Had:

Had I believed her for one moment, I wouldn’t have refused to help. Had you told me earlier, I would/could/might have done something about it.

We can also use conditional structures beginning with
Were + perfect infinitive in formal English:

Were you to have stopped and considered, you’d have seen the error of your ways.

Inversion in result clauses

The main ways of introducing result clauses in formal English are: so…(that),
such…(that), to such a degree … We can use so + adjective at the beginning
of a clause to give special emphasis to the adjective:

So disgusted were they be the bad language (that) they walked out.

We can use such + be at the beginning of a clause to emphasise the extent
or degree of something:

Such was our annoyance (that) we refused to cooperate further.

We use inversion after neither or nor when these words begin a clause to introduce
a negative addition to a previous negative clause or sentence:

For some time after the explosion Jack couldn’t hear, and neither could he see. The council never wanted the new supermarket to be built, not did local residents.

Inversion with come

We can put first , next, now and then in front position with the verb come to introduce
a new event, when the subject follows the verb. But if a comma (or an intonation break
in speech) is used afterfirst (etc.) the verb follows the subject. For example:

At first there was silence. Then came a voice that I knew. (not Then a voice came …)

At first there was silence. Then, a voice come that I knew.

Inversion in spoken English

In conversation we use Here comes + noun and There goes + noun, with inversion
of verb and subject, to talk about things and people moving towards or away from
the speaker:

Here comes the bus. There goes Nigel Salter, the footballer.

Here comes… is also used to say that something is going to happen soon,
and There goes… is used when to talk about things (particularly money) being
lost and to say that something (such as a phone or door bell) is ringing:

Here comes lunch. My bike’s been stolen! There goes L100! There goes the phone. Can you answer it?

Inversion with prepositions

We can put the verb before the subject when we use adverbs expressing
direction of movement, such as along, away, back, down, in, off, out, up with verbs such as come, fly, go. This pattern is found
particularly in narrative, to mark a change in events:

The door opened and in came the doctor. (less formally …and the doctor came in) As soon as I let go of the string, up went the balloon, high into the sky.

(less formally …the balloon went up)

Just when I thought I’d have to walk home, along came Miguel and he gave me a lift.

(less formally …Miguel came along and gave me …)

Inversion after as and than in comparisons

In formal written language we commonly use inversion after as and than in comparisons:

The cake was excellent, as was the coffee. (or …as the coffee was.)

I believed, as did my colleagues, that the plan would work.
(or …as my colleagues did…)

Research shows that parents watch more television than do their children.
(or …than their children do.)

Notice that we don’t invert subject and verb after as or than when the subject is a pronoun:

We now know a lot more about the Universe than we did ten years ago.
(not …than did we ten years ago.)

Inversion without auxiliary verb

After adverbs and adverbial expressions:

‘There goes Tom!’

but: ‘There he goes!’

After the quoted words of direct speech:

‘I’ve just finished’,said Tom.

but: ‘I’ve just finished’,he said.

Useful structural conversions

All the food had been prepared and the table had been laid as well.

Not only bad all the food been prepared but also the table had been laid.

As soon as he was promoted, he started behaving arrogantly.

No sooner had he been promoted than he started behaving arrogantly.

Hardly/Scarcely had he been promoted when he started behaving arrogantly.

He had no idea that the treasure had been hidden in his garden.

Little did he know that the treasure had been hidden in his garden.

She danced so much that she couldn’t walk afterwards

So much did she dance that she couldn't walk afterwards.

It was such a nice day that we went on an excursion.

Such a nice day was it that we went on an excursion.

They finished painting and then they moved into their new house.

Only after they had finished painting did they move into their new house.

If I were you, I would accept his offer.

Were Iyou, I would accept his offer.

If I had been told earlier, I would have reacted differently.

Had I been told earlier, I would have reacted differently.

If I (should) change my mind, I'll let you know.

Should I change my mind, I'll let you know.

She didn't phone me; she didn't drop me a line either.

She didn't phone me nor did she drop me a line.

She neither phoned me, nor did she drop me a line.

She won't tell lies for any reason.

On no account will she tell lies.

The boy ran away.

Away ran the boy!


  1. Thank you for your complex explanation of this tricky grammar rule!I'm totally pleased with your work!Greeting from Russia!

  2. Such was my gratitude, when I realised, that you wrote a fairly exhaustive explanation of the rules I had been searching for so long. Thank you very much, indeed!

  3. thank you for sharing.greeting from vietnam

  4. really helpful, thank you .greeting from vietnam

  5. Thank you so much for the invaluable information . Too much had I been searching for such perfect explanation of these complex structures ! Thank you indeed!

  6. Quite an aidant article, however you have left numerous conspicuous grammar mistakes to the reader. If I were you, I should refine it.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. I am an international student from China who is currently preparing for SAT. Thanks for the simple yet helpful explaination.

  9. Hello Admin:
    So grateful for your helpful explanation. I was wondering if you could please explain meaning of those sentences *Not since I was little have I had so much fun*
    I wonder if i understood it correctly: I had had so much fun not since i was little.


    From Kathmandu

    1. I had not had so much fun since i was little.

  10. From which book are these sentences/examples?

  11. "Not only bad all the food been prepared but also the table had been laid."
    BAD => HAD

  12. Hi to everybody, here everyone is sharing such knowledge, so it’s fastidious to see this site, and I used to visit this blog daily.Grammarly

  13. That was fun. I`ve heard from some of my friends that I`ve used to make my life easier =CONCATENATE("";;"") by those inversion. I mean that when it becomes hard I just turn it into the way I like it.

  14. Usually I do not read post on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to try and do it! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thanks, very nice article.
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