Look at these examples to see how we use these structures.
What he loves about hiking is that it doesn't feel like exercise.
Not only did she sing at the talent show, she also danced!
I know it may surprise you, but I really do know quite a bit about this.
Try this exercise to test your grammar.
- Grammar test 1
Read the explanation to learn more.
We can use different grammatical structures to add emphasis, either to a whole sentence or to highlight one particular part of it.
Cleft sentences allow us to emphasise different parts of the sentence, depending on which part is the most important. Cleft sentences are usually introduced by it or by a clause beginning with what.
Cleft sentences beginning with it
Here is a simple sentence with no particular emphasis.
You invited me to the party yesterday.
We can emphasise different elements of this sentence by 'fronting' them, that is, moving them to the front of the sentence after it + be.
It was you who invited me to the party yesterday.
Emphasis: you (not another person)
It was yesterday that you invited me to the party.
Emphasis: yesterday (not another time)
It was the party that you invited me to yesterday.
Emphasis: the party (not another event)
Cleft sentences beginning with what
What clauses + be are common in spoken English. They emphasise the part of the sentence that is outside the what clause.
What I like best about going to the cinema is talking about the film afterwards.
What drives me up the wall is people talking during the film.
What I found was that the films my friends liked were very different from the ones I liked.
This kind of cleft sentence can also begin with where, why, who, how, etc.
How the kids did this is still unclear to me.
We can also put the what clause at the end of the sentence.
The game we played was what I liked the most.
Inversion with negative adverbials
We can also use inversion to add emphasis. It has a more formal, persuasive and impressive effect.
To invert a sentence, we put the adverbial (e.g. never, rarely, not only, etc.) at the beginning and change the normal position of the subject and the auxiliary verb.
Rarely have I read such an original story.
(I have rarely read such an original story.)
If there is no auxiliary verb, we need to add one.
Not only do they have live reptiles but you can also touch them.
(They not only have live reptiles but you can also touch them.)
Little, no sooner and not
Some other negative words and expressions used like this are little, no sooner, never and not.
Little did I realise that the restaurant was about to close.
(I didn't realise that the restaurant was about to close.)
No sooner had we got inside than the concert ended!
Not a single positive comment did I hear from Will.
In spoken English, we often stress the auxiliary verb to add emphasis.
A: Why aren't you coming to my birthday party?
B: I am coming! Who told you I'm not?!
If there is no auxiliary verb, we can use do, does or did to add emphasis. This works in both spoken and written English.
A: I know you weren't keen on the exhibition.
B: I did like some of it. (You thought I didn't like it.)
A: Maybe that's why she was so happy.
B: That does make sense, actually. (I hadn't understood why before.)
In British English, do can also be used this way to make a command more emphatic. This sounds quite formal.
Do sit down, please.
Do be quiet!
Do this exercise to test your grammar again.
- Grammar test 2