Skill: Grammar  

Category: Academic English

Level: Upper-Intermediate


(Verb before subject) 

The traditional word order in English is subject + verb. We never change the order except when we make a question. We mostly use inversion to add emphasis and bring a variety to our writing, and it can make our sentence sound surprising or unusual. Inversion is not for everyday use of language, but it is used in formal statements, frequently in writing, such as essays and works of literature. In addition, there are more than 15 kinds of inversion, but only some are used in academic writing. 

Ex1: I have never seen such a pretty woman.

Ex 2: Never have I seen such a pretty woman.

In the second example, inversion is used which means the speaker in his whole lifetime has not seen such a pretty woman.

When to use inversion?

1- We use inversion in many different situations. They are mostly used in question forms.

a) Normal sentence: You are so kind.

b) Question (Inversion): Are you so kind?

2- We use inversion when we use a negative adverb phrase at the beginning of a sentence.

If we put the negative expression at the beginning of the sentence, we give it more impression and surprising. On the other hand, if we put the negative expression in the normal way, we actually lesson the impression.

Ex: Seldom he does his homework.

Seldom is at the beginning (inversion) and it emphasizes on student’s homework.

Ex: He seldom does his homework.

Seldom is used in normal place with no special emphasis.

Some more negative adverbs:

Hardly                                     Hardly had I got into the car when it rained.

Never                                      Never had he seen such a useful class.

Rarely                                      Rarely will you watch such an interesting movie

Only then                                Only then did I understand why she had cried.

Little                                       Little did I know.

On no account                         On no account should the students do anything with you the permission of the teacher

3- Using inversion instead of “if” in conditional clauses:

Normal Condition: If you had studied hard, you wouldn’t have failed.

Condition with inversion: Had you studied hard, you would have failed.

Normal Condition: If we had arriver sooner, we would have seen them.

Condition with inversion: Had we arriver sooner, we could have seen them.

4- Using inversion when the adverbial expression of place comes at the beginning of sentence

Normal sentence: All the books we had read was on the table.

Inverted sentence: On the table were all the books we had read.

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