What is Inversion in Literature? Definition, Examples of Literary Inversion

Inversion definition: Inversion is defined as a literary device in which the writer purposefully words phrases or sentences in a non-traditional order.

What is Inversion?

Inversion meaning: When writers use inversion as a literary technique, they purposefully reword phrasing in sentences to contrast the traditional organization in order to achieve a desired affect on the audience.

Example of Inversion

  • Traditional order: The short woman asked for assistance while trying to reach items from the top shelf.
  • Inversion: The woman of small stature asked for assistance while trying to reach items from the top shelf.
  • Explanation: Typically when a writer uses adjective or descriptors, they are placed before the noun; however, by using inversion the writer breaks from the pattern to make a more interesting sentence.

Modern Examples of Inversion

The well-known character, Yoda, from Star Wars speaks using inversion and is famously known for his manner of speaking. By having him speak in a manner of inversion, it highlights his intelligence and allows for his wise words to stand out to the audience. Here are some of Yoda’s famous lines that exemplify the technique of inversion:

  • “When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not.”
  • “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is.”

The Function of Inversion in Literature

The use of inversion is an important stylistic technique in both prose and poetry. It allows for the writer to organize thoughts in an interesting way in order to emphasis certain ideas to the reader. In addition to focusing the attention to certain words or phrases, by using a different order than the typical sentence structure, it creates a certain rhythm to the piece of literature.

Examples of Inversion in Literature

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet includes several examples of inversion. Shakespeare was a masterful poet who manipulated language in order to achieve a desired rhythm within the lines of his plays. In this example, Paris uses inversion by placing the verb prior to the subject when questioning Lord Capulet in regards to marrying his daughter, Juliet. Not only does this create rhythm, but it also draws attention to an important subject in the play.

“Of honourable reckoning are you both;

And pity ‘tis you lived at odds so long.

But now, my lord, what say you to my suit?”

Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen writes using inversion starting with the first line in his poem “Tableau”. By doing so, it creates a unique rhythm rather than following the normal syntax of the English language.

“Locked arm in arm they cross the way

The black boy and the white,

The golden splendor of the day

The sable of pride night.”

Summary: What’s Inversion?

Define inversion in literature: In summation, inversion is a technique used by writers when they desire to stray from typical syntax. By using this device, authors are able to create a rhythm to their work as well as draw emphasis to important subject matter.

Final Example:

In William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” he includes examples of inversion. By using inversion in his sonnets, Shakespeare was able to follow the specific rhythm and rhyme scheme required in this form of poetry.

“Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed,

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed”