Inversion of Subject-Verb Order



Inversion happens when we invert (reverse or swap) the normal subject-verb order. Though this topic has been covered in other places in LEWWWP, I am including it here so I can find it easily and because I try to be more concise and succinct than other people.

What Situations Require Inversion?


Questions invert the subject-verb order by using an auxiliary or modal verb before the subject:

  1. She sings. => Does she sing?
  2. They are working. => Are they working?
  3. Joe can swim. => Can Joe swim?

Negative Adverbs

In formal styles, when we use an adverb with a negative meaning (e.g. never, seldom, rarely, scarcely, hardly) in the front position for emphasis, we invert the subject and auxiliary/modal verb:

  1. Never have we witnessed such cruel behavior by one child to another.
    (inversion of “we have never witnessed”)
  2. Seldom does one hear a politician say sorry.
    (inversion of “one seldom hears”)

Expressions Beginning with Not

We also invert the subject and verb after an initial not + prepositional phrase/clause:

  1. Not for a moment did I think I would be offered the job.
  2. Not till I got home did I realize my wallet was missing.

Here and There

Inversion can happen after here and there when they are used as adverbs of place. After here and there, we can use a main verb without an auxiliary verb or modal verb:

  1. Here comes the bus!
  2. Heres your coffee.
  3. I opened the door and there stood Michael, all covered in mud.
  4. She looked out and there was Pamela, walking along arm in arm with Goldie.

Conditionals without If

  1. If I had know you were here, I would have come sooner. (normal)
    Had I known you were here, I would have come sooner. (inverted)
  2. If I had been 10 minutes late, they would have sacked me. (normal)
    Had I been 10 minutes late, they would have sacked me. (inverted)


Fill in the blanks as correctly as possible: (hints have been provided)

  1. Never in the world _____ imagined such an outcome. (I would have)
  2. What in the world _____? (you do)
  3. The bride is coming here. => Here _____.
  4. Not until after much gnashing of teeth _____ to choose the first option. (I did decide)
  5. Seldom in the field of human conflict _____ by so many to so few. (so much was owed) — Winston Churchill
  6. Not once _____ him lift a hand to help around the house. (I have seen)
  7. Rarely _____such a find! (there has been)
  8. What time _____? (it is)
  9. _____ the name of the game? (?)
  10. Where in the world _____? (Carmen Sandiego is)

Inversion is often used for extra emphasis. Rewrite these sentences using inversion to add extra emphasis to their meaning:

  1. The boat is coming here! Yay!
  2. I have never heard of such rubbish!
  3. He had scarcely begun his journey when his tire went flat!
  4. I wouldn’t do this for you for all the money in the world!
  5. I will not consider doing this for you until you get down on your knees and beg!
  6. Their competition had hardly begun when they found themselves already behind by 20 points.
  7. He wants us to do what?
  8. He’s going where?
  9. The tornado blows there!
  10. He has insulted us not once, not twice, but three times today!

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