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Could you please explain why is this sentence below an assertive sentence and not an interrogative sentence?

"Through taking action can we only change our future."

I mean "can we only" or "we can only"? What is correct and why?

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  • It is a bad sentence. Who wrote it? Nov 21, 2023 at 7:39
  • A bad one. Because it is.
    – Astralbee
    Nov 21, 2023 at 8:12
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    Putting only next to change our future makes the sentence mean "we can only change our future, we can't do anything else to it". Nov 21, 2023 at 9:37
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    To make it into a question, you would normally put Can we at the beginning. "Can we change our future only by taking action?" Nov 21, 2023 at 9:39
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    @KateBunting If I were grading a student paper, I'd point out that only should be in front of our future not in front of the verb change, in order to avoid ambiguity. Only the future can be changed by taking action; the past cannot be changed. But native speakers make that misplaced modifier "error" so very often that we have to accept it as they intend it, to modify "our future", not the verb "change". I'd say that the "erroneous" placement outnumbers the "correct" placement by a ratio of ten to one, in speech.
    – TimR
    Nov 21, 2023 at 12:06

1 Answer 1

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When there is a negation, like what the only does, we do an inversion.

I move only to the front. The condition is through taking action; hence, the only should be before it.

Only through taking action can we change our future.

A related sentence

Through taking action, we can change our future.

is clearly an assertive one rather than interrogative. The same logic applies to sentences with inversions. Note that in my last example, which is without inversion, we have a comma after action; such a comma would not be allowed in the version with inversion.

Wikipedia gives an example of an inversion:

Only on Mondays will Jessica say that. - Subject-auxiliary inversion with a fronted expression with negative force.

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  • Thank you. I was looking for this inversion rule. Your answer is very useful. I do not know who is voting "not useful". Nov 21, 2023 at 9:07

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