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Do we always have to use inversion when we start a sentence with "not only… but also"? For example:

Is it correct to write/say:

Not only they were tall, but also they were strong.

Or

Not only were they tall, but they were also strong.

Which one is correct?

  • 1
    The second one is correct. – MorganFR Jan 19 '17 at 15:55
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Only this one is correct:

Not only were they tall, but they were also strong.

I think, we have to do inversion every single time a sentence or clause begins with not only. There is no exception to this rule. I think of this type of structure as a pattern that never breaks and one you simply should commit to memory.

One more example:

Not only do I have to now install the operating system again, but also buy a new computer.

It seems to me that we typically do inversion in English when a sentence or clause begins with a negative word or phrase (the operative word here is begins). One of the most common words of that group that immediately springs to mind is rarely.

Rarely do you see people using desktop computers nowadays. Most people prefer laptops to them because of their better portability characteristics.

However, there is going to be no inversion when not only, or rarely for that matter, is found between the subject and the verb:

I not only have to now install the operating system again, but also buy a new computer.

  • You rarely see people usING desktop computers nowadays. Rarely does not entail inversion necessarily. You see people + verb requires ING. For the NOT ONLY, I agree with you. – Lambie Jan 19 '17 at 16:58
  • If it's placed at the beginning of a sentence, it does. I thought I made that clear in the post. You should read it again. – Michael Rybkin Jan 19 '17 at 17:03
  • OK, it confused me. Please not the ING though. – Lambie Jan 19 '17 at 17:40
  • "You see people + verb requires ING" -- where did you learn that rule from? Are you saying "I see a lot of people do that" is incorrect? – Michael Rybkin Jan 19 '17 at 19:48
  • You changed your sentence didn't you? I meant: You rarely see people usING desktop computers nowadays. I guess either can be used: use or using. It just sounded weird to me. I see a lot of people doing that. I see a lot of people do that. They are not exactly the same... – Lambie Jan 19 '17 at 20:17
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The inversion does not normally carry over to subsequent independent clauses, so

Not only were they tall, but they were also strong

is the correct version.

Subject-auxiliary inversion occurs in declarative clauses only when certain types of element are put in front position. Negatives are one very obvious type of element that trigger subject-auxiliary inversion when fronted:

Never had I seen such chaos.

At no stage were they in danger.

"Not only" is clearly negative, but even when used alone, "only" has the same effect:

Only when I counted the money did I realise the error.

"Only" is not negative, but it is semantically close to a negative, in that only John liked it, for example, entails No one other than John liked it.

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