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  • Writer's pictureGalina Blankenship

Use of Inversion Constructions in the English Language

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

The painting "The Apparition" by Gustave Moreau
The Apparition by Gustave Moreau

Inversion moves elements to the front of the sentence and simultaneously moves the subject after the verb.

There are several types of inversions:

Lexical inversions are inversions triggered by the presence of a particular word, including:

  • Locative adverbs here / there (with come, go, etc.), in formulaic sentences:

Here come the cops!

There goes another SUV.

  • Negative adverbs (e.g., never, not only, seldom):

Never have I witnessed such a stunning upset.

Seldom will you see a performance as good as that.

  • Not only, neither, nor, so, and as used to link content across clauses:

He doesn't understand, and neither do we.

She can do it. So can we.

Stylistic inversions are alternatives to specific grammatical structures, chosen for a specific effect.

These include:

  • Conditional sentences in which if is deleted:

Were I to live another 50 years, I would be 95.

  • Inversions with initial prepositional phrases, used in poetry:

Into the valley of death rode the six hundred.

Information packaging inversions distribute information in a sentence in a way more appropriate to the discourse context. These include inversions used:

  • By sports commentators:

Down with the ball comes Roan.

  • To avoid having a long subject (noun phrase or noun clause):

The committee members argued about the bill for days. At issue was section 405, which appeared to be an attempt to weaken the Controlled Substances Act.

  • To emphasize a point related to preceding information (functioning as a second focus in a sentence):

Reports show that many passengers sustain trauma to the body and broken limbs in this type of rollover accident. Far more serious are the severe head injuries that cause bruising of the brain.

  • To shift the topic at the start of a paragraph:

Complicating the White House calculus is soaring hostility on Capitol Hill, which some officials call “off the charts.”

Congress has largely deferred to the president’s foreign policy priorities, but China is one area where legislators are demanding a change of course, particularly on trade.

• To achieve the immediate observer effect—where readers have the illusion that they are witnessing an event unfold:

Ludo is conscientious. He bends closely to his work. He unscrews the plate and removes it from the door. Behind the plate is a chiseled cavity. Inside the cavity is a polythene bag. Inside the bag are several smaller bags. Inside each of them is a....

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