This is the final part of the story of someone who has NOT followed in her parents' footsteps. At times, she seems to regret not having done so. Here is how she feels:

"I wonder what being a doctor would have been like. If only so at parties I could receive admiration and respect, instead of being regarded as uninspiring and unimaginative."

I have no problem understanding the meaning of the sentence in general. However, from a grammatical point of view, I can't clearly figure out how those bold parts work and what exactly they mean.

Does would have been like refer to the third conditional clause? and what if only so mean?

  • 1
    if only so here means if for no other reason than that [if I had been a doctor,] I'd get respect. It's an idiomatically well established usage that carries the rather subtle implication that there might well be (probably are) other reasons for doing something, but they're not significant. Even if there were no other reasons, just that one specified reason would be quite sufficient to justify taking the specified action. Nov 12, 2020 at 17:24

1 Answer 1


Yes, (if I correctly remember what the "third conditional" means. It is a phrase that was completely unknown to me until I encountered it on this site. I believe it is used in ESL teaching, but it is unknown to most native speakers). It is an irrealis, or counterfactual conditional.

So here is a colloquial variant of so that. It is not part of a construction if only so.

  • Really interesting! For us, non-native speakers of English, passive voices are divided into four main types: zero, types one, two, and three. Apart from these, there are a number of mixed conditionals as well.
    – M.N
    Nov 14, 2020 at 4:47
  • I don't think you mean "passive voices", @M.N; I think you mean "conditional clauses". And yes, from questions on this site, I have learnt that there is such a classification (though I've never come across 0 before). But to most English speakers, even if they have studied grammar, "third conditional" means nothing.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 14, 2020 at 15:06
  • @ Colin Fine: Oh, my mistake! you're right.
    – M.N
    Nov 15, 2020 at 16:02
  • A zero conditional, also known as factual conditional, "expresses a fixed connection that exists between two events now or always, e.g. If I wash the dishes, he dries them." (Oxford Practice Grammar by George Yule)
    – M.N
    Nov 15, 2020 at 16:13

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