1

When Fidelio was first performed, it was said that never before had anything so incoherent, coarse, wild, and ear splitting been heard!

Why is it not put in assertive form as

When Fidelio was first performed, it was said that never before anything so incoherent, coarse, wild, and ear splitting had been heard.

I hope replacing the exclamation mark in the original sentence by a full stop in the rewritten sentence does not make any difference, is it?

  • 3
    I don't think it's an interrogative form. I guess it's an inversion! It's common to inverse the order after negative adverbs like never. – Cardinal Jun 16 '17 at 10:34
  • Why not go with the second form? @Cardinal – Anubhav Singh Jun 16 '17 at 10:43
  • 1
    I think the first version is used in literary or formal language! – Cardinal Jun 16 '17 at 10:50
  • Your rephrasing is incorrect, never should go with had. As they wanted to emphasise "never before" it was put at the front of the clause, meaning that had must also be moved to the front. Moving had to the end means that never before must also be moved to the end, which changes the emphasis of the sentence. – SteveES Jun 16 '17 at 10:58
4

As you've picked up on, word order can be inverted in interrogatives. This isn't an interrogative, but it's also an example of inverted word order: a so-called negative inversion.

Basically, it's (often, but not always) necessary to swap the order of the subject and finite verb when a sentence starts with a negative (like "no" or "never") or an almost-negative (like "rarely"), followed by a finite auxiliary verb (e.g. "have" in "I have heard").

This structure can be used to add additional emphasis to the negative, by placing it at the beginning of the sentence.

For example, the sentence:

I will at no point play basketball with him.

becomes:

At no point will I play basketball with him.

In your example, ignore the first clause and the "it was said that" bit. That leaves us with:

[N]ever before had anything so incoherent, coarse, wild, and ear splitting been heard!

Looking at this part alone, it's clear that this is negative inversion; the sentence starts with a negative ("never before") followed by a finite auxiliary verb ("had") and its subject ("anything") and main verb phrase ("been heard") have inverted order.

Unfortunately, this isn't always possible, and there's not, as far as I'm aware, a good, easy-to-remember rule for which situations fit which category.

An example of an invalid usage is:

Never I spoke.

Instead, one would say:

I never spoke.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.