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Conditionals - Inversion in condition clauses

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Inversion in condition clauses

Certain condition clauses (if-clauses) can be cast without any conjunction such as if or unless, instead using subject–auxiliary inversion to indicate their meaning.

The principal constructions are as follows:

  • In the first conditional (where the condition clause expresses a possible future condition), inversion can be applied to the form of the condition clause constructed using should:
    • If you feel hungry, ... (usual condition clause; present tense with future meaning)
    • If you should feel hungry, ... (should form of the condition clause)
    • Should you feel hungry, ... (inverted form)
  • In the second conditional (where the condition clause expresses a counterfactual present/future condition; this may also occur in the mixed conditional), inversion is possible in the case where the verb is were – the past subjunctive:
    • If she were here, ... (usual condition clause)
    • Were she here, ...(inverted form)
  • As a special case of the above, when a condition clause based on a different verb (normally with hypothetical future reference) is formulated using the were to construction, inversion is again possible (provided were and not was is used):
    • If you shot, ... (usual condition clause; past tense)
    • If you were to shoot, ... (were to construction)
    • Were you to shoot, ... (inverted form)
  • In the third conditional (where the condition clause expresses a counterfactual past condition; this may also occur in the mixed conditional), the condition clause formed with the auxiliary had can be inverted:
    • If he had written, ... (usual condition clause; past perfect)
    • Had he written, ... (inverted form)

Inversion is also possible when the present subjunctive be is used (e.g. "Be he called on by God..." for "If he be called on by God..."), but this is archaic usage for condition clauses; it is still occasionally found in dependent clauses expressing "no matter whether ...", e.g. "Be they friend or foe ..." (equivalent to "Whether they be friend or foe ...").

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