The auxiliary verb comes before the subject in several different structures. This is usually referred to as “inversion”.
Subject-Auxiliary Inversion – Video
- Inversion is a literary technique in which the normal order of words is reversed, generally for emphasis or special effect. It makes a sentence sound striking or unusual. It also sounds quite formal.
- Sentences with inversion are less common in everyday English.
- In a sentence with no special effect or emphasis, the normal order of words is retained.
We use inversion in several different situations in English.
In question forms
- Normal sentence: Sacramento is the capital of California. (The subject is “Sacramento”. It’s before the verb “is”.)
- Question form: Is Sacramento the capital of California? (The verb “is” is before the subject “Sacramento”. They have changed places. This is called inversion.)
When we use a negative adverb or adverb phrase at the beginning of the sentence
Usually, we put the expression at the beginning of the sentence to emphasise what we’re saying. It makes our sentence sound surprising or striking or unusual. It also sounds quite formal. If you don’t want to give this impression, you can put the negative expression later in the sentence in the normal way.
The inversion of the subject and the verb can take place after a clause that begins with:
- only then
- not only…. but
- no sooner … than
- only later
- in no way
- only in this way
- on no condition
- on no account
- in/under no circumstances
- Hardly had I closed my door when I realized I had lost the keys.
- Rarely has he got mark 10 in Math.
- Never have I met such well-behaved children before. They are as good as gold.
- Seldom do we receive any apology when mistakes are made.
- Only then did I understand the problem.
- Not only was it raining all day at the wedding but also the band was late.
- No sooner had I arrived home than the phone rang.
- Scarcely had I got off the bus when it crashed into the back of a car.
- Only later did she realize her mistake.
- Nowhere is the effect of government policy more apparent than in agriculture.
- In no way can theory be separated from practice.
- Little does she understand me.
- Only in this way can any future generations gain a balanced view of society in our time.
- On no condition should untrained personnel use the equipment.
- On no account should the house be left unlocked.
- Under no circumstances is the money to be paid.
In the following expressions, the inversion comes in the second part of the sentence:
- Not until: Not until I asked a passer-by did I know where I was.
- Not since: Not since I was a kid have I eaten a bowl of cereal.
- Only after: Only after you have finished your homework can you play.
- Only when: Only when he needed some help did he call me.
- Only by: Only by guessing can you solve this puzzle.
We can use inversion instead of “if” in conditionals with “had” “were” and “should”
In conditional sentences we can sometimes replace the “if” with an inversion:
- Had I known it would be so difficult I would never have enrolled.
We can use inversion after “so/such …that”
- So loud was the noise that I couldn’t work.
- Such was a day that we will all remember forever.
We can use inversion with “so”, “neither”, “nor” to express agreement
- “I love reading” – “So do I”.