In most cases, a subject comes before the verb it is ‘attached’ to. There are certain structures, however, in which this rule does not apply, meaning that the verb precedes the subject. These constructions are generally used in formal writing and are of specific forms. The best way to recognize and utilize these is by remembering them and practicing them.
The most obvious example is the interrogative. In questions, we invert the subject and verb:
Ex: Will you come to the demonstration?
aux. verb subject verb prep. complement (adverbial; where?)
Here are other situations in which we commonly invert the subject and verb:
Negative sentence/clause introductions
When we begin a sentence or a clause with a negative, or near-negative word or expression, we generally invert the subject and verb. Remember that this may occur in the middle of a sentence as well if a new clause begins there with one of these expressions.
Not until…, Not for anything…, Not often…, etc. (often these appear as not + preposition)
Not only …but also
Under no circumstances…
Little…, rarely…, hardly…, etc. (These are not negatives; they are ‘almost’ negatives in that they minimize the verb that follows.)
Ex: Not only did he pass all his exams, he also finished at the top of his class. (Notice that the independent clause remains normal.)
Under no circumstances are pets allowed into the store.
The mail did not arrive on time, nor did we expect it to considering the postal workers’ strike.
Little did we know at the time that his outburst of anger would lead to the violent rampage that followed.
Rarely is the Governor’s wife seen at social occasions due to her extreme shyness.
No longer will we take responsibility for your sins. (Notice that the verb is split into its helping and base verb, just as is done in regular negative constructions. – We will no longer take responsibility…)
Adverb clauses that show a comparison can contain an inversion. Clauses that show agreement (i.e., that something/one else can/is/does something as well as someone/thing else) also use inversion. For example:
More important than A is B.
As can, as does, as is…
Ex: Jacob can sing beautifully, as can his sister, Sarah. (Sarah can sing as beautifully as Jacob)
Sheila believes that the department needs a major overhaul, as do most of her colleagues.
The hardware is obsolete, as is the software.
We can also invert if a sentence begins with a regular _er/ more than comparative:
More important than your SAT score is your application letter. (Your application letter is more important than your SAT score.)
Smaller than even an atom is a photon.
The standard if conditional can be made more formal with an inversion in certain structures. For example:
Had she …
Ex: Had I known you were coming, I’d have prepared a lunch. (If I had known you were coming,…)
Should you require more information, please do not hesitate to contact the Personnel Department via our company homepage. (If you should require…)
Were you to hire me, you would not be disappointed. (If you were to hire me…)
So + adj./adv…. that…
You can begin a sentence with this construction rather than placing it inside a clause. In this case, the subject and verb would be inverted.
So angry was the teacher with the results that she made all her students take the test again.
So quickly did the police arrive that they were able to capture the suspects without trouble.
You can begin a sentence with a participle (-ing, -ed, irregular) in some situations and invert the subject and verb (usually a ‘be’ verb).
Ex: Arriving late as usual was Jim, ready to provide an excuse as he always does.
Located among the ruins is the statue of their god.
Lost in the headlines of the day was the news of Jim’s great achievement.
When we use there as a subject with a be verb, the actual subject of the sentence follows the be verb. There is considered a dummy, or anticipatory subject, meaning that it stands in the place of the real subject; this is done because placing the subject first might seem awkward. There can also suggest the existence of the subject that follows. For example:
There is a fly in my soup. = a fly is in my soup
There is nothing to watch on TV right now. = nothing is (exists) to watch on TV.
Beginning the sentence with there is makes the sentence easier to hear/read and is less awkward. The same is true of these sentences:
Here comes the bus.
Here are the things that you wanted.
A sentence or independent clause may begin with an adverb prepositional phrase that functions as an adverbial and completes the verb by answering how, where, or with what/who followed by an inversion of the subject and verb. This structure is commonly used in very formal writing and often with be verbs or other linking verbs, or action verbs of direction or movement (come, go, run, etc.). For example:
Ex: With his new position as vice-chairman come added and challenging responsibilities. (responsibilities is the subject of the sentence, the verb come agrees with this plural subject)
Up the tree climbed the cat, until it reached the bird’s nest.
First comes the hard work, and later comes the money.
Sometimes inversion is used merely for effect, or more specifically, for emphasis:
Ex: Is it ever cold out. (Notice that this is not a question.)