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Sentence: Only if we go out there and clean it up this amount of plastic is going to go down.

Is this grammatically correct? I heard that when "Only if" is used, we invert the subject and auxiliary.
So will it be?: Only if we go out there and clean it up is this amount of plastic going to go down.


Here is a link to a video clip of the sentence (around 37-38 seconds into the clip): Could this giant floating pipe clean up 90% of ocean plastic? (CNN)

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  • Yes, "only" triggers subject-auxiliary inversion, as in your second example.
    – BillJ
    Jul 20, 2020 at 14:20
  • Is that all you want to know?
    – BillJ
    Jul 20, 2020 at 14:52
  • Yes. Thanks for the response. I found this sentence on a textbook. However it was a dialogue, so maybe the speaker didn't have enough time to think about it? I don't know.
    – user118555
    Jul 20, 2020 at 15:02
  • Based on the sentences you've provided, the lack of inversion is the problem, thus your corrected sentence with inversion is correct.
    – BillJ
    Jul 20, 2020 at 18:11
  • Based on the clip of the video that Em has kindly provided, I don't think there's any doubt about this being a matter of inversion, where the host (a Dutchman, Em thinks) simply got the grammar wrong by not being aware of the inversion rule with "only".
    – BillJ
    Jul 21, 2020 at 8:25

2 Answers 2

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[1] *Only if we go out there and clean it up this amount of plastic is going to go down.

[2] Only if we go out there and clean it up is this amount of plastic going to go down.

You heard right. [1] is wrong.

[2] has subject-auxiliary inversion. This 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:

"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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  • FYI, I found a clip of the video, included in OP.
    – Em.
    Jul 21, 2020 at 6:31
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The answer depends on how the question is read.
Only if we go out there and clean it up, this amount of plastic is going to go down.

With the comma I added, the word "only" is equivalent to "but" or "however". That is, it's a counter point to something said in a previous sentence.

Without a comma, the meaning is equivalent to
This amount of plastic is going to go down only if we go out there and clean it up.
If that is the sense, then the original sentence should have an inversion.
Only if we go out there and clean it up is this amount of plastic going to go down.

So, is the sentence missing a comma, or missing an inversion?

A transcript in which the sentence appears shows it preceded by "Probably going to still be there in 100 years." It also shows it with the comma that I added above, so it should have the comma, and not an inversion.

CNN transcript

It is clear from the intonation in the recently provided video that the speaker's intention was the "only if" construction, and he did miss the inversion.

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    I found a clip of the video FWIW, included in OP. Apparently, the speaker is Dutch.
    – Em.
    Jul 21, 2020 at 6:31

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