Page 271 of Practical English Usage reads

Inversion is not used after "not far/long" so we say Not far from here you can see foxes, or Not long after that she got married

Why don't these phrases trigger inversion like similar negative and restrictive expressions as in Not a single word did he say?

1 Answer 1


The negation in sentences like “Not a single word did he say” applies to the clause level; rearranged, it is “He did not say a single word”.

The negation in the examples without inversion is not at the clause level: “Not far from here you can see foxes” doesn't mean “You cannot see foxes far from here”.

“Not long after that she got married” would probably not be expressed by “She did not get married long after that” (I can maybe barely imagine it if you put stress on long are are trying to emphasize that she did not get married long after).

I think the inversion associated with negative expressions only occurs when the negation semantically applies at the clause level.

I'm not sure my explanation is correct. There is no problem with saying He did not hit the ball very far and She did not stay in the house very long, with negation at the clause level.

So if *Not very far did he hit the ball and *Not for very long did she stay in the water are ungrammatical, it's for a different reason.

To me, "Far from here(,) you can see foxes" and "Long after that(,) she got married" sound grammatical, although I'm not certain. ("Far from here" and "long after that" definitely aren't as commonly encountered at the start of a sentence as their negated equivalents.)

  • 1
    Right. Basically, some adverbials (of time, place, and circumstance) are not optional; everything that takes place does so at a certain time and place and under certain circumstances. Negating these adverbs thus negates the entire sentence, and that licenses fronting with inversion. Other adverbs (manner, intent, means, instrument, etc.) are optional and their negation has no effect on the assertion of the sentence. Hence, since fronting with inversion is an NPI, it's not allowed with these. More details here. Jul 29, 2020 at 17:24
  • @JohnLawler What about not very far and not for long?
    – GJC
    Jul 30, 2020 at 6:24
  • Very often, the inversion is triggered by the preposing of a PP or other element, as in the "Not a single word did he say" example. Likewise in, for example, "In no city has she been entirely comfortable".
    – BillJ
    Jul 30, 2020 at 7:45
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    *Not very far did he hit the ball and *Not for very long did she stay in the water are both ungrammatical because they don't negate. He did hit the ball, and she did stay in the water for a little while. Jul 30, 2020 at 20:35
  • @JohnLawler What about No longer were they isolated from each other?
    – GJC
    Aug 6, 2020 at 16:59

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