VerbAbout VerbsAction VerbsCausative VerbsContractionsDo and MakeFinite and Nonfinite VerbsGerundInfinitive FormInversionLinking VerbsModal VerbsMay and MightMoodsPhrasal VerbsSay and TellShallStative VerbsThird Person SingularUsed toRegular VerbsIrregular VerbsVerb FormsCompound Verbs
ConditionalConditionalZero ConditionalFirst ConditionalSecond ConditionalThird ConditionalMixed ConditionalInversion in Conditional Sentences
Passive VoicePassive VoicePresent Simple PassivePresent Continuous PassivePast Simple PassivePast Continuous PassivePerfect Tenses PassiveFuture Simple PassiveGoing to PassiveSay / Believe / SupposeGet + Participle
Adverbs of FrequencyAdverbs of FrequencyAdverbs of Frequency - Position in Sentence
QuestionsQuestion TagsRhetorical QuestionsEcho Questions
Reported SpeechReported SpeechModals in Reported SpeechReported Commands and RequestsReported QuestionsPresent Perfect in Reported SpeechFuture Perfect in Reported Speech
Irregular VerbsIrregular Verbs - GroupsIrregular Verbs - Forms
ParticiplesPresent ParticiplePast ParticiplePerfect Participle
Other TopicsWill vs. Going toIf / Even if / Whether / Unless If + Were or If + WasAs If / As Though + Past SubjunctiveHabits Expressed by Will and WouldHad BetterSubject
Read MoreAuxiliary VerbsAuxiliary Verbs: To BeAuxiliary Verbs: To HaveAuxiliary Verbs: To DoWhen To Use the Verb To Be
Grammar

Inversion

Inversion involves swapping (inverting) the position of the auxiliary verb and the subject in a sentence. We use it in:

  1. Questions
  2. Emphasis
  3. Conditional sentences
  4. Certain verbs

1. Questions

The most common use of inversion is forming questions (interrogative sentences).

Inversion in action!

Affirmative Sentence

Question

Earth is small compared to other planets.

Is Earth small compared to other planets?

I am thirsty.

Am I thirsty?

My name is Mark.

Is my name Mark?

If there is no auxiliary verb in the sentence, one needs to be added when you invert the word order.

Examples:

Affirmative Sentence

Question

Andrew had health problems.

Did Andrew have health problems?

It belongs to Emma.

Does it belong to Emma?

She looked tired.

Did she look tired?

2. Emphasis

Use inversion to show emphasis.

Examples:

  • Little did she know how much work was left.
  • On no account must you sleep at school.
  • Never should you forget who your boss is.
  • Only then can you belong to me.
  • Here comes the sun.

All these structures are rather literary, which means they are more likely to appear in books.

3. Conditional sentences

For example, these two sentences are (almost) the same: In formal English, conditional sentences can be formed by Inversion of the subject and the auxiliary verb. In such sentences, if is removed:

Normal Conditional Sentence

=

Conditional Sentence with Inversion

If I were taller, I would be happier.

Were I taller, I would be happier.

We can use inversion in unreal present as well as unreal past.

Unreal present/future

  • Were I you, I would visit my grandfather.
  • Were he more self-confident, he would date beautiful Rosie.

Unreal past

  • Had I known this fact before, I wouldn't have come here.
  • Had Jake been informed about the meeting, he would have participated.

4. Inversion of the Verb after Certain Adverbs

We're going to have a look at inversion that sometimes takes place with certain adverbs and adverb phrases, mostly with a negative or restrictive sense. Such adverbs (adverb phrases) can be placed first in a sentence or clause for emphasis. They are then followed by the interrogative (i.e. inverted ) form of the verb.

The most important of these adverbs include:

  • hardly ever
  • never
  • scarcely ever
  • only by
  • in no circumstances
  • only in this way on no account
  • hardly . . . when
  • only then/when no sooner . . . than
  • scarcely . . . when
  • not only
  • seldom
  • nowhere
  • not till
  • so
  • neither/nor

Examples of how to use them:

  • I had never before been asked to lie = Never before had I been asked to lie.
  • They not only rob you, they smash everything too = Not only do they rob you, they smash everything too.
  • She became so depressed that. . .  = So depressed did she become that. . .
  • This switch must not be touched on any account = On no account must this switch be touched.
  • Mike didn't realize how difficult his situation was till he received the letter = Not till he received the letter did he realize how difficult his situation was.
 

The second negative verb in a sentence can sometimes be expressed by nor with inversion: 

  • She had no friends and didn't know anyone who could help her = She had no friends, nor did she know anyone who could help..

Check your understanding!

VerbAbout VerbsAction VerbsCausative VerbsContractionsDo and MakeFinite and Nonfinite VerbsGerundInfinitive FormInversionLinking VerbsModal VerbsMay and MightMoodsPhrasal VerbsSay and TellShallStative VerbsThird Person SingularUsed toRegular VerbsIrregular VerbsVerb FormsCompound Verbs
ConditionalConditionalZero ConditionalFirst ConditionalSecond ConditionalThird ConditionalMixed ConditionalInversion in Conditional Sentences
Passive VoicePassive VoicePresent Simple PassivePresent Continuous PassivePast Simple PassivePast Continuous PassivePerfect Tenses PassiveFuture Simple PassiveGoing to PassiveSay / Believe / SupposeGet + Participle
Adverbs of FrequencyAdverbs of FrequencyAdverbs of Frequency - Position in Sentence
QuestionsQuestion TagsRhetorical QuestionsEcho Questions
Reported SpeechReported SpeechModals in Reported SpeechReported Commands and RequestsReported QuestionsPresent Perfect in Reported SpeechFuture Perfect in Reported Speech
Irregular VerbsIrregular Verbs - GroupsIrregular Verbs - Forms
ParticiplesPresent ParticiplePast ParticiplePerfect Participle
Other TopicsWill vs. Going toIf / Even if / Whether / Unless If + Were or If + WasAs If / As Though + Past SubjunctiveHabits Expressed by Will and WouldHad BetterSubject
Read MoreAuxiliary VerbsAuxiliary Verbs: To BeAuxiliary Verbs: To HaveAuxiliary Verbs: To DoWhen To Use the Verb To Be