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INVERSION1

OBLIGATORY INVERSION

1. after explicitly or implicitly negative adverbials in initial position.

a. after the time adverbials never (before), rarely, seldom; barely, hardly, scarcely, no sooner
... than:

Seldom do w e have goods returned to us because they are faulty.

Hardly had I got onto the motorway when I saw two police cars following me.

2. after only + a time expression, e.g. only after/later/once/then/when:

She bought a newspaper and some sweets at the shop on the comer. Only later did she realise
that she'd been given the wrong change.

Only once did I go to the opera in the whole time I was in Italy.

3. after only + Prepositional Phrases, e.g. only by ... , only in ... , only with ... , etc.:

Only by chance had Jameson discovered where the birds were nesting.

Mary had to work all weekends. Only in this way was she able to complete the report by the
deadline.

4. after Prepositional Phrases + no, e.g. at no time, in no way, on no account, under/in no


circumstances:

At no time did they actually break the rules of the game.

Under no circumstances are passengers permitted to open the doors themselves.

5. after expressions with not ... , e.g. not only/until, and not + Object:

Not until August did the government order an inquiry into the accident.

Not a single word had she written since the exam had started.

6. after little with a negative meaning:

Little do they know how lucky they are to live in such a wonderful house.

Little did I then realise the day would come when Michael would he famous.

7. after a initial only after/when or not until:

1
Cf Peter Williams, Miscellaneous Grammatical Topics.
Only when the famine gets worse will world governments begin to act.

Not until the train pulled into Euston Station did Jim find that his coat had gone.

8. after initial so + Adjective. .. that ...:

Her business was so successful that Marie was able to retire at the age of 50.

So successful was her business that Marie was able to retire at the age of 50.

The weather conditions became so dangerous that all mountain roads were closed.

So dangerous did weather conditions become, that all mountain roads were closed.

9. after initial such + be ... that:2

The play is so popular that the theatre is likely to be full every night.

Such is the popularity of the play that the theatre is likely to be full every night.

10. after initial neither.../ nor ...:

For some time after the explosion Jack couldn't hear, and neither could he see.

The council never wanted the new supermarket to he built, nor did local residents.

11. after the initial adverbials here and there + the simple form of the verbs go and come:3

Here comes Sandra's car.

There goes his chance of winning the contest!

Famous examples of inversion:

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. (Winston
Churchill)

Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them ; rarely, if ever, do
they forgive them. (Oscar Wilde)

2
Used in order to emphasise the extent or degree of something.
3
Inversion is not possible when the subject is a pronoun. Compare: There it goes! *There goes it! *There
Margaret goes!