IELTS speaking: advanced grammar | inversion

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In this tutorial you will learn:

  • The importance of inversion
  • How to use it
  • IELTS specific examples

This will help you in your IELTS speaking exam because:

  • You will develop a range of complex structures to use when you’re answering questions in parts 1, 2 and 3.

How to use inversion

Another structure which will make a significant impact on your IELTS speaking score is the use of Inversions. Inversion just means putting the verb before the subject.

We do this in questions, but we can also do this when we want to show surprise or to show that something is striking or unusual. Here's an example:

  • I’ve never been so tired.
  • Never have I been so tired.

The second sentence is the inversion and emphasises how tired the person was. It has a much stronger effect than the first sentence.

We mostly use inversion with negative adverbs and adverbial phrases such as: never, hardly, rarely, seldom, only then, it wasn’t until, nowhere, in no way, on no account, no sooner than.

With inverted sentences we put the adverb at the beginning of the sentence, this emphasises it. We then change the place of the subject and the verb ‘be’, for example:

  • She is rarely so rude.
  • Rarely is she so rude.

Notice that the first sentence is the way that people speak most of the time. However, the second sentence is inverted because it begins with an adverbial phrase and we changed the place of the subject and the verb.

Here are two more sets of examples.

  • You are to go there on no account.
  • On no account are you to go there.
  • I have never tasted such good food.
  • Never have I tasted such good food.

One thing to keep in mind is that with present simple and past simple verbs, you will need to add do/does, or did + infinitive.

Modal + be

Also, with modals we use the modal + ‘be’, for example:

  • We seldom see such things.
  • Seldom do we see such things.
  • I hardly got to sleep.
  • Hardly did I get to sleep.
  • He could never be called clever
  • Never could he be called clever

When we have an auxiliary verb, this changes place with the subject, and the verb remains the same, for example:

  • I had only then called him.
  • Only then had I called him
  • I will in no way be going.
  • In no way will I be going.

How to use inversion for speaking in part 1

You will almost certainly be asked questions about either your likes or dislikes or your opinions on things. An example question and answer may look something like this:

Examiner: What kind of music do you like?

Candidate: What I really enjoy the most is Rock. No sooner do I start listening to it than...

Inversion for speaking in part 2

Examiner: Describe a piece of art you like.

You should say:

  • What the work is.
  • When you first saw it.
  • What you know about it
  • And explain why you like it

Look at the way you can use emphasis and inversion below:

The piece of work that I like the most is Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh. I first saw it when I went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and no sooner had I seen it than I fell in love with it. Only when I arrived in Amsterdam did I learn the full story of Van Gogh’s life. Rarely had I seen anything as striking and distinctive. What I love about it is the colour...

Inversion for speaking in part 2

Examiner: How has art changed in the last few decades in your country?

Candidate: The thing that has most changed in the last few decades is the rise of graffiti as an art form. In the past, seldom did we see urban art in the museums or auction houses….

The structures that we have looked at above will most certainly help improve your English.

Not only that, but learning them will also give you useful phrases which you can use in the IELTS speaking exam.

Knowing some of them, and how they are used, gives you a template for answering questions, and you should not find yourself in a situation where you can't think of anything to say.

Audio tutorial

You can download or listen to the audio version here:

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Did you know we cover similar IELTS material in the online course?

Above are the chapters from the Speaking Confidence course, which is included in our famous IELTS course: Jump to Band 7 or it’s Free.