Updated: Feb 24
WHAT IS INVERSION? WHEN & WHY DO WE USE INVERSION and HOW DO WE USE IT?
What? The term inversion refers to a different grammatical structure, it happens when we reverse (invert) the normal word order of a structure, most commonly the subject-verb word order.
Why? The purpose of Inversion in English is to give more emphasis and highlight points.
It makes our sentence sound surprising or striking or unusual. It also sounds quite formal.
When? We use inversion in several different situations in English but mainly to emphasise what we are saying or writing specially emphasising specific parts in presentations, emails and meetings.
How? By moving the word, phrase or expression to the beginning of the sentence, there is more focus on that term. In speaking, we tend to stress that first word, phrase or expression more, for example:
“NEVER have I been so surprised!”
We need to apply inversion in English when we start a sentence with a particular word, phrase or expression which is often, but not always, negative in meaning. These words, phrases and expressions include:
Seldom have I seen such beautiful work. (‘Seldom’ is at the beginning, so we use inversion. This sentence emphasises 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.)
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.)
Here are some negative adverbs and adverb phrases that we often use with inversion:
Hardly had I got into work when the telephone rang.
Never had she seen such a beautiful sight before.
Seldom do we see such terrible violence.
Rarely will you see such weak effort made in the office.
Only then did I understand why we didn't get the deal we wanted.
Not only … but
Not only does he deliver great speeches but he also coaches people to do it.
No sooner had we arrived at the office than Maria asked me where I had been.
Scarcely had I got off the bus when it crashed into the back of a car.
Only later did she really think about the situation.
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.
In the following expressions, the inversion comes in the second part of the sentence:
Not until I saw John with my own eyes did I really believe he was safe.
Not since Frank left college had he had such a wonderful time.
Only after I’d seen her flat did I understand why she wanted to live there
Only when we’d all arrived home did I feel calm.
Only by working extremely hard could we afford to expand to other countries.
Under no circumstances should you miss the deadline.
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!
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’.) In most English verb tenses, when we want to use inversion, we just move the verb to before the subject. If there’s more than one verb, because a verb tense has auxiliary verbs for example, we move the first verb.
There are 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 With other verb tenses, we change the place of the subject and the auxiliary verb (the first auxiliary verb if there is more than one). We don’t move the other parts of the verb:
Now test yourself! (don't peep at the answers until you're finished)
1) John had never been to such a fantastic conference.
2) I in no way want to be associated with this project.
3) They had no sooner reached their targets than the new targets were sent by email.
4) I had barely finished writing the report when the meeting began.
5) I seldom leave my house for work so early.
6) People rarely appreciate her capabilities.
7) We would understand what had happened during that year only later.
8) They had met such rude people nowhere before.
9) He understood little about the situation.
10) We can't allow our competitors to beat us under any circumstances
1.Never had John been to such a fantastic conference.
2.In no way do I want to be associated with this project.
3.No sooner had they reached their targets than the new targets were sent by email.
4.Barely had I finished writing the report when the meeting began.
5.Seldom do I leave my house for work so early.
6.Rarely do people appreciate her capabilities.
7.Only later would we understand what had happened during that year.
8.Nowhere had they met such rude people before. 9.Little did he understand about the situation. 10.Under no circumstances can w allow our competitors to beat us.
Now that you’ve learned how to emphasise in English, the only thing left is to incorporate it into your daily business English use today!