This post is a bit different from my previous articles because it is incomplete, for now at least! I have been fascinated by this subject for years but had never got round to exploring it further. Thanks to Arthur Conan Doyle, lostinclassics and you the time has finally come! We’re not talking about essential grammar here. This is an aspect of language to be enjoyed for the beauty of the sound of it. That’s the pleasure of reading classic novels. In fact, this stylistic device is most often used in formal or old-fashioned writing. Just like archaic or obsolete language, it can surprise you when you meet it. First we need to clear up two terms: fronting and inversion. Fronting is moving (a word or phrase) to the beginning of a clause or sentence, typically for emphasis or contrast. This can sometimes, but not always, involve inversion, switching the order of the subject and the auxiliary verb. This is a big subject that I will have to come back to this, but for today we will look at some of the most common structures where inversion occurs. For now I have provided mostly random examples but I thought it could be fun to complete the examples with quotes from your favourite classic novels and authors. Finding quotes is a long job so I will be updating as I find them as I read. Be sure to check back and I will confirm on Facebook when I have finished. Maybe you can help me out. The best way to overcome fears is to face them straight on, so later I will ask you transform some phrases using inversion. Don’t be afraid, the next time you see inversion, it will be like meeting an old friend.
Inversion can be used to add formality, for dramatic effect or for emphasis (something that in spoken language we can usually express with our tone of voice ).
Never in her life had she seen his manners so little dignified, never had he spoken with such gentleness as he as on this unexpected meeting. (Pride and Prejudice)
How does it work?
When writers use inversion, they move the adverb or adverb phrase to the beginning of the sentence, and then reverse the normal word order of the subject and the auxiliary verb, just as you would do in a question. If there is no auxiliary verb, for example in the present simple or past simple, add it first before switching.
Children love their parents. Eventually they come to judge them. Rarely do they forgive them. (Oscar Wilde)
Under no circumstances did I want to meet him again.
When is it used?
Inversion is usually used with negative adverbs and adverb phrases including
Adverbs of frequency
Never – Never had I seen such a beautiful view.
Rarely – Rarely do I get the chance to completely relax
Hardly ever – Hardly ever do I eat out
Seldom – Seldom do you get an opportunity like this
Only once – Only once in my life have I experienced really low temperatures.
Only later / then – Only later did I realise that I had forgotten to pay
Only in this way – Only in this way can you lose weight
At no time – At no time should you drink and drive
No sooner – No sooner have you feasted on beauty with your eyes than your mind tells you that beauty is vain and beauty passes – Virginia Woolf
Nowhere ( lack of information ) – Nowhere does it say that dogs are not allowed
In no way – In no way am I responsible for your actions
On no account – On no account are you to speak with him
Under no circumstances – Under no circumstances will we issue a refund
No way – No way am I coming with you
Not only…but also – Not only was the room dirty, but the food was also bad
Not for nothing – Not for nothing do they call him ‘Dirty Den’
Not until much later / long after – Not until much later did it occur to me to call the police
Not even – Not even with my glasses on could I read the small print
In a subordinate clause with no inversion in the main clause
Not until – Not until I got home did I realise I had lost my keys
Not since – Not since I was a child have I had so much fun
Only if – Only if it were really hot would I want to swim in there
Only when / after – Only when I arrived home, did I start to feel bad
Only by – Only by experiencing real sadness, can you feel joy
Instead of if in conditionals with had / were and should
Had I known you were sick, I would have visited you
Were it for me, you would get the promotion
Should you need help, call me
In adverbial expressions of place
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." J.R.R. Tolkein
With so + adjective /adverb or such …that
So big was the dish that I had to couldn’t finish
So fast did he drive that I was nearly sick
Such was the power of his voice that the whole audience sat up
With adverbs of time
No sooner….than – Not sooner had he came on the stage than I recognized him
Scarcely….when / before – Scarcely had we taken off when we heard a strange noise from the engine
Barely….when / before – Barely had I opened my mouth before he interrupted me
Hardly…. When / before – Hardly had we started the test when the fire alarm went off
With little or at no time + verb of cognition ( imagine, know, realize, suspect, understand, be aware )
meaning have no idea
Little did I know John had already invited Jack to the party
At no time did I suspect that the student was cheating
Now it’s your turn!
REWRITE THE FOLLOWING ADVICE ON HOLIDAY SAFETY USING INVERSION
1. Never stay in the seawater if you are tired or cold.
2. Children should never be left alone on the beach or in the water
3. Never swim just after a meal or after consuming alcohol
4. Never swim in the sea at night
5. Only swim at night in a pool if there are other people about.
6. Don’t go out in the sun without applying sunscreen
7. The only way of avoiding dehydration is to keep drinking plenty of non-alcoholic drinks
Let me know if you find any other examples of inversion as you read, telling me where you read it and I will add them!
It looks like Agatha Christie's mother was right to be suspicious of Archie as he swayed when he met Nancy Neal playing golf. In the same period Agatha's mother died and while Agatha was packing up her childhood home, Archie told her that he wanted a divorce. On the evening of 3 December 1926, after a fight with Archie, Agatha drove off in her car leaving her daughter behind. She left a note saying she was going to Yorkshire. She was not wearing her wedding ring. In the morning her abandoned car was found near Guildford near a pit, a natural spring called The Silent Pool. Two children had drowned there. Christie was nowhere to be found. A massive manhunt with a £100 reward got underway, involving fifteen thousand volunteers, and pictures on the front page of newspapers as far away as The New York Times. Meanwhile however, on December 4 1926, Agatha arrived at The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate in North Yorkshire 246 miles away. She registered under the name Teresa Neal and stayed there for ten days. Two members of a band playing at the hotel recognized Agatha and went to the police. Archie went to the hotel and confirmed his wife's identity. He told the press his wife had amnesia. Agatha refused to discuss the subject herself not even in her autobiography. The hounding she received from the press pushed her into reclusion. Agatha and Archie were divorced in 1928.
What do you think really happened to Agatha?
To give your opinion about a past event, you can use past modals of deduction.
The pattern is always
modal verb + have + past participle
Your choice of modal verb will depend on how certain you are that something is true.
100 % - must - It must have been a dreadful period in her life.
50/60% - could - Her amnesia could have been caused by depression
30/40% - may - Many people may have experienced a difficult time in their lives like that.
20/10% - might - It might have been a publicity stunt
0% - can't / couldn't - She can't have liked her celebrity.
Now tell me your ideas in the comments
Might she have been wandering around with loss of memory?
May she have fallen down into the pit?
Might she have been the victim of a serious crime?
Could it have been a revenge attempt to frame her husband for her murder?
This week in the Lost in Classics Facebook Group we will investigate the language in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ including the difference between formal and informal writing styles and modals verbs for speculation and deduction.
In this extract from Chapter 13 we will look closer at Conan Doyle's writing comparing a B2 level graded reader with the original. Comparing the simplified version to the original version can help you to understand more difficult words by finding synonyms. As the style of the reader is more concise, reading it will enable you to identify how to express yourself more clearly in spoken and written English.
Sherlock Holmes is interrogating Mrs Laura Lyons, the woman who wrote a note to Sir Charles arranging to meet him at his driveway the night he died.
Mrs. Laura Lyons was in her office, and Sherlock Holmes opened his interview with a frankness and directness which considerably amazed her.
“I am investigating the circumstances which attended the death of the late Sir Charles Baskerville,” said he. “My friend here, Dr. Watson, has informed me of what you have communicated, and also of what you have withheld in connection with that matter.”
“What have I withheld?” she asked defiantly.
“You have confessed that you asked Sir Charles to be at the gate at ten o'clock. We know that that was the place and hour of his death. You have withheld what the connection is between these events.”
“There is no connection.”
“In that case the coincidence must indeed be an extraordinary one. But I think that we shall succeed in establishing a connection, after all. I wish to be perfectly frank with you, Mrs. Lyons. We regard this case as one of murder, and the evidence may implicate not only your friend Mr. Stapleton but his wife as well.”
The lady sprang from her chair.
“His wife!” she cried.
“The fact is no longer a secret. The person who has passed for his sister is really his wife.”
Mrs. Lyons had resumed her seat. Her hands were grasping the arms of her chair, and I saw that the pink nails had turned white with the pressure of her grip.
“His wife!” she said again. “His wife! He is not a married man.”
Sherlock Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
“Prove it to me! Prove it to me! And if you can do so —!” The fierce flash of her eyes said more than any words.
“I have come prepared to do so,” said Holmes, drawing several papers from his pocket. “Here is a photograph of the couple taken in York four years ago. It is indorsed 'Mr. and Mrs. Vandeleur,' but you will have no difficulty in recognizing him, and her also, if you know her by sight. Here are three written descriptions by trustworthy witnesses of Mr. and Mrs. Vandeleur, who at that time kept St. Oliver's private school. Read them and see if you can doubt the identity of these people.”
She glanced at them, and then looked up at us with the set rigid face of a desperate woman.
“Mr. Holmes,” she said, “this man had offered me marriage on condition that I could get a divorce from my husband. He has lied to me, the villain, in every conceivable way. Not one word of truth has he ever told me. And why — why? I imagined that all was for my own sake. But now I see that I was never anything but a tool in his hands. Why should I preserve faith with him who never kept any with me? Why should I try to shield him from the consequences of his own wicked acts? Ask me what you like, and there is nothing which I shall hold back. One thing I swear to you, and that is that when I wrote the letter I never dreamed of any harm to the old gentleman, who had been my kindest friend.”
“I entirely believe you, madam,” said Sherlock Holmes.
“The recital of these events must be very painful to you, and perhaps it will make it easier if I tell you what occurred, and you can check me if I make any material mistake. The sending of this letter was suggested to you by Stapleton?”
“He dictated it.”
“I presume that the reason he gave was that you would receive help from Sir Charles for the legal expenses connected with your divorce?”
“And then after you had sent the letter he dissuaded you from keeping the appointment?”
“He told me that it would hurt his self-respect that any other man should find the money for such an object, and that though he was a poor man himself he would devote his last penny to removing the obstacles which divided us.”
“He appears to be a very consistent character. And then you heard nothing until you read the reports of the death in the paper?”
“And he made you swear to say nothing about your appointment with Sir Charles?”
“He did. He said that the death was a very mysterious one, and that I should certainly be suspected if the facts came out. He frightened me into remaining silent.”
“Quite so. But you had your suspicions?”
She hesitated and looked down.
“I knew him,” she said. “But if he had kept faith with me I should always have done so with him.”
“I think that on the whole you have had a fortunate escape,” said Sherlock Holmes. “You have had him in your power and he knew it, and yet you are alive. You have been walking for some months very near to the edge of a precipice. We must wish you good-morning now, Mrs. Lyons, and it is probable that you will very shortly hear from us again.”
Holmes and I then went to visit Mrs Laura Lyons. She was surprised that Holmes spoke to her very frankly.
“Mrs Lyons, I believe that you have some important information about the night of Sir Charles’ death. Why did you not go to your appointment with him?
“I cannot reveal that, Mr Holmes. It is a private affair”
“I must warn you that this is a case of murder. The evidence you refuse to give could implicate your friend Mr Stapleton and his wife, too”
The lady jumped up from her chair. “His wife!” she cried. “But he is not married!”
“He is a married man,” assured Sherlock Holmes, “and I can prove it.” He took a photo from his pocket. “Here they are four years ago in New York.
Mrs Lyons looked at us with the face of a desperate woman.
“Mr Holmes, this man promised to marry me. He lied to me, the villain. And he asked me to write the note to Sir Charles. But I promise you, I never thought the gentleman was in danger.”
“I believe you madam” said Holmes.
“But why didn’t you tell the police about this when Sir Charles died?”
“Mr Stapleton convinced me it was a risk. I was afraid of being a suspect.”
“Madam, you are lucky you are still alive. Thank you for this important information. We will contact you soon.”
Find the equivalent phrases for 1 to 13 in the simplified text.
The language in the first extract is obviously more literary and words are chosen to create a visual effect. The graded reader version prefers to put across the same message in a shorter, more direct way.
1. l – Withhold is quite a formal verb. To be less formal use more common synonyms. Prefer shorter words even if it means using more words, it is preferable for them to have 4/5 letters or less
2. F – Prefer adjectives to nouns.
3. H – To be more direct eliminate any unnecessary words, use approximate language.
4. M – as above. Also in English we generally prefer to use more simple verbs and less nouns. Keep words and sentences short.
5. B – Latin was used to communicate on higher subjects like law, music and art, not for everyday basic communication. For this reason, still today, words of a Latin or even French origin sound more formal. Prefer shorter words that come from Old English.
6. J – remove unnecessary words and prefer personal versus impersonal forms.
7. I - Often when we speak we prefer to use a short common verb and a preposition, also referred to as phrasal verbs.
8. E – Prefer active verb forms to passive.
9. K – Be adventurous with your adjectives! They add colour and precision to your language.
10. C – Prefer shorter verbs to verb – noun collocations.
11. D - To be less formal use more common synonyms. Prefer shorter words
12. A - remove unnecessary words
13. G - To be less formal use more common synonyms. Prefer shorter words.
We can enjoy Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing for the beauty and elegance of the language. However, people rarely speak in that way today. From comparing the language in the two extracts, we can establish some guidelines on writing and speaking clearly and effectively in the modern world.
1. Put yourself in the reader’s / interlocutor’s shoes
What does he / she already know about the subject? Then decide exactly what message it is you are trying to get across and why. Is it to inform, sell, persuade or explain?
2. Use short sentences
The shorter the sentence, the stronger the message, and the less room for ambiguity and confusion. This is why most advertisers use short sentences, even when they are aiming at a highly educated market. The New York Times has a reputation for good writing, yet it is written so that it can be understood by a 17-year-old.
3. Use active verb forms
One way to shorten sentences is to use active forms rather than passive forms. Another good idea is to use personal pronouns wherever it’s appropriate.
4. Include just one main idea per sentence.
This avoids the possibility for ambiguity or confusion, particularly when the subject matter is complex.
5. Remove all unnecessary words and phrases.
This will not only shorten sentences but also make the language more forceful and direct.
Do you agree with these guidelines? Can you think of any other ideas to add to the list?
One problem of reading classic novels is that, written sometimes centuries ago, you may encounter archaic and obsolete language. Archaic language means outdated words that are only used today in specific contexts and usually sound old-fashioned. Instead obsolete words are those that are no longer used at all. Trying to remember such words is pointless as you will most likely never use them yourself. Having said that recognizing and understanding them better can make them less 'scary' when you meet them again.
In the second chapter of 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' by Arthur Conan Doyle we read the tale of the curse of the Baskervilles to which the writer added archaic and obsolete words to make it sound more authentically written in 1742.
“Of the origin of the Hound of the Baskervilles there have been many statements, yet as I come in a direct line from Hugo Baskerville, and as I had the story from my father, who also had it from his, I have set it down with all belief that it occurred even as is here set forth. And I would have you believe, my sons, that the same Justice which punishes sin may also most graciously forgive it, and that no ban (1) is so heavy but that by prayer and repentance it may be removed. Learn then from this story not to fear the fruits of the past, but rather to be circumspect in the future, that those foul passions whereby (2) our family has suffered so grievously may not again be loosed (3) to (4) our undoing."
“Know then that in the time of the Great Rebellion (the history of which by the learned Lord Clarendon I most earnestly commend to your attention) this Manor of Baskerville was held by Hugo of that name, nor can it be gainsaid (5) that he was a most wild, profane, and godless man. This, in truth, his neighbours might have pardoned, seeing that saints have never flourished in those parts, but there was in him a certain wanton and cruel humour which made his name a by-word through the West. It chanced that this Hugo came to love (if, indeed, so dark a passion may be known under so bright a name) the daughter of a yeoman (6)who held lands near the Baskerville estate. But the young maiden (7), being discreet and of good repute, would ever avoid him, for she feared his evil name. So it came to pass that one Michaelmas this Hugo, with five or six of his idle and wicked companions, stole down upon the farm and carried off the maiden, her father and brothers being from home, as he well knew. When they had brought her to the Hall the maiden was placed in an upper chamber, while Hugo and his friends sat down to a long carouse, as was their nightly custom. Now, the poor lass upstairs was like to have her wits turned at the singing and shouting and terrible oaths which came up to her from below, for they say that the words used by Hugo Baskerville, when he was in wine, were such as might blast the man who said them. At last in the stress of her fear she did that which might have daunted the bravest or most active man, for by the aid of the growth of ivy which covered (and still covers) the south wall, she came down from under the eaves, and so homeward across the moor, there being three leagues (8) betwixt (9) the Hall and her father’s farm.
“It chanced that some little time later Hugo left his guests to carry food and drink—with other worse things, perchance (10) —to his captive, and so found the cage empty and the bird escaped. Then, as it would seem, he became as one that hath (11) a devil, for, rushing down the stairs into the dining-hall, he sprang upon the great table, flagons and trenchers (12) flying before him, and he cried aloud before (13) all the company that he would that very night render his body and soul to the Powers of Evil if he might but overtake the wench (7). And while the revellers stood aghast (14) at the fury of the man, one more wicked or, it may be, more drunken than the rest, cried out that they should put the hounds upon her. Whereat (2)Hugo ran from the house, crying to his grooms that they should saddle his mare and unkennel the pack, and giving the hounds a kerchief of the maid’s (7), he swung them to the line, and so off full cry in the moonlight over the moor."
“Now, for some space the revellers stood agape (14), unable to understand all that had been done in such haste. But anon (15) their bemused wits awoke to the nature of the deed which was like to be done upon the moorlands. Everything was now in an uproar, some calling for their pistols, some for their horses, and some for another flask of wine. But at length some sense came back to their crazed minds, and the whole of them, thirteen in number, took horse and started in pursuit. The moon shone clear above them, and they rode swiftly abreast (14a), taking that course which the maid (7)must needs have taken if she were to reach her own home.
“They had gone a mile or two when they passed one of the night shepherds upon the moorlands, and they cried to him to know if he had seen the hunt. And the man, as the story goes, was so crazed with fear that he could scarce speak, but at last he said that he had indeed seen the unhappy (16) maiden, with the hounds upon her track. ‘But I have seen more than that,’ said he, ‘for Hugo Baskerville passed me upon his black mare, and there ran mute behind him such a hound of hell as God forbid should ever be at my heels.’
“So the drunken squires cursed the shepherd and rode onwards. But soon their skins turned cold, for there came a sound of galloping across the moor, and the black mare, dabbled with white froth, went past with trailing bridle and empty saddle. Then the revellers rode close together, for a great fear was on them, but they still followed over the moor, though each, had he been alone, would have been right glad to have turned his horse’s head. Riding slowly in this fashion, they came at last upon the hounds. These, though known for their valour and their breed, were whimpering in a cluster at the head of a deep dip or goyal, as we call it, upon the moor, some slinking away and some, with starting hackles (17) and staring eyes, gazing down the narrow valley before them.
“The company had come to a halt, more sober men, as you may guess, than when they started. The most of them would by no means advance, but three of them, the boldest, or it may be, the most drunken, rode forward down the goyal. Now, it opened into a broad space in which stood two of those great stones, still to be seen there, which were set by certain forgotten peoples in the days of old (18). The moon was shining bright upon the clearing, and there in the centre lay the unhappy maid where she had fallen, dead of fear and of fatigue. But it was not the sight of her body, nor yet was it that of the body of Hugo Baskerville lying near her, which raised the hair upon the heads of these three dare-devil roysterers, but it was that, standing over Hugo, and plucking at his throat, there stood a foul thing, a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon.
And even as they looked the thing tore the throat out of Hugo Baskerville, on which, as it turned its blazing eyes and dripping jaws upon them, the three shrieked with fear and rode for dear life, still screaming, across the moor. One, it is said, died that very night of what he had seen, and the other twain (19)were but broken men for the rest of their days.
“Such is the tale, my sons, of the coming of the hound which is said to have plagued the family so sorely ever since. If I have set it down it is because that which is clearly known hath (11) less terror than that which is but hinted at and guessed. Nor can it be denied that many of the family have been unhappy (16) in their deaths, which have been sudden, bloody, and mysterious. Yet may we shelter ourselves in the infinite goodness of Providence, which would not forever punish the innocent beyond that third or fourth generation which is threatened in Holy Writ. To that Providence, my sons, I hereby commend you, and I counsel (20) you by way of caution to forbear from (21) crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are exalted.
“[This from Hugo Baskerville to his sons Rodger and John, with instructions that they say nothing thereof (2) to their sister Elizabeth.]”
1. Curse - "the land might be smitten by the ban which once fell upon the Canaanites"
2. Whereby and later hereby, whereat and thereof
I would class these compounds as archaic because they sound very formal now but may be used perhaps in a legal context as a way of avoiding the repetition of names of things in a document. They replace a preposition and a pronoun where the preposition works as an adverb and the pronoun as an adverb refering to location. They are joined toegether in reverse order.
Whereby = by which - "a system whereby people could vote by telephone"
hereby = by this - "all such warranties are hereby excluded"
whereat - at which point - "they demanded an equal share in the high command, whereat negotiations broke down"
thereof - of this /that - "the member state or a part thereof"
For more examples with here, there and where see here
3. set free - "the hounds have been loosed"
4. for - used with an infinitive to express use or purpose: I'm going there to see my sister.
5. denied - to refuse to accept something as the truth: - Certainly there's no gainsaying (= it is not possible to doubt) the technical brilliance of his performance.
6. landowning farmer - probably originating from the combination of the words 'young' and 'man'.
Yeoman owned and cultivated small areas of land.
7. girl - The young maiden skipped through the meadow
8. about 3 miles
20,000 leagues under the sea - Jules Verne
9. between - Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean; and so betwixt the two of them, they licked the platter clean.
10. perhaps - “To sleep: perchance to dream…” Shakespeare, Hamlet
11. has - Verbs ending in -th or -eth are an archaic way of forming the 3rd person singular present, so for example: say - sayeth, go - goeth, do - doeth. 'Th' was also used in second person singular pronouns instead of the modern 'you'. 'Thou' was used as a subejct pronoun, 'thee' as object pronoun, 'thy' or 'thine' as possessive adjective and 'thine' possessive pronoun.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned
"Patience is mine", sayeth the Lord."
"Whatsoever thou sayeth, my Lord"
."Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit."
"The merciful man doeth good to his own soul."
12. a flat, wooden dish used to serve food
13. in front of - "Matilda stood before her, panting"
14. with the mouth wide open, as in wonder, surprise. As a prefix 'a' was added to a verb to be used as a present participle (ablaze; agape; aglow; astride (a); awry). Think of awake.
‘Downes listened, mouth agape with incredulity’
15. soon - "If we shall perish anon, I will not die unfulfilled."
16. unfortunate, ill-fated - "This business ogìf you being a killer was an unhappy coincidence."
17. erectile hairs along an animal's back, which rise when it is angry or alarmed
"the dog continued to growl, its hackles raised"
18. in the past (literary) - "The minstrel sang a ballad about days of old".
19. two - ‘families were either ‘church’ or ‘chapel’ and never the twain shall meet'
21. refrain from
Why not try to use some of these terms to explain a local phenomenon or legend? Using the language yourself may help to make it more familiar and therefore less frightening.
What is this?
When I started lostinclassics I looked for language lessons in the books I was reading, such as for example the use of phrasal verbs or inversion in conditionals and I explained them through examples found in the text. I also did reviews of the books I read and tried to give some advice on how to read classics using the various resources I know of. Then I switched to just reviews and lately I have been doing a bit of creative writing inspired by my reading. Who knows what I will come up with next!