Inversion after Negative Adverbials

What is an inversion? An inversion is when we put a verb before the subject in a sentence. A very effective way to make our language more emphatic is by inverting the order of a sentence.We can use inversion to add emphasis, especially in formal English. It is common, for example, in political speeches, because it has a persuasive and impressive effect.  How do we form inversion after negative adverbials? A negative adverb or adverb phrase + auxiliary or modal verb + subject + verb. If there is no auxiliary verb, we need to add one. For example, we add do for present simple verbs and did for past simple verbs.

  • Not only did they arrive late but they talked throughout the film.
  • Rarely do we find such talent.
  • Never had he eaten such a huge meal.
  • Seldom has a simple omelette tasted better.

Never, rarely, seldom, never before

These adverbials are often used with present perfect, past perfect or modals like can and could.

  • Never had they seen so many people in the village.
  • Seldom has she taken a day off work.
  • Rarely can a patient fully recover from such an injury.

Hardly/barely/scarcely … when, no sooner … than

These adverbials often refer to an event which quickly follows another in the past and are usually used with past perfect.

  • Hardly had we sat down when we were told to evacuate the building.
  • Scarcely had the votes been counted when the new president was pushed in front of TV cameras.
  • No sooner had the game started than the captain was taken ill.
  • No sooner was the new park open than it started raining.

Only + time expression

These include only after, only if, only when, only thenonly later, only once, only by, only now.

  • Only when they refilled my glass did I realise it was broken.
  • Only later did they discover they hadn’t been told the truth.

Phrases with no and not

These include under no circumstances, on no account, at no time, in no way, on no condition, not until, no longer, no sooner, in no way, no more, nowhere and not only.

  • Under no circumstances should children travel without an adult.
  • In no way did we agree to this.


In these sentences, little has a negative or restrictive meaning.

  • Little do people realise how hard it is to be a chef. (People don’t realise how hard it is to be a chef.)
  • Little did she know then that she would become the company director. (She didn’t know then that she would become the company director.)

Have Practice Using Inversion after Negative Adverbials

Task 1. Complete the second sentence so that it has the same meaning as the first sentence. Write three words in each gap.

  1. We have rarely seen weather like this in October. – Rarely ____________________ weather like this in October.
  2. He’s won the election and got ninety per cent of the vote. – Not ____________________ won the election but he’s got ninety per cent of the vote.
  3. The film started just as we found our seats. – No sooner ____________________ our seats than the film started.
  4. People can rarely photograph the Amur leopard. – Rarely ____________________ the Amur leopard.
  5. We couldn’t relax until we heard they’d arrived safely. – Only when ____________________ they’d arrived safely could we relax.
  6. I didn’t realise at the time how soon I’d need your help. – Little ____________________ at the time how soon I’d need your help.
  7. I really didn’t expect a reaction like this. – In no way ____________________ a reaction like this.
  8. There has never been such a good time to do this. – Never before ____________________ such a good time to do this.
  9. She fell asleep just as she finished reading the first page. – Barely ____________________ reading the first page when she fell asleep.
  10. I have never seen anything like it.- Never ____________________ anything like it.
  11. The film started just as we found our seats. – No sooner ____________________ our seats than the film started.
  12. They raised the price and reduced the amount in the packet. – Not ____________________ raise the price but they reduced the amount in the packet.
  13. There has never been so much interest in mental health before. – Never before ____________________ so much interest in mental health.
  14. They didn’t tell us until the decision was confirmed. – Only when the decision was confirmed ____________________ us.
  15. I didn’t know at that moment that my life was about to change. – Little ____________________ at that moment that my life was about to change.
  16. There has never been such a good time to do this. – Never before ____________________ such a good time to do this.

Task 2. Inversion after negative adverbials. Complete the second sentence so that it has a similar meaning to the first. Use the words in CAPITALS.

  1. Shortly after Sue and Brian met, he announced they were getting married. HAD
    Scarcely __________ he announced they were getting married.
  2. You are not staying out late tonight! NO
    Under __________ stay out late tonight.
  3. They left their car and almost immediately heard a deafening crash. SOONER
    No ___________________ they heard a deafening crash.
  4. It wasn’t long before the bus company increased their prices for a second time. PUT
    Hardly _____________________ before they increased them again.
  5. The demand for tickets is so high that the play has been extended by a month. HAS
    So __________ the play has been extended by a month.
  6. There are beautiful buildings in Barcelona and it has a wonderful climate too. ONLY
    In Barcelona, not __________ is also wonderful.
  7. She was proud of her work, and she was also well respected by her colleagues. TAKE
    Not only _____________________ her work, she was also very respected by her colleagues.
  8. I had only just complained about the new timetable when it was changed. MADE
    No sooner _____________________ about the new timetable than it was changed.
  9. This is the most enjoyable holiday I’ve had since I was 12. SINCE
    Not _____________________ had so much fun on a holiday.
  10. I didn’t realise I’d forgotten my passport until I got to the airport. DID
    Not until I had arrived _____________________ I’d forgotten my passport.

Task 3. Rewrite the following sentences using inversion beginning with the words given.

  1. The gang didn’t know that the police had them under surveillance. –  Little _____________________
  2. We won’t consider you for the basketball team until you grow up. – Not until _____________________
  3. Nobody has won so many matches for his team since 1994. –  Not since _____________________
  4. You will not be allowed to enter the auditorium under any circumstances once the play has started. – Under no circumstances ____
  5. He would never play in front of a live audience again. – Never _____________________
  6. Amy had not enjoyed herself so much since she went to the circus as a child. –  Not since _____________________
  7. I have never seen such a terrible performance of Hamlet before. – Never before _____________________
  8. They only realized the painting had been hung upside down when someone complained at reception. – Only when _____________
  9. I had been in the room for a few minutes when I realized that everyone was staring at me. – Only after _____________________
  10. He discovered that he had injured his knee when he tried to run. – Only when _____________________
  11. The new park was hardly finished when vandals destroyed the flowerbeds. – Hardly _____________________
  12. You shouldn’t sign a contract you haven’t read thoroughly under any circumstances. – Under no circumstances _______________
  13. You come to realise the significance of the murder only in the last few pages of the book. –  Only in the last __________________
  14. I have seldom heard such beautiful singing. – Seldom _____________________
  15. Peter didn’t realize that he had lost his keys until he got home. – Not _____________________
  16. There are no circumstances where audience members may consume alcohol. – Under no circumstances ____________________
  17. Еhey started to argue soon after they had got married. – No sooner _____________________
  18. You can’t use my new car at any time. – At no time _____________________

Task 4. Choose the correct option to complete the sentences with inversion after negative adverbials.

  1. _______________________ that I was speaking to someone as important as Professor Sims.
    a. Little have I known
    b. Little did I know
    c. Little I knew
    d. I knew little
  2. In no way ___________________ question his honesty, although I think that he made some wrong decisions.
    a. did I ever
    b. I ever did
    c. had I ever
    d. I had ever
  3. Hardly _____________________ we were told that it would soon be time for lunch.
    a. we had finished breakfast that
    b. had we finished breakfast that
    c. had we finished breakfast when
    d. we had finished breakfast when
  4. At no time before I accepted the job ___________________ that I would have to do so much travelling around the country.
    a. did they told
    b. I was told
    c. I had been told
    d. was I told
  5. Not since the 1960s _______________ attended an anti-war demonstration in London.
    a. so many people have
    b. have so many people
    c. did so many people have
    d. had so many people had

Task 5. Complete the sentences with the given words using inversion after negative adverbials.

at no point       in no way       little       never       not       not only       no sooner       only after       scarcely       on no account       rarely       

under no circumstances

  1. __________________________ were the security guards to blame for what happened.
  2. __________________________ once did the old woman thank me for helping her.
  3. __________________________ seeing the doctor was Theresa allowed to leave hospital.
  4. __________________________ will passengers be allowed to carry more than two pieces of hand luggage.
  5. __________________________ were they late to work, but they also forgot to bring the reports.
  6. __________________________ during the party did anyone mention that Peter and Julie were getting married.
  7. __________________________ had Alan arrived in Mexico when he was arrested.
  8. __________________________ did the passengers know that the driver was really an undercover police officer.
  9. __________________________ do you meet anyone as charming as Mr Peterson.
  10. __________________________ should unaccompanied children be allowed to enter the pub.
  11. __________________________ before has the company found itself facing such stiff competition.
  12. __________________________ had the alarm gone off than the police cars arrived.