Sunday, September 28, 2014

Exploring inversion and fronting


This involves reversing the position of the subject and an auxiliary, or sometimes the subject and the whole verb. You'll be familiar with the idea from question forms and question tags, where we swap or switch (exchange) the subject and auxiliary (including modals), or the verb be. You'll also know such inverted expressions as 'so do I' and 'neither do I'.
You probably also know a bit about inversion with negative and limiting adverbials, and that we can sometimes invert conditionals.


This means putting a word or expression which normally comes later to the front of the sentence, before the subject. This could be, for example, an adverbial or adjectival expression, a noun phrase or clause, or even a verb.

The purpose of this post

This post is not intended to be an introduction to inversion and fronting, but rather an exploration of all the different patterns of inversion and fronting I can find, with lots of (I hope natural-sounding) examples. If you are specifically looking for information about negative inversion or inverting conditionals, or about question tags and short answers, you might be better looking at one of my other posts, linked to at the bottom of this post.

Looking for exercises?

As this post is already rather long I'm not including any exercises here, but will link instead to other posts with exercises, as and when I've written them. You can find links at the end of this post to exercises on negative inversion, inversion in conditionals, inversion in tag questions and short answers, and fronting (including some subject-verb inversion)


Why do we use inversion and fronting?

English is quite strict about word order, the standard in positive (declarative) sentences being: Subject - Verb - Object (SVO). When this is changed, we know something special is happening.
Sometimes, as in forming questions, inversion is obligatory. But at other times it's optional, and like fronting, which is always optional, we usually use it:
  • to give extra emphasis to something, either by bringing it to the front, or in some cases by putting at the end of a clause
  • as a cohesive device to link a clause or sentence to what has just gone before
  • to give a more dramatic effect, especially in writing

Inversion and fronting

Inversion is often used in connection with fronting. Sometimes fronting involves inversion, often it doesn't. Sometimes that inversion is obligatory, sometimes it isn't.
  • Fronting of a negative adverb, with obligatory inversion.

    He had never seen such a wonderful sunset. (standard word order)
    Never had he seen such a wonderful sunset. (fronted with inversion)

  • Fronting of a prepositional phrase, with optional inversion

    A large dog lay in front of the fireplace. (standard word order)
    In front of the fireplace, lay a large dog. (fronted with inversion)
    In front of the fireplace, a large dog was chewing a bone. (fronted, no inversion)

  • Fronting of wh-clause - here inversion is not possible

    I've no idea why she's late. (standard word order)
    Why she's late, I've no idea. (fronted, no inversion)

How much do foreign learners need to know about inversion?

  1. Apart from question forms and a few expressions like so do I / neither do I, inversion is mostly used in formal and narrative texts, so for many learners (and indeed native speakers) it would be quite possible to go through life without ever having to use this type of emphatic inversion.
  2. For those doing certificate exams, however, they will be expected to know about negative inversion and inversion in conditionals, and possibly inversion after so and such.
  3. A few forms of inversion, such as 'here come the children' or 'there goes our bus' are quite informal and could make your English sound more natural.
  4. And if you're going to do any extended writing, some of the structures that use fronting as a cohesive device to follow on from information already given could be useful, for example when making comparisons. But you have to be careful. Stick carefully to the patterns given, and even then, some things work, some don't.
  5. A lot of the other inverted and/or fronted structures are formal or literary, and many seem to be being used less and less. They are listed here mainly for interest's sake, and most native speakers use them only rarely if at all.

Categorisation in this post

Inversion is often divided into two categories, Subject-auxiliary inversion and Subject-verb inversion, and some forms of inversion only happen with the verb be. I've taken a slightly different approach and divided this post into seven main sections, although there is a bit of overlap:
  1. Subject-auxiliary inversion - obligatory, no emphasis involved
    • 1.1 Question forms
    • 1.2 So do I, neither/nor do I etc
  2. Subject-auxiliary inversion - optional, usually for emphasis
    • 2.1 Negative inversion with fronted adverbials
    • 2.2 Inverting conditionals
    • 2.3 as + inversion in follow-on clauses/ sentences
    • 2.4 than + inversion in comparatives
    • 2.5 Exclamations
    • 2.6 Hopes and wishes starting with may
  3. Fronted so and such
    • 3.1 So + adjective + linking verb + that clause
    • 3.2 So + adverb + verb + that clause
    • 3.3 Such + be + noun phrase + that clause
    • 3.4 So much / little did ... that ...
    • 3.5 Using such to refer back to something already mentioned
    • 3.6 Some expressions with so and such using inversion
  4. Fronted adverbs and adverbial expressions
    • 4.1 Here and there + be, come, go
    • 4.2 Other common expressions with fronting
    • 4.3 Prepositional phrases of place with verbs of position + inversion
    • 4.4 Prepositional phrases of direction with verbs of movement + inversion
    • 4.6 Prepositional phrases of place and direction with verbs of movement - no inversion
    • 4.7 Prepositional phrases of place with other verbs without inversion
    • 4.8 Fronting other adverbs and adverbials
  5. Fronted adjectives and participles + inverted be
    • 5.1 Fronting simple adjectives
    • 5.2 Fronting comparatives, superlatives and other forms of comparison
    • 5.3 Fronted not so constructions
    • 5.4 Fronted worth a look etc
    • 5.5 Double comparatives + inversion - the bigger, the better etc
    • 5.6 Fronted present and past participles
  6. Other forms of subject-verb inversion
    • 6.1 Fronting subject complements (noun phrases)
    • 6.2 In direct speech and newspaper headlines
    • 6.3 Fronted expressions after also
    • 6.4 Exclamations with how and what
    • 6.5 Fronting noun clauses
  7. Other forms pf fronting where inversion doesn't take place
    • 7.1 Fronting wh- clauses
    • 7.2 Fronting infinitives of purpose
    • 7.3 Fronting objects
    • 7.4 Fronting adjectives + it clauses
    • 7.5 Fronting as and though in clauses of concession
    • 7.6 Fronting and echoing a previously mentioned verb
    • 7.7 Detached fronted verb phrases
    • 7.8 Detached fronted subjects and objects
    • 7.9 Introductory phrases 'the thing is' etc
Because inversion and fronting have to be used rather carefully, I'll be going into rather a lot of detail in this 'exploration', to see what works and what doesn't, what is natural and what isn't. And exploration is what this is, my comments reflecting my understanding rather than any hard and fast rules.

Colour coding

  • fronted expression
  • auxiliary / verb
  • subject
I've tended not to colour-code the auxiliary / verb and subject when only fronting takes place, without inversion.

1. Subject-auxiliary inversion - obligatory, no emphasis involved

This consists of question forms and so do I, nor/neither do I etc

1.1 Question forms

Note - Remember that with simple tenses (apart from with the verb be) we have to add do, does or did in questions and negatives:
  • We went to the cinema last night.
    Oh. What did you see?
  • Mary and Sam are leaving now.
    Aren't they coming with us to the park?
  • I 've bought a present for Sandy.
    But have you bought one for me?
  • Can't you children make a little less noise?
    Would you hold this for me, please?
  • Isn't Samantha pretty, all dressed up like that?
    Are you two ready yet?
Subject questions - We don't invert when the question refers to the subject:
  • Who gave you those flowers?
    Mark (gave me the flowers).
  • What is making so much noise?
    The washing machine (is making so much noise).
  • Which of you has been here before?
    Jenny has (been here before).
Indirect questions - We don't invert in indirect (aka embedded) questions:
  • He asked me where I was staying.
    They asked us if we knew where the station was.
  • She wanted to know what he was doing at the weekend.
    Do you know if you'll be seeing Peter later?
Question tags - Inversion is used:
  • She didn't grow up here, did she?
  • You are going to Sally's party, aren't you?
  • You haven't done your homework, have you?
  • We should leave soon, shouldn't we?
Echo questions - Inversion is used:
  • A:That's Miss Spence. She's our daughter's new history teacher.
    B: Is she really? She looks so young.
  • A: He's just won a place at Oxford.
    B: Has he indeed? You must be really proud of him.
  • A: We saw Peter yesterday.
    B: Oh, did you? And how is he? I haven't seen him for ages.
  • A: Come on children, it's time for bed.
    B: Oh must we? We want to watch the film.
    (= short for 'Must we go to bed now')

1.2 So and neither/nor

Same way answers - expressing agreement

The most common way to give a same-way answer is to use so or neither and subject-auxiliary inversion, but there are also a couple of other ways:
  • A: I really like his latest film.
    B: So do I.
        I do too.
        Me too. (informal)
  • A: But I haven't seen all his films.
    B: Neither have I.
        I haven't either.
        Me neither. (informal)
Note - if you want to use the informal version when agreeing with a negative, remember to say 'Me neither' and NOT 'Me too'. Remember too that inversion isn't used with opposite way answers, when we disagree:
  • A: I really like jazz.
    B: Oh, I don't. I find it boring.
  • A: I haven't seen that new film yet.
    B: Oh, I have. I really enjoyed it.

Same way linking

We can do something similar when joining two same-way clauses (or sentences) with and so, nor, and neither. Here we have a choice of two forms for the second part - inverted with so or neither, or standard word order with too or either.
We can use both so and neither / nor + auxiliary + noun phrase
  • She can swim really well, and so can her sister.
    or - She can swim really well, and her sister can too.
  • She can't sing for peanuts, and neither can her brother.
    or - She can't sing for peanuts, and her brother can't either.
  • He really likes jazz. And so do his children.
    or - He really likes jazz. And his children do, too.
  • He doesn't like rap, nor does his wife.
    or - He doesn't like rap and his wife doesn't either.
Note - Remember that neither and nor are always used with a positive verb, and either with a negative verb (or in questions). Inversion is not used when the two clauses express a contrast, for example after but - 'She can swim really well, but her sister can't'.

Starting a second clause or sentence with nor.

After a first clause or sentence containing a negative, we can introduce a second clause or sentence with nor + auxiliary + clause, as a rather more formal alternative to and + negative clause or nor + positive clause. Note the use of 'to do so' to avoid repeating a verb from the previous clause.
  • They don't have a car, nor have they shown any signs of wanting one.
    or They don't have a car, and they haven't shown any signs of wanting one.
  • He doesn't want to retire until next year. Nor is there any good reason why he should.
    or He doesn't want to retire until next year. And there isn't any good reason why he should.
  • She hasn't applied for the job yet, nor do we expect her to do so.
    or She hasn't applied for the job yet, and we don't expect her to.
When both clauses have the same subject, nor + inversion is used for greater emphasis. More commonly we'd use or and not repeat the subject.
  • He doesn't go to the theatre, nor does he visit museums.
    or more commonly - He doesn't go to the theatre or visit museums.
  • She could not play the piano, nor could she sing very well.
    or more commonly - She could not play the piano or sing very well
We can also use nor + inversion after a first clause containing a word with a negative meaning, like hardly, rarely etc:
  • He rarely goes there nowadays. Nor does he miss the place particularly.
  • I hardly know him. Nor do I know whis brother very well.
Trivia corner - In a rather formal and old-fashioned style, the expression 'to do so' is itself occasionally used with so fronted - 'so to do', but not often in nor clauses. Nowadays this seems mainly confined to legal texts.
  • I can live alone, if self-respect, and circumstances require me so to do.
    Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  • The legal defence was that a civil servant can pass on information if it is in the interests of the state so to do.
    (from the British National Corpus - to do so would be more common here)

neither ... nor ...

When we use the correlative neither ... nor ... construction with a full clause in the second part, we need to invert the second negative.
  • I neither know him, nor have I ever seen him before.
We can also invert the first clause, a type of negative inversion used for special effect, in which case we need a parallel full clause in the second part, also inverted:
  • Neither do I believe a word he says, nor do I trust him an inch.
    Neither do I believe a word he says, nor trust him an inch.
But notice these other neither ... nor ... constructions (without inversion):
  • One subject, two verbs
    He neither smokes nor drinks.
  • Two subjects, one verb
    Neither he nor his sister smokes. (standard - singular verb)
    Neither he nor his sister smoke. (informal - plural verb)

2. Subject-auxiliary inversion - optional, for emphasis

This is usually used for emphatic or literary effect, and includes:
  • 2.1 Negative inversion with fronted adverbials
  • 2.2 Inverting conditionals
  • 2.3 as + inversion in follow-on clauses/ sentences
  • 2.4 than + inversion in comparatives
  • 2.5 Exclamations
  • 2.6 Hopes and wishes starting with may

2.1 Negative inversion

This involves fronting a negative or restrictive adverb or adverbial phrase and inverting the subject and auxuliary. This is usually done for emphatic effect. For example:
  • standard word order
    He had seldom heard such wonderful music
  • inverted word order
    Seldom had he heard such wonderful music
Note - Sometimes the adverbial expression in the standard word order is split into two parts. You need to put these together in the inverted version. Remember that you also need to add do/does/did in simple tenses:
  • standard word order
    She had never been treated so badly before.
    He only realised he had forgotten his wallet when he was asked for his ID.
  • inverted version
    Never before had she been treated so badly.
    Only when he was asked for his ID did he realise he had forgotten his wallet.
Note - We can't just invert every time we have a negative adverbial: there are a few set patterns. But if we do front the negative adverbial, then inversion is obligatory. Notice especially the verb forms used in each pattern. For a more detailed discussion, see my post on making sense of negative inversion, linked to above.

never ...

This is most often used with present perfect or past perfect, and typically with so or such (or a similar expression) to express the uniqueness or near uniqueness of an experience, or to make a comment about it.
  • Never before have I been treated so badly.
    And never again will I put up with that sort of treatment.
  • Never did he make the slightest fuss, even though he was in some discomfort.
    Never for one moment did she imagine that she would become so successful.
Note the saying:
  • Never was a truer thing said in jest.

rarely / seldom, hardly ever

When used with present perfect or past perfect, these also often appear with so or such (or a similar expression):
  • Rarely had she seen such beautiful countryside.
    Very rarely do we hear music of this quality.
    She's quite an excitable dog, but rarely is this a problem.
  • Seldom had he seen anything quite like it.
    Only seldom does someone become a criminal by chance.
    Seldom was she heard to say a word against him.
  • Hardly ever had she experienced feelings like these.
    Hardly ever did they get to do anything in the slightest bit interesting.
    We always go with high expectations, and hardly ever are we disappointed.

no sooner + past perfect, than + past simple
scarcely / barely / hardly + past perfect, when + past simple

Note the two different patterns - than with no sooner and when with the others.
  • No sooner had she left the house, than it started to pour with rain.
  • Barely had he sat down, when there was a knock at the door.

on no account / under no circumstances / at no time / nowhere / no way

We can invert after no in a few set expressions, but only these:
  • On no account should you tell anyone else about this.
  • Under no circumstances must this information be disclosed to our competitors
  • At no time was I informed of their decision.
  • But Officer! Nowhere does it say that I cannot park here.
  • No way am I going to pay that much for an ice cream! It's daylight robbery!
    (this is quite informal)

not until / not since + expression of time

  • Not until much later did he find out the truth.
  • Not since she lived in Tuscany had she tasted such delicious food.

not even if + clause; not for + noun phrase / not for nothing + clause

  • Not even if they paid him double would he work this weekend.
  • Not for all the tea in China was I going to miss this match!
    (idiom meaning 'not for anything', also 'not for all the money in the world')
  • Not for nothing was he called Lightning Smith!
    (idiom meaning 'for a very good reason')

not only ..., (but)(also) / (not even) ...

  • Not only was the food below expectations, (but) they (also) overcharged us.
  • Not only did they refuse to give us a refund, (but) they didn't (even) apologise.

not + object followed by inversion

This can happen with a standard verb form or passive infinitive:
  • Not a single word did he say.
  • Not a penny have they received in compensation.
  • Not a moment was to be lost.
    (= We weren't to lose a moment)

only + time expression

  • Only then did the truth dawn on me.
  • Only once you've read the book will you see what I'm talking about.
  • Only after she showed them her picture in a newspaper were they convinced that she was who she said she was.
  • Only rarely / seldom do we get the chance to see a performance as good as this.

only if + clause / only by + -ing form

  • Only if you increase the discount can we possibly accept this deal.
  • Only by bribing the porter did we manage to get a meal sent up to our room.
Note - With only in particular, the negative adverbial expression can be quite long, and may be in two parts in the uninverted version. You may also have to change the order of the sentence. Compare these uninverted sentences with their inverted versions above:
  • They were only convinced that she was who she said she was after she showed them her picture in a newspaper.
  • We only managed to get a meal sent up to our room by bribing the porter.
Notice that we can also use an 'it' cleft with these expressions, in which case inversion is not used:
  • It was only after she showed them her picture in a newspaper that they were convinced that she was who she said she was.
  • It was only by bribing the porter that we managed to get a meal sent up to our room.
Note - We don't invert after only if it is not followed by a time expression or an if/by clause.

little + do / does / did

  • Little does he realise what's in store for him.
  • Little did we suspect how much trouble he would cause us.
  • Little does she care what I think.
This pattern with little is used with verbs like imagine, know, realise, suspect, understand, and is only used in present simple and past simple. Short forms like 'Little does he know!' and 'Little does she care' are used quite idiomatically in spoken language.


You can find some exercises on negative inversion here

2.2 Inversion with conditionals

The basics

In conditionals, we can invert the subject and the auxiliaries should, were and had (but no others), and omitting if:
  • Should you see Peter, can you tell him I was looking for him?
  • Were they not to offer me the job, I'd be very disappointed.
  • Had he been listening more carefully, he might have realised his mistake.
Note - When inverting negative if-clauses, we can't use contractions: shouldn't, weren't and hadn't; we must use the full negative: should ... not, were ... not and had ... not.

should - real conditionals

If we can reasonably add 'by any chance', 'happen to', or 'chance to' to a real time conditional referring to the present or future, then we can replace that expression with should and invert. We can do this with some 1st conditionals, and some conditionals that don't fit the 1st conditional pattern:
  • If you see Peter later, tell him I was asking for him.
    If you chance to see Peter later, tell him I was asking for him.
    If you should see Peter later, tell him I was asking for him.
    Should you see Peter later on, tell him I was asking for him.
  • If he happens not to be at his office, you can contact him on this number.
    Should he not be at his office, you can contact him on this number.
  • If by any chance your friends are hungry, there's some pie in the fridge.
    Should your friends be hungry, there's some pie in the fridge

were - unreal present and future conditions (2nd conditional)

There are two ways of inverting 2nd conditionals: if the main verb or the auxiliary in the if-clause is was or were, we can simply invert it and omit if. Note that we can only invert with were, so was must be changed to were.
  • If she was/were a bit older, she could travel by herself.
    Were she a bit older, she could travel by herself.
  • If he was/were offering us better discount, we would accept
    Were he offering us better discount, we would accept
In all other cases we need to change the verb in the if clause from past simple to a were to construction (usually used to make suggestions more tentative). We seem to be able to this with most 2nd conditionals, especially when we think (or hope) that the condition is more unlikely.
  • If the government introduced this tax, it would affect a lot of people.
    If the government were to introduce this tax, it would affect a lot of people.
    Were the government to introduce this tax, it would affect a lot of people.
  • If they didn't accept our offer, we'd have to look elsewhere.
    Were they not to accept our offer, we would have to look elsewhere.
  • The tornado could cause a lot of damage if it hit Havana, .
    The tornado could cause a lot of damage were it to hit Havana, .
Note - Inversion is not very common when were is the main verb, and it seems to work better when were is followed by an adjective phrase rather than a noun or pronoun. In particular, we would be very unlikely to invert the set expression 'If I were you' to 'Were I you' (although it is possible, if somewhat literary and perhaps, old fashioned). See note and graph at the end.

had - unreal past conditions (3rd conditional)

We can invert any 3rd conditional by inverting had and the subject and omitting if:
  • If you had told me earlier, I would have been able to do something about it.
    Had you told me earlier, I would have been able to do something about it.
  • He'd never have believed it if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes.
    He'd never have believed it had he not seen it with his own eyes,

Mixed conditionals

We can invert mixed conditionals with were or had, depending on whether the condition clause relates to the present or the past
  • Had he not worked so hard, he wouldn't be where he is now.
    (3rd / 2nd) - past condition, present result
  • Were she not so lazy, she would have passed her exams.
    (2nd / 3rd) - present (general) condition, past result

If it wasn't / weren't / hadn't been for

This is an idiom using the unreal past used to say that one event makes another event possible (or impossible). We use if it wasn't / weren't for to talk about present and future situations, and if it hadn't been for for past situations.
As with 1st and 2nd person singular in Second conditionals, we can use was or were (more formal). We can invert these expressions in the same way as with Second and Third conditionals. And as with Second conditionals, when we invert we must change was to were.
  • If it wasn't for my father's help, we wouldn't be able to pay the mortgage.
    Were it not for my father's help, we wouldn't be able to pay the mortgage.
  • She would never have entered the competition if it had not been for the encouragement of her English teacher.
    She would never have entered the competition had it not been for the encouragement of her English teacher.

Exceptions 1 - should in 2nd conditionals

We sometimes use a Second conditional to make a suggestion more tentative or polite, in negotiations for example. In these cases we can use should, and can also invert with should instead of were (to).
  • If you increased your order, we would consider free delivery.
    If you should increase your order, we would consider free delivery.
    Should you increase your order, we would consider free delivery.

Exceptions 2 - were in 3rd conditionals

Sometimes a construction with were to have + past participle (3rd form) can be used instead of had in a third conditional. This can suggest that something is even more hypothetical or sometimes suggests that the consequences would have been very serious. We can also invert this.
  • If the police were to have found out, he would have been in trouble.
    Were the police to have found out, he would have been in trouble.
  • a variation on standard 3rd conditional form
  • If the police had found out, he would have been in trouble.
    Had the police found out he would have been in trouble

Rarer types of inversion in conditionals

There are a few rather more exotic types of conditional inversion that ESL/EFL books don't usually talk about. I'm certainly not suggesting that foreign learners should use these, but you might come across them in books, films etc:

In a few cases with have for possession and have to for obligation.

Inversion is very occasionally used when talking about possession, especially with things like time, money, space, understanding, money, inclination. This seems to happen most with comparatives or other adjectives, and its use seems to be in decline:
  • Had I the inclination, I would work harder; but I really can't be bothered.
  • Had we the necessary time and resources, we could go ahead with this project.
  • Had we a better understanding of what is involved, I might agree with you.
On very rare occasions it also happens with have to for obligation too, mainly with I and we. This use also seems to be in decline:
  • Had I to do it all over again, I would go about it rather differently.
  • Had he to choose between the two locations, he says he would choose Spain.
  • Had we to depend on his help, we should never get anything done.


Inversion with had seems to be much more common than with should or were, but the use of inversion in conditionals in general seems to be declining.


You can find lots of exercises on inversion with conditionals here

2.3 as + auxiliary (or be) in a follow-on clause or sentence

In a fairly literary style, we can start a second clause or a new sentence with as instead of and so, to say somebody or something is or does something similar in some way to the people or things mentioned in the previous clause or sentence. As with and so, we need to invert.
  • Peter is a doctor, as is his wife Mary.
    (or informally - and so is his wife Mary.)
  • She comes from Sweden, as do several other members of the class.
  • The upper floors were burning, as was one of the rooms on the ground floor.
  • He has already passed his driving test, as has his twin sister, Sally.
  • The brothers can sing rather well. As indeed can the rest of the family.
This construction sounds strange with pronouns, and seems to sound best with quite long subjects.
Note - We don't invert when the subject of both clauses is the same:
  • My sister is taking the bus to school, as she does every day.
  • We're spending Christmas at my parents' home, as we' ve always done.

2.4 Comparatives with 'than'

This is sometimes used when directly comparing two people, things or situations (one of which is the subject). It is rather literary and not common in spoken language (where we often drop the second verb altogether). It is totally optional, and I would suggest foreign learners avoid it as it can sound very strange.
  • The Prado has more Goyas than has any other gallery.
    The Prado has more Goyas than any other gallery (has). (more natural)
  • She sings a lot better than do the rest of her family..
    She sings a lot better than the rest of her family (do). (more natural)
Like inversion after as, this sounds least natural with pronouns, and best with longer and more complicated subjects. But even then, it is more natural just to omit the verb.
  • Their house is rather grander than are others in the neighbourhood.
    Their house is rather grander than others in the neighbourhood (are).

2.6 Exclamations

We sometimes use a negative question form to give emphasis to an exclamation.
  • Haven't you grown, young man?
  • Isn't it cold in here?
Sometimes non-negative question forms are used, especially in American English. Using question form is optional and usually quite informal.
  • Boy, does that casserole smell good!
    (or Boy, that casserole smells good.)
  • Well, have we got a surprise for you!
  • Man, can that woman sing!
See also exclamations with how and what.

2.7 Hopes and wishes with may

These are typically found in greetings and sympathy cards, and in toasts etc:
  • May all your wishes come true
  • May she rest in peace.
  • May you have a long and fruitful marriage.
And in film and music:
  • May the force be with you!
    (Star Wars)
  • May all your Christmasses be white!
    (from White Christmas - Irving Berlin)
  • Long may you run
    (album by the Neal Young / Steve Stills band)
  • May sheep safely graze.
    (Cantata by J.S.Bach)
  • Long may she reign!
    (from 'God save the Queen' - the British national anthem)
Some are not quite so sympathetic:
  • May you live in interesting times! (this is ironic, wishing someone bad luck)
  • May he rot in hell (for all eternity)!

3. Fronting and inversion with so and such

Typically used with that:
  • So exhausted did he feel that he went straight to bed.
  • So well had she run her business that it became the leader in its field.
  • Such was his strength of serve that his opponent rarely managed to return it.
For more detail, see the individual sections:
  • 3.1 So + adjective + linking verb + that clause
  • 3.2 So + adverb + verb + that clause
  • 3.3 Such + be + noun phrase + that clause
  • 3.4 So much / little did ... that ...
  • 3.5 Using such to refer back to something already mentioned
  • 3.6 Some expressions with so and such using inversion

3.1 So + adjective + linking verb + that clause

When we use an adjective with be we can invert the whole verb, not just the auxiliary:
  • So strong had been the wind that several trees had been blown down.
  • So powerful would be the attraction of the sea that before long he would join the navy.
But when we use other (linking) verbs, we seem to be limited to subject-auxiliary inversion:
  • So tired had he become, that he immediately went to bed
  • So good did his steak look that we ordered one each for ourselves
I've listed some more examples in the final section of this post.

3.2 So + adverb + verb + that clause

Here we seem only to be able to invert subject and auxiliary:
  • So often had he played his opponent that they knew each other's every move.
  • So well were the team playing, that he began to wonder if they might not win.
  • So badly did he feel about what he had said that he couldn't sleep at all.

3.3 Such + be + noun phrase + that clause

We sometimes use noun phrases followed by be + such that emphasise the degree or quality of something, understandable from context:
  • His commitment to the job is such, that he often works at weekends.
    He is very committed - perhaps he should 'get a life'
  • The weather was such that they spent most of the time indoors.
    The weather was very bad
  • The outcry had been such, that the council had to change their decision.
    There had been a huge outcry
In a more emphatic version, we can front such, and invert the subject and verb:
  • Such is his commitment to the job, that he often works at weekends.
  • Such was the weather that they spent most of the time indoors.
  • Such had been the outcry that the council had to change their decision.>
These clauses can also be reversed, leaving out that (and adding a comma):
  • He often works at weekends, such is his commitment to the job.
  • The council had to change their decision, such had been the outcry.

3.4 So much / little did ... that ...

These constructions were quite popular in 19th century books, but seem to be dying out.
  • So much did his manner annoy her that she tried to avoid him at all costs.
  • So much did he rely on her advice that when she left he didn't know what to do.
  • So little did he know about the business, that I'm surprised the company survived at all.
  • So little did they care about their employees that strikes were quite frequent.

3.5 Using such to refer back to something already mentioned

We can also use such, instead of this, that or which, to refer back to something already said and put new information to the end of the clause:
  • Some animals carry their young in pouches. Such is the case with the kangaroo and the wallaby.
    (or - This is the case with the kangaroo and the wallaby)
  • Jackson resigned at the end of his fifth season. Such had always been his intention.
    (or - Which had always been his intention)
  • Unemployment in the area had always been high, and such is still the situation today.
    (or - and that is still the situation today)
Whether those examples constitutes inversion is arguable, but here are a couple of lines from Shania Twain's song 'Is There Life After Love?', where there definitely is inversion:
  • But every fool's a lonely fool
    And such a fool am I
In this extract, such a + inversion refers back to the previous line, to mean something like 'that kind of' or '... like that'. She's saying that she is also a lonely fool - And I'm that kind of fool - a lonely fool.

3.6 Some expressions with so and such using inversion

  • Such is life (= life's like that)
    It's the weekend and it's raining again! Oh well. Such is life!
  • A month's holiday on a deserted tropical island! Such is the stuff that dreams are made of.
  • So be it. (An expression of acceptance or resignation)
    If they appoint him instead of me, so be it.

4. Fronting adverbs and adverbials, with and without inversion

This involves swapping the subject and the whole verb, not just the auxiliary. Apart from uses with here and there, this occurs most often in literary and descriptive writing.
It's a feature of subject-verb inversion that it rarely occurs with pronouns.
  • 4.1 Here and there + be, come, go
  • 4.2 Other common expressions with fronting
  • 4.3 Prepositional phrases of place with verbs of position + inversion
  • 4.4 Prepositional phrases of direction with verbs of movement + inversion
  • 4.6 Prepositional phrases with verbs of position and movement - no inversion
  • 4.7 Prepositional phrases of place with other verbs without inversion
  • 4.8 Fronting other adverbs and adverbials

4.1 Here and there

Probably the most common type of subject-verb inversion is when we start a sentence with here or there (when used adverbially to indicate place) and the verbs be, come and go. If the subject is a noun, we must invert, but we can't invert if it's a pronoun:
  • Here's your coffee.
    Here it is.
  • Here comes Peter now.
    Here he comes now.
  • There are my keys. I've been looking for them everywhere.
    Ah! There it is. I was wondering where I'd left it.
  • There goes our bus. We've missed it.
    There she goes. There she goes again. (song by the LA's)

There (and here) plus position verb

In a more literary style we sometimes use adverbial there, and to lesser extent here, with verbs indicating position, like stand and sit. Again, pronouns are not inverted:
  • There sat the children, tired out after their long walk.
    There they sat, eating their sandwiches.
  • Here stands a memorial to all those killed in the two World Wars.
    Here it stands, and has done so for centuries.

Introductory there

Remember that is often more natural to start a sentence with introductory there (also known as existential there - it tells us something exists somewhere). Some people refer to this as a kind of inversion:
  • There was a large fountain in the garden.
    ('A fountain was in the garden' - sounds strange)
  • There are some cups in the cupboard.
    ('Some cups are in the cupboard' - this sounds even stranger)
When the introductory there clause includes an adverbial of position, we can front that adverbial, in which case it is followed by inversion. This is usually done in narratives rather than in spoken language, and we usually omit there:
  • In the garden (there) was a large fountain.
  • On the sideboard (there) were some cups .

4.2 Common expressions with fronted adverbs of movement

These short adverbial expressions are often used with pronouns when talking informally, especially to children:
  • Off you go, children, or you'll be late for school.
  • That's right, up you come.
  • And away she goes!

4.3 Fronted prepositional phrases of place + verbs of position

In section 4.1 we saw how, in a more literary style, clauses with existential there + be + prepositional phrases of place can be inverted, usually omitting there:
  • In the garden was a large fountain.
  • On the sideboard were some cups .
And we also saw how expressions with here and there with be and verbs of position, like sit, stand, lie, hang, etc could be inverted:
  • Here is my passport
  • There sat the children, tired out after their long walk.
  • Here stands a memorial to all those killed in the two World Wars.
We can also invert with these verbs after fronted prepositional phrases of place, as with here and there:
  • In the driveway was an old Bentley.
  • Between the French windows stood an antique grandfather clock.
  • Above the fireplace hung a large portrait of a woman dressed in black.
  • On the hearthrug lay an enormous wolfhound.
  • At the bar sat a group of young women.
We can do the same with can / could be + third forms of see, hear, make out etc
  • In the background of the painting can be seen the old mill house.
  • Outside in the street could be heard the sound of children playing.
  • In the distance could just be made out the figure of a lone rider.
Trivia note - was sat - increasingly in informal British English you can hear the expression was sat etc instead of was sitting etc. Not everybody considers this 'correct', but it is becoming increasingly popular with people who speak otherwise perfect English. It can also be used in inverted sentences:
  • A young woman was sat at the bar sipping a cocktail.
    Sat at the bar was a young woman sipping a cocktail.
See Section 4.5 for examples of situations with fronted adverbials of place and direction where we don't use inversion

4.4 Fronted prepositional phrases of direction + verbs of movement

Something similar can occur with verbs of movement like come, go, climb, fly, roll after prepositional phrases of direction, especially in narratives and literary or more formal styles. When these adverbial expressions are fronted, inversion is possible with noun phrases but is not used with pronouns:
  • An old traction engine came round the corner, steam pouring from its chimney.
    Round the corner came an old traction engine, steam pouring from its chimney.
    Round the corner it came, steam pouring from its chimney.

Prepositional phrases

  • Up the hill trudged the weary tramp, knowing that at the top he would find food and shelter.
  • Over their heads flew a large flock of starlings, reeling and darting like a shoal of fish
  • Off to school went the children, having eaten a hearty breakfast.
  • Down the hill rolled an enormous snowball, getting even bigger as it went.

Other adverbial expressions

As well as prepositional phrases and here and there, we can front other adverbial expressions. With simple noun phrases, inversion is common, if optional:
  • First were the Household Cavalry, and then came the Artillery. After them marched the Brigade of Guards and finally came the royal coach itself.
  • Now comes the weather and next will be the news.

4.5 Fronted adverbials of place and direction with verbs of position and movement - without inversion

We've just seen in the last two sections how adverbials of place and time can be fronted, and in some cases inverted, particularly with verbs of position or movement. Here are a few contexts where we can't or don't usually invert:
  • With pronouns
    Up the hill they came, more and more of them.
    On the horizon he could make out some hills.
  • With transitive verbs
    On the table the old woman had placed an old tablecloth.
    Up the hill a man was pushing a wheelbarrow.
  • When an intransitive verb is followed by an adverb of manner
    At the back of the hall, a young girl stood silently holding a candle
    Along the road the old man trudged wearily.
  • With continuous tenses
    In the corridor, some boys were standing talking.

4.6 Fronted prepositional phrases of place and direction with other verbs - without inversion

We don't invert when fronted prepositional phrases are followed by verbs that don't express position or movement:
  • Somewhere in the house, a door slammed.
  • In the garden a bird could be heard singing loudly.
  • Behind the house, someone was digging the garden.

4.7 Fronting other adverbs and adverbials

This is usually done to shift the emphasis. We can front adverbs of manner:
  • Quickly, he gathered up his things and left.
  • Gently, he tucked the child up in bed.
And we can front adverbials of time:
  • All month, she waited for his call.
  • At precisely six o'clock, the telephone rang.

5. Fronted adjectives and participles with inversion

  • 5.1 Fronting simple adjectives
  • 5.2 Fronting comparatives, superlatives and other forms of comparison
  • 5.3 Fronted not so constructions
  • 5.4 Fronted worth a look etc
  • 5.5 Double comparatives + inversion - the bigger, the better etc
  • 5.6 Fronted present and past participles

5.1 Fronted plain adjectives + be

Adjectives sometimes come after be and other linking verbs (in predicative position). Fronting single adjectives as in the following examples is fairly rare and rather literary (it seems to be used mostly in religious books). It mostly seems to occur with adjectives such as fortunate, happy etc, and is often used with (reduced) relative clauses. Probably the best known example comes from the King James Bible:
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
Other literary examples include:
  • Happy is the man who finds himself so greatly beloved.
    (The Man in the Iron Mask, Alexandre Dumas)
  • Lucky is the Queen that has such ministers; and lucky is the country that is governed by them.
    (The Monthly Law Magazine and Political Review, 1840)
Inversion with adjectives followed by indeed seems to be a bit more natural:
  • Fortunate indeed are those who can afford a holiday like that.
  • Sad indeed will be the day when we can't express ourselves freely.
But this example taken from a language website does not seem natural to me at all, sounding more like something Yoda might say
  • Quick and painless will be your medical procedure.
There are, however, contexts where adjectives can be fronted with inversion in a much more natural way, as the following three sections show.

5.2 Fronted comparatives and superlatives and other adjective forms + be

These are quite natural, and usually follow on from something already said, linking two sentences or clauses. They seem to work best with intensifiers such as still, even, far etc for comparatives, and by far, of all etc for superlatives. The subject can be a noun phrase or a noun clause (for example, wh-clauses and that clauses).

Comparatives + be

  • The starter was excellent, but better still was the main course.
  • For me, more important than the price is whether it's good value for money.
  • Her first round victory was somewhat unexpected. No less surprising was how easily she beat her second opponent.
  • Debbie had quite a good day at the races. Even luckier was her friend Nina, who won on every horse she bet on.
  • Less successful than Debbie or Nina though, was their other friend, Paula, who lost all her bets.

Superlatives + be

  • Happiest of all was Amanda, who had at last met the man of her dreams.
  • Fastest round the track was Fangio, in the Ferrari.
  • Most impressive of all was that she managed to do it all in record time.
  • All his films were pretty good, but by far the best was 'Rio Bravo'.
  • Least excited at the prospect was Mike, who didn't want to go at all.

Expressing equality with equally / just as

Here, we express similarity of quality with something else mentioned (often before):
  • Equally as disappointing as the starter was the main course, rather tough roast beef with a soggy Yorkshire pudding.
  • The boat trip was really great. And just as good was the party in the evening afterwards.

Expressing inequality with not so.

Here, we express a contrast with something mentioned before. For more on this construction see the next section:
  • I just managed to get served before the cashier went off for her lunch. Not so lucky was the woman standing behind me in the queue..
  • We rather enjoyed the street artist's performance. Not so amusing, however, was discovering that I had been pickpocketed.

Standing out from the rest - particularly and especially

In a similar way, inversion is quite often used when these two intensifiers are used with such adjectives as good, enjoyable, important, noteworthy, significant, striking, notable, interesting, impressive, popular.
Again the adjective phrase usually refers back to someone or something that has already been mentioned. This sort of inversion can be found in academic texts and criticism, for example. Here are a few examples from Google Books:
  • Especially important was the fact that George Washington liked it, and he had the ultimate say in selecting the winner.
    (talking of the design for the White House) - The Americas: International Dictionary of Historic Places, Trudy Ring and others, 2013
  • Particularly significant was his encouragement of the youthful Erasmus, whose first two publications appeared in works by Gaguin.
    (talking about Robert Gaguin) - Renaissance Thought, Robert Black, 2001
  • Especially striking was his indifference to truth.
    Spy Wars: Moles, Mysteries, and Deadly Games, Tennent H. Bagley, 2007
  • Particularly impressive was the number of bicycles, reportedly over 6 million in a city of 12 million.
    One Lucky Canuck, David A Barr, 2004
  • Especially noteworthy was the superb diction by the chorus and most of the principals.
    Gilbert and Sullivan Boys and Girls, 2004
  • Particularly noticeable was the skillful manner in which he arranged the plot.
    Boys' Life - Apr 1964

5.3 Not so + adjective + be + inverted subject

This usually follows on from something already said. It is used mainly with adjectives suggesting something positive, like lucky / fortunate/ happy / good / great. The verb be can be followed by a noun phrase or an -ing clause. Very occasionally it is followed by a that clause, or even more rarely, by a to-infinitive clause (in which case it is usually used with a what cleft).

Noun phrases

  • Peterson scored a lucky goal early on in the match. Not so fortunate was his teammate Johnson, who missed two easy goals in the second half.
  • Patricia was over the moon at winning first prize. Not quite so delighted, however, was her rival Amelia, who had assumed that the prize would be hers.

-ing clauses, wh- clauses and that clauses

  • Not so amusing was arriving just in time to see our train leave.
  • Not so funny was what happened next.
  • Not so great was that I lost my wallet.

What clefts

Not so comparisons are quite often further emphasised by using what clefts
  • The way staff treated us wasn't so great.
    = normal Subject Verb order
  • Not so great was the way staff treated us.
    = fronting + Subject Verb inversion
  • What wasn't so great was the way staff treated us.
    = what-cleft + Subject Verb inversion
A couple of examples:
  • The hotel lobby seemed welcoming enough, but what was not so encouraging was the state of our room.
  • What wasn't so funny was losing my wallet.
  • What was not so great was to realise we'd have to spend another three days there.

5.4 Fronted phrase - worth a look / visit etc. + be

As an adjective, worth is highly unusual in that it is usually followed by a noun phrase or -ing form, rather than simply a noun, like most other adjectives:
  • If you're in Paris, the Louvre is well worth a visit.
    The Rodin Museum is also really worth seeing.
Common noun phrases used after worth include a try, a visit, a look, a trip, a detour, the wait, the effort, the cost, the price etc.
An inverted structure with fronted worth has become increasingly popular, and is quite common on user-generated websites such as It is often preceded by also or well (but NOT very). These examples are all from the Internet:
  • Also worth a look is the 'Custard Factory' - once owned by Birds Custard.
  • Well worth a visit is the 12th century Notre-Dame-la-Grande.
  • Worth a try are traditional thick potato soup and cream of pumpkin.
  • Well worth the wait is the Trois Petits Pots de Crème. (a dessert - I think)
  • Worth a detour is Mineral King, a late-19th-century mining and logging camp.
  • Also worth a trip is the flourishing Jardin Majorelle
As well as being used as a simple adjective phrase, it is also sometimes used to modify a fronted noun phrase, rather like a reduced relative clause:
  • Other properties worth a look are the historic Goodwood Park and the Shangri-La (hotels).
  • Another attraction potentially worth a detour is the Cowtown Rodeo.
  • Two more villages well worth a visit are Lynton and Lynmouth.
  • One variety worth a try is Green Sausage.

5.5 Double comparatives - The bigger, the better etc

Optionally, we can invert in the second clause of a double comparative. This is not very common:
  • The nearer a house is to the city centre, the higher is the rent.
  • or more commonly:
  • The nearer a house is to the city centre, the higher the rent (is).

5.6 Fronted present and past participle clauses + be

These are often used to describe the scene, especially in narratives:

Present participles (-ing forms) describe an action:

  • Coming over the hill was a whole troop of cavalry.
  • And bringing up the rear is Diamond Boy, being ridden today by Pat Walker.
  • Not wasting any time were Steve and his friends, who went straight to the bar.

Past participle (and passive infinitive) clauses describe a state:

  • Left to fend for itself was a small puppy, no bigger than a rat.
    (= A small puppy, no bigger than a rat, had been left to fend for itself.)
  • To be found in almost every village are delightful little restaurants, serving delicious local food.
Note - gone is quite commonly used this way, often with words like days, time, and often followed by a clause starting with when:
  • Gone was the quiet old pub we had once known, and in its place was an ugly motel.
  • Gone was the chance to say what he really felt.
  • Long gone are the days when such language was acceptable.
  • Gone was the time when he could just turn up for work when he felt like it.

Past participle / participal adjective phrases used to describe position:

  • Situated close to the village green is a beautiful old pub.
  • Almost totally hidden among the bushes was a marble statue of Eros.
  • Carefully positioned either side of the fireplace were two enormous Chinese porcelain dogs.
Non inverted versions of these last examples would probably begin there is/are etc
  • There's a beautiful old pub situated close to the village green.
Note - when fronted as participles, active verb forms take an -ing form (present participle); passive verbs take an -ed form (past participle):
  • A large bookcase took up most of one wall.
    Taking up most of one wall was a large bookcase.
  • A large bookcase had been placed along one wall.
    Placed along one wall was a large bookcase.

6. Other forms of subject-verb inversion

  • 6.1 Fronting subject complements (noun phrases)
  • 6.2 In direct speech and newspaper headlines
  • 6.3 Fronted expressions after also
  • 6.4 Exclamations with how and what
  • 6.5 Fronting noun clauses

6.1 Swapping the subject and the subject complement (noun phrase)

When a noun phrase follows the verb be, it 'renames' or describes the subject in some way, and is called a subject complement. Because the subject and the subject complement refer to one and the same person or thing, they are often intechangeable:
  • Paul Jones is our guest speaker today.
    (inverted) Our guest speaker today is Paul Jones
  • Paris is the capital of France
    (inverted) The capital of France is Paris.
  • The cost was our main concern
    (inverted) Our main concern was the cost.
Note - we can't invert when the subject is a pronoun:
  • He is our guest speaker today.
    Our guest speaker today is he/him
  • That was our main concern
    Our main concern was that.
At other times, however, inversion doesn't seem to work (at least not usually):
  • Paul Jones is an engineer.
    An engineer is Paul Jones
but we can sometimes invert this sort of sentence in an informal style:
  • A fully qualified engineer is young Paul now! Would you believe it?
or when commenting informally on the subject's qualities:
  • Paul did an amazing job on that bridge contract, didn't he?
    Yes, a bloody good engineer is young Paul!
Fronting with an inverted clause can often be used in two different ways to emphasise two different things:
  • Who needs a corkscrew when you've got a Swiss army knife?
    Yes, a very useful tool is the Swiss army knife.
    (referring back to something just mentioned - emphasisis is on 'a very useful tool')
  • When thinking what to take, a very useful tool is the Swiss army knife.
    (putting new information to the end - emphasisis is on 'the Swiss army knife')
In writing, fronting the subject complement can help the flow from sentence to sentence, and can help with the presentation of information. We find information easier to understand when the topic or known information comes at the beginning of the sentence, and new information at the end:
  • When considering where to go for an ecological holiday one place worth considering is Thailand.
  • Labradors and retrievers are an excellent choice for families with children. Another child-friendly breed is the boxer.
  • Towards the end of the eighteenth century Europe was shaken by a momentous event. That event was, of course, the French Revolution.


In a very informal style, we sometimes front the subject complement and leave out the verb be (and articles).
  • Funny thing, human nature.
    Strange man, your boss.
    Very interesting subject, quantum mechanics.
Finally, here is an example of a more poetic type of subject / subject complement reversal from a well-known limerick by American writer Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879–1972). This version also has fronting in the third and fourth lines (see Section 5.6):
  • A funny old bird is the pelican,
  • His beak can hold more than his belican,
  • Food for a week
  • He can hold in his beak
  • But I don't know how the helican

6.2 In direct speech and in newspaper headlines

With direct speech in narratives

In narratives, inversion is often used with words like say and reply, and other verbs suggesting ways of speaking. Inversion doesn't usually happen when the subject is a pronoun.
  • "What big eyes you have", said the little girl to her granny, who was lying in bed, wearing a nightie and oversized nightcap.
  • "All the better to see you with", replied the wolf, for that was who 'granny' really was.
  • "Shouldn't that be 'with which to eat you'?", suggested Miss Hood, who could be a bit of a grammar snob at times.
  • "Whatever!", snapped back the wolf, somewhat fed up with the little girl's pedantry and getting increasingly hungry.
  • "And what big teeth you've got!", cried the girl in wonder, examining the wolf more closely.
  • "All the better to eat you with", he growled, bringing the charade to an end by gobbling her up in one go.

After statements in newspaper headlines

A similar structure is sometimes used in newspaper headlines, but without the quotation marks.
  • Electricity prices bound to rise, say energy companies.
  • Breakthrough in peace talks imminent, suggests diplomat.
  • New treatment for flu available, announce health officials.
  • Government policy not responsible for increased immigration, affirms government minister.

6.3 Fronted expressions after also

This construction is probably most common in media reports and adds to something just said. It can occur with prepositional phrases of place:
  • The awards ceremony was attended by the President. Also in the audience were many well-known faces from stage and screen.
  • G8 leaders met yesterday in Bonn. Also at the meeting were representatives of developing countries.
  • Also in the car at the time of the accident was the minister's private secretary.
It can also occur with participle clauses:
  • Also chosen to represent Britain is Peter Dickinson, the sprinter from Doncaster.
  • Also competing in the bob sleigh race was a team from Jamaica.

6.4 Exclamations with how and what

Inversion is sometimes used in exclamations starting with how and what. This is quite old-fashioned and again rather literary.
  • how + adjective phrase + be + subject
  • How green was my valley
    Film directed by John Ford - 1941
  • How beautiful is the rain!
    Poem by American writer H.W.Longfellow
  • what + noun phrase + be + subject
  • What a piece of work is a man!
    (Shakespeare - Hamlet 2:2)
  • What a wonderful thing is the mail, capable of conveying across continents a warm human hand-clasp.
    (anomymous quote)

6.5 Noun clauses after introductory it

We usually use to-infinitive and that clauses after introductory 'It is/was/had been'.
  • It's rather strange that she should have said that.
  • It had always been his burning ambition to climb all the mountains in Scotland.
But sometimes these clauses are fronted, for effect or in formal English.
  • That she should have said that is rather strange.
  • To climb all the mountains in Scotland had always been his burning ambition.
We can do the same with some wh- clauses
  • Why she had left like that was anyone's guess.
    or - It was anyone's guess why she had left like that.
  • How she had done it was a total mystery.
    or - It was a total mystery how she had done it.
See the next section for fronting object wh- clauses.

7. Other forms of fronting without inversion

  • 7.1 Fronting wh- clauses
  • 7.2 Fronting infinitives of purpose
  • 7.3 Fronting objects
  • 7.4 Fronting adjectives + it clauses
  • 7.5 Fronting as and though in clauses of concession
  • 7.6 Fronting and echoing a previously mentioned verb
  • 7.7 Detached fronted verb phrases
  • 7.8 Detached fronted subjects and objects
  • 7.9 Introductory phrases 'the thing is' etc

7.1 Fronting object wh- clauses

We've just seen (6.5) how we can front wh- clauses following introductory it. We can sometimes do the same when the wh- clause acts as the object:
  • What he's up to, I can't imagine.
    (normal word order - I can't imagine what he's up to.)
Some more examples:
  • What books she has, she keeps in the attic.
  • How he managed to persuade the boss we never discovered.
  • What happens next you'll just have to wait and find out.
And what I suppose is a fronted object complement:
  • Where they've got to, I've no idea.

7.2 Fronting infinitives of purpose

When to means in order to, we can sometimes front the to clause when we want to emphasise the reason for doing something:
  • He's going to France on an exchange visit (in order) to improve his French.
    To improve his French, he's going to France on an exchange visit.
A couple more examples:
  • To earn a bit of extra cash, she's taken a part-time job.
    To get the best results from this product, clean it occasionally with a damp cloth.
    To get it finished more quickly, he got some help from some friends.
This doesn't always work. It wouldn't really work, for example, with these sentences with come and go where, although there is an infinitive of purpose, we wouldn't normally use in order to:
  • She's gone to the shops to buy some food.
    NOT To buy some food, she's gone to the shops.
  • They're coming to fix the fridge this afternoon.
    NOT To fix the fridge, they're coming this afternoon.

7.3 Fronting objects

Sometimes we front the object when it has just been mentioned or refers to something we're already talking about:
  • She got two presents for her birthday, a bicycle and a games console. The bicycle she got from her mother, and the games console from her father.
  • Of her three sisters, she got on well with the two older ones, but the youngest she hardly ever spoke to.
  • For most of the time we stayed on the coast. Our last week we spent in the mountains.
In the limerick about the pelican we came across the lines food for a week he could hold in his beak, where food for a week is a fronted object. We can also do something similar in less poetic contexts:
  • OK. That much I understand. My problem lies with the next bit.
  • This last point I 'll discuss in more detail a bit later.
And sometimes in exclamations:
  • People like that I just can't stand!
  • A wonderful summer we're having!
We can also front a few dependent preposition phrases:
  • To this list of nations can be added France and Germany.
  • From this category we've excluded all those who left school at sixteen.

7.4 Fronting adjective complements with pronoun + be + but ...

Fronting here usually echoes or refers back to an adjective already mentioned, and is used for emphasis or effect:
  • They said it was elegant and rather expensive. Expensive it certainly was, but I think calling it elegant was going a bit far.
  • Rich they may be, but generous they certainly aren't.

7.5 Fronting with as or though

We can use fronting with concession clauses (clauses starting although, though, even though, while), but only with though or as.

With adjectives and adverbs

  • Although the exam was difficult, he passed it easily.
    Difficult though the exam was, he passed it easily.
  • While he tried very hard, he just couldn't do it.
    Hard as he tried, he couldn't do it.
In the second of each pair of those sentences, the adjective or adverb has been fronted and followed by though or as. Fronting like this is sometimes used with linking verbs such as be, seem, appear, become, look, sound etc. This is done for effect or emphasis.
  • Talented though/as she is, she didn't get the first prize.
    (even though she's talented.)
  • Smart though/as she appears, she was unable to answer the question.
    (even though she appears smart)
  • Surprising though/as it sounds, I've never been to London.
    (even though it sounds amazing)

With verbs

Note that with simple tenses of verbs other than be, we need to add do/does/did (although use with verbs other than be is less common than constructions like the one in the first example).
  • Try as he might, he just couldn't get the car to start.
    (even though he tried very hard)
  • Fail though she did this time, she didn't give up hope of passing eventually.
    (although she failed this time).


  • Idiot though I may be, I'm not that stupid.
    (although I may be an idiot)

Fronting with that + be

We can do something similar with that and the verb be in a feww exclamations, but this is not very common. In American English only Noun phrases can be treated this way, but in British English we can theoretically do it with adjectives as well (but this is even less common).
  • Fool that I am, I nevertheless managed to get everything right.
    (even though I'm a fool)
  • Rich that they are, buying the castle was beyond even their means.
    (even though they are rich) (British English)

NB. Causal meanings

Note that fronted expressions with as and that (but not though) can also be used with the opposite sense, with a causal meaning rather than a concessive one.
  • Late as I was, I decided to take a taxi.
    (because I was late)
  • Smart as she is, she passed the exam with flying colours.
    (because she is smart)
  • Idiot that I am, I forgot to bring any money.
    (because I'm an idiot)

7.6 Fronting and echoing a previously mentioned verb

Note how only the main part of the verb (and any object) is fronted. In simple tenses we need to add do/does/did:
  • Things need to change, and change they undoubtedly will.
  • She said she would finish the report on time, and finish it she has.
  • He needed to sit and think, and sit and think he did.

7.7 Detached fronted verb phrases

These are sometimes used in informal spoken language to comment on something:
  • Certainly drives a hard bargain, your boss.
  • Keeps a tidy shop, your aunt.
  • Will go far, that young man.
Also in an informal style, we sometimes use a subject-auxililary form after a full clause. This can also be inverted (but not with pronouns, and I don't think it works with continuous tenses):
  • He drives a hard bargain, your boss does
    He drives a hard bargain, does your boss.
  • He's travelled a lot, my dad has.
    He's travelled a lot, has my dad.
  • She can make a good cake, your mum can.
    She can make a good cake, can your mum.

7.8 Detached fronted subjects and objects

This quite common in informal spoken English, where we 'detach' and front a subject or object. Often we repeat it with a pronoun, sometimes we miss words out (ellipsis):
  • Subject
    This book you gave me, it's just won a prize.
    That man I was talking about, that's him over there.
    These roses, don't they smell wonderful?
  • Object
    Peter and Mary, should we invite them?
    What we were talking about earlier, I've been thinking (about it)
    But when to sell, that's the question.
Sometimes we can put the pronoun clause first:
  • It's just won a prize, this book you gave me.
    Don't they smell wonderful, these roses?
    Should we invite them, Peter and Mary?
We don't usually do this with pronoun subjects, except occasionally for me and myself.
  • Me, I haven't thought about it much.
    Myself, I'd take the chance.
When fronting pronouns to refer to somebody else like this, we use object pronouns, even when referring to the subject.
  • Her! You must be joking.
    Him! He hasn't got a chance.

7.9 Introductory phrases The thing / point / question is etc

We sometimes preface a comment with phrases like this with nouns like thing, point, question, truth, problem, trouble etc, often to soften something rather negative or to signal that what we are going to say is important. They are usually used with the and be, but other combinations are sometimes possible:
  • I wonder if you could pay. The thing is, I've left my wallet in the office.
  • My point being, they haven't accepted our proposal yet.
  • The trouble is, we don't know what the final result will be.
  • The question remains, can we afford not to accept their offer?

Summary of types of inversion

Colour coding: fronted expression - auxiliary / verb - subject
Subject-auxilary inversion - obligatory, no emphasis involved
1.1Question forms

Have you finished?

You're Mark, aren't you?

I came first. - Did you?

Inversion is always obligatory
1.2After so and neither / nor
Same way agreement

So do I

Neither is she

Inversion compulsory after so, neither, nor.
Same way coordination

He can swim very well and so can his brother.

She didn't come and neither did her sister.

Inversion compulsory after so, neither, nor.
nor + clause

He hasn't seen it and nor does he want to.

Inversion compulsory after nor.
neither ... nor ...

She has neither been there nor has she any desire to go.

Neither has he written nor has he phoned.

Inversion compulsory after nor. Inversion of first part is also optionally possible.
Subject-auxilary inversion - optional, emphasis usually involved
2.1Negative inversion
After fronted negative and restrictive adverbials

Never before had it rained so much in one day.

Only then did she understand what I was trying to say.

Little did they suspect what would happen next.

Fronting the adverbial is optional, but if used, inversion obligatory
2.2Inversion in conditionals

Should I be late, start without me

Were he to ask me, I'd accept like a shot

Had I not already got one, I'd be very tempted.

Inversion completely optional
2.3Follow-on as + clause

She thinks it's unlikely, as does her colleague.

Inversion optional
2.4After than in comparatives

This year's sales are better than were last year's.

Inversion optional and rather rare
2.5Question order in exclamatives

Wow! Was that exam hard!

Inversion optional
2.6Hopes and wishes with may

May all your dreams come true!

Inversion obligatory and rather literary
Fronted so and such - fronting optional, but if used, inversion is obligatory
3.1So + adjective

So exhausted were the children, they were put straight to bed.

Quite literary.
3.2So + adverb

So badly did he sing, he was booed off the stage.

3.3Such + be + noun phrase + that

Such was the state of the roads that driving anywhere was an adventure.

3.4So much/little did ... that

So little did he care, he didn't even contact her.

Literary and now rather rare.
3.5Such following on from something already stated

And such has always been the case.

3.6Some expressions with so and such using inversion

So be it.

Such is life!

Set expressions
4. Fronted adverbs and adverbials
4.1After fronted here and there (used adverbally)

Here comes our train now

Look! There are the dogs, by the bushes

Inversion obligatory for nouns but not used with pronouns
4.2Other common expressions with fronted adverbs

Here you go

And off they went

Both fronting and inversion are optional
4.3With verbs of position after prepositional phrases of place

In front of the shop were standing a lot of people.

Both fronting and inversion are optional
4.4With verbs of movement after prepositional phrases of direction

Up the stairs came a noisy group of children.

Both fronting and inversion are optional
4.5Prepositional phrases with verbs of position and movement - without inversion

On the floor a child sat quietly reading.

Round the corner they came, lots of them.

Fronting optional
4.6Prepositional phrases of position and movement with other verbs - no inversion

Behind the sofa a cat was playing with some wool.

Round the corner they came, lots of them.

Fronting optional
4.7Fronting other adverbs and adverbials

Slowly, he trudged up the hill

At six o'clock, the church bells started to ring out the Angelus.

Fronting optional
5. Fronting and inversion with adjectives
5.1Fronted adjectives

Completely optional and rather rare
5.2Fronted comparatives and superlatives

Better still was his second book.

Largest of all seabirds is the albatross.

More common. Fronting optional, but if used, inversion obligatory
5.3Fronted not so + adjective / adverb

Not so bright was the guy who tried to jump across the river.

Fronting optional, but if used, inversion obligatory
5.4Expressions with fronted worth

Well worth a visit is the fourteenth century castle.

Also worth a look are the old city walls.

Fronting optional, but if used, inversion obligatory
5.5Double comparatives - the ... the ...

The more you pester him, the less is he likely do anything.

Inversion completely optional, and rather rare
5.6Fronted present and past participles

Walking slowly up the hill was an old man.

Believed by many is the story of the Loch Ness monster.

Long gone are the days when this was fashionable.

Fronting optional, but if used, inversion obligatory
5. Other forms of subject-verb inversion
6.1Reversing subject and subject complementThe person to ask is Peter.Totally optional
6.2To report direct speech

"No doubt we'll meet again," said the young man

Bank robbers escape, admit police.

Totally optional
6.3Fronted expressions after also

Also in the picture are some tourists

Fronting and inversion optional
6.4Exclamations with how and what

How small is man!

Fronting and inversion optional
6.5Fronted noun clauses

To win the race was a dream come true!

That she should feel that way came as a bit of a shock.

Fronting with inversion optional - introductory it more common.
7. Fronting without inversion - fronting optional in all cases
7.1Fronting object wh- clauses

What happens after that, you'll just have to wait and see.

7.2Fronting infinitives of purpose

To make sure he wasn't late he took a taxi.

7.3Fronting objects

He only met her quite recently, but her husband he'd known for some years.

Great weather we're having!

7.4Fronting adjective complements

Committed it may have been, but it was hardly a barrel of laughs.

7.5Fronting with as or though

Exciting as it was,I don't think I'll be doing it again in a hurry.

7.6Fronting and echoing a previously mentioned verb

He needed to act fast, and act fast he did.

7.7Detached fronted verb phrases

Makes a good cake, your mum (does).

7.8Detached fronted verb subjects and objects

This film you were talking about, where's it showing?

7.9Introductory phrases The thing / point / question is etc

The thing is, if we don't leave now, we'll be late.

A few graphs, figures, examples etc

Were I you, I would ...

I have seen some websites give Were I you, I would ... as an example of conditional inversion, but we are very unlikely to say it, especially as 'If I were you' is such a standard expression. There are 152 instances of 'If I were you' at the British National Corpus, and none at all of 'Were I you'. And this is the situation at Ngram ('If I were in your' is for 'If I were in your shoes / position' etc - Ngram has a five word maximum):

Inverted conditionals at Ngram

Had I to do something

It is possible to invert 'If I had to ...', but it's becoming increasingly rare:

Never ...

These figures from the British National Corpus show how inverted Never is most often used with perfect tenses.The numbers in brackets refer to examples followed by so or such. So, out of a total of 40 examples, 34 were in a perfect tense, of which 22 were followed by so or such:
Never have I14 (10)
  • present perfect - 17 (12)
  • past perfect - 17 (10)
  • simple present - 0
  • simple past - 6
Never have we2 (1)
Never has he / she1 (1)
Never had I0
Never had we1 (1)
Never had he / she15 (8)
Never do I(2)
Never does he / she0
Never did he / she6
See also the appendix after the links

So + adjective + inverted be

Here are some more examples from around the web:
  • So furious had been the gusts, that high buildings in town had had the lead stripped off their roofs
    Dickens - Great Expectations
  • So great had been the expense of his tour that, even had he won, it would not have enriched him
    Around the World in Eighty Days
  • So great had been the power exercised by Louis XIV and so triumphalist was the culture he created at Versailles that a reaction was inevitable sooner or later.
    History Today
  • So grateful was the Pope that he declared Charlemagne "Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire" in 800 AD
  • So great was the devastation brought about by the war that estimates put the reduction of population in the German states at about 25% to 40%

Especially and particularly

This chart shows the adjectives most commonly used after Especially and Particularly in the Ngram corpus:
Here are a couple of links to Netspeak to see common collocations:

Not so ...

This graph shows the adjectives most commonly used after Not so in the Ngram corpus:

Related posts and links

Exercises and related posts


Appendix - never do I - a case study

An example of unnatural inversion

There's one website that gives a very useful set of inversion patterns, but some of the sentences they use to illustrate them strike me as being somewhat unnatural. Here's one example - 'Never do I sleep'
This is given as an example of negative inversion. But inversion with never (especially in the first person) is usually used with a perfect tense (or occasionally past simple), and even then 'Never have I slept' wouldn't be any better.
This is because inversion after never is usually used to express someone's reaction to the uniqueness of some experience or other, often with so or such, or an emotional reaction or comment on a situation. So 'Never have I slept so well', or 'Never have I has such a good night's sleep', for example, would sound rather better.
Examples of 'never do I' are rare. I could find none at all at the British National Corpus, but there are a handful at Google Books. The majority of these used transitive verbs; intransitive ones like sleep followed by nothing being incredibly rare, and more or less confined to poetry. Here's one (with a linking verb) from Horatio Nelson to his mistress, written in 1787:
  • I anticipate with pleasure our meeting; for never do I feel truly happy when separated from you
The language is rather old fashioned, but shows how inversion with never works better with a relatively long verb phrase. The lesson being: we have to be a bit careful when we invert.

At Google Books

Google Books Search for "never do I": the majority were false hits like "... never do. I ...". Out of the first 100 instances, only 16 were real inversions. Of these five are from the 19th century or earlier, two from poetry and one from somebody speaking in dialect, leaving eight from modern prose, few of which sound particularly natural to me.

19th century or earlier

  • I anticipate with pleasure our meeting ; for never do I feel truly happy when separated from you
    Nelson 1787 - The Life and Services of Horatio Viscount Nelson, James Stanier Clarke, John McArthur, 2010
  • Never do I quit your Presence without the most passionate Regret.—Never do I approach you without the Raptures of a first Enjoyment
    Fantomina, Eliza Haywood, 1725
  • Never do I desire it — never, my dear Fanny, I promise you
    The clandestine marriage, a comedy; by G. Colman and D. Garrick 1818
  • I had to pass through the market-place on my return to the ship, and never do I remember to have heard such howling and barking, even in a kennel, as I experienced in passing to our boats
    The Museum of Foreign Literature, Science and Art,1831
  • Never do I see that venerable dome of your minster from the forest, but I curse its form,
    The Avenger, by Thomas de Quincy, 1838


  • Never do I want to close my eyes and not be able to envision you, or open my eyes and you are not there to see.
    from Emotional Doors: A Collection of Poems by Dawin Antonio Welch, 2010
  • Never was I born. Never do I die.
    from a poem by A.K.Mukhopahyay 1987

Dialect etc

  • Never do I be a hearin of oinkers attackin a village afore and there do be a plenty o' dirt farmers between yonder blasted hills and ye home
    New Beginnings: Book One, a Life Forever Changed, Micheal J. Smith - 2011

The rest

  • Never do I neglect my chores. Never has Stew done them for me. It has never quite come to that
    The Cabin on Sawmill Creek: A Western Walden, Mary Jo Churchwell - 1997
  • Almost never are these essays commissioned, and almost never do I know where, if anywhere, they are going to be published.
    Physicists on Wall Street and Other Essays on Science and Socirty, Jeremy Bernstein - 2008
  • Never do I need to long for you, because you have never left me.
    Pondering the Reflections of Life and the Reflections of Love, Patricia Louise - 2011
  • Never do I get the gift I wanted most.
    Pure Poetry: A Novel, Binnie Kirshenbaum - 2008
  • Never do I pop above the jungle floor canopy. Never do I move too fast, jerkily in any way ...
    Re'enev, Mike Maranhas - 2006
  • And never do I know that fear again. And so it was.
    Bittersweet: A Candid Love Story, Helen Nebeker - 2006
  • Never do I question, and why? Because it's how I was programmed by my handlers
    Merifor, Justin Caron - 2011
  • I emphasize that never do I claim to be "objective," nor do I reproach someone for not being "objective," with very good reason
    Challenges, Serge Lang - 1998


Eiluned Beltane said...

Thanks, really useful! Recommended it to my students! :-)

Unknown said...

Wonderful work! Thanks a lot.

Unknown said...

perfect & thorough, thank you.

Hermeneus said...

What about sentences like "So they say," where just "so" is fronted?

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Unknown said...

4.1 Outside in the street could be heard the sound of children playing.
4.6 In the garden a bird could be heard singing loudly.

Me: In the garden could be heard a bird which sings loudly.-->In the garden could be heard a bird singing loudly.

In 4.1, you mention that with see, hear, make out, etc., ‘could be’ and ‘the subject’ can be inverted. However, in the example in 4.6, you suggest we shouldn’t front the phrase including HEAR.
What is wrong with the sentence I make? I feel it’s quite like your sentence in 4.1. Or am I misunderstanding?
Thank you very much for the comprehensive summary.

Barry Pennock-Speck said...

Another great post! Best I have seen -like the one on cleft sentences.

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