Example: “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” – Henry David Thoreau

Can someone explain the structure of the aforementioned sentence? Can someone name this type of sentence??

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    It's a stylised/"literary" re-ordering of the more straightforward "We do not begin to understand ourselves until we are lost", so if you understand the structure of the "orginal", you should be able to apply that to the stylised version. – FumbleFingers Oct 22 '14 at 18:18
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    I do indeed, thank you for the explanation. It was that inversion of “we” and “do” in the middle of the sentence which confused me. – entropid Oct 22 '14 at 18:34
  • I can explain the reordering of we begin to understand ourselves and not until we are lost, but someone else will have to explain why "auxilliary" do comes between the subject we and the "primary" verb begin. Something similar happens when statements are converted into questions - "I do love you. Do you love me?" – FumbleFingers Oct 22 '14 at 21:39
  • Having Italian as my first language, I'm very used to the reordering of sentences and also of parts of the sentence. I've seen the former happening in English before, but this is the first time I stumble upon the latter. – entropid Oct 22 '14 at 21:44
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    The same "do-insertion + reversal" also occurs naturally after Not without, Not unless, Not lightly, Not often, etc. And after Only if/when/where/etc. So I expect there's some fairly simple rule in play - but being a native speaker I probably just choose the "correct" idiomatic form in any given context without having the faintest idea why. You'll need a grammarian or a linguist for that. Good luck! – FumbleFingers Oct 22 '14 at 22:24

When a phrase begins with a negative adverbial phrase, the interrogative form of the verb is generally used, i.e. "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed ..."

  • Thank you, that explains it. Have you got any reference? – entropid Oct 26 '14 at 18:27
  • The only one I can think of is an English Grammar book, "A Proficiency Course in English", by F.V. Bywater. I get the impression that this book was pre Internet vintage. – Martin Oct 27 '14 at 20:39

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