Inversion after negative words

January 14, 2012pdf

If a negative adverb or adverb phrase comes at the beginning of a clause, it is usually followed by auxiliary verb + subject. These structures are rather formal.

  • Under no circumstances can we admit somebody like her. (NOT Under no circumstances we can admit somebody like her.)
  • At no time did she realize what she had done. (NOT At no time she realized what she had done.)
  • Hardly had I arrived when trouble started. (NOT Hardly I had arrived when trouble started.)
  • Seldom have I seen such a horrible sight. (NOT Seldom I have seen such a horrible sight.)
  • Little did she realize what she was doing.
  • Not only did they lose their money, but they were badly beaten.

In a less formal style, we begin these sentences with their proper subject. In that case, the auxiliary verb comes after the subject.

  • I had hardly arrived when trouble started.
  • I have seldom seen such a horrible sight.

In formal conditional clauses, an auxiliary verb can be put before the subject instead of using if.

  • Were I you, I wouldn’t do it. (= If I were you, I wouldn’t do it.)
  • Had I realized what she wanted, I would not have allowed her in. (= If I had realized what she wanted, I would not have allowed her in.)
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