Subject-verb inversion after adverbs, adverbial phrases

There are some adverbs and adverbial phrases in English which are classed as ‘negative’. These include no sooner, not only, seldom, hardly, under no circumstances, and only after.

When we begin a sentence (or a clause) with a ‘negative’ adverb or adverbial phrase, we change the word order of the subject and verb. The word order becomes auxiliary verb + subject.

This is called inversion, as we are inverting the usual word order of subject + verb.

'Negative' adverbs and adverbial phrases which can use subject-verb inversion.
adverb / adverbial adverb / adverbial in mid-sentence adverb / adverbial at beginning
not only It was not only cold, it rained every day as well. Not only was it cold, but it rained every day.
under no circumstances Small children shouldn't play alone near the river under any circumstances. Under no circumstances should small children play alone near the river.
no sooner We had no sooner arrived than it started raining. No sooner had we arrived than it started raining.
at no time The victim was at no time present during the trial. At no time during the trial was the victim present.
seldom There has seldom been so much rain in this part of the country. Seldom has there been so much rain in this part of the country.
only then It was only then that I realised how exhausted I was. Only then did I realise how exhausted I was.
not until It was not until later that I noticed the money was missing. Not until later did I notice that the money was missing.
never We had never seen so many people in one place. Never had we seen so many people in one place.
on no account Employees must on no account leave the building during working hours. On no account must employees leave the building during working hours.
Other adverbs and adverbial phrases which are followed by a subject-verb inversion include hardly, little, only after and scarcely.

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