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In equity, however, in proceedings seeking a general adjustment of the co-owners' rights in the property when the co-ownership comes to an end, a co-owner may be given credit for improvements and lasting repairs he or she has made to the property, if the other co-owners would benefit unfairly were no credit to be given.

Two questions:

  1. Why is there a comma before if?

  2. I guessing that "were no credit to be given" is same as "if no credit is given", but I am unfamiliar with this usage of the word "were". Can someone enlighten me as to what the relevant grammar rule is?

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    Would you please provide your source? – user33000 Aug 30 '16 at 16:12
  • This were looks like a use of the subjunctive. See if this previous post helps you. – stangdon Aug 30 '16 at 17:03
  • It's an extract from a book called Land Law by Peter Butt. – Lee Aug 31 '16 at 3:16
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The comma before the "if" is syntactically not necessary, but it helps break out a long sentence in a logical place.

"were no credit to be given" is equivalent to "if there was no credit to be given" but in the subjunctive mood, so "was" is changed to "were". Subjunctive is used to describe a counter-factual hypothesis - in this case, there was credit to be given.

The omission of the second "if" is due to the fact that the sentence is already conditional by the "if" you emphasized. Having two "if"s is bad writing style (though it may be acceptable in speech).

By the way, based on your second question I think the original text may actually be incorrect; "were not credit to be given" is equivalent to "if there was no credit to be given", which doesn't fit well in the sentence. A logically correct phrasing (still using subjunctive mood) would be

(...) a co-owner may be given credit for improvements and lasting repairs he or she has made to the property, if the other co-owners would benefit unfairly had no credit been given.

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