Emphasis with inversion

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Emphasis with inversion

In English, you may have heard native speakers inserting an adverb or an adverbial phrase of some sort at the beginning of the sentence, followed by an auxiliary and subject (adverb + auxiliary + subject). This is called “emphasis with inversion” or “auxiliary inversion“, and is common among native speakers. At first, it can sound a little weird, but this way you can apply more emphasis than usual.

Common adverbs and adverbial phrases used for inverted emphasis:

  • Seldom, rarely, never, scarcely, on no account, in no way, hardly, only then, no sooner, only later, nowhere, little, only etc.

Examples of ’emphasis with inversion’ using the structure:

(adverb/adverb phrase + auxiliary + subject)
  • Never, have I seen such barbarity from anyone in my life.
  • Hardly, had they even read the article.
  • Seldom, do we ever cross paths with them, they are a little sketchy.
  • Little, was I to know that I missed my aeroplane apparently.
  • On no account, will my friend accept your proposal.
  • Only then, after marrying my wife, did I realise she was pregnant.

Common adverbial phrases in which the inversion must go in the second clause: 

  • Only by, only after, not until, only when, not since

Examples of ’emphasis with inversion’, with the emphasis being inserted in the second clause:

  • Only by knowing your enemy, can you learn about him/her.
  • Only after graduating from university with a master’s degree, did I manage to find a job.
  • Not until I left the building, could I see the rain clouds.
  • Only when you reach twenty-nine years, will I allow you to live here.
  • Not since Jamie found a job, has he been so happy.

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