Inversion(Download this explanation in PDF here.)
We use inversion in several different situations in English. Inversion just means putting the verb before the subject. We usually do it in question forms:
- Normal sentence: You are tired. (The subject is 'you'. It's before the verb 'are'.)
- Question form: Are you tired? (The verb 'are' is before the subject 'you'. They have changed places. This is called inversion.)
With two verb tenses where we just change the places of the verb and subject:
- Present simple with 'be': am I / are you / is he
- Past simple with 'be': were you / was she
- Present continuous: am I going / are you going
- Past continuous: was he going / were they going
- Present perfect: have we gone / has she gone
- Present perfect continuous: has she been going / have they been going
- Past perfect: had you gone
- Past perfect continuous: had he been going
- Future simple: will they go
- Future continuous: will you be going
- Future perfect: will they have gone
- Future perfect continuous: will she have been going
- Modal verbs: should I go / would you go
- Present simple with any verb except 'be' (add 'do' or 'does'): do you go / does he go
- Past simple with any verb except 'be' (add 'did'): did we go / did they go
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 don't want to give this impression, you can put the negative expression later in the sentence in the normal way:
- Seldom have I seen such beautiful work.
('Seldom' is at the beginning, so we use inversion. This sentence emphasizes what beautiful work it is.)
- I have seldom seen such beautiful work.
('Seldom' is in the normal place, so we don't use inversion. This is a normal sentence with no special emphasis.)
|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||Only then did I understand why the tragedy had happened.|
|Not only ... but||Not only does he love chocolate and sweets but he also smokes.|
|No sooner||No sooner had we arrived home than the police rang the doorbell.|
|Scarcely||Scarcely had I got off the bus when it crashed into the back 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 way||Only in this way could John earn enough money to survive.|
|In no way||In no way do I agree with what you're saying.|
|On no account||On no account should you do anything without asking me first.|
|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.|
|Only by||Only by working extremely hard could we afford to eat.|
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 wouldn't have happened.
- Conditional with inversion: Had I been there, this problem wouldn't 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!
- 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.)
- 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.)