"can you" in non-question expression

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Senior Member
Hi all,
Sorry I don't remember the technical name of question-related expressions in English!!!! So please change the topic as necessary.

Today I was listening to a psychologist. He said:

"....everything is revealed. Only then can you actually understand somebody else"

Now my question is that why he used "can you" instead of "you can". Well I guess it is a more formal way of speak or to me, for a native speaker, he just wanted to balance the melody of speech! but please let me know if there is any rule or any keyword related to this type of alteration.

  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It's an example of inversion, I believe.
    Here are two un-inverted sentences:
    ... Then you can actually understand somebody else.
    ... Then you are able to actually understand somebody else.
    Sticking "only" at the beginning requires the subject/verb to be inverted. I hope someone else can explain why :)
    ... Only then can you actually understand somebody else.
    ... Only then are you able to actually understand someone else.

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes, it's inversion, in this instance after an adverbial of time.
    Similar adverbials are never, rarely, seldom, barely, scarcely, no sooner, and probably others.

    'Hardly had we arrived, than we had to set off back home'

    I'd say their use is mainly literary and they are rarely heard in everyday speech.

    I can't explain the why of it. It is just yet another Feature of the Great Plan.

    There are other constructions that permit or demand inversion.

    He was so exhausted that he slept for 18 hours.
    So exhausted was he, that he slept for 18 hours.

    There's an odd construction using 'such' and inversion, when the 'such' means 'so much', something like 'so very bad' or so 'serious' or so very beautiful or clever

    'Such was her rage that she cut all her husband's clothes into little pieces'.

    'Such was her genius that she got a scholarship to Oxford when she was only 10.'



    Senior Member
    American English
    I hope someone else can explain why
    I also find inversions fascinating. According to Fowler, they date to the antiquity of the language; his advice, use them if they sound natural, is not of much help to foreign speakers. According to this page (In the garden sat a cat), inversions are an influence of Germanic roots.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    English UK
    Here's a list of eighteen (!) situations in which subject-verb inversion is either required or optional:)
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