English Language Blog

Inverted English Sentences Posted by on Feb 10, 2022 in English Grammar, English Language

Photo by Mac Mullins from Pexels

To invert something is to turn it upside down, or to put it in the opposite order from what is considered normal. English speakers often do this with their sentences. Normally, we put the subject before the verb. But, inverted sentences place the verb or the adverbial phrase before the subject. It sometimes seems as though we have flipped the logical order of speaking on its head. But, why on earth would we do this?

Well, mostly we do this for emphasis. You can really make a point when you phrase it in an unusual manner.

The sentence, “I am hungry” gains considerable emphasis when rephrased as, “Am I hungry!”

Consider a simple sentence like, “I didn’t know that it was your birthday when you asked me to lunch, or I would have come along.” It takes on a different perspective if you say, “Had I known it was your birthday when you asked me to lunch, I would have come along.” The first sentence implies simple ignorance on the part of the speaker. The second sentence suggests that someone else is at fault for not sharing an important detail.

Another frequent way to stress extremes is to use the word “so” with an adjective. You would normally say, “The restaurant was so noisy that we decided to leave.” But, if the noise was really awful, you may invert and say, “So noisy was the restaurant, that we decided to leave.”

Emphasizing the Negative

You are more likely to use inversion for sentences containing a negative. This will always emphasize your opinion. “I never agreed to that condition in the contract.” Okay. But what if you say, “Never did I agree to that condition in the contract.” Placing never first in the sentence certainly gets the point across.

“As soon as we got home, my wife and I started arguing.” Hmmm…that argument might have been worse if you said, “No sooner did we get home, then my wife and I started arguing.” The difference may seem subtle, but there is an implied severity to any use of a negative.

Adverbs and Adverbial Phrases

One of the most common inverted phrases is, “In no way…” This can make a negative seem even more negative. Consider the sentence, “I would not lie to you.” Now, add greater emphasis by saying, “In no way would I lie to you.”

Adding a negative adverb to the beginning of a sentence is also a case of inversion for emphasis, even if you haven’t actually reversed the order in a sentence. Two common negative adverbs are “Nowhere” and “Seldom.”

“Some sports venues have an uncanny way of favoring the home team. Nowhere is that truer than at Boston Garden.”

“Hearing that violin solo was the highlight of the concert. Seldom have I been more moved.”

You may have noticed, however, that something else besides emphasis and stress changes with inverted sentences. They also take on a more formal tone. Take a sentence like, “We all agreed not to discuss politics at dinner.” Now invert that, “Agreement was reached not to discuss politics at dinner.” It sounds like a journalistic statement.

Inverted sentences are common in English, but learn to use them sparingly.

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About the Author: Gary Locke

Gary is a semi-professional hyphenate.