Easy English Grammar

Inverted Conditionals: Have You Mastered This Advanced English Trick?

Inverted Conditionals - Have You Mastered This Advanced English Trick

Let’s take a look at inverted conditionals in English. For more advanced English, check out Are You Making These 4 Advanced English Mistakes?

In this post, you’re going to learn how to use inversion in first, second and third conditionals in English.

Ready? Let’s go!

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1. Inverted Conditionals – First Conditional (“Should”)

Let’s take a simple first conditional sentence:

If he remembers his own name, we’ll be able to help him.

To invert this:

  1. Replace “if” with “should.”
  2. Replace the verb with the bare infinitive. (e.g. “goes” →” go,” “has” → “have,” am/is/are → “be”)

Inverted Conditionals - First Conditional Example Sentence

Should he remember his own name, we’ll be able to help him.

Easy, right?

2. Inverted Conditionals – Second Conditional (“Were”)

OK. This one is fun but also a little more complex.

There are actually two uses of the inverted second conditional:

  1. With verbs, to describe an unlikely future
  2. With “be,” to describe an unreal present state

Let’s look at them one by one.

Inverted Second Conditional for Unlikely Future Events

We can use the second conditional to talk about something in the future that probably isn’t going to happen.

You know, like how everyone said that Brexit wouldn’t happen. Or that Trump wouldn’t get elected President.

Of course, these things happened — but they seemed very unlikely to happen at the time.

That’s when we could’ve used this tense.

Here’s an example:

If he pushed the button, we’d all have problems.

To invert this:

  1. Replace “if” with “were.”
  2. Change the verb to the infinitive form (with “to”).

Inverted Conditionals - Second Conditional Example Sentence

Were he to push the button, we’d all have problems.

So back at the beginning of 2016, we could’ve said things like:

Were Brexit to happen, I’d be surprised.

or…

Were Trump to get elected, we’d all be surprised. Very surprised.

It was a very surprising year.

Inverted Second Conditional for Unreal Present States

The last examples (Trump getting elected and Brexit happening) were solid events, with “proper” verbs.

But we can also use this inversion with the verb “be.”

Example? OK — here we go:

If I was ridiculously rich, I think I’d still work.

To invert this:

  1. Remove “if.”
  2. Invert subject and verb. (“I was” → “was I”)
  3. If necessary, change “was” to “were.”

Were I ridiculously rich, I think I’d still work.

Want more examples and practice? Check out the quiz at the end of the post.

3. Inverted Conditionals – Third Conditional (“Had”)

Onward! To the example!

If we’d arrived sooner, we wouldn’t have missed the beginning.

To invert this:

  1. Delete “if.”
  2. Invert the subject and the auxiliary. (“we had” → “had we”)

Inverted Conditionals - Third Conditional Example Sentence

Had we arrived sooner, we wouldn’t have missed the beginning.

So we’ve covered how to invert first, second and third conditional sentences.

You might want to ask, “Can we invert mixed conditionals?”

The answer?

We’ll never know!

Just kidding. “Yes.” The answer is “yes.”

4. Inverted Conditionals – Mixed Conditionals

If you want to use a mixed conditional sentence AND invert it (you maniac!), the process is really quite easy.

Here’s how to do it with this mixed conditional sentence:

If the driver were faster, we would’ve arrived ages ago.

Look at the first part of your mixed conditional:

If the driver were faster, …

Invert it:

Were the driver faster, …

And that’s it — the second part doesn’t change.

It makes no difference whether you want to mix the second conditional with the third:

If the driver were faster, we would’ve arrived ages ago.

Were the driver faster, we would’ve arrived ages ago.

Or the third with the second:

If we’d got just one more signature, we’d be on target now.

Had we got just one more signature, we’d be on target now.

5. Inverted Conditionals – Negative

Finally, let’s take a look at negative inverted conditionals.

There’s one simple rule here:

Add “not” after the subject.

First conditional:

Should Batman come, we’ll escape!

Should Batman not come, we’re in big trouble. But don’t worry, he always comes.

Second conditional:

Were Tom a smart person, he’d invest all his money in Cobra Industries.

Were Anna not a smart person, she’d give all her money to Shady Nick.

Third conditional:

Had they told us about the dolphin, we wouldn’t have come.

Had Anna not voted, the dolphin would have won.


Fun, right?

But it’s good to get a bit more practice in, so why not try out this quick quiz?

Drag and drop the words into the correct spaces.

Inverted Conditionals Quiz


How did you go?

Be sure to check out Are You Making These 4 Advanced English Mistakes? while you’re here.


Did you find this useful? If so, then BE AWESOME AND SHARE! Let’s spread the knowledge and make the world a smarter place!

29 thoughts on “Inverted Conditionals: Have You Mastered This Advanced English Trick?

  1. Thank you so much Clark for this post. There aren´t so many opportunities to practice this point. It is very useful indeed!!!

  2. Thank you so much for your useful articles.

    Had I not known about this source I would have missed so much. You gave me better understanding of this complicated subject Mixed Conditional. Moreover you wrote such a great article about something I’ve never used in my speaking before. Inverted Conditionals. I’m glad to get smarter with you.
    I’m sure,
    Should I have any questions about grammar, I’ll always find a good explanation on your website.
    Your works are worth exploring and sharing. Thanks a lot.

    1. Wow — thanks Irina!

      I really appreciate the positive feedback, but of all, I’m glad that it helped you get smarter! Good work and keep it up.

      And remember — should you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. 🙂

  3. So, in a less… how should I put it — formal style, it may be: “If you should go skating; On the thin ice of modern life… Don’t be surprised when…” (Pink Floyd, 1979), right?
    And what’s the difference in meaning when ‘would’ after ‘if’?
    Amy to Raj: “If you’d let me pierce your brain with a hot needle in the right place, you’d be happy all the time.”

    1. Absolutely — the old “should” as a subjunctive. Very formal these days.

      Good question about the “would” after “if.” I think it’s the hypothetical version of “will,” but not “will” in its usual sense. But “will” as in “having the will” to do something. It can also be used to describe habits.

      It’s like when we say something like “Hey — you’re dog’s eating cornflakes!” — “Yeah, he’ll do that.”

  4. Thanks Gabriel for this post with great and very graphic explanations, examples, exercise and funny video 🙂 The actress doesn’t understand the inversion structure and that is why she misunderstands the manager. I will share this with my students.

    1. Thanks very much Ana.

      And congrats! You’re the first person to respond to the not-so-intelligent actress clip.

      I hope your students enjoy it, too! I’d love to hear how it goes in with them.

      1. It seems to me that this blog has been changed. The whole point of the previous version was that sentences with inversion sound (more) formal than those with the conventional if-construction. And the text had something like “Imagine you were invited to the ambassador’s party… how to fit… ” etc. Hence my comment above (JANUARY 31, 2018 AT 2:21 PM).

        1. Ah yes, of course!

          Well, welcome to the secret world of blogging!

          Basically a few weeks after we publish the post, we start to “slim down” any posts that are doing well on search traffic, since most of the people arriving at the post shift from those looking for a “good read,” to those who are after “quick answers.”

          Does that make sense.

          Strange world sometimes, no? 🙂

  5. Thanks very much for your excellent explanation..
    I have a question about negative form for the second conditional wit (to verb)…
    I didn’t find the relative example…
    please help me 🙇‍♀️

    1. Hi Shne,

      I’m not sure I completely understand your question.

      Are you asking about an example with a negative 2nd conditional?

      I can give you that: “If you didn’t know he was a Mexican wrestler, would you believe he was?”

      If I misunderstood your question, let me know and can you give me an example of what you mean?

      Cheers!

  6. Great work Gabriel. These Conditional sentences had tricked me for long. It is because of you the confusion finally disappeared.

  7. I don’t often comment but I found that post really interesting !
    I first heard about this Inverted Conditionals when I listened to the trailer of Impossible Mission “Your mission, should you choose to accept it”, and I truly found this way of saying things much more formal or fancy than just a “if”. Is that thought shared with English natives ?
    If yes, as a French I am looking for other “sentence structures” to sound like formal (in the nice way) so in case you have other articles or readings, please share it anytime 🙂

    1. Hi Luc.

      Of course! Mission Impossible! I’d completely forgotten about that example.

      I tend to write about informal, everyday English (as there’s a lot out there on formal, fancy English), so the closest I’ve got for other more formal stuff is this one on phrasal verbs:
      https://www.clarkandmiller.com/25-phrasal-verbs-and-when-not-to-use-them/

      However, I like the idea of doing another post with some “fancy” structures. So will definitely keep it in mind.

      Thanks!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this. It does help me. I laughed so hard when you were kidding about the possibility of converting mixed conditional LOL

  9. Hello! Thank you for great explanation!
    Could you, please, give examples alongside with rules for the case when main clause in Conditional Sentences is inverted? (I mean that part without IF)
    Thank you in advance and have a nice day!

    1. Hi!

      That’s an interesting question. Here’s my answer.

      Basically, the main clause in conditional sentences can be inverted in any way a normal sentence can be inverted as there isn’t much real difference between a main clause and a simple sentence (a sentence that consists of just one clause).

      For example let’s take the sentence: “If I’d known he was here, I wouldn’t have said that.”

      The “if” clause, as we’ve seen in this post can be in post, can be “Had I known, …”

      Now the main cause? That’s just a normal sentence, right? “I wouldn’t have said that.” works just by itself.

      So you CAN invert it. But not because it’s part of an “if” sentence, but just because you can invert sentences anyway.

      The classic way of inversion is taking the “subject” “verb” “object” form and putting the object at the beginning.

      So “I wouldn’t have said that” becomes “That, I wouldn’t have said.”

      Sounds strange, right? Well — that’s what inversions do. They make us sound like Yoda.

  10. Hi dear Sir,

    In advance, thanks so much for your extremely helpful article, i could find answers of my questions efficiently.

    I will be so grateful should you answer my question, i wanted to practice inverted conditionals for following sentence, i believe it is second conditional, but i don’t find the inverted sentence right, would you please check whether i have done right job?

    They would stay in their hometown forever if they were able to change some annoying features.
    they would stay in their hometown forever were they to able to change some annoying features.

    Thanks so much.
    B.Regards
    Fatima

    1. Hi Fatma,

      Good question!

      You’ve almost got it perfect. The inversion is correct, but there’s a small mistake. Instead of “were they to able to change…” it should read “were they able to change.”

      See the difference? You’ve added an extra “to.” An easy mistake to make and good work — you got the difficult bit! 🙂

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