Inversion and Fronting

Inversion and fronting occur when we invert the normal sentence order. In this lesson, we will study these two grammatical structure.

"Inversion and Fronting" in the English Grammar

What Is Inversion?

Inversion is a grammatical structure in which the usual word order in a sentence is reversed. Inverted sentences often begin with the verb, followed by the subject, and then the rest of the sentence. This is the opposite of the typical word order in English sentences, which is subject-verb-object.

Inversion: Uses

Inversion is mostly used when we want to form a question. However, it might happen in other situations:

  • In questions
  • Negative Adverbs of frequency
  • Expressions beginning with 'not'
  • 'Here' and 'there'
  • In Conditional Sentences
  • After 'so + adjective...that'
  • Expressions containing 'No'
  • Expressions beginning with 'Only'
  • Expressions with 'Little', 'So', and 'Such'

In Questions

The word order of a statement is normally subject (s) + verb (v), but to form a question, we invert the subject and the verb and use an auxiliary or modal verb before the subject. We can use inversion to form yes-no questions and wh- questions. However, keep in mind that inversion does not normally happen in indirect questions. Take a look at the examples below:

They are dancing. → Are they dancing?

He swims. → Does he swim?

Mathew can sing. → Can Mathew sing?

Sara is watching tv. → What is sara watching?

Negative Adverbs of Frequency

When we use adverbs that have a negative meaning, such as 'never', 'seldom', 'rarely', 'scarcely', and 'hardly' in the front position in a sentence for emphasis, we invert the subject and auxiliary or modal verb.

Never had she been so confused.

Seldom have I seen a movie that was so full of emotions.

Tip!

Note that these types of sentences are used in formal styles of writing.

Expressions Beginning With 'Not'

When 'not' is used at the beginning of a sentence followed by a prepositional phrase or a clause, the sentence is inverted. There are expressions that start with 'not' and can cause inversions:

  • not only
  • not for one moment
  • not since
  • not until

Not since they went to Cliffland have I met them altogether.

Not for one moment did I think he would leave me like that.

Adverbs Here and There

When 'here' and 'there' are used as adverbs of place at the beginning of a sentence, inversion happens. After 'here' and 'there,' we can use the main verb without an auxiliary verb or modal verb. For example:

Here comes the bride.

There goes the phone. I'll answer it.

using fronting in a sentence

Inversion in Conditional Sentences

Inversion can also happen in third conditional and second conditional sentences. In the third conditional, we can invert the subject and 'had' to replace 'if', and in second conditional sentences the subject and 'were' can replace 'if' through inversion:

If we had done this before, we would have done a better job now!

Had we done this before, we would have done a better job now!

third conditional with inversion

If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.

Were it easy, everybody would be doing it.

second conditional with inversion

After 'So + Adjective...That'

Sometimes we can place ‘so’ at the beginning of a sentence followed by an adjective and 'that'. Let’s see some examples:

The boy was so happy that he was jumping up and down.

Normal word order

So happy was the boy that he was jumping up and down.

Inverted

Expressions Containing ''No''

Here are some examples of expressions with 'No' that require inversion of sentence elements:

  • under no circumstances
  • at no time
  • in no way
  • no sooner

On no account must we turn against each other.

Under no circumstances would we sign that contract.

Expressions Beginning With 'Only'

There are some expressions that begin with 'Only' and require inversion of subject and verb in the clause introduced by the expression. There are also expressions that start with 'Only' and require inversion in the following clause.
Here are some expressions which require inversion in the same clause:

  • only with
  • only now
  • only later
  • only then

Only later did I realize why the joke was funny.

Only then did they know this was a big mistake.

Here are some expressions that require inversion in the following clause:

  • only when
  • only once
  • only if
  • only after

Only if I study very hard, will I get good grades.

Only after she finished her work, was she able to go and see her friends.

Expressions with 'Little' and 'Such'

'Little' and 'Such' also require inversion of subject and verb, but are less commonly used in daily English.

Little did we know that we had just started the journey of our life.

Such was the wind that we couldn't open the window.

What is Fronting?

Normally, the word order in an affirmative sentence is subject + verb + object or complement. However, sometimes, especially in spoken English, when we want to put emphasis on something, we bring it to the front of the sentence. This is called 'fronting' (also called front-focus or preposing). Pay attention to the examples:

I bought a brand new smartphone. And a very expensive smartphone it was.

At the back of the garden stood an old shed.

He keeps saying hurtful things. This type of behavior I can't stand anymore.

Words like adjuncts or complements are not normally placed at the beginning of a sentence. But when we want to put emphasis on them, we place them at the beginning of the clause. This happens mostly in written or formal texts.

Deliberately, she tried to mislead them.

All of a sudden, the lights went out.

When we place a prepositional phrase in the front position, the order of the subject and the verb is often changed. For example:

Around the corner stood a little shop.

In front of me was the famous actor Johnny Depp.

Sometimes, especially in informal contexts, we take the subject or object from within the clause and put it at the beginning of the clause. This is often done when the noun phrase is too long and we usually use a pronoun to replace it.

That old man over there with the hat and the stick, he works in the pharmacy.

That restaurant I told you about, it has added new items to its menu.

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