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We use inversion in questions. But we also sometimes use inversion in other cases, when we are not making a question.

Usually, we put the expression at the beginning of the sentence to emphasize what we're saying. It makes our sentence sound surprising or striking or unusual. It also sounds quite formal. If you don't want to give this impression, you can put the negative expression later in the sentence in the normal way:

  • Seldom have I seen such beautiful work.
    ('Seldom' is at the beginning, so we use inversion. This sentence emphasizes what beautiful work it is.)
  • I have seldom seen such beautiful work.
    ('Seldom' is in the normal place, so we don't use inversion. This is a normal sentence with no special emphasis.)

In the table below you can see some of the most common negative or restrictive adverbials that are sometimes used at the beginning of the sentence for emphasis.


Hardly, when

Hardly had I come into the classroom when the gossip about me spread.

Barely, when

Barely had I got into bed when the telephone rang.

Scarcely, when

Scarcely had I got off the bus when it crashed into the back of a car.

No sooner, than

No sooner had we arrived home than the police rang the doorbell.



Only now

Only now can we talk each other more honestly.

Only + any element

Only beef does this Korean restaurant serve.

Only if + clause

Only if you tell me the truth can I help you.

Only when + clause

Only when we'd all arrived home did I feel calm.

Only after + clause

Only after I'd seen her flat did I understand why she wanted to live there.

Only by + gerund

Only by working extremely hard could we afford to eat.



Not once

Not once did I tell you how dangerous to ride alone at night.

Not + any element

Not until I meet you again, will I give you another chance.

Not only, but also

Not only does he love chocolate and sweets but he also smokes.

Not since + clause

Not since Lucy left college had she had such a wonderful time.



Under no circumstances

Under no circumstances should you do anything without asking me first.

In no way

In no way do I agree with what you're saying.


Nowhere have I ever had such bad service.

No way (informal)

No way will I forget what you have done to me.




Never had she seen such a beautiful sight before.


Rarely will you hear such beautiful music.


Seldom do we see such an amazing display of dance.


Little did he know!


When the negative adverbials are followed by a clause, the inversion comes in the second part of the sentence, for example:

Only if you tell me the truth can I help you.
Only when we'd all arrived home did I feel calm.