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If a sentence begins with a negative or semi-negative word / phrase, it causes subject-operator inversion :

"In no other way can the matter be explained."

"Hardly had I seen Sam when he started walking."

Such inversion isn't found in the following sentence :

"In no time we cleared the table." (NOT, In no time did we clear the table.)

Could you please clarify it?

  • Would you mind telling us what the sources are for these sentences? For example, I've heard, read and used variations of "we cleared the table in no time/in record time", but the form starting with "in no time" sounds a bit unusual to my ears, so I wonder where you came across it. – RuslanD May 6 at 11:09
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    Perhaps relevant, in no time is an expression that means "very quickly", rather than a "negation" of time. Your first example sentence is different, because it does negate the possibility of other ways to explain the matter - you could rephrase it as "There is no other way in which the matter can be explained". – RuslanD May 6 at 11:16
  • The first two sentences sound incredibly unnatural and awkward to me, and I don't think I've ever seen people use that type of sentence construction. There aren't technically incorrect, but they aren't typical – Kevin Wells May 7 at 18:56
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There is an article from Lund University in Sweden that explains:

The inverted order only occurs when the whole clause is affected by the initial negation/restriction. Thus, there are cases where what appears to be an initial negative element does not trigger inverted word order.

In no time at all, the two doctors had more patients than they could handle.

Here, the meaning of the sentence is affirmative rather than negative and therefore the clause retains its normal S-V order.

Your example sentence is also an affirmative one (the table was cleared). As I pointed out in my comment to your question, "in no time" is actually an expression that means "very quickly", so the sentence can be rephrased as:

We cleared the table very quickly.

You can see more examples of where inversion is blocked even in the presence of negative constructions in the Wikipedia article on negative inversion.

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