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When we start a sentence with negative words the word order for questions is used. Examples:

Not once did i ask her to do that.

Never have i seen such a thing.

This is also true for only after, only when, only if, etc.

Why don't we follow the same rule when we start our sentences with, for example, not one or no one? For example,

Not one of you tried to find me.

No one talked to me about that.

Aren't these negative as well?

What other negative words are excluded from this order rule?

  • I can think of some instances e.g. "Not one of them did I see...", "No one but Sarah, did he influence with his ideas..." – WS2 Nov 9 '18 at 14:06
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    When a sentence starts with a negative adverbial, the word order is inverted, but not when the negative expression is the subject itself! – mahmud koya Nov 9 '18 at 14:21
  • The basic construction here is adverb + verb + subject, where the "stylised, poetic" inversion from normal subject + verb sequence applies just the same regardless of whether the "fronted" adverb is negative, positive, or neutral. Gladly do I give up what never was mine, or Often do I see her sitting beside me as we used to sit, for example. – FumbleFingers Nov 9 '18 at 14:25
  • It seems that when you say "according to grammar", you're referring to some source of knowledge - teacher, textbook, random stranger - so you should immediately distrust that source when it comes to English grammar rules, since they got the rule wrong -- note @sumelic's answer below. – John Lawler Nov 9 '18 at 16:46
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The change in word order that you are talking about is called "subject-verb inversion". Aside from occurring in yes-no questions, it occurs sometimes when certain words/phrases that are not subjects occur at the start of a sentence. (I believe this is a remnant of the historical "V2" word order pattern.)

The phrases "not one of you" and "no one" act as the subjects of the quoted sentences, so they cannot trigger inversion. WS2 gave an example in a comment of subject-verb inversion in a sentence where "not one of them" is not the subject: "Not one of them did I see."

You would see exactly the same pattern for any other negative word that can occur in the subject of a sentence; e.g. Nothing seemed to work, Nobody is perfect. We also don't see subject-verb inversion in questions that have a question word as the subject: e.g. What was in the mailbox? or Who is at the door?

  • And it only applies to fronted negative non-subjects of time, place, or circumstance, since they negate the whole sentence. Negative adverbs like in no time at all can front but don't invert subject and auxiliary. See this paper for more details. – John Lawler Nov 9 '18 at 16:52

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