Inversions after negative adverbials

by Brian February 25, 2021

Hey! There you are again. Are you an advanced English learner? If so, under no circumstances are you to leave this page! Why not? Because today we’re going to look at an important structure that will make you stand out from the crowd if you use it correctly.

In this blog post we are going to look at using inversions after negative or limiting adverbials. What on Earth am I talking about? To find out…read on!

What is an adverbial?

As you probably know already, adverbs are words we use to describe verbs. They give us more information about the action in a sentence. They can tell us how, why, where, when or how often something is done. Here are some examples of common adverbs:

Adverbs of manner: slowly, loudly, thoughtfully, fast
Adverbs of frequency: always, sometimes, rarely, never
Adverbs of place: abroad, nearby, indoors, away
Adverbs of time: yesterday, today, tomorrow

Adverbials have the same function as adverbs but can be a word or a phrase.
Adverbs are also adverbials, but many adverbials are not adverbs! Here are some examples o adverbials:

Adverbials of manner: in a careful way, slowly, like a bird
Adverbials of frequency: during the week, all day, usually
Adverbs of place: in the room, far away, under the bridge
Adverbs of time: at the moment, last night, a long time ago

Some examples of negative adverbials are:
not only, no sooner, never, by no means and under no circumstances.

Some examples of limiting adverbials are:
rarely, hardly, barely and little.

We sometimes put adverbials like these at the beginning of a sentence. This makes their meaning more emphatic.


We use adverbials to give more information about verbs

Adverbials can be words or phrases

What is an inversion?

When we use an adverbial at the start of a sentence, we have to remember to use an inversion. An inversion is when we put a verb before the subject in a sentence. We generally use inversions to form questions by putting an auxiliary verb (or the verb ‘to be’)  before the subject.

Here are some examples of inversions:

Affirmative:  She lives in Dublin.
Question/inversion: Does she live in Dublin?

Affirmative:  We had seen the film before.
Question/inversion: Had we seen the film before?

Affirmative:  Tom is a software developer.
Question/inversion: Is Tom a software developer?


We form inversions by putting a an auxiliary verb or the verb ‘to be’ before the subject

Inversions are used to form questions and to make statements more emphatic

Negative adverbials with inversions

Consider this sentence:

I have never met such a rude man.

This sentence is perfectly fine. But we could make it more dramatic by emphasizing the word never. We can do this by beginning the sentence with never and using an inversion:

Never have I met such a rude man.

Notice in the above example that we say have I met and not I have met. Here we are using the question form. This is an inversion.

Here are some more examples using the adverbial not only..but also, under no circumstances and no sooner:

Statement: She can speak German and she can also speak French.
Inversion: Not only can she speak German but she can also speak French.

Statement: You should not press the red button.
Inversion: Under no circumstances should you press the red button.

Statement: She graduated from university and soon found a fantastic job.
Inversion: No sooner had she graduated from university than she found a fantastic job.

When we form an inversion using the present simple or the past simple tense we use the auxiliary verb do as we would if we were asking a question. Note that this use of inversions sounds very formal and would not be used in everyday speech. For example:

Statement: I rarely walk in the forest. .
Inversion: Rarely do I walk in the forest.

Statement: She barely had a chance to speak..
Inversion: Barely did she have a chance to speak.

Sometimes we use the phrase little did I/he/she know to create a sense of surprise when we are telling a story. For example:

Statement: He didn’t know that he was being followed..
Inversion: Little did he know that he was being followed.

Statement: Mary had no idea we had arranged a party for her birthday.
Inversion: Little did Mary know that we had arranged a party for her birthday.

Test Yourself

1 / 9

An adverbial:

2 / 9

Which one is an adverbial?

3 / 9

Which one is not a negative adverbial?

4 / 9

To form an inversion we:

5 / 9

Which one is an inversion?

6 / 9

__________ had I sat down than the phone rang.

7 / 9

___________ have I experienced such terrible service.

8 / 9

_________ John realize he was being followed.

9 / 9

_____________ should you open the door.

Your score is

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Stand out from the crowd: To be unusual or different in a good way Example: Despite being very expensive, Apple computers really do stand out from the crowd.

Thank you for reading our post. You’ll find more English grammar tips elsewhere on our site and if you’d like information on our online English courses live from Dublin, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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