Is the final sentence grammatical? What is its meaning?

In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right time for every action, one must draw up in advance, a table of days, months and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time. Only thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time.

Source: “Three Questions” By Leo Tolstoy

  • I have edited the question to provide essential context. Jul 13, 2022 at 10:31
  • 2
    But you should still explain exactly what it is about the sentence that confuses you. I see at least two possible concerns. Jul 13, 2022 at 10:32
  • Only thus said they meaning?
    – Sam
    Jul 13, 2022 at 10:34
  • 1
    Could everything be done at its proper time is it a question?
    – Sam
    Jul 13, 2022 at 10:35
  • 2
    ...everything about the phrasing is a bit "literary", so it wouldn't normally occur in a conversational context. But if it did, those first five words would normally be replaced by They said that only thus [could everything be done...] Jul 13, 2022 at 10:47

1 Answer 1


"Could everything be done at its proper time" -- is it a question?

No, it's not a question. You were right in noticing that the auxiliary verb could is placed before the subject everything. So as a standalone sentence, it would be a question. Questions have inverted subject-auxiliary order: "everything [SUBJECT] could [AUXILIARY] be done" - "could [AUXILIARY] everything [SUBJECT] be done?"

However, in your example it's not a question. Why? Because of the phrase only thus, which is a restrictive phrase. You see, after negative and restrictive phrases we can do subject-auxiliary inversion. This is done to provide emphasis. Hence, it's often done in literature.

Negative phrase "never":

I will never jump into the sea.
Never will I jump into the sea. (inversion: "will I jump into the sea" looks like a question, but it's not)

Restrictive phrase "Only for a million dollars":

I will jump into the sea only for a million dollars.
Only for a million dollars will I jump into the sea. (inversion: "I will jump" -> "will I jump")

I've added the tag "subject-auxiliary inversion" to your question, you can look up questions related to this topic.

  • I will jump..=will i jump...(bothe have same sense but only difference is the second one is emphatic)am i right?
    – Sam
    Jul 13, 2022 at 12:28
  • @Asu - yes, the second is more emphatic and "literature-like" Jul 13, 2022 at 14:32

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