In Grammar By Catherine

Inversion in English

First, let’s recall what it represents this phenomenon: the inverse — a violation of the usual order of words in a sentence. We know that English is a language with a fixed word order (predicate always follows the subject), but to emphasize a particular word or phrase, or else give a more emotional sound of the proposal, we can change the usual order of words. Also, we are faced with inversion, changing the order of words in the construction of the question. Of course, as in any other section of English grammar, there will be rules and exceptions, let’s try to deal with them.

  1. Questions.

    As mentioned above, the issues we change the order of the words, this phenomenon is called inversion.

    Have you done your homework?

    Where is her house?

    It should also be remembered that in matters of indirect word order is not violated, ie no inversion.

    I would like to know what time the train arrives. (NOT … what time does the train arrive)

    Sometimes nevertheless allowed the use of inversion in indirect questions after the speech how, if the subject is expressed in a few words. The most common is the use of inversion can be found in the written word.

    I would like to know how important was the question I had been asked.

  2. The word may.

    The wishes may subject may face.

    May all your dreams come true.

  3. Conditional clauses.

    A more formal and literary style allows the use of inversion in conditional subordinate clauses. The auxiliary verb may take place before the subject; if in such cases will be omitted.

    Were she my sister … (= if she were my sister …)

    Had I known your intentions … (= if I had known your intentions)

    But you should be careful using the inverse of such proposals, as when using this technique in denial is not allowed to reduce the negative form of the verb.

    Had we not lost all our money … (NOT Had not we lost …)

  4. After as, than.

    In a more literary style of inversion is sometimes used in the comparative proposals to the above unions.

    He was very active, as were most boys of his age.

    Country people live longer than do city dwellers.

    But you must also remember that the inversion is not applied as or after than, if in such sentences as subject pronoun stands.

    You look much better than you did last time.

  5. After the phrases that include the adverb place.

    If our proposal begins with the phrase, intransitive verbs (express actions that do not go directly to the object or person), as a rule, take place before the subject. Inversion in this form it is more common in writing, especially in the various descriptions.

    On the tree sat an unusual bird.

    Directly in front of them stood a beautiful castle.

    Along the road came a strange man.

    In a speech to the grammatical structure is also often used with words here, there, and with prepositional adverbs (up, out, back, down, off etc).

    Here comes Meg!

    The door opened and out came Jack.

    But if the role of the pronoun appears to be in direct word order.

    Here he comes.

    Off we go!

  6. The words of the author in direct speech.

    Often one can observe the use of inversion in different stories when verbs like said, asked, suggested, etc. go after the author’s words.

    «Where is my car?» Asked John. (OR … John asked)

    But if the role of the pronoun appears to be in direct word order.

    «What do you want?» She asked.

  7. Negative adverbs.

    It should be noted that while the use of the above inversion in some examples is optional, in the case of this group of adverbs, no inversions can be a serious error, so will pay particular attention to this point. Putting this in the beginning of the sentence adverb, always be aware of the violation of the order of words and grammar of the times to be used.

    • Adverbs with particle not.

      Not until I see it with my own eyes will I believe him.

      Not since I met him was I so happy.

    • After groups of adverbs of time with the word only.

      Only after the phone call did she calm down.

      Only later did I realize how important it had been.

      Only then did I remember that I had forgotten to feed my cat.

      Only when I have called him will I be able to think about anything else.

      Only in the last few weeks has he started to feel better.

      Note that after the phrases not until, only when, and only after the inversion is used in the main part of the sentence, not the subordinate.

    • After adverbs showing frequency action (hardly / barely / scarcely, never (before), rarely, seldom, no sooner … than).

      Never have I seen such a beautiful child.

      Hardly ever does she come in time.

      Rarely do they fail to impress their neighbours.

    • With expressions like at no time, in no way, on no account, under / in no circumstances.

      At no time did she complain about the situation.

      Under no circumstances are parents allowed to leave their children alone.

    • The word little, having a negative value.

      Little do they know how lucky they are to have such a good friend. (= They do not know)

      Little did I realize that he would leave me one day. (= I did not realize)

    • You can also use the design So + adjective in the beginning of the sentence, in order to emphasize the adjective.


      So successful was her song, that Ann very soon became a famous singer.

      Her song was so successful that Ann very soon became a famous singer.

      So dangerous did the weather become, that all the flights were canceled.

      The weather became so dangerous that all the flights were cancelled.

Inversion gives our speech more formal tone, which is why when writing different essays, this stylistic device immediately attract attention and will be appreciated by inspection. But like any other grammatical construction, do not use the inversion is not understood as it should in this complex phenomenon. That is why I hope that this article will awaken in you a desire to further explore this aspect of grammar, and we will be happy to help!



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