Published 10th May 2016

Even though you may be an EFL teacher – and maybe even a native speaker – there probably are some aspects of English grammar which you’re still not sure of.

That’s ok. Just because you are the teacher doesn’t mean you need to know everything!

Here, let’s take a look at inversion.

Basically, inversion is the reversal of the normal word order in a phrase or sentence. This can either be a subject-verb inversion or a subject-auxiliary inversion.

In a subject-verb inversion, the subject and verb switch places so the word order becomes             verb +  subject:

At the bottom of the garden stood the old man.

In a subject-auxiliary inversion, the subject and the auxiliary switch positions so the word order becomes auxiliary + subject + verb.

Have you ever been to Japan?

You’re from Italy, aren’t you?

Had I known you were coming, I wouldn’t have left.

Never had I seen something so beautiful.

We can see then that there are several times we use inversion in English. The most common are: question formation, question tags and conditional sentences.

It is the last example which is the most interesting, however.

What this inversion is doing is emphasising. We use this inversion with negative adverbs or adverb phrases, with the result that the sentence sounds quite surprising or unusual, and also a little formal.

Common adverbs or phrases that we use with inversion include:

Hardly

Never

Seldom

Rarely

Not only…but also

No sooner

This last use of inversion is actually quite complicated. If you think about how often you would use this kind of inversion, it’s probably not all that often. The order of the examples above actually mirror the stages our EFL learners would learn them – first in questions and questions tags, then conditionals and finally with negative adverbs.

Having said that, though, learning how to use inversion is a valuable skill for more advanced EFL learners. It can be a difficult concept to grasp so give your learners lots of exposure to examples and highlight it when it comes up in the classroom. Being able to utilise inversion appropriately is an easy way for your learners to advance their English.