Using Inversion

inversion grammar image

Inversion is a way of changing the information placed at the beginning of a sentence and in this post we will looked at a variety of different ways that we can use inversion. Because it changes the focus on information it can be a very good way of emphasizing details. It’s also considered a more complex and sophisticated way of combining ideas together.  

In this respect it can be a very useful structure to organise formal writing and speaking. 

Negative Inversion Expressions

There are two types of ways we can use inversion. In this section we look at details on what is most easily recognized where we change the verb form at the beginning of a sentence following certain types of expressions.

The first group of words are negative forms, typically adverbs.

Let’s look at an example

  • Rarely/Seldom/Never have I seen such a beautiful sight.

We can also use words or expressions like the following which have a limited or negative meaning  

  • Under no circumstances are you to leave the house.
  • Little do my parents know about my financial problems.

Finally, we have a group of words where an extra change is required in the sentence because they are fixed expressions.

This group is follows

  • Scarcely/hardly had the train left when it began to rain.
  • No sooner had I reached the door than my phone rang.
  • Not only is the explanation unclear but it also doesn’t make any sense anyway.

Inversion & Other forms

There is another group of expressions that we can use which are positive but they still have the same effect on the verb, by inverting it.


We can use these two words at the beginning of sentences.

So is typically followed by an adjective and such is followed by the verb to be. That is is also part of the second part of the sentence.

    • So intense was the heat that it took them hours to put out the fire.
    • Such was the demand for tickets that people started queuing the day before.


We can invert conditionals and this makes them much more formal. There are also particular types of conditional structures we tend to use as you can see from the examples below.

  • If I had known
  • Had I known
  • If you called them
  • Were you to call them

  • If you should need any more information
  • Should you need any more information

Swapping Verbs & Nouns

The final method is where we invert we change position of the nouns and verbs and effectively swap them. This type of style is very useful in something like storytelling and is particularly common with books for very young children. It can have the effect of making text more immediate and possibly exciting.

It is an alternative but at the same time it may not always be something that you can use too often in a writing exercise. Here are some examples of it. 

  • The bus came along.
  • Along came the bus.
  • The rider rode out with the message in his hand.
  • Out rode the rider with the message in his hand.

  • My aunt’s friend went on and on about her beautiful garden.
  • On and on went my aunt’s friend about her beautiful garden.

Inversion can be a very good way to change focus, to show an ability to use more complex forms and also to demonstrate more variety in your language. Nevertheless, it’s not something that should be used too much as it can make writing very difficult to read.  So, it is probably a good thing to consider when you are deciding to use it whether it’s appropriate and useful in that situation.


Practise inversion forms for Cambridge Advanced.

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