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!
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:
- Replace “if” with “should.”
- Replace the verb with the bare infinitive. (e.g. “goes” →” go,” “has” → “have,” am/is/are → “be”)
Should he remember his own name, we’ll be able to help him.
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:
- With verbs, to describe an unlikely future
- 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:
- Replace “if” with “were.”
- Change the verb to the infinitive form (with “to”).
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.
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:
- Remove “if.”
- Invert subject and verb. (“I was” → “was I”)
- 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:
- Delete “if.”
- Invert the subject and the auxiliary. (“we had” → “had we”)
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?”
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, …
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.
Should Batman come, we’ll escape!
Should Batman not come, we’re in big trouble. But don’t worry, he always comes.
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.
Had they told us about the dolphin, we wouldn’t have come.
Had Anna not voted, the dolphin would have won.
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!
Thank you so much Clark for this post. There aren´t so many opportunities to practice this point. It is very useful indeed!!!
Thanks for the positive feedback Gabriela. I’m glad you found it useful.
If there’s any other issue you’re having trouble with, let me know, yeah? 😀
Thank you very much! You’ve just turned this caterpillar into the butterfly!??
If Ihad money, I would buy a new car.
Can we say: Had I money, I would buy a new car.
This means we can replace if with had when had is the main verb. Or we should say:Were I to have money, I would buy a new car…
Please tell me and the reference if possible…Thanks a bunch.
The confusing part here is the “had” for the past perfect “I had eaten …” for example and “had” as a verb.
In your example “If I had money, …” it’s a verb.
So you need to go for the second inversion: “Were I to have money …”
Hope that helps! 🙂
hi! Can we say Did I have money, I would buy a car instead?
I’m afraid we can’t say “Did I have …”
Remember that if we’re inverting the second conditional “If I had money, …” the trick is to use “Were I …” so we’d say “Were I to have money, …”
If you’re inverting the third conditional “If I’d had money, …” then we just invert the first two words: “Had I had money, …”
Though, because this all sounds rather strange, we tend not to invert the third conditional when the verb is “have.” I mean “Had I had …” just sounds ridiculous, right? 🙂
Hope that helps!
Had I had money, I would buy that car.
Had I had breakfast, I would not collapse.
I would probably say “If I had money” or, to invert, “Were I to have money.” That’s because “Had I had money” is the inversion of “If I had had money,” which is referring to something in the past. That means the “I would buy that car” doesn’t fit, as this is a general state.
So, I’d go for either “Were I to have money, I’d buy that car.” or “Had I had money, I would’ve bought that car.”
A similar problem with the second sentence. You need to ask yourself the question: “Am I speaking generally or am I being specific?”
The “Had I had breakfast” implies something specific, but the “I would not collapse” feels more general (or at least something that’s about to happen, not something that happened in the past).
So, again, I’d either say, “Had I had breakfast, I wouldn’t have collapsed.” or “Were I to have breakfast, I wouldn’t collapse.”
Hope that makes sense and great work!
What a great material. It is very handy, especially for people like me who aren’t English native speakers.
I have never seen such a great explanation. Thank you so much <3
Thank you so much im very excited to have fun this activity
It is REALLY useful.great job:)))))))))))
Thanks. Iam very glad with you
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.
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.
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. 🙂
he had a good grammar
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Hello, I have trouble with inverting 2. conditional with the use of Past Continous instead of Past Simple. This is my sentence:
“Harry would say Malfoy is kind of a ferret if he was describing his colleague.”
Should it be:
“Harry would say Malfoy is kind of a ferret was he describing his colleague.”
“Harry would say Malfoy is kind of a ferret was he to describe his colleague.”?
Your help would be truly appreciated.
Wow! That’s a tricky one! I guess that’s because the conditional is embedded in a reported speech structure.
Your answer is pretty good. “Were he” instead of “was he” feels a little better, but I think I’d also change the structure in order to make it flow better.
Here’s how I would do it:
“Were he to describe his colleague, Harry would say Malfoy was a kind of ferret.”
Hope that helps!
Thanks! Great explication! Had I not find your website I would have failed my exam!
That’s exactly what teachers live for! Congrats!
No ambassador thing and no video… huh?
What’s the ambassador thing?
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).
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? 🙂
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 ?♀️
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?
Great work Gabriel. These Conditional sentences had tricked me for long. It is because of you the confusion finally disappeared.
That’s so wonderful to hear and is exactly the sort of result I try to achieve with my posts. Keep up the good work!
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 🙂
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:
However, I like the idea of doing another post with some “fancy” structures. So will definitely keep it in mind.
I really appreciate it. That’s a complete,clear explanation for learners. GOOD JOB!?
I’m glad you like it and keep up the good work 🙂
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
Haha! Thanks Ima!
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!
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.
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.
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! 🙂
Thanks so much for you answer.
Regarding the First Conditional, did i write following sentence in the right way?
“One is able to be far more creative should he be interested in what he does rather than just working for making a living”
I’m just not sure about changing does to do, should i?
But the answer is “no.” You shouldn’t change it to “does.”
And yeah — sentence is perfect! 🙂
Very useful, thank you!!
Excellent!!!! Very useful and practical exercise sentences! Those helped me more for being sure in my grammar sentences.
That’s great news! Keep up the good work!
thank you!!! this lesson helped me a lot!!
greetings from mexico
That’s great to hear!
Keep up the good work, Ivan! 🙂
My pleasure! 🙂
It was really useful for me. Great job!
many thanks are due to you for your helps and useful education……..love from IRAN
Great piece, thank you so much for making my life easier.
But I noticed a couple of errorsif I could just them out:
If he pushed the button, we’d all have problems. – If he HAD pushed the button…
If I was ridiculously rich, I think I’d still work. – If I WERE ridiculously …
Thanks for the comment and the positive feedback.
I’ve had a look back at the post to check out your suggestions, but everything seems to be in order.
The “If he pushed the button …” sentence is supposed to be in the second conditional. It’s a hypothetical “no-time” scenario.
As for using the conjunctive for the second conditional, that’s not strictly necessary. I had a quick look at a corpus and found that “If I was …” actually outperforms “If I were …” with just over 11,000 entries and just over 9,000 entries respectively.
Great to hear your feedback, though. Thanks!
Great Instruction, Awsome examples
It was amazing , I considered this structure as a nightmare but according to your fascinating introduction I’ve learned it completely
thanks a lot
Great work Mohammed!
Yeah — it’s simple if you just look at it the right way, right?
were + subject + not + infinitive… Is it correct for inverted?
Sure! It is!
This is another kind of inversion and basically means “If he wasn’t going to…”
— “Were he to go to work, he’d be able to stay and help.”
It’s worth pointing out that this is a pretty old fashioned and has steadily fallen in use over the years.
Thanks for commenting, Diego! 🙂
It’s very helpful! Thank yu very much!! ✌
Great article. Extremely useful. Thank you so much.
Great post. Extremely useful. Thank you so much.
Great article. Very good examples.
I got a question on Inverted Second Conditional for Unreal Present States, though.
Were kids playing outside now, they would be soaking wet. (they are playing indoors at the moment).
I could only find examples with “were I smth, then smth” and not a single with “Were I -ing smth, then smth”
Good question, and the answer is “yes — it’s totally fine.”
You can use it with a verb:
“Were he working here, he’d go mad.”
“Were they here, they’d be absolutely shocked!”
Great post. Thank you!
Superb article, thanks for brilliant explanation!
Hi dears i ve a question
Can we use inversion condition in this structure: would have been happy to advise you if you had asked me.
Well, in spoken informal English, this sentence is fine. (Informal, because you’ve dropped the subject in the first clause).
However, I wouldn’t call it an inversion. The inverted form would’ve been:
“(I) would’ve been happy to advise you had you asked me.”
Thanks for the comment!
Thank you so million teacher?
Teacher sorry for bothering you again that i ve a new problem with grammar.
In english, there is a rule like that IT IS HIGH TIME SB DID(it is high time you went)
Yet , at the moment i am thinking about one changing releted to comma
IT IS HIGH TIME, WE HAVE TO GO
Can we use this pattern ?
I mean if we use comma, putting between them, what kind of tense should we use? Past or present?
Wow — what a specific question!
I’d probably either go for the full phrase (so then it should use the past): “It’s high time we went.” or a full stop or ellipsis to separate the phrases: “It’s high time. We have to go.” or “It’s high time … we have to go.”
Remember that this stuff isn’t an exact science — it’s more of a craft. Punctuation, most of the time, is there to help you create the pacing you want to express.
Having said that, if you’re writing for something specific like an exam, a magazine or a paper for uni, then you’d simply have to consult their style guide. They’re all a little different and have slightly different rules, especially when it comes to the tricky nature of punctuation.
Hi, Gabriel. I write for a regional daily newspaper, and I’d just like to make sure I’ve mastered this aspect of grammar to your satisfaction before I commit myself to print. Is it legitimate to invert a conditional that begins with “Even if”? Is it grammatically correct to say, “Even were the season completed, the idea of scrapping relegation would still be conceivable”?
Yes! It’s a good sentence. Nice work!
Thank you for this short lesson. I was not aware of this structure until I was working on a presentation. Thank once again
This lesson is so great. Now it´s clear to me
Very useful indeed! I’ll use it with my students! Thank you very much for posting this subject!
This was incredibly helpful!! Thank you very much from Portugal!
what is the inversion for “If I had a car,I would drop you”.can you please explain that!
Surely you can manage that after reading the blog post?
Remember the rules:
Replace “if” with “were.”
Change the verb to the infinitive form (with “to”).
(Oh, and the phrasal verb is “drop off”) 🙂
Hope that helps 🙂
Thank you for sharing this!
And thank you for this helpful article.
I’ve got a question regarding inverting conditional sentences which are passive.
If I weren’t told so, I wouldn’t wait here.
If the house weren’t so expensive, they would buy it.
Basically, the short answer is, “yes — you can use passives in conditional sentences.”
In fact, your sentences are excellent examples.
Nice one! 🙂
I usually don’t give a hoot about putting a comment under somebody’s post,but i decided to do it for you since it was one of the most comprehensive and simple explanations of a Grammar rule,tnx a lot
… and I’m glad you did, Milad! Thanks! 😀
It was fantastic
Thanks a lot
but I have a question
Can I say: “Were I not to live here…”
instead of “If I didn’t live here…”
Yes! You can: “Were I not to live here…” is perfectly acceptable, though be careful: It sounds very formal. 🙂
Isn’t this sentence “Should Batman not come, we’re in big trouble. But don’t worry, he always comes.” Zero Conditional?
Yes – this totally works! The first half of the first conditional is also the same as the first part of zero.
I hadn’t thought of this before. Thanks! 🙂
Hello, Great lesson, well exlained.
I also have a question. In a sentence: If we weren’t so clever, we wouldn’t have got the contract. – Shouldn’t there be “gotten” instead of got (get – got – gotten)?
And in answer to your question, then I’d say, “If you’re American!” Generally speaking the past particle of “get” is “got” in the UK (get-got-got) and “gotten” in the US (get-got-gotten).
Glad the lesson helped! 🙂
Thank you so much, you made these conditionals so much easier to understand.
But can you show me how I could invert this sentence? Thank you so much in advance.
“If I were you, I would have done the work”
“Were I you, I would’ve done the work.”
Sounds weird, though, doesn’t it?
That’s because when we invert the 2nd conditional and the verb is already “be” we just invert it like a question. But it feels kind of … insubstantial, and as a result, it’s not used very often.
Hope that helps! 🙂
Ahh… Thank you…
Without a doubt, the easiest and best way to understand inverted conditionals.
So glad it helped you out! Thanks for the positive feedback, Milad. 🙂
Should I want to say that which site is the best to learn inverted conditionals and some other complicated grammar, I’ll definitely choose yours:)
Awww… Thanks! 🙂
This website is like a shortcut to understanding complex grammar real quick, especially for me 🙂 I would like to ask you if you can invert this.
“If I’d known you were coming, I’d have made more food.”
But please don’t use should, were, or had. Thanks in advanced
Thanks for the positive comment!
However, asking me to invert a third conditional without using “had” is like asking me to make hummus without using chickpeas. It can’t be done!
I would like to know if this inversion is possible:
-If you could travel back in time, which time in history would you want to visit?
– Could you travel back in time, which time….?
Not quite, but you’re on the right track.
Remember – to invert the second conditional, you start with “Were” then subject then the infinitive.
The tricky part here is that “can” is a modal verb and doesn’t have an infinitive form. So that’s when we jump to “be able to” instead:
can –> be able to
Now we can do what we want with it! “to be able to,” “being able to,” “have been able to,”…
So, now you know that, can you try your sentence again? 🙂
This is such a amazing post, i’m sure it required so much time to be on point so i really appreciate it. Thank you!
Thanks for making this. It’s incredibly well done and so helpful! However I would prefer an exercise without the words on the side, because that would be more challenging for advanced students.
Brief, clear and helpful indeed
Hi. Thank you for your explanation. But I have a question. Can I say “Were I to be rich I woukd buy a big house in New York”. Is it true? Thank you in advance.
Yes! The answer is “Yes!” 🙂
I was wring this sentence and it felt weird, is it some kind of inversion or conditional?
“It just gets annoying and wears you down way quicker than it would had it been possible to just hold down the fire button for a continuous burst of shots.”
Is it correct?
Yes! It’s totally correct. In fact, I kind of love the way it sounds. Great work!
Really easy and straightforward explanation. I managed to get full score each time.
Keep it up!
Hi all. I am an ESL student. I would highlight this particular case about the first conditional (Regardless the Inversion). I suppose it’s the first conditional, but I’m not really sure of it. Let me give you an example.
Ex: Should you need any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me, or please refer to me, etc…My question is about the second clause of the sentence. I would expect future rather than present form. Or is it an imperative form? Thanks in advance
Great question Roberto,
Yes, it’s an imperative. It’s totally fine to use an imperative with the first conditional:
– If he leaves early, break into his office and steal the key!
– Let me know if you hear from him, yeah?
Keep up the good work! 🙂
The most useful and clear explanation I´ve found. Thank you very much