I have a nuclear family of five. In fact, I have two sisters and unfortunately no brothers. If I had at least one brother, the life would be more enjoyable.

Can I make an inversion in the bold part? Or I can do this only if I have 'were' in my conditional sentences?

For example:

Were I you, I would forgive him. (If I were you, I would forgive him.)

  • 1
    To say: Had I one brother..... sounds very theatrical. You might hear people saying: had I time or had I opportunity but this is to make a point. It's not everyday speech. By the way my life or life would be more enjoyable, not the life. Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 11:32
  • A minor correction: it should be "life would be more enjoyable", with no the, because we're talking about a general phenomenon.
    – stangdon
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 13:40

1 Answer 1


In present-day English, inverting the subject with should, were and had to express the sense of an if clause is still technically 'grammatical':

Should you find my book (= If you should find my book), please send it to me.
Were he running (= If he were running) he might win.
Had she gone (= If she had gone) to the interview she would have been hired.

Had and were may be inverted even when they are not used as auxiliaries:

Were he here (= If he were here), he could show us how to do it.
Had I a brother (= If I had a brother), life would be more enjoyable.

In practice, however, this construction is only found in very formal texts, or in the speech of people trying to sound formal; and even there it has a quaint, old-fashioned ring.

This is "school English": you need to be able to recognize its use in older texts, but there is no reason for you to use it in your own writing or speech.

  • I almost understand nothing about your answer. It was not clear to me as I am an intermediate leaner.In the end, I don't know if we could use inversion in my question or not. Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 12:00
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    @MickeyMouse I've rewritten -- is it clear now? It's grammatical, but very old-fashioned. Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 12:35
  • @MickeyMouse , StoneyB suggests that you can but you rarely should. "Had I at least one brother, life would be ..." is grammatical but usually formal.
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 14:34
  • @StoneyB : Thanks for great explanation. I fully understand it. My English teacher told:" if we use this kind of structure in our essay, we will score high in IELTS exam." So, we only use 'had','were' and 'should'. If we have any other verb in our conditional sentences, we are not allowed to use 'inversion in conditional sentences". Am i right? For example, "If I lived in United Satetes, I woudn't need to get IELTS certification." Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 20:42
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    @MickeyMouse That's right. "Lived I in the US" was OK two or three hundred years ago, but not today! Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 1:49

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