Words in the news: coronavirus, inversions, work

The coronavirus crisis is making headlines worldwide. Some of the language used to report it refers back to aspects we have discussed in class at some point in the year:

  1. Italy locked down to slow the spread of coronavirus- as mentioned in the report, documents allowing citizens to travel within Italy are now needed: 

The new reality is dawning in Italy. The heart of Europe has been quarantined with a blanket ban on gatherings and public venues closed, the toughest confinement measures since the war. Travel is prohibited without filling in a document showing urgent need or a return home, which we as everyone have to complete. We’d need to produce it if asked.

Well, this form will now allow me to be able to drive back to Rome. And it says here that falsifying this document could lead to prosecution. Never could people in Italy have conceived of the idea that they’d need this to be able to move within their own country.

2. Airlines cancel thousands of flights:

The extent to which airlines are struggling is becoming clear. B.A. has emailed all of its staff asking people to volunteer for unpaid leave. Norwegian Air has said it will cut 15 percent of its global schedule for a month, while some staff will be temporarily laid off. The German giant Lufthansa has already said it will cut up to half of its flights during the coming weeks. Anyone booked on a flight which is canceled is eligible for a full refund.


Words in the news: inversions (Tokyo 2020 and the new coronavirus)

Listen to this extract from the news about the potential impact of the new coronavirus on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games:

Discussions over the coronavirus outbreak dominated the first morning of a scheduled two-day meeting at Olympic headquarters. Japan’s Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto has hinted that the Games could be moved until later in the year. But the IOC president, Thomas Bach, said he was fully committed to staging a successful event, which starts on July the 24th. The IOC is seemingly reluctant to speculate on possible deadlines should the disease continue to spread.

As you will remember, the use of this inversion (should the disease continue to spread) is an alternative to an ordinary second conditional clause (if the disease continued to spread). By using the inversion, the speaker aims to emphasise that remote possibility in the context of the sentence. (More about inversions for emphasis here).

Apostrophe Protection Society closes down

The Apostrophe Protection Society (APS) has been forced to shut down, due to an alleged lack of interest in the subject.  Listen to the  news report below to find out more:

You can read the transcript here

You can also read this article, or have a look at some ‘apostrophe catastrophes’.

This is no trifling matter. For example,  should it be King’s Cross or Kings Cross? On the tube map, it says ‘King’s Cross’, but on the National Rail website, it does refer to the station as ‘Kings Cross’, which illustrates the insecurities in the use of the apostrophe over the centuries.

Some time ago, a grammar vigilante was claimed to roam the streets of Bristol late at night correcting bad punctuation on Bristol shop fronts.

With all this in mind, you could think of possible speaking points:

  • Can you see the APS and this grammar vigilante’s points? What’s your take on their actions?
  • Is English spelling and punctuation being neglected? If so, what may be some possible causes?
  • Would English benefit from having an ‘Academy of the English Language’, just like Spanish or French have?
  • Should written  language adopt more similar conventions to spoken language?

Follow-up to the story (Dec 9th 2019): Renewed interest in apostrophes after society closed down

passive voice: news headlines- revision exercise

Turn these active sentences into likely headlines, by using a passive voice transformation. Only include the agent (by…) when you feel it’s relevant.

Open the self-grading google form in a new tab here.

More about passive voice and news headlines here.

Inversions after negative or restricting adverbs and for conditional clauses- examples in real language use

If you want to know how to use these expressions-typically used for emphasis-you can watch the video below:

  • No sooner had I …than
  • Seldom have I seen…
  • Little did she know…
  • Should you have any further questions do not hesitate to contact me again.
  • Had I known …I wouldn’t have…


You can find examples of these inversions from such TV shows as The Crown, The Big Bang Theory or Friends, among others:

The Crown

The Big Bang Theory

Not only will I drive you there

Nowhere is it specified that…

Under no circumstance will you give her that engagement ring.


State of the Union

Never again do I want to meet anyone who’s trekked through the Andes on her own:

I wouldn’t have, had I known that complaining about the wet paper…


Criminal: UK

Were I to have killed anyone (If I had killed anyone…) [This man is being accused of killing his stepdaughter, but he is blaming someone else instead- If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have been my daughter, but that man]

  • You can also find plenty of examples in the news:

Not only have I lost a friend, but we have all lost an extraordinary creative mind. 

Only when the capsule has survived that (…) will people talk about success. 

Only then will they be able to agree to an extension. 

Never before has the Security State of Army, Police, intelligence and militias been forced to concede to the will of the people. 

Scientists (…) were prepared to cool the brains, should they show (=in case they showed) any signs of consciousness. Had they done, it would have been hugely significant. (=If they had done, …)

Rarely (in one night) can both main parties have suffered such a grim set of results. [Both the Conservatives and Labour have just lost a significant amount of votes in the recent local elections, in all likelihood as a consequence of the Brexit deadlock].

(On Theresa May standing down as Prime Minister) Perhaps, had she sought compromise much, much earlier (=if she had sought/ looked for compromise…), then Mrs May’s time in Downing Street need not have ended in such disarray and failure. 


Mary P. says she was forced into poverty when she became a full-time carer for her 30 year old son. She used to work to help people with autism before her son was diagnosed with the condition.

Nobody is going to employ me because at a moment’s notice I would have to go and deal with Adriano. And besides which, I’m exhausted. Had I been able to work to my qualifications, I would have been doing very well, thank you. I have more than enough qualifications to head a school, to be a headteacher in special education. But I will never be able to use my skills, I have to give them for free.

(Published 10.02.2019, updated 21.03.2020)

Cleft sentences to emphasise part of the sentence

Sometimes, you need to give special emphasis to a specific part of the sentence, either because you want to make a contrast, or because it is new information you want to highlight. The so-called cleft and pseudo-cleft sentences, or it cleft and wh-cleft sentences can help you achieve those ends.

Watch this video to see some examples of how to use them and to what effect:

sentential relative clauses- referring to the whole of the previous sentence

Some relative clauses refer to a whole clause, a whole sentence, or a longer stretch of language. We always use which to introduce these clauses.

They stayed for the weekend, (and) it was great. – It is grammatically correct, accurate…but something like this would sound better, especially in writing: 

They stayed for the weekend, which was great.

Something similar would happen with these sentences:

Some users do not think twice about the comments they post on social media, and this may have dreadful consequences.

Some users do not think twice about the comments they post on social media, which may have dreadful consequences.

Interactions between people who are near to each other are reduced and it could be dangerous for true relationships.

Interactions between people who are near to each other are reduced, which could be dangerous for true relationships.

Watch this video for further explanation: