Inversion with negative adverbials – adding emphasis

Grammar points » B2 – Advanced Grammar

Exercise 1

Choose the correct option to complete the sentences below.

1He can speak French but it in public, and almost never when on diplomatic duty.

2 those words all the newspapers published them.

3 the stress she was under.

4 the world gets rid of all nuclear weapons truly safe.

5 such dedicated and honest leaders.

6 what was in store for him after he landed here.

7 the votes been counted they started breaking promises.

8 we are able to reinvent ourselves to succeed in business and life.

9 ever said anything to damage his reputation.

10 the South Americans lose their ice-cold concentration, and fail to control the ball.


Inversion with negative adverbials

In formal English we can place a negative or restrictive adverb at the beginning of a sentence to make the sentence more emphatic or dramatic. When we do this, the adverb is then followed by auxiliary verb + subject. When there is no auxiliary verb, we use do/does (present) or did (past) as auxiliary.

In the tables below, the ellispis (…) show where the inversion must be used. So, (…) = auxiliary/modal verb + subject

Hardly … when
Hardly had we arrived home when we heard the shocking news.
Barely … when
Barely had I opened the book to read when my neighbour put on some music at full blast.
No sooner … than
No sooner had the shop opened its doors than it went bankrupt.

We normally use hardly … when, barely … when, and no sooner … than in narratives with past perfect in the inversion.

We use no sooner … than (NOT that, or when)

Only if + clause …
Only if we invest more money can we save the company from the crisis.*
Only when + clause …
Only when I sleep can I forget about the incident.*
Only now …
Only now am I able to understand what really happened.
Only + any element …
Only at 7 could I fall asleep.
Only Mark could she trust.

*Note that after some adverbials, such as only if and only when we use a subordinate clause (subject + verb), and that the inversion is never in the subordinate clause, but in the main verb of the sentence. Check the sentence below:

  • Only when I sleep can I forget about the accident. (NOT: Only when do I sleep I can …)


Not only … but also
No only will you have a good result, but you will also be the best.
Not once …
Not once did she look at me at the party.
Not since + clause …
Not since I was a child have I had such a great time.*
Not + any element …
Not in a million years will I go back to that hotel.
Not until I see her again will I be happy.*

*Note that after some adverbials, such as not since and not until we use a subordinate clause (subject + verb), and that the inversion is never in the subordinate clause, but in the main verb of the sentence. Check the sentence below:

  • Not since I was child have I had such a great time(NOT: Not since was I child I’ve had …)

We must always use not followed by another element before the inversion.

  • Not often can we see such great expressions of art. (NOT Not can we see such great expressions of art often)


Under no circumstances …
Under no circumstances should we allow this to happen.
In no way …
In no way am I related to this man.
Nowhere …
Nowhere were the people more excited than in the streets of Manhattan.
No way (common in spoken language) …
No way are we going to pay for the damages.


Never / Rarely / Seldom / Little
Never …
Never (before) have I met such a stupid person.
Never (before) had she felt so happy.
Rarely …
Rarely have there been so many cases of corruption before.
Seldom …
Seldom have we seen him in his office since he took the job.
Little …
Little did we know about him when we hired him.

We can also use inversion after the negative or restrictive adverbs of frequency, such as seldom, rarely, or never.

We often use never to talk about experiences. In that case, we normally use present perfect or past perfect.

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