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Improve Your Writing with Inversion, Part 2

Everyday Grammar: Improve Your Writing with Inversion, Part 2
Everyday Grammar: Improve Your Writing with Inversion, Part 2

In last week’s Everyday Grammar, we told you about a few kinds of inversion that are useful in academic writing and common on the TOEFL. But there are others. Today, we’ll talk about three more. In fact, I already used one kind in my introduction.


Let’s begin with comparatives. When you learn about comparatives, you are usually taught to compare two subjects or two objects. Here’s an example that compares two subjects:

She speaks English better than her brother does.

Notice that the second subject – her brother – comes after the comparative word “than.” And, the auxiliary verb (in this case, “does”) comes at the end of the statement.

But, we can also use inversion to compare the two subjects. When we do this, the auxiliary verb ("does") comes after the word "than." Here’s how it would sound with the example:

She speaks English better than does her brother.

It sounds strange, but that’s because it’s not something we do in spoken English. Again, inversion is very formal, usually used in written form, and only appropriate in some types of writing.

Comparing two subjects using inversion is something you can find in academic writing and on the TOEFL. Listen for the comparison in this reading about lions:

Lions roar louder than do all wild cats. At 114 decibels, their roar is among the animal world’s 10 loudest and can be heard from a distance up to 8 kilometers. A lion’s volume helps it locate other lions and shows dominance over territory.

The inversion appears in this statement:

Lions roar louder than do all wild cats.

Notice again that the inversion appears immediately after the comparative word “than.” The auxiliary verb “do” follows “than” and comes before the second subject. Not too difficult.


Now, let’s move to conditionals. When we talk about hypothetical situations, we usually use the word “if” to show the condition and a modal verb to show the result. These statements are called “conditionals.” For example:

If the package arrives by Friday, I will cancel the second order.

But, in very formal conditionals, we do things a little differently. We replace the word “if” with the auxiliary verbs “had” “should” or “were.” When we do this, we are putting the auxiliary verb before the subject.

You may see formal conditionals on the TOEFL test. You can also use them in an essay, but be sure to use them correctly. You must know which word (“should,” “were” or “had”) goes with which type of conditional.

Listen to a short example on the economy. The first statement uses “if” in the conditional clause:

If the president continues pushing the tariffs, the economy could suffer great losses. Some companies are already shifting jobs overseas.

And here’s the example again using “were” and inversion:

Were the president to continue pushing the tariffs, the economy could suffer great losses.

Notice the example’s construction. The words “Were the president to continue” follow the construction auxiliary verb + subject + main verb. You may also notice that the main verb -- “to continue” -- is the infinitive. When using “were” to make a conditional, we use the infinitive form after the subject.

Phrases with “there”

This next type of inversion may seem easy. You’ve already seen – and probably used – “there is” and “there are” many times in your English speaking and writing.

The construction there + BE + subject is used in everyday speech and common in writing. It is also a kind of inversion. We use it to point to the presence or existence of something or someone. For example, “There are some great Ethiopian restaurants on 9th Street” is what I might say if someone asked me for restaurant suggestions. In English, we simply would not use the traditional subject + verb word order in such a statement.

But, in academic writing and on language tests such as the TOEFL, you may find constructions with “there” that are a little more complex. So, here are two things worth remembering:

  1. Verbs other than “to be,” such as “to exist” or “to come” can be used.
  2. But, pay attention: The statement may not always begin with “there.” It may be part of a subordinate clause.

Let’s hear an example using the verb “to exist.” The passage comes from an academic blog at Vanderbilt University:

Icy Europa has a surface of water-ice over an interior that is heated by tidal heating. Scientists hypothesize that there exists an ocean just beneath the icy surface. It may even be possible that this concealed ocean holds more than double the amount of liquid water in all of Earth’s oceans.

Listen again to the statement containing “there exists”:

Scientists hypothesize that there exists an ocean just beneath the icy surface.

The construction “there exists” does not begin the statement. It is part of a that-clause: a subordinate clause beginning with the word “that.”

But, you’ll note that “there exists an ocean” still follows the construction there + verb + subject.

Well that’s our time for today. Should you wish to practice inversion, you can try out the practice statements we’ve provided.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.



Change these statements using the inversions you learned from Parts 1 and 2. Write your answers in the Comments section.

Phrases with “there”
A lot of people are in the park today.
A link between culture and language exists.

If you need further help, please contact the librarian.
(Use "should.")

The boy is quieter than his classmate is.

Intro -ED
Ellis Island is located southwest of Manhattan.

Negative adverb
We have rarely faced such a challenge.

Negative phrase
It was not only pouring rain, but I also forgot my books.
(uses “not only…but also”)


Words in This Story

roarv. to make the loud sound of a wild animal

decibeln. a unit for measuring how loud a sound is

hypotheticaladj. involving or based on a suggested idea or theory

constructionn. the way words in a sentence or phrase are arranged

subordinate clausen. a clause that cannot stand alone as a complete sentence

blogn. a Web site on which someone writes about personal opinions, activities, and experiences

Europan. an icy moon of the planet Jupiter

tidaladj. rising and falling at regular times