Are there some rules behind these inversions:

"At no time did it seem necessary to direct the machine to the ground."

"So convinced am I that he is on the right lines that ..."

"The two inventors were not in the “show” business and neither were they in the business of getting rich."

Are they associated with specific expressions like: "At no time", "So convinced", "Neither", etc.?


No, they are not associated with the specific expressions; in particular, your "So convinced" is not really all that common, and it would be strange if a particular pattern would be formed around it. (Actually, "and neither were they" requires this order, the alternative being "and they weren't.... either".)

The phenomenon itself is a relic of the "Germanic V2", the rule that verb comes in the second place in the sentence. You could rearrange most other things - subject, object, indirect object, adverbial phrases etc. - but there should be exactly one of those in front of the subject in a sentence (aside from imperatives and yes/no questions). It is also the historic reason for the interrogative inversion ("When did you..."). This rule is not really present in Modern English any more, but it is quite strong in e.g. German, Dutch or Swedish - or indeed Old English. E.g. in Beowulf,

Swa begnornodon Geata leode ...
So lamented Geat's people ...
(The Geats lamented in this way ...)

As to why - to give the sentence greater impact, by placing emphasis on a different constituent than in the usual word order. This is especially obvious when you pronounce these sentences, and pay attention to the heavy stress that would normally be heard on those words:

At no time did it...
So convinced am I...
...and neither were they...

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No, these phrases are not really associated with anything specific.

Think about people asking if they are going somewhere.

Am I going somewhere?

Or other questions about how a crime scene seemed to someone.

Did it seem like there was anyone looking to hurt someone?

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  • I know that the interrogative requires an inversion but in my examples there in no interrogative. "So convinced am I that" means "I am so convinced that". If a have now, "I am extremely convinced that", it does not seem I can get something meaningful if I operate an inversion and turn it in: "Extremely convinced am I that"!! – Robert Werner Jan 31 '17 at 11:28

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