Inversion and conditionals

Inversion and conditionals

Do you know how to use inversion in conditional sentences? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how we can create conditionals with inversion.

Should you have any questions, I will be happy to help.
Were they to sell their house today, they would make a huge profit on it.
I would've taken you out for lunch had I known you were in town.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar C1: Inversion and conditionals: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

We use conditionals to describe the result of a condition. Often, we use if to introduce the condition (e.g. If you feel hot, …) and the main clause to give the result (... feel free to switch on the aircon).

Conditional sentences can also be created without if, using inversion. Inversion means reversing (inverting) the normal subject–verb word order in a sentence. This makes the sentence more formal.

Three types of conditionals can be formed using inversion: first, second and third conditionals.

First conditional

We use the first conditional to talk about future situations we believe are possible.

Marker pens are in the cupboard if you ever need one.
If a customer wishes to cancel their booking, they should notify us within seven days.

To invert first conditional sentences, we replace if with the auxiliary verb should and change the verb into the infinitive. This makes the situation seem a little less likely. It is often used to make a polite request or offer.

Marker pens are in the cupboard should you ever need one.
Should a customer wish to cancel their booking, they should notify us within seven days.

Second conditional

We use the second conditional to talk about situations that we consider unlikely or impossible in reality. 

How would the environment be affected if everyone reduced their meat consumption?
If the Sun disappeared, Earth would no longer be able to support life.

To invert second conditional sentences, we replace if with were and change the verb form to to + infinitive.

How would the environment be affected were everyone to reduce their meat consumption?
Were the Sun to disappear, Earth would no longer be able to support life.

Note that if a second conditional sentence uses the verb be, we don't need the infinitive for the inverted version. We just replace the existing form of be with were, and invert the subject and verb.

If California were a country, it would be one of the world's largest economies.
Were California a country, it would be one of the world's largest economies.

Third conditional

The third conditional is used to imagine a change in a past situation and how things would have been different in the past as a result.

If we had lost that match, it would've been a disaster.
We would have fixed that problem by now if we'd known about it earlier.

To invert third conditional sentences, we remove if and invert the subject and the auxiliary verb had

Had we lost that match, it would've been a disaster.
We would have fixed that problem by now had we known about it earlier.

Negative inverted conditionals

To make negative inverted conditionals, we put not after the subject.

Should you not consent to sharing this information, you may inform our company at any time. (= If you don't consent …)
Were I not good at maths, I'd find this homework very challenging. (= If I wasn't good at maths …)
Had I not been busy this morning, I would have attended the meeting. (= If I hadn't been busy …)

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Grammar C1: Inversion and conditionals: 2

Language level

Average: 4.6 (54 votes)

Submitted by Yasmi97 on Thu, 18/01/2024 - 09:22

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Hello, can you help me please? Is it feasible to use provided/ providing that in the second and third conditionals? Thank you

Submitted by jarettnguyenuwu on Sun, 30/07/2023 - 11:43

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Hi! May I ask why question 7 isn't
What would Leonardo da Vinci think about modern technology were he to be alive right now? Why is it only were he?

Hi jarettnguyenuwu,

If a second conditional sentence uses "be" as the main verb in the "if" clause, to make the inversion we can just add "were" + subject, and we don't need to add the infinitive "to be" after that.

It is still possible to add the infinitive, and "were he to be alive" is grammatically correct. But the instructions for this question state "Use two or three words in each gap". :)

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by lukenguyen on Fri, 09/06/2023 - 15:09

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Hello. Could you help me with this?
What is the inversion form of the conditional type 2 in passive voice?
Which of the following is correct:
1. Were he told the truth, he would act differently.
2. Were he to be told the truth, he would act differently.

Hello lukenguyen,

As far as I know, both of those are correct. I think most teachers and grammars would recommend 2 over 1, but as far as I know, 1 is not wrong.

Great question!

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team