“Here comes the sun, and I say it’s alright.” (from “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles)
In linguistics, inversion is reversal of the normal order of words. There are 2 main types of inversion: 1) when the verb comes before the subject (inversion is often optional), and 2) when the auxiliary comes before the subject and the rest of the verb phrase follows the subject (inversion is usually necessary):
- Her husband stood at the podium. → At the podium stood her husband. (= At the podium her husband stood.)
- He had rarely heard such a voice. → Rarely had he heard such a voice. (
Rarely he had heard such a voice.)
Inversion brings about fronting (putting what usually comes at or near the end of a clause in front of it, generally for emphasis):
NON-FRONTED: You have become bright and insightful.
FRONTED: Bright and insightful you have become.
HERE COMES + NOUN & THERE GOES + NOUN
In conversation we use “here comes + noun” and “there goes + noun,” with inversion of verb and subject, to talk about 1) things and people moving towards or 2) away from the speaker:
- Here comes the train.
- There goes Mr.Smith, the teacher.
“Here comes…” is also used to say that something is going to happen soon (1), and “there goes…” is used to talk about things (particularly money) being lost (2) and to say that something (such as a phone or door bell) is ringing (3):
- Here comes breakfast.
- My phone has been stolen. There goes $100.
- There goes the phone. Can you answer it?
We also put the verb before the subject when we use adverbs expressing direction of movement (e.g. along, away, back, down, in, off, out, up with verbs such as come, fly and go). This pattern is found particularly in narrative, to mark a change in events:
a) The door burst open and in came Samuel. (… and Samuel came in. – less formal) b) So up went her little soldier… while she waited downstairs. (So her little soldier went up… – less formal) c) As soon as they stopped worrying, along came Joel. (…Joel came along. – less formal)
We also occasionally invert a main verb and subject after prepositional phrases (1) and adverbs of time (2):
- In the valley lies the village.
- Then came the turning point in the game.
Note that we don’t use inversion if the subject of the clause is a pronoun: Here it comes. (
Here comes it.)
We can use clauses with inversion instead of certain kinds of if-clause. This makes the sentence more formal and makes the events less likely:
|If they were to escape, there would be an outcry.||Were they to escape, there would be an outcry.|
|If you should hear anything, let me know.||Should you hear anything, let me know.|
|If I had known, I would have protested strongly.||Had I known, I would have protested strongly.|
Note that in negative clauses with inversion, we don’t use contracted forms: Had our flight not been delayed, we would have arrived on time. (
Hadn’t our flight…)
INVERSION AFTER “AS” & “THAN”
In formal written language we commonly use inversion after “as” (1) and “than” (2) in comparisons:
- The dessert was delicious, as was the dinner. (= The dessert was delicious, as the dinner was.) We were short of money, as were most people in our neighborhood. (= We were short of money, as most people in our neighborhood were.)
- Research shows that parents watch more television than do their children. (= Research shows that parents watch more television than their children do.) I work more than does my spouse. (= I work more than my spouse does.)
Note that we don’t invert subject and verb after “as” and “than” when the subject is a pronoun: We now know a lot more about the Universe than we did 50 years ago. (
…than did we…)
INVERSION AFTER NEGATIVE ADVERBIALS
This only occurs when the adverbial (word/phrase functioning like an adverb) is at the beginning of a clause. All the examples below are used in formal language, usually for rhetorical effect, such as in political speeches. They are not usual in everyday spoken language:
Never have I heard a weaker excuse!
Seldom do we have goods returned to us because they are faulty.
Rarely had I had so much responsibility.
Scarcely/barely/hardly had I entered the room when the phone rang.
No sooner was the team back on the pitch than it started raining.
Little did we realize the true extent of his involvement. (“little” has negative meaning here)
We can also use inversion after “only.” Here “only” combines with other time expressions:
Only after posting the letter did I remember that I had forgotten to put on a stamp.
Only later did a representative for the International Olympic Committee suggest that “initial reports were overly optimistic.”
Only when/if she apologizes will I speak to her again.
Only once did my father show any interest in me.
Only then did I understand my true purpose.
Note that inversion can also occur after “not until“: Not until I posted the letter did I remember that I had forgotten to put on a stamp.
We don’t invert the subject and auxiliary after “only” if there is no time expression or prepositional phrase immediately after it: Only members can park here. (
Only can members…)
SO, SUCH & NEITHER/NOR
We can use “so + adjective” at the beginning of a clause to give special emphasis to the adjective:
So successful was her career that the whole world knew about her.
So ambitious was the enterprise that everyone felt emotional tension.
We can use “such + be” at the beginning of a clause to emphasize the extent or degree of something:
Such is the popularity of the product that the company is going to increase the production.
We use inversion after “neither” and “nor” when these words begin a clause to introduce a negative addition to a previous negative clause or sentence:
They didn’t see it coming, and neither did I.
We didn’t want to give up, nor did our partners.
Note that we also use inversion with “so” to introduce a positive addition to a previous positive clause or sentence: Our clients are happy, and so are we.
OTHER EXAMPLES OF INVERSION:
The first act was boring. Much more exciting was the play’s second act.
Only by chance had I been cast in the film.
Only in this way can we make progress.
Only with a great deal of effort was he able to perform.
At no time did I actually break the law.
Under no circumstances will I do it.
The Smiths attended the funeral. Also at the service were the Johnsons. (also + adverbial phrase)
Not a word had she written since then.
Not only is he late, he hasn’t even brought a present.
Not since records began has youth unemployment been so high.
May the year be happy!
So be it. (fixed expression)
Long live the Queen! (fixed expression)
Do you have any questions about inversion? Feel free to ask them below. We’ll be happy to help.
Materials used: “Advanced Grammar in Use” by M.Hewings, “Advanced Language Practice” by M.Vince with P.Sunderland, “MyGrammarLab Advanced” by M.Foley and D.Hall