Grammar. 15.09.2011
Grammar Teacher

Inversion (for upper levels)

Автор: Grammar Teacher
A good teacher must know the rules; a good pupil, the exceptions. 
Martin H. Fischer 
Grammar rules exist so that we don’t sound like complete idiots when we speak or write. Most of them have a good reason for being around; after all, clarity in communication is a good thing. However, that’s not to say that all grammar rules are written in stone. Moreover, sometimes they contradict themselves which makes us angry: we’ve just learnt a rule, cleared up how it works and there comes an exception. Sounds familiar? Bad news: you’ve got to get used to it. Because, as you might have noticed, generalizing is not always trustworthy, especially in case of language. Because language is a dynamical system and what is considered a rule today may not be so tomorrow. That is why we must be ready to meet exceptions all the way to our destination which is a perfect English language competence.  
One of the constructive rules in English sentence structure is the WORD ORDER SUBJEC + (AUXILIARY VERB) + MAIN VERB + OBJECT:

But the thing is that sometimes in order to make something sound stronger and more emphatic (більш виразно і експресивно), the normal subject-verb order in a sentence is reversed (зворотній). We call this INVERSION. Read the following story:

Now compare the sentences from the story with more neutral ones that you are used to:

Emphatic Language

Neutral language

·         Not only has he decided to move house, but he is emigrating to America…

·         Never has he known anything like it.

·         Seldom have bagpipes caused such conflict.

·         Had they known that their neighbor was a piper, they wouldn’t have moved into the street.

·         No sooner had they moved in than the noise began to drive them mad.

·         Neither could they read a book at home without wearing earplugs.

·         He has decided to move house and he is emigrating to America.

·         He has never known anything like it.

·         Bagpipes have hardly ever caused such conflict.

·         If they had known that their neighbor was a piper, they wouldn’t have moved into the street.

·         They had moved in and the noise began to drive them mad.

·         They couldn’t read a book at home without wearing earplugs either.

As you can see, the sentences in the first column are more dramatic and this is due to the unusual word order – the word order of a question when auxiliary verb comes first and only then goes the subject and the rest of a sentence:

Only then can                              you                                  belong to me.

This is the main point to consider while learning inversion. Now, please, watch the video below. The instructor will make it even clearer!

 Let’s look closer at the most generally used types of inversion. I’ve decided to break them in the following groups:

The examples above all have auxiliary verb, but it’s not necessary.

1.1. Inversion after adverbs of place like 'here', 'there'. After here and there and after adverb particles such as back, down, off, up, etc. the noun subject comes after the verb. This is common with verbs of motion, such as come and go:

  • Here comes a taxi
  • There goes the last train
  • Down came the rain and up went the umbrellas
  • Here's a cup of tea for you (offer)

 BUT: Inversion does not occur if the subject is a pronoun:

  • Here you are (offer)
  • There she is (identifying location)

  1.2. Inversion after adverbials of place:

  •  At the top of the hill stood the tiny chapel
  • In the fields of poppies lay the dying soldiers

Again, inversion does not occur if the subject is a pronoun: 

At the top of the hill it stood out against the sky

 1.3.  Inversion after the quoted words of direct speech:

  •  “I’ve just finished”, said Tom, BUT… he said. 


2.1.  Inversion after certain adverbs and adverb phrases, mostly with a negative or restrictive sense.

Such adverbs (adverb phrases) can be placed first in a sentence or clause for emphasis. They are then followed by auxiliary verbs (be, do, did, have, can, must, etc.) + subject + the rest of the sentence. The most important of these adverbs include:



Little did I know that he would go any length.

Little does she think what surprise we have in store for her.

Я і не знала, що він ні перед чим не зупиниться.

Вона і не думала,який сюрприз ми їй готуємо.


Seldom have I seen him looking so miserable.

Rarely does a movie make you feel so warm and so uneasy at the same time.

Never in her life had she experienced this exhilarating emotion.

Рідко я бачила його таким нещасним.

Вкрай рідко фільм змушує тебе почувати себе так тепло і тривожно водночас.

Ніколи у своєму житті вона не переживала таких хвилюючих емоцій.

On no account/Under no circumstances

Under no circumstances should you be absent from your seminars.

On no account must you sleep at school.


Ні за яких обставин вам не слід пропускати семінари.

 Ні у якому випадку вам не дозволено спати у школі.


Nowhere had Susan seen a more beautifully decorated room.

Ніде ще Сюзанна не бачила так чудово прикрашеної кімнати.

No sooner.....than

No sooner did I reach the door than I realised it was locked.

Щойно я підійшов до дверей,як зрозумів, що вони зачинені.


Hardly had I got into bed, when there was a knock at the door.

Не встиг я дістатися ліжка, як пролунав стук у двері.

At no time

At no time did I say I would accept late homework.

Ніколи я не говорила, що прийматиму домашню роботу із запізненням.

If there’s no auxiliary verb in the neutral sentence, you should choose one accordingly to the tense being used:

She knew little about how much work was left. (Normal word order)

Little did she know how much work was left. (Inversion)

We use DID in the inverted sentence, because it’s the auxiliary verb we usually use in the Past Simple tense.

 2.2. Сombinations with only

 2.3. so + adjective (+ that) and such (+ that):

  2.4. Inversion in conditional sentences

We can use inversion in certain types of conditional sentences when the if-clause begins with had, were or should. Sentences with inversion sometimes sound more formal than those with the more conventional if-construction. Compare the following:

Third conditional:

Had he not resigned, we would have been obliged to give him the sack.

   If he had not resigned, we would have been forced to sack him.

Second conditional:

Were she to find out that he was seeing some one else, she'd go berserk.

 If she were to find out that he was cheating on her, she would go mad.

First conditional:

Should you decide to cancel the contract, please let me know by Friday.

I hope this article was clear enough and now you’re an expert in inversion. Let's check?



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