Inversion after negative adverbials

Inversion after negative adverbials

Do you know how to use inversion after negative adverbials like Not only, Barely and Only? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how we use inversion after negative adverbials.

Never have I been so happy to see someone.
Not only did he win the match but he came back from a difficult start.
Barely had she got back in bed when her alarm went off.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Inversion after negative adverbials: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

'Inversion' means reversing (inverting) the normal subject–verb word order in a sentence.

We can use inversion to add emphasis, especially in formal English. It is common, for example, in political speeches, because it has a persuasive and impressive effect.

To invert a sentence in this way, 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.

Not only did they arrive late but they talked throughout the film. 
(They not only arrived late but they talked throughout the film.)

If there is no auxiliary verb, we need to add one. For example, we add do for present simple verbs and did for past simple verbs.

Rarely do we find such talent. 
(We rarely find such talent.)

Never, rarely, seldom

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

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

Hardly, barely, scarcely, no sooner

These adverbials often refer to an event which quickly follows another in the past and are usually used with past perfect. Hardly, scarcely and barely are followed by when in the contrasting clause, and no sooner is followed by than.

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

Only + time expression

These include only after, only if/when, only then and only later.

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

Phrases with no and not

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

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


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

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

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Inversion after negative adverbials: Grammar test 2

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Submitted by Radioheady on Sun, 05/05/2024 - 13:25


Is "no sooner...than..." not likely to be used in a positive or agreeable situtaion? Like, "No sooner had he got the new  gloves than he eagerly tried them on." Does this sentence sound weird? The sentence conveys a sense of eagerness and happiness, but "no sooner ... than ..." seems to give a slightly contrast note. 

Hello Radioheady,

I don't think there's any particular context more or less likely with no sooner.... You can use it with positive and negative situations. Your example is fine.



The LearnEnglish Team