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Emphasis with inversion

In English, with regard to emphasis with inversion, you may have heard a native speaker say something like “never have we been to such a show” or “rarely were we able to tell the difference”.

Emphasis with inversion or auxiliary inversion consists of 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).

Needless to say, emphasis with inversion or auxiliary inversion 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 that we use in emphasis with inversion

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

Other ways to emphasise in English

Remember, you can also apply emphasis in English by using other types of grammatical structures such as cleft sentences, the main auxiliary verbto do” and having adequate punctuation.

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