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I am having a difficulty trying to understand the structure of this sentence.

Never does the discussion of constitutionalism in public law textbook, if it is discussed at all, exceed one page.

I do get the idea that the sentence tries to convey but it's very odd to read the sentence.

I highly appreciate if you could guide me on which English grammar topic I should look up.

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    You might want to Google inversion never. I think there is a typo btw., textbookS. Nov 12, 2022 at 6:08
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    Your example has subject-auxiliary inversion. This occurs when certain elements such as negatives are placed in front position. "Never" is negative, so we have "never does the discussion ..." as opposed to the uninverted "the discussion of ... never exceeds one page".
    – BillJ
    Nov 12, 2022 at 13:39
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    Paraphrasing, 'The discussion of constitutionalism in public law textbooks (if it is discussed at all) is never allowed more than a single page.' But that would not falute high enough. Nov 12, 2022 at 17:35
  • Define: "Advanced Grammar Topic" Are you unable to locate the subject and the verb?
    – tchrist
    Nov 12, 2022 at 19:00

2 Answers 2

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Certain adverbs of frequency are what explains the structure.

The Cambridge Grammar says it like this: Some adverbs (e.g. hardly, little, never, only, scarcely and seldom) have a negative meaning. When we use these at the beginning of the clause, we invert the subject and verb:

Hardly had we left the hotel when it started to pour with rain.

Not: Hardly we had left the hotel

Little did we know that we would never meet again.

Only in spring do we see these lovely little flowers.

We also invert the subject and verb after not + a prepositional phrase or not + a clause in front position:

Not for a moment did I think I would be offered the job, so I was amazed when I got it.

Not till I got home did I realise my wallet was missing.

Cambridge Grammar

The normal declarative form of the sentence is:

  • "The discussion of constitutionalism in public law textbook, if it is discussed at all, never exceeds one page."

If one of those adverbs begins a clause, then, the auxiliary is used with the adverb in front of it followed by the main verb:

  • "Never does the discussion of constitutionalism in public law textbook, if it is discussed at all, exceed one page."

In the simple present and simple past of transitive verbs, the auxiliary is put in. In other tenses, the auxiliary is already present.

  • Little did he know that we were hiding in the room. [little is a special case ; in declarative form, it has to be said in a different way. "He had no idea we were hiding in the room".]
  • Rarely did we go riding on Sunday. FOR: We rarely went riding on Sunday.

Here are some more examples:

From The Economist:

  • Seldom has this looked so difficult. FOR: This has seldom looked more difficult. [Auxiliary already present]

From The New York Times:

  • Seldom has the relationship been more strained. FOR: The relationship has seldom been more strained. [not a transitive, but seldom precedes the verb]

  • Rarely did they disagree. FOR: They rarely disagreed. [Auxiliary used] ludwig.guru is a site where you can search newspaper texts.

The structure is usually found in formal writing. Though in Shakespeare's time it was spoken:

A rarer spirit never
Did steer
humanity: but you, gods, will give us
Some faults to make us men. Diomedes, Antony and Cleopatra [IV, 14]

Never so much as in a thought unborn
Did I offend your Highness.
Rosalind, As You Like It [I, 3]

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In a comment, Bill J wrote:

Your example has subject-auxiliary inversion. This occurs when certain elements such as negatives are placed in front position. "Never" is negative, so we have "never does the discussion ..." as opposed to the uninverted "the discussion of ... never exceeds one page".

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