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INVERSIONS
We use inversion in several different situations in English. Inversion just means putting the
verb before the subject. It is a literary technique in which the normal order of words is reversed,
generally for emphasis or special effect. It makes a sentence sound striking or unusual. It also sounds
quite formal.
When do we use inversion?
Of course, we use inversion in questions. But we also sometimes use inversion in other cases,
when we are not making a question.
1: When we use a negative adverb or adverb phrase at the beginning of the sentence.
Usually, we put the expression at the beginning of the sentence to emphasise what we're saying.
It makes our sentence sound surprising or striking or unusual. It also sounds quite formal. If you do
not want to give this impression, you can put the negative expression later in the sentence in the
normal way:
o Seldom have I seen such beautiful work.
('Seldom' is at the beginning, so we use inversion. This sentence emphasizes what beautiful
work it is.)
o I have seldom seen such beautiful work.
('Seldom' is in the normal place, so we do not use inversion. This is a normal sentence with
no special emphasis.)
Here are some negative adverbs and adverb phrases that we often use with inversion:

Hardly Hardly had I got into bed when the telephone rang.

Never Never had she seen such a beautiful sight before.

Seldom Seldom do we see such an amazing display of dance.

Rarely Rarely will you hear such beautiful music.

Only then did I understand why the tragedy had


Only then
happened.
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Not only ... Not only does he love chocolate and sweets but he also
but also smokes.

No sooner had we arrived home than the police rang the


No sooner
doorbell.

Scarcely had I got off the bus when it crashed into the back
Scarcely
of a car.

Only later Only later did she really think about the situation.

Nowhere Nowhere have I ever had such bad service.

Little Little did he know!

Only in this Only in this way could John earn enough money to
way survive.

In no way In no way do I agree with what you're saying.

On no On no account should you do anything without asking me


account first.

In the following expressions, the inversion comes in the second part of the sentence:

Not until Not until I saw John with my own eyes did I really believe he was safe.

Not since Not since Lucy left college had she had such a wonderful time.

Only after Only after I'd seen her flat did I understand why she wanted to live there.

Only when Only when we'd all arrived home did I feel calm.
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Only by Only by working extremely hard could we afford to eat.

We only use inversion when the adverb modifies the whole phrase and not when it modifies the
noun:
Hardly anyone passed the exam. (No inversion.)
2: We can use inversion instead of 'if' in conditionals with had were and should. This is
quite formal:
Normal conditional: If I had been there, this problem would not have happened.
Conditional with inversion: Had I been there, this problem would not have happened.
Normal conditional: If we had arrived sooner, we could have prevented this tragedy!
Conditional with inversion: Had we arrived sooner, we could have prevented this tragedy!
3: We can use inversion if we put an adverbial expression of place at the beginning on the
sentence. This is also quite formal or literary:
On the table was all the money we had lost. (Normal sentence: All the money we had lost was
on the table.)
Round the corner came the knights. (Normal sentence: The knights came round the corner.)
4: We can use inversion after so + adjective...that:
So beautiful was the girl that nobody could talk of anything else. (Normal sentence: the girl
was so beautiful that nobody could talk of anything else.)
So delicious was the food that we ate every last bite. (Normal sentence: the food was so
delicious that we ate every last bite.)
EXERCISE
Q Invert the following sentences.
1) John had never been to such a fantastic restaurant
2) I in no way want to be associated with this project
3) They had no sooner eaten dinner than the ceiling crashed onto the dining table
4) I had scarcely finished writing my essay when the examiner announced the end of the exam
5) I seldom leave my house so early
6) People rarely appreciate this musicians talent
7) We would understand what had happened that night only later
8) They had met such rude people nowhere before
9) He understood little about the situation
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10) The children should on no account go on their own
Q Exercise 1 - Fill the gaps using the words in the box. ?
has before than audience then was started will
can did so many had
1. Hardly ever ________ an athlete won so many medals in such a short time.
2. Little ________ we realise what a social faux-pas we had committed.
3. Scarcely ________ the match started when the trouble began.
4. Only by standing on tip-toe ________ I able to see anything at all.
5. Seldom can an ________ have heard a better interpretation of this symphony.
6. Hardly had the controversial opera ________ when people began to walk out.
7. Only if we leave now ________ we be in time to catch the train.
8. Never have I seen ________ people turn out for this event.
9. Rarely ________ a remark have been more ill-judged.
10. Only ________ did it become clear what the extent of the damage was.
11. Barely had we had time to pack up the picnic things ________ the heavens opened
12. No sooner had we asked for a quieter room, ________ we were given one.
Q Exercise 2 - Fill the gaps using the words in the box. ?
else way did circumstances nothing such nor until
would account only even
1. At no time ________ he seem to realise what an idiot he was making of himself.
2. At no time before have I heard ________ arrant nonsense.
3. Nowhere ________ do they charge you so much for water
4. On no ________ should you miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
5. Under no ________ must this door be left unlocked.
6. Not ________ she apologises for what she said will I speak to her again.
7. Not ________ if they halved the price would I buy such a heap of old rubbish.
8. Not for all the money in the world ________ I do what you're suggesting.
9. Not ________ do I know you're wrong, but I can also prove you're wrong.
10. Neither was the food up to standard ________ was the service particularly good.
11. Everyone except me got soaked. Not for ________ do I always carry an umbrella.
12. No ________ am I going to jump into that icy cold water!
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Q. Practice Exercises - general principles
Make inverted sentences from the sentences given, using the words in brackets ().
1. You shouldn't tell him about my trip to China. (On no ...)
2. You are not going to get me to eat that! (No way ... !)
3. I have seldom seen such a brilliant goal. (Seldom ...)
4. Such a hurricane has rarely happened in Hereford. (Hardly ever ...)
5. I would not want to hurt your feelings for all the world. (Not ...)
6. They were never aware of the danger that threatened them. (At no time ...)
7. This must not leak out to the press. (Under ...)
8. He wasn't rich and he wasn't handsome. (Neither ...)
9. We haven't often witnessed such artistry. (Rarely ...)
10. The bridge collapsed as soon as we managed to get across. (No sooner ...)
11. We were only able to cross the border by offering him a bribe. (Only ...)
12. Immediately he opened his mouth he started complaining about everything. (Barely ... before ...)
13. She has no idea what a surprise she's going to get. (Little ... know)
14. The bell had barely started to ring when the children rushed out of the classroom. (Scarcely)
15. He did not start his speech until there was absolute silence in the hall (Not ...)
16. We will only be able to accept your offer if we are offered free delivery (Only ...)
17. It is with good reason that Edinburgh is known as the Athens of the North (Not for ...)
18. We have never been so well wined and dined in our lives (Never ...)
19. She did not break the news of her engagement until after dinner (Only ...)
20. We weren't told that we would need our passports. (At no time ...)
21. They do not charge you as much for water anywhere else. (Nowhere else ...)
22. I would not fly with them again even if they offered me a free flight. (Not even ...)
23. We had barely entered the shop when an assistant jumped on us. (Hardly ... when ...)
24. He is both charming and very rich. (Not only ..., but ... also ...)