If there is one sentence structure that IELTS students are obsessed with, it is inversion and/or emphasis. Many use inversion and emphatic structures without really understanding how they work, and, as a result, they make mistakes. In this unit, 9IELTS will provide detailed explanations and practice exercises so that you can master inversion and emphasis with great ease.
• The term inversion covers two different grammatical operations.
+ Using a question form of the main verb
E.g. Never have I enjoyed myself more!
Not only was he good-looking, he was also brilliant.
+ Changing the normal positions of verb and subject
E.g. Along the street came a strange procession.
• We use inversion when the adverb modifies the verb and not when it modifies the noun.
E.g. Rarely seen during the day, the badger is a famously shy animal.
Hardly anyone knows about it. Only Mary realized that the door was not locked.
I. Inversions after negative adverbials
• Time adverbials: never (before), rarely, seldom; hardly/barely/scarcely….when; no sooner….than, etc.
E.g. Rarely can a minister have been faced with such a problem.
Seldom has the team given a worse performance.
Scarcely had I entered the room when the phone rang.
No sooner had he reached the door than he realized it was locked.
• After only: only after, only if/when, only later, only once, only then, etc.; only by…, only in…., only with…., etc.
E.g. Only later did she realize what had happened.
Only then did we remember we hadn’t got our keys.
Only in the last few days has the truth started to emerge.
Only by patience and hard work will we find a solution.
• Phrases containing no/not: under no circumstances, on no account, at no time, in no way, on no condition, nowhere, not until, not only … (but also), not + object, etc.
E.g. On no condition are they to open fire without a warning.
Nowhere was a replacement to be found.
Not until I got home did I notice that I had the wrong umbrella.
Not a single word had she written since the exam had started.
• Little, few with negative meaning
E.g. Little does the government appreciate what the results will be.
Few were her words of praise for her son.
II. Inversions with place expressions/prepositions
• Here & there
+ Inversion can happen after here, and after there when it is as an adverb of place. After here and there, we can use the main verb without an auxiliary verb or modal verb:
E.g. Here comes the bus!
Here’s your coffee.
I opened the door and there stood Michael, all covered in mud.
She looked out and there was Pamela, walking along arm in arm with Goldie.
+ But if the subject is a personal pronoun, there is no inversion:
E.g. Here it comes.
There she goes.
Here it is.
• Adverb phrase of place/ order + main verb + S (no auxiliary)
Common verbs are be, climb, go, come, fly, hang, lie, run, sit, stand, etc.
E.g. Above the fireplace was a portrait of the Duke.
On the grass sat an enormous frog.
First came the ambulance, then came the police.
• Preposition + motion verb + S (no auxiliary)
Common prepositions are away, down, in, off, out, over, round, up, etc.
E.g. The door opened and in came the doctor.
As soon as I let go of the string, up went the balloon, high into the sky.
Just when I thought I’d have to walk home, along came Miguel, and he gave me a lift.
Note: If the subject is a pronoun, we have to place it before the main verb.
Away went they.
Away they went.
II. Inversions with conditional sentences
Three types of If-sentences can be inverted without If-. This makes the sentences more formal and makes the event less likely. In this type of inversion, we should not use contractions.
1. Conditional sentences type I
The formation of this conditional is by omitting “if” and by putting “should” at the beginning of the clause. The rest of the clause will be the same.
E.g. If you should arrive at the airport before 12:00, give me a call. => Should you arrive at the airport before 12:00, give me a call.
If she should call, I will invite her. => Should she call, I will invite her.
2. Conditional sentences type II
There are two ways of forming conditional sentences in this type.
• If the if-clause consists of “were”, just invert between the subject and were.
• If the if-clause consists of “action verb”, the verb must be restructured into: were … to V
E.g. If he were rich, he would have an expensive car. => Were he rich, he would have an expensive car.
If I had the money, I would buy you what you want. => Were I to have the money, I would buy you what you want.
3. Conditional sentences type III
Conditional without “if” in this type is constructed by omitting “if” and foregrounding the auxiliary verb “had”. We can also use conditional structures beginning with were … to have Vpp in formal English.
E.g. If I had known, I would have protested strongly. => Had I known, I would have protested strongly.
If the police had found out, I would have been in trouble. => Were the police to have found out, I would have been in trouble.
IV. Other inversion structures
• Inversion after so/such with that
– This occurs with so and adjectives when the main verb is be. It is used for emphasis and is more common than the example with such.
E.g. So devastating were the floods that some areas may never recover.
– Such used with be means so much/so great
E.g. Such was the force of the storm that trees were uprooted.
• Inversion after as
This is more common in formal or written language.
E.g. We were short of money, as were most people in our neighborhood.
I thought, as did my colleagues, that the recession would soon be over.
• Inversion after so, neither and nor
These are used in ‘echoing’ statements, agreeing or disagreeing.
E.g. A: I am going home. B: So am I.
A: I don’t like meat. B: Neither do I.
I. Changing word order to change focus
By changing the order of subject and object, and by sometimes omitting the agent, the passive helps us change the emphasis of a sentence from who did it to what happened.
E.g. Manchester United have beaten Arsenal again. => Arsenal has been beaten again.
• Fronting and inversion
+ Inversion here refers to changing the normal word order in the sentence so that a prepositional phrase is emphasized before the verb. This also involves putting the verb before the subject.
E.g. Suddenly down came the rain!
Up in the air went the balloon.
+ Fronting involves changing the order of clauses in a sentence and putting first for emphasis a clause that would usually not be first.
E.g. I don’t know where the money is coming from.
Where the money is coming from, I don’t know.
+ Time phrases can vary in position and are often put first because the time reference is important.
E.g. At six o’clock, Monica decided to phone the police.
+ “May” clauses: There is a type of may clause introduced by although which can be inverted. It is a highly formal expression.
E.g. Although it may seem/be difficult, it is not impossible. => Difficult as/though it may seem/be, it is not impossible.
• Cleft and pseudo cleft sentences
Different parts of the sentence can be emphasized in this way. In speech, stress and intonation also identify the emphasis.
– It + “to be” + spotlighted information + that/who
E.g. Sue borrowed my bike last night. => It was Sue who borrowed my bike.
It was last night that Sue borrowed my bike. => It was my bike that Sue borrowed.
– Wh-clause + “to be” + spotlighted information
Or: spotlighted information + “to be” + wh-clause
What clauses are common with verbs such as need, want, like, hate, etc.
E.g. I hate rainy weather. => What I hate is rainy weather.
Peter left the windows unlocked. => What Peter did was (to) leave the windows unlocked.
They are destroying the environment. => What they are doing is destroying the environment.
II. Adding words for emphasis
• Adding own to intensify possessive adjectives
E.g. It was my own idea, and nobody else’s!
• Adding Very and Very ….indeed
+ Very can be used emphatically to mean exactly/precisely.
E.g. At the very same moment, the telephone rang.
+ Very … indeed is another way of intensifying adjectives.
E.g. It was very cold indeed.
• Emphasizing negatives
+ Ways of emphasizing not include: at all, in the least, really.
E.g. It was not at all cold. It was not cold at all.
+ In the least/slightest usually adds “bit” if it is used before an adjective.
E.g. I wasn’t interested in the slightest.
I wasn’t the least bit interested.
+ No and none can be emphasized by at all and whatsoever.
E.g. There were none left at all.
There were no tickets left whatsoever.
“The” can emphasize uniqueness. It is heavily stressed in speech.
E.g. Surely you are not the Elizabeth Taylor, are you?
• Question words ending in -ever
These add an air of disbelief to the question.
E.g. Whatever are you doing?
Whoever told you that?
• Auxiliary do
This can emphasize the verb, and is stressed in speech.
E.g. I do like this film! It’s really great!
It is also used in polite forms.
E.g. I do hope you’ll come again! Do sit down!
• Adverbs and adjectives
+ A large number of adverbs and adjectives are used to add emphasis.
E.g. I actually went inside one of the Pyramids.
It is by no means certain that the match will take place.
Some people were even wearing pullovers, it was so cold.
Her performance was sheer magic!
This book is utter nonsense!
+ The following examples are only possible with adjectives that express an absolute opinion (non-gradable adjectives).
E.g. It was absolutely fantastic!
The third exam question was quite (completely) impossible.
This guidebook is utterly useless.
You were simply wonderful!
Don’t cook the meat anymore. It’s just right!
• Echoing phrases with so
These express agreement.
E.g. A: This is the book you are looking for. B: So it is!
III. Other means to express emphasis
• Time phrases
Common examples are: day after day; time and time again; over and over again; day in, day out
E.g. David reads the same book over and over again!
She wears the same jeans day in, day out. I’m starting to dislike them.
E.g. I tried and tried, but it was no use.
The pile gave off a terrible smell, a smell that reminded her of her husband’s socks.
In the repetition of a phrase with a possessive, it is possible to omit the first mention of the noun and use a possessive pronoun.
E.g. Their marriage was a successful marriage.
=> Theirs was a successful marriage.
It is often possible to use a noun group instead of one or more verb or adjective groups. This is called “nominalization”. Nominalized language is especially typical of formal, scientific, and academic English.
E.g. This interesting Australian development was possible because of the isolation of these primitive mammals.
+ Nominalization changes the emphasis of a sentence.
E.g. I wasn’t very well so I had to stay at home.
=> My poor health meant I had to stay at home.
+ Nominalization makes the sentence shorter and leaves the rest of the sentence free to add new information.
E.g. He had an insatiable appetite for adventure and because of this, he became involved in a pioneering expedition in Antarctica.
=> His insatiable appetite for adventure lead to his involvement in a pioneering expedition in Antarctica.
+ Nominalization can make it easier to be impersonal.
E.g. It’s always painful when people criticize you. => Criticism is always painful.
Exercise 1: Complete the second sentence so that it has a similar meaning to the first sentence, using the word given. Do not change the word given.
1. The facts were not all made public at the time. later
Only __________________________________________________ all made public.
2. The response to our appeal was so great that we had to take on more staff. response
Such __________________________ to our appeal that we had to take on more staff.
3. Harry broke his leg, and also injured his shoulder. but
Not only _________________________________________ also injured his shoulder.
4. The police didn’t suspect at all that the judge was the murderer. did
Little ______________________________________________ as being the murderer.
5. The bus driver cannot be blamed for the accident in any way. held
In ____________________________________________ responsible for the accident.
6. If the government raised interest rates, they would lose the election. raise
Were ______________________________ interest rates, they would lose the election.
7. As soon as I got home, I realized I’d left my bag in the shops. had
No sooner ______________________________ I realized I’d left my bag in the shops.
8. It was only when I asked a passer-by that I realized where I was. did
Not until ___________________________________________________ where I was.
9. The minister was interrupted just after starting his speech. when
Hardly _______________________________________________ he was interrupted.
10. It was only when the office phoned me that I found out about the meeting. find
Not until ______________________________________________ about the meeting.
11. Nobody from this school has ever written a better composition. anyone
Never ________________________________________ written a better composition.
12. Such was the demand for tickets that people queued day and night. great
The demand for tickets _______________________ that people queued day and night.
13. The money is not to be paid under any circumstances. no
Under _______________________________________________________ to be paid.
14. Three days passed before we arrived at the first oasis. had
Not until ________________________________________________ at the first oasis.
15. Little did Brenda know what she was letting herself in for. no
Brenda ___________________________________ what she was letting herself in for.
16. It was only when I stopped that I realized something was wrong. did
Only _________________________________________ that something was wrong.
17. The accused never expressed regret for what he had done. time
At __________________________________________ regret for what he had done.
18. Exhaustion prevented any of the runners from finishing the race. were
So _____________________________________________ of them finished the race.
19. It’s not common for there to be so much rain in March. see
Seldom __________________________________________ so much rain in March.
20. Please never ever interrupt me when I’m in a meeting. am
On no account ____________________________________ when I’m in a meeting.
21. Brenda didn’t worry at all about her exams. bit
Brenda wasn’t the _______________________________________ about her exams.
22. The person who told me about the hotel was Keith. who
It _______________________________________________ told me about the hotel.
23. I had spent every last penny of my money. absolutely
I had ______________________________________________________ whatsoever.
24. Although the ticket may seem expensive, it is good value for money. though
Expensive ________________________________ the ticket is good value for money.
25. I really hate lukewarm food. stand
What I __________________________________________________ lukewarm food.
26. In the end Martha went to the police. was
In the end what Martha _______________________________________ to the police.
27. I think you must have seen a ghost. that
It ___________________________________________________________ you saw.
28. Her car was the last car you’d expect to be stolen. very
Hers ____________________________________________ you’d expect to be stolen.
29. The accident happened because someone was very careless. caused
Sheer _________________________________________________________ happen.
30. The car doesn’t need anything else except new tyres. needs
All _________________________________________________________ new tyres.
Exercise 2: Rewrite each of the following sentences so that it has the same meaning as the original one.
1. You come to realize the significance of the murder only in the last few pages of the book.
Only in the last ________________________________________________________
2. The demands of her job are such that she is rarely able to take a holiday.
3. The matter could be explained in no other way.
4. I have seldom heard such beautiful singing.
5. Peter didn’t realize that he had lost his keys until he got home.
6. If Mr. Chan had been kinder to his employees, his business would not have collapsed.
7. If an emergency should arise, dial 999.
8. There are no circumstances where audience members may consume alcohol.
Under no circumstances ________________________________________________
9. They started to argue soon after they had got married.
No sooner ___________________________________________________________
10. You can’t use my new car at any time.
At no time __________________________________________________________
11. The gang didn’t know that the police had them under surveillance.
12. We won’t consider you for the basketball team until you grow up.
Not until ___________________________________________________________
13. Nobody has won so many matches for his team since 1994.
Not since __________________________________________________________
14. You will not be allowed to enter the auditorium under any circumstances once the play has started.
Under no circumstances ______________________________________________
15. He would never play in front of a live audience again.
16. Amy had not enjoyed herself so much since she went to the circus as a child.
Not since _________________________________________________________
17. I have never seen such a terrible performance of Hamlet before.
Never before ______________________________________________________
18. They only realized the painting had been hung upside down when someone complained at reception.
Only when ________________________________________________________
19. I had been in the room for a few minutes when I realized that everyone was staring at me.
Only after _________________________________________________________
20. He discovered that he had injured his knee when he tried to run.
Only when ___________________________________________________________
21. He had hardly left the office when the telephone rang.
No sooner ___________________________________________________________
22. I had only just put the phone down when the boss rang back.
23. He didn’t finish his work until the bell rang.
Not until _____________________________________________________________
24. We only began to see the symptoms of the disease after several months.
25. A sleeping dog was lying under the table.
Under the table ________________________________________________________
26. His brother had rarely been more excited.
27. If I had realized what would happen, I wouldn’t have accepted the job.
28. If the Government are forced into another election, it will be the favorite to win.
29. The snowfall was so heavy that all the trains had to be canceled.
30. The way so much money has been spent to so little purpose must be a record.
Exercise 3: Rewrite the sentences replacing the underlined words with a suitable noun phrase.
1. The journal reported that prehistoric remains had recently been discovered in Colombia.
The journal reported _________________________ prehistoric remains in Colombia.
2. The report had not recognized how severe global warming would be in this century.
The report had underestimated ________________________________ in this century.
3. The only way to diagnose the disease accurately is to obtain a blood sample.
A(n) __________________________________ depends on obtaining a blood sample.
4. Many countries are dangerously dependent on oil as a source of energy.
Many countries have __________________________________ as a source of energy.
5. You can insure yourself against losing your income if you become unemployed.
There is _____________________________________ caused by ________________.
6. Piaget is known for his studies of the way children develop intellectually.
Piaget is known for his studies of __________________________________________
7. Political candidates need to perform well during a TV debate.
Political candidates need ________________________________ during a TV debate.
8. Our city needs to assess its recycling system.
There is a need in our city ______________________________ the recycling system.
9. I hope my English students will use this book.
_____________________________________ my English students will use this book.
10. The police investigated the robbery.
The police __________________________________________________ the robbery.
11. The Japanese invaded Korea in 1592.
The Japanese ____________________________________ Korea took place in 1592.
12. This sentence illustrates the problems with nominalization.
This sentence _____________________________ the problems with nominalization.
13. We can’t understand what the professor means.
We can’t understand ___________________________________________________.
14. They measured how wide the road was.
They measured _______________________________________________ of the road.
15. The fact that he was thin put off directors.
____________________________________________________ put off the directors.