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I've seen a lot of inversions in many daily conversations. As it occurs to me that using inversions would make the sentence confusing, I assume that using them is not that appropriate in spoken English. But the truth is, I can see many of them in daily life and actually they are quite acceptable. At this point, I'd like to know which inversions are "acceptable." And why people use those particular inversions in conversations.

Inversions such as, for example:

  1. Up we go.
  2. There he comes.
  3. After a hurricane comes a rainbow.
  4. Proceed, should you need to.
  5. Never can you do it.

Thanks.

  • 1
    Only the last sounds funny. – tchrist Jan 8 '15 at 2:30
  • Inversions are often used to give extra emphasis or importance to the fronted component of the sentence, as in your example Nos. 1. and 2. But this is not always the case: in No. 3, the emphasis shifts to the last word in the sentence ('rainbow'), not the first. I don't think No. 4. counts as an inversion: it's just an imperative (or suggestion) followed by a qualification. – Erik Kowal Jan 8 '15 at 2:34
  • Your selected answer here is incorrect. Example (3) is an instance of Subject dependent inversion. If it just entailed the fronting of a temporal adjunct, it would read "After the hurricane a rainbow comes". Similarly, (5) displays subject auxiliary inversion. Otherwise it would read "Never you can do it". – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 15 '16 at 6:54
  • @ErikKowal Sentence (4) uses subject auxiliary inversion. It uses it to show that the clause "should you need to" is a conditional adjunct. When we use inversion like this we drop the word if. So if there was no inversion we would need to put the if back in. The sentence would read "Proceed if you should need to". If we drop the if but didn't use inversion it would read: "Proceed you should need to", which would be ungrammatical! :) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 15 '16 at 6:59
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I would describe your examples 1, 2, 3 and 5 as cases of fronting rather than inversion. I don't know why you call them confusing. The movement of parts of the clause to the front for purposes of emphasis or focus is well established and has always been possible in English.

In the past, a verb-second rule used to exist; it continues to exist in many Germanic languages like German and Dutch. This means that if the first element is the subject, the next should be the (inflected) verb. Therefore:

  • The rain came down. (Subject + Verb + Adverbial)
  • Down came the rain. (Adverbial + Verb + Subject)

English has largely abandoned he verb-second rule, and is generally required only if you front the negative element.

  • I never said that. (Subject + Negative + Verb + Object)
  • Never did I say that. (Negative + inflected Verb + Subject + main Verb + Object)

Your sentences 3 and 5 show this movement. Your sentences 1 and 2 show straightforward fronting.

'Proceed' in sentence 4 is in the imperative mood, where there is no Subject. The second clause represents a subjunctive where indeed inversion is used:

  • Should you require assistance, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
| improve this answer | |
  • Example (3) is an instance of Subject dependent inversion. If it just entailed the fronting of a temporal adjunct, it would read "After the hurricane a rainbow comes". Similarly, (5) displays subject auxiliary inversion. Otherwise it would read "Never you can do it". – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 15 '16 at 6:52

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