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I would like to know whether the sentence "Were he able to go, he would have gone" is correct in English.

Or shall I always say " If he were able to go, he would have done so"?

I was writing about Charles and Camilla , that's why I posted the question. What I wanted to write, was: "Were Charles able to marry whomever he wanted, he would have chosen her" ( = "If Charles had been able to marry whomever he wanted, he would have chosen Camilla") .

In that sense, I intended the sentence to describe smt that did not happen in the past, that is why I used the modal.

I gave the context to ask: do you think modal+have (i.e."he would have chosen Camilla") is incorrect?

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  • The original is fine. The rephrased version would be better as the following: If he had been able to go, he would have done so. But, between those two, it's personal choice. Neither is more or less correct. Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 2:08
  • Perhaps "Had he been able to go, he would have (add "done so" or "gone" if you want to be super explicit about what he would have done)".
    – E.Aigle
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 7:19

2 Answers 2

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There’s no grammatical error in that sentence, if you mean that, if he were able to go now, he would have gone back then. If you mean that he would have done something in the past if he could have at the time, you would say one of the following:

  • Had be been able to go, he would have.
  • Had he been able to, he would have gone.
  • Had he been able, he would have gone.
  • If he could have gone, he would have.
  • If he could have, he would have gone.
  • If he had been able to go, he would have.
  • If he had been able to, he would have gone.
  • If he had been able, he would have gone.

You can also reverse the order of the clauses, for example

  • He would have gone if he could have.
  • He would have gone if he had been able [to].
  • He would have gone, had he been able [to].

Had he been able to” is the past subjunctive, which is becoming old-fashioned but still is used for imaginary, counterfactual or hypothetical situations. “Were he able to” is the present subjunctive. You can tell that this is the subjunctive mood because were is being used with a singular subject.

In more casual speech, “He would have gone if he were able to,” or “He would have gone if he was able to,” are things many native speakers might say, even though the second clauses of both sentences would need to use a different tense in formal written English.

You can also supply the primary verb to go/gone in both clauses if you wish (“If he had been able to go, he would have gone.”) but it is more idiomatic to supply the full verb only once. It may or may not be left out of the sentence entirely if it is clear from context, such as, “He wanted to go. If he had been able to, he would have.” This makes it clear that “to go” is the verb omitted from both of the clauses following it.

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I would like to know whether the sentence "Were he able to go, he would have gone" is correct in English.

Or shall I always say " If he were able to go, he would have done so"?

I will use the edited version Jason suggests

1).Were he able to go, he would have gone

2).If he had been able to go, he would have done so.

When I read the first example I immediately felt something was wrong. I would write this sentence as Were he able to go, he would go. Why? Because it is not clear if were is used as a conditional or to indicate tense. Were can mean "If" (If + were to) therefore the sentence could read If he was able to go, he would go If the tense is intended it should be made clearer in which case only example 2 is correct.

So my answer is depending on meaning either only example 2 is correct or example 1) should be rewritten as

Were he able to go, he would go

Cambridge English Dictionary "If + were to"; we use were + subject-verb inversion + to-infinitive:

Example Were we to give up the fight now, it would mean the end of democracy in our country. (If we gave up the fight now …)

Were[V]...we [S]..... to give up [to -INF].... the fight now

were; verb; past simple of be Cambridge English Dictionary

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