Using Word Order for
There are several ways to add emphasis
(focus) to parts of your
sentences in English
by changing the word order
. When you have a good understanding of the basic
structure in English, you can learn to move parts of a
sentence to add emphasis to a certain part of the sentence.
See also in this series on sentence structure and word order:
Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses
This is the standard word order for English sentences:
Subject + Verb + Direct Object
He bought flowers.
You can extend this sentence with more parts of speech.
Subject + Verb + Direct Object + Indirect Object + Prepositional Phrase
He bought flowers for his wife on Mother’s Day.
There are a few ways you can change the word order in standard
sentences to add emphasis or focus to a certain part of the sentence.
In this lesson, we will learn some of the ways to add emphasis in
sentences in English.
In English, the beginning of a sentence usually gets more focus or emphasis. That means the focus is usually on the subject and what the subject does (verb).
By using passive voice, you can emphasize what happens to
something or someone rather than telling who or what did it. The focus
is on the action or result.
Most sentences are written in the active voice. In the active voice,
the subject of the sentence does the action.
The ball hit the window.
Nick threw the ball.
In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is affected by the
The window was hit by the ball.
The ball was thrown by Nick.
Active voice is more common than passive voice in English. You can use the passive voice when you
want to tell about an action, but you don’t want to tell who or what
does the action.
Jim broke the window.
This sentence is in active voice. It is clear who broke the window. Jim broke the window.
The window was broken.
This sentence is in passive voice. This sentence describes the action
without telling who did it. The emphasis is on the action NOT on who did the action.
Another use of passive voice is when you want to emphasize the object
and not the subject.
Tim lost the dog.
(emphasis = Tim)
This sentence is in active voice. Here the emphasis is on Tim losing the
The dog was lost.
(emphasis = the dog)
This sentence is in passive voice. The object became the subject. Here, the emphasis is on the fact
that the dog was lost.
English adverb time phrases and clauses can be placed at the beginning of a sentence
to add emphasis to the time.
Moving the time
I finished my exam right before class ended.
Right before class ended, I finished my exam.
The alarm rang at 6:00 a.m.
At 6:00 a.m., the alarm rang.
Invert the word order (Inversions)
To invert = to reverse
Another way to add emphasis is by inverting the word order of a
sentence by placing a prepositional phrase or another expression at the
beginning of the sentence followed by inverted word order.
Inversion means you reverse the normal word order of a sentence.
Instead of Subject + Verb, we might add an auxiliary (helping) verb
before the subject. We do this in English to form questions.
- She runs.
Subject + Verb
Does she run?
Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Verb
He can drive.
Auxiliary Verb + Verb
- Can he drive?
Auxiliary Verb + Subject + Verb
Negative adverbs + inversion
In formal English, you can place a negative adverb or adverb phrase in
front of the inversion for emphasis.
Negative adverbs: hardly, never, seldom, rarely, no sooner, not only,
nowhere, in no way, never before
I have never witnessed such disrespect!
Never have I witnessed such disrespect!
I have rarely seen such beautiful colors.
Rarely have I seen such beautiful colors.
I have seldom experienced such terrible service.
Seldom have I experienced such terrible service.
I arrived home and was called back into work.
No sooner had I arrived home than I was called back into work.
I haven’t seen such bad driving anywhere.
Nowhere have I seen such bad driving!
I do not agree with what she is saying in any way.
In no way do I agree with what she is saying.
You can use different tenses in the same way.
Nowhere have I seen such bad driving! (present)
Nowhere had I seen such bad driving! (past perfect)
Never have I witnessed such disrespect. (present)
Never had I witnessed such disrespect. (past perfect)
Here and there + inversion
You can also add emphasis by beginning a sentence with here or there followed by an inversion.
There goes the taxi!
There is the bus stop.
Here comes the storm.
Here is your tea.
Expressions beginning with no / not / only + inversion
We can also begin a sentence with not/no/only + prepositional phrase
followed by an inversion.
No sooner, in no way, not until, not for a moment, only when
I got home and realized I forgot my shoes.
Not until I got home did I realize I forgot my shoes.
I do not regret marrying you for a moment.
Not for a moment do I regret marrying you.
I believed he was safe when I saw him.
Not until I saw him did I believe he was safe.
Your electricity will be turned back on when you pay your bills.
Only when you pay your bills will your electricity be turned back on.
He realized he forgot to feed his dog when he saw her dog.
Only when he saw her dog did her realize he forgot to feed his dog.
He was not responsible for the accident.
In no way was he responsible for the accident.
Adding auxiliary verbs
We can add emphatic auxiliary verbs before the main verb to stress a strong
She looks pretty in that dress.
She does look pretty in that dress.
I enjoyed my visit to the United States.
I did enjoy my visit to the United States.
His English improved!
His English has improved!
We can also use this type of sentence with a tag question to confirm
something we think is true.
She does like cats, doesn’t she?
Tom did say he's allergic to peanuts, didn't he?
You did clean the kitchen, didn’t you?
Mary has called you, hasn’t she?
Introductory adverbs and phrases
If you want to add emphasis to key facts or phrases, you use
introductory adverbs or phrases such as especially, particularly, above
all, remarkably, and most importantly.
They survived, most importantly.
Most importantly, they survived.
He still loves babies remarkably.
Remarkably, he still loves babies.
I love you above all.
Above all, I love you.
Moving parts of speech
You can also add emphasis to parts of a sentence
by moving certain parts of speech
Some adverbs can be placed at the front of a sentence to add emphasis.
We usually see him at the store.
Usually, we see him at the store.
He carefully carried the glass bowl.
Carefully, he carried the glass bowl.
That is obviously the wrong key.
Obviously, that is the wrong key.
You will find the classroom upstairs.
Upstairs, you will find the classroom.
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Cleft sentences help us focus on a certain part of a sentence to add
emphasis to what we want to say.
Cleft comes from the verb to cleave meaning to divide into two.
Cleft sentences are divided into two clauses. Each clause has its own
This is the basic pattern of a cleft sentence:
It + be verb + subject, object, etc + that / who relative clause
It wasn’t the boys who started the fight.
It wasn’t the boys that started the fight.
(The boys didn’t start the fight. Someone else did.)
It is the secretary that I wish to thank.
(I want to thank the secretary.)
Modal verbs can also be used in cleft sentences.
Go to this lesson to learn more about cleft sentences: Cleft Sentences.