What is Inversion in English Grammar? Definition, Uses & Examples


In this article, we will learn what is inversion in English grammar, along with a lot of examples.

Let’s explore!

What is Inversion in English Grammar?

English language has many interesting features to make the language more appealing. Inversion is one such feature. But what is an inversion in the English language? If we are to study other languages of the world, we can see this grammatical phenomenon as well. But just like others, the English grammatical rules for inversions are a bit different.

Well, by inversion, we mean the inversion of a verb before the subject. This is actually considered as a very common phenomenon in English sentences. Usually, the order of a sentence should be (subject + verb + . . . .) but in case of inversion, the order becomes (verb + subject). This technique is very common with interrogative sentences. But there are some other However, there are a few other circumstances as well where this phenomenon can be seen.

But before we look into the more complex sentences, let’s get the basic structure clear by studying a few examples.

Any normal construction will be

You are all right. (The subject is ‘you’. It’s before the verb ‘are’.)

But in the question form: Are you all right? (The verb ‘are’ will be placed before the subject ‘you’ and since they have changed places, it is known as inversion.)

Let’s Look into More Details:

Do you want to learn What is Preposition?

Inversion Examples in English Grammar

In English language, anytime we wish to use inversion, we can just move the verb to before the subject. But if there is more than one verb, like an auxiliary verb, then we can move the first verb.

When we have two verbs in the sentence, the changes can be like the following:

For present simple it will be using the “be” verb like(Am I / are you / is he)

For past simple tense it will be like (Were you / was she)

In case of other verbs tenses, one has to change the place of the subject and the auxiliary verb both but we don’t have to move the other parts of the verb. Let’s look at a few demonstrations:

  • Present continuous: am I doing / are you doing
  • Past continuous: was he doing / were they doing
  • Present perfect: have we done / has she done
  • Present perfect continuous: has she been doing / have they been doing
  • Past perfect: had you done
  • Past perfect continuous: had he been doing
  • Future simple: will they do
  • Future continuous: will you be doing
  • Future perfect: will they have done
  • Future perfect continuous: will she have been doing
  • Modal verbs: should I do / would you do

Apart from the ones mentioned above, the other two tenses where we need to add ‘do / does / did’ are Present simple and Past Simple.

For present simple in casethe verb ‘be’ will have ‘do’ or ‘does’ and will look like: do you run / does he run

For past simple in case of the verb ‘be’ you must add ‘did’ and it will look like did we meet/ did they meet.

Rules to use preposition on

When Do We Use Inversion?

By now, you can understand that one can use inversion in case of questions but now we will look at some other scenarios where inversion is used or can be used.

Let’s look at them one by one:

Inversions can be used when a negative adverb or adverb phrase is used at the beginning of the sentence.

Any expression is used at the beginning of the sentence in order to emphasize the point we are making. This often makes the sentence appealing or striking. One such way is to come up with a negative expression or adverb in the beginning of the sentence. But in that case, you will have to use inversion. Like for example,

Seldom have I had such a delicious meal.

(‘Seldom’ is at the beginning, hence the use of inversion. This sentence emphasizes what a delicious meal it was)

I have seldom faced such a troubling situation.

(‘Seldom’ here is placed in the normal place, hence no use of inversion.)

Let’s look at some other negative adverbs and adverb phrases along with inversion:

  • Hardly: Hardly had I completed my work when my mother called me.
  • Never: Never had she had such a delicious cake before.
  • Seldom:           Seldom do I find such kind and passionate human being around me.
  • Rarely: Rarely will you get such beautiful painting.
  • Only then         Only then did she realize how much trouble she had caused.
  • Not only … but Not only did he eat the whole bar of chocolate but he also ate the candies.
  • No sooner        No sooner had we arrived at the station the train left.
  • Scarcely           Scarcely had I finished the painting when she called my phone.
  • Only later        Only later did he realize the gravity of the situation.
  • Nowhere         Nowhere have I ever had such a horrible experience.
  • Little                Little did he understand!
  • Only in this way           Only in this way could Mike make ends meet for his family.
  • In no way                     In no way do I accept the terms you are giving.
  • On no account On no account should he take such a step against the employees.

In the following expressions, the inversion happens in the second part of the sentence:

  • Not until          Not until I saw the movie myself did I accept that it was truly amazing.
  • Not since         Not since John left college had he became a rockstar with a famous rock band.
  • Only after        Only after I’d seen her house did I understand why she never wanted to go back there.
  • Only when       Only when I hadfinishedmy homework did I feel calm.
  • Only by            Only by working really hard could I afford a new car.

Introduce a formal tone with inversions in place of ‘if’ for conditionals with ‘had’ ‘were’ and ‘should’.

Let’s look at some examples to understand this better:

  • Normal conditional: If John had been there, this show would have been a hit.
  • Conditional with inversion: Had John been there, this show would have been a hit.
  • Normal conditional: If we had started sooner, they could have won the competition!
  • Conditional with inversion: Had we started sooner, they could have won the competition!

Introduce inversion when using an adverbial expression of place at the beginning on the sentence. It will give a formal or literary tone.

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • On the table were all cookies I had baked. (Normal sentence: All the cookies I had baked were on the table.)
  • Round the corner came running the police. (Normal sentence: The police came running round the corner.)

You can use inversions after ‘so + adjective…that’:

Let’s look at a few examples to understand better:

  • So beautiful was the song that nobody could think of anything else. (Normal sentence: the song was so beautiful that nobody could think of anything else.)
  • So amazing was the movie that we watched it twice. (Normal sentence: the movie   was so delicious that we watched it twice.)

More Examples with Inversion

Inversion in Questions

Every type of interrogative sentence will use inversion. In this case, you just have to place the auxiliary verb before the subject.

Example:

  • Is he doing the same job?
  • Did he eat lunch here?
  • Can he do that?
  • Is he coming tonight at the party?
  • Where is your car?
  • Who is standing by the coffee shop?

Apart from these, some other negative and affirmative sentences use inversions as well.

1. In case of affirmative and negative agreement: only after so, nor, neither but not in the cases of either and too.

Examples:

  • John went to Harvard, and so did his sister.
  • Harry met with his archrival, and Ron did too. (No inversion)
  • Robert hasn’t called yet, neither has his wife.
  • Robert hasn’t found the key yet; Rachel hasn’t either. (No inversion)
  • Russel is not a champion, and nor is Ryan.

2. Using Inversion for negative adverbial expressions at the beginning of the sentence.

Example:

  • In no way should I accept this insult.
  • Little did I know about how cruel he can be.
  • Never have I felt so humiliated.
  • Seldom do I get to drink this much.
  • Rarely do I see bird these days.
  • Hardly ever do they hang out with each other.

3. Use inversion with starting a sentence with only & not only.

Example:

  • Only if you come would I come as well
  • Only by love can you make him understand.
  • Only after dinner can you play video games.
  • Not only did they hunt the animals, but they cut the trees as well.

4. Use inversion when you have adverbials at the beginning of a sentence.

Example:

  • Hardly have I finished the story, he left.
  • Seldom does he finish his work on time.

Conclusion

Inversion is a very common motif in the English language and is used quite often every day. Understanding it and having a firm grasp about the concept can be very helpful. I hope the above discussion was helpful for you.

So, if you have any further queries about this topic then feel free to mention them in the comments section.

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