In English, it is important to use the right words in the right order. This is one of the first things that people are taught when they learn to speak this language. However, there are various complicated rules and one of these is called inversion.

In this lesson, I am going to show you how and why we use inversion so that you can avoid some common mistakes and handle the language with a higher degree of accuracy.

What is Inversion?

Inversion in English grammar refers to the reversal of the usual word order in a sentence. Standard English sentences often follow the Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) pattern: “She plays the piano.” In an inverted sentence, the verb or the verb phrase comes before the subject: “Rarely does she play the piano.”

Why Use Inversion?

Inversion is primarily used to add emphasis, create a dramatic effect, or lend variety to the sentence structure. It is also commonly used in question forms and conditional clauses, as we shall see.

Let’s now look at the different reasons why we use inversion in English:

1. Questions Using Inversion

The most straightforward form of inversion occurs in questions. When forming questions in English, the auxiliary verb frequently precedes the subject.

Simple Present Tense

  • Statement: They are eating.
  • Question: Are they eating?

Present Continuous Tense

  • Statement: She is working on her assignment.
  • Question: Is she working on her assignment?

Present Perfect Tense

  • Statement: You have finished your project.
  • Question: Have you finished your project?

Past Simple Tense

  • Statement: She was there.
  • Question: Was she there?

Past Continuous Tense

  • Statement: They were watching a movie.
  • Question: Were they watching a movie?

Past Perfect Tense

  • Statement: I had read the book.
  • Question: Had you read the book?

When there is a modal verb, it can also be inverted to come before the subject in a question:

  • Statement: She can swim.
  • Question: Can she swim?
  • Statement: They should leave.
  • Question: Should they leave?
  • Statement: He will come.
  • Question: Will he come?

Questions with “To Do”

If there is no auxiliary verb present in the original statement, “do,” “does,” or “did” are used as auxiliary verbs to form the question.

  • Statement: They like ice cream.
  • Question: Do they like ice cream?
  • Statement: She likes reading.
  • Question: Does she like reading?
  • Statement: We visited the museum.
  • Question: Did you visit the museum?

2. Negative Adverbial Inversion

When a sentence starts with a negative adverb or adverbial phrase like “never,” “rarely,” or “seldom,” inversion usually follows.

*Note that these expressions are usually used in order to provide emphasis. In the first example below, “Never have I been so upset” is a little stronger in meaning than “I have never been so upset.” It really emphasises the word “never.”

Using “Never”

  • Standard: I have never been so upset.
  • Inverted: Never have I been so upset.
  • Standard: He has never acted so foolishly before.
  • Inverted: Never before has he acted so foolishly.

Using “Rarely”

  • Standard: I rarely eat junk food.
  • Inverted: Rarely do I eat junk food.
  • Standard: She rarely loses her temper.
  • Inverted: Rarely does she lose her temper.

Using “Seldom”

  • Standard: We seldom visit the countryside.
  • Inverted: Seldom do we visit the countryside.
  • Standard: They seldom spoke of the incident.
  • Inverted: Seldom did they speak of the incident.

Using “Scarcely”

  • Standard: I had scarcely closed the door when someone knocked.
  • Inverted: Scarcely had I closed the door when someone knocked.

Using “Hardly”

  • Standard: He had hardly begun to speak when there was an interruption.
  • Inverted: Hardly had he begun to speak when there was an interruption.

Using “Not Only…But Also”

  • Standard: She not only excels in academics but also in sports.
  • Inverted: Not only does she excel in academics, but she also excels in sports.
grammatical explanation for "not only... but...." inversion structure

Using “In No Way”

  • Standard: This situation is in no way acceptable.
  • Inverted: In no way is this situation acceptable.

Using “On No Account”

  • Standard: You should not open this door on any account.
  • Inverted: On no account should you open this door. (Note: We have changed the expression slightly because “on no account” cannot be used in a positive sentence.)

3. Conditional Inversion

If you want to give a conditional statement more emphasis or a poetic touch, you can invert the subject and auxiliary verb.

Using Past Perfect Tense

  • Standard: If she had seen the sign, she would have stopped.
  • Inverted: Had she seen the sign, she would have stopped.

Using Present Simple Tense

  • Standard: If you need help, please ask.
  • Inverted: Should you need help, please ask.

Using “Were” for Unreal Conditions

  • Standard: If I were you, I would reconsider.
  • Inverted: Were I you, I would reconsider.
  • Standard: If she were here, she could answer that.
  • Inverted: Were she here, she could answer that.

Using “Should”

  • Standard: If you should encounter any issues, please let us know.
  • Inverted: Should you encounter any issues, please let us know.
  • Standard: If it should rain, we’ll stay indoors.
  • Inverted: Should it rain, we’ll stay indoors. (Note: It is actually more common to drop “should” entirely from the standard version.)

Using “Had” with Different Subjects

  • Standard: If they had listened to me, things would be different.
  • Inverted: Had they listened to me, things would be different.
  • Standard: If we had arrived earlier, we would have caught the train.
  • Inverted: Had we arrived earlier, we would have caught the train.

Using “Would” for Strong Recommendations

  • Standard: If I were in your position, I would apologise.
  • Inverted: Were I in your position, I would apologise.

4. “Not Only… But Also” Structure

The “not only… but also” structure is commonly used to show both surprise and emphasis. When “not only” starts the sentence, it is followed by inversion.

With Verbs

  • Standard: She not only teaches maths but also writes textbooks.
  • Inverted: Not only does she teach maths, but she also writes textbooks.
  • Standard: They not only read the proposal but also approved it.
  • Inverted: Not only did they read the proposal, but they also approved it.

With Nouns

  • Standard: The package includes not only a hotel stay but also free breakfast.
  • Inverted: Not only does the package include a hotel stay, but it also includes free breakfast.

With Adjectives

  • Standard: The dish was not only delicious but also inexpensive.
  • Inverted: Not only was the dish delicious, but it was also inexpensive.

With Phrases

  • Standard: He is respected not only for his professionalism but also for his integrity.
  • Inverted: Not only is he respected for his professionalism, but he is also admired for his integrity.
  • Standard: She won the prize not only because of her talent but also because of her hard work.
  • Inverted: Not only did she win the prize for her talent, but she also earned it through her hard work.

With Entire Clauses

  • Standard: He didn’t go because he was not only tired but also unwell.
  • Inverted: Not only was he tired, but he was also unwell, which is why he didn’t go.

Mixing Different Parts of Speech

  • Standard: He not only gave a donation but also volunteered his time.
  • Inverted: Not only did he give a donation, but he also volunteered his time

Now you know this rule, see if you can get this question right:

grammar test about inversion

Guidelines for Using Inversion

1. Always Use an Auxiliary Verb

Inversion requires an auxiliary verb. If the sentence doesn’t have one, use “do,” “does,” or “did.”

Negative Adverbial Inversion

  • Wrong: Rarely I eat junk food.
  • Correct: Rarely do I eat junk food.
  • Wrong: Seldom they visit the museum.
  • Correct: Seldom do they visit the museum.

Conditional Inversion

  • Wrong: Were you in my situation, differently I would act.
  • Correct: Were you in my situation, I would act differently.
  • Wrong: Should you see her, hello say.
  • Correct: Should you see her, say hello.

“Not Only…But Also…” Structure

  • Wrong: Not only she plays the piano, but she also sings.
  • Correct: Not only does she play the piano, but she also sings.

Question Inversion

  • Wrong: They eat ice cream?
  • Correct: Do they eat ice cream?
  • Wrong: She likes reading?
  • Correct: Does she like reading?
  • Wrong: You visited the museum?
  • Correct: Did you visit the museum?

Other Examples with “Do,” “Does,” or “Did”

When the sentence lacks an auxiliary verb, using “do,” “does,” or “did” can facilitate inversion.

  • Wrong: Always I exercise in the morning.
  • Correct: Always do I exercise in the morning.
  • Wrong: Never you should speak rudely.
  • Correct: Never should you speak rudely.
  • Wrong: Barely I finished my homework when the teacher called.
  • Correct: Barely did I finish my homework when the teacher called.

2. Avoid Inversion with the Subject “I” in Formal Writing

It’s generally considered inappropriate to use inversion with the subject “I” in formal writing. (It is fine in informal or semi-formal contexts, though.)

Negative Adverbial Inversion

  • Awkward: Never have I experienced such kindness.
  • Better: Never has one experienced such kindness.
  • Awkward: Seldom do I forget a face.
  • Better: Seldom does one forget a face.

Conditional Inversion

  • Awkward: Were I aware of the consequences, I would have acted differently.
  • Better: Had anyone been aware of the consequences, they would have acted differently.
  • Awkward: Should I fail to complete the task, please inform the manager.
  • Better: Should the task remain incomplete, please inform the manager.

“Not Only…But Also” Structure

  • Awkward: Not only do I enjoy reading, but I also love writing.
  • Better: Reading is enjoyable, but writing is also a beloved activity.

With “Always,” “Only,” and other Adverbs

  • Awkward: Always do I strive for excellence.
  • Better: Striving for excellence is always the goal.
  • Awkward: Only when I understood the problem could I find a solution.
  • Better: A solution could only be found when the problem was understood.

3. Don’t Overuse:

While inversion can make your language more engaging, overuse can make it challenging to read. Try to vary your language. This applies to sentence type, sentence length, grammatical structures, cohesive devices, and so on. If you use inversion in too many sentences, it will sound pretty bad. Knowing this can help improve your score for Coherence and Cohesion and Grammatical Range and Accuracy.

One Last Thing: When Inversion is Reversed

We have now seen that inversion is frequently used in questions. However, when a question is reported, then that inversion does not apply. For example:

  • Correct: She is hungry.
  • Correct: Is she hungry?
  • Incorrect: He asked is she hungry.
  • Correct: He asked whether she is hungry.

You can see that the inverted question, once reported, goes back to the usual Subject-Verb-Object order.


In summary, inversion is a useful tool in English grammar that can add emphasis and variety to your language. Mastering its rules can help you express yourself more clearly and make your English more dynamic. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t hesitate to include inverted sentences in your daily conversations and written exercises.