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When normal formal just isn’t enough to communicate your anger by email, you can really turn the screw by twisting the order of your sentences…

In my last blog, https://secondlanguage.net/2021/06/01/cold-hard-grammar/ I set out my main formal English tools for email attacks on recalcitrant business types. But if your style is now clipped to a frosty minimum, you’ve packed it with pugnacious passives and you’re still not satisfied, I do have one more trick. When the gloves are off, it’s time to start playing with the word order in your sentences to REALLY accentuate the negative.

Start with the Familiar

Inversion for emphasis normally occurs after negative-sounding phrases like not only or never. A basic example can be seen in short answer phrases starting with neither or nor. When you say “Neither can I”, you’re inverting the position of the subject (“I”) and the auxiliary verb can, just like in a question (Can I help you?).  

Build the Phrase

If you’re reasonably confident giving short answers like these with the most important auxiliaries, you can continue the phrase by adding more words after the subject. It’s a small step from “Neither will I” in a friendly chat to “Neither will I accept any further excuses or delays” or “Neither can I accept this ridiculous alternative” in an email with evil intent.

Extend the Technique

Practice for a bit with neither (or nor) until you get used to the strangeness of writing a negative sentence as if it was a question. Then you can start using different negative phrases apart from neither to introduce the structure. Favourites include “Never… (have I known such incompetence)”, “Under no circumstances… (will we accept…)”, or “At no time… (did we agree…)”. You can find a list of them in most higher-level textbooks or by searching online for “negative adverbials + inversion”. Best of all, when you’re less grumpy, it works equally well for sales presentations and other positive scenarios. Never will your customers find better than you, right?

Of course, you can say that in a presentation, but in no way do I recommend using so many words to say so little in the text that you show on your slides. My next blog will give some guidelines for the most minimalistic type of written English of all, the hyper-condensed style of bullet points to back up public speaking.

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