Narrative Tenses & Inversion
Hi, this is me—John!
Yesterday, I told you that I’m a journalist, and now I’m working in London. I also told you about Susan—the most wonderful woman I have ever met!
Let me tell you about the first time I saw her. It was my first Monday morning at the London office. It was a beautiful day: the sun was shining and the birds were singing. And then, at 9 am, she walked into the office.
She was wearing a simple red dress, which made her look very professional. It was clear that she had selected the dress carefully. She sat at her desk—the one next to the window—and turned on her computer. She worked and worked and worked. She never looked at me. And then, after she had been working for eight hours, she got up and went home.
Not once did she look at me . . .
I did not dare speak to her that day. But the day after that . . .
Today, I would like to show you how to use English tenses when we tell stories.
For the main events of a story—things that happened one after another—we use Past Simple. Examples from our story:
She walked into the office, sat at her desk, worked all day, then got up and went home.
Another example you could use about yourself:
Yesterday, I got up at 6 am, brushed my teeth, and had breakfast. Then I went to work.
For things that form the background to your story, we use Past Continuous:
The sun was shining and the birds were singing.
It was raining, so we stayed at home.
For things which happened BEFORE the main events, we use Past Perfect:
It was clear that she had selected the dress carefully. (she selected the dress before John saw her in that dress)
I ate the soup that Mom had made for me the day before.
And if these things were before and took more time, we use Past Perfect Continuous:
After she had been working for eight hours, she got up and went home.
When I finally finished playing the game, I realized I had been playing nonstop for 10 hours.
Not once did she look at me.
This sentence is an example of inversion. Normally, we would say, “she didn’t look at me even once.” But to make it more dramatic, we put “not once” at the beginning, and then we have to change the order of what comes after.
How do you change the order? In normal English, you first use the subject and then the verb. For example: “he went,” “she will go,” “we have gone.” But with inversion, first you use the auxiliary verb (do/be/have/etc.) or modal (will.can/should/etc.), then the subject (he/she/Mary/etc.), and then the main verb (go/went/gone/etc.). It’s like in questions: “did he go,” “will she go,” “have we gone,” and so on.
Inversion is used to make things stronger, to add emphasis. It often happens after “negative” or “limiting” words. More examples:
Never have I eaten such good food.
Seldom have I seen such great beauty.
Come back tomorrow to see what John did the next day!
Share with friends