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Date: Oct 22 2007

Topic: Grammar

Author: Santtilorenzo


Inversions consist on putting the auxiliary verb (do/does, have/has, did, etc.) or even modal verbs (should, must, ought to, etc.) before the subject of a clause, and this is what we can see in questions:

  •  Had you finished when he arrived?

Had is the auxiliary verb of the perfect tense placed "before" you, the subject of the sentence.

What we have just seen is the most common use of inversions. However; inversions are also used in many other situations.

They are used with negative and restrictive adverbs (only, never, hardly, little, etc.) to emphasize the sentence. For example: You can say "Only later they learnt his terrible secret." but to give more emphasize to this sentence you can change it as if it was a question (but don't get confused because it isn't a questions, it doesn't take question mark "?"), so the sentence looks like this: "Only later did they learn his terrible secret." it's important the fact that in the end they got to know the secret so the inversion in the sentence remarks that.

Analize the following examples. What is the inversion emphasizing? Which is the tense of the sentence? How would the sentence be without the inversion?

  • Only then can you belong to me.
  • Never before had I seen such awful behaviuor.
  • Little do you know how much trouble you are in.
  • Not only was he angry, but also very tired.
  • Never should you remember who's your boss.

How would you invert the following sentences? Can you think of any other example?

  • She goes to school every day. (She does go to school every day.)
  • She went to the party. 
  • You have to learn from your mistakes.

Inversions have a wide range of uses. However, in this lesson I only explain the one on negative and restrictive adverbs. Other uses of inversions include: so, nor and neither (I'm very tired, so am I); conditional clauses (Had you been ready, we wouldn't have been late); exclamations (Isn't he lazy!); and others.

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