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I always thought that the elliptical conditional clause "Had + Subject + past participle" is used only in counterfactual conditionals, e.g. :

Had Joe seen Mary, he would have fallen in love with her.

Recently, however, a number of native speakers said the boldfaced part in the following is okay:

We retreated to the car while Marco kept apologizing for the rudeness of the twins to our hosts, whose gazes were now anything but friendly, had they ever been.

I'm confused. The above is not a counterfactual sentence. Can "had + subject + past participle" be used in non-counterfactual conditional sentences? Do those native speakers (NS) have a poor grasp of conditionals?

For some examples of how NS find it okay in non-counterfactual conditionals, see Quora, and the reply by Mike Pattison.

Your sentence seems unnecessarily complicated, but your question is about choosing between two conditional clauses and on that basis alone, either is acceptable. Personally, I would have said “if ever they had been” as sounding perhaps more natural, but that’s possibly a distinction without a difference.

From The Free Dictionary Language forum, the reply by FounDit.

Yes, it's correct, but I'd say it's also very formal wording. It conveys the idea that the hosts never truly had friendly gazes, and they certainly were not at the point of leaving.

And https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/apologizing-for-the-rudeness-of-the-twins-to-our-hosts.3994987/ , see post #5, where Cagey says the sentence is "fine."

But then there is at least one native speaker who thinks the sentence in question is wrong:

See ELL, where Michael Harvey says, "It's wrong, it's bad. That's all. Replace with 'if they had ever been'" in the comments.

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    Natives of where? Twitterland? If you are learning English following some sort of book, I suggest you post on English Language Learners. It may not fit into your category, but "had they ever been SO" is recognizable to me as English usage.
    – David
    Jan 3 at 10:20
  • @David Here, quora.com/… , see thre reply by Mike Pattison.
    – Apollyon
    Jan 3 at 11:21
  • @David and here, forum.thefreedictionary.com/… , see the reply by FounDit.
    – Apollyon
    Jan 3 at 11:22
  • @FumbleFingers My question is whether "had + Subject + past participle" as a condition is limited to counterfactuals.
    – Apollyon
    Jan 3 at 11:25
  • 2
    Here, I'd interpret this sentence as the speaker doubting whether their glances were ever friendly. And I'd say that this is close enough to a counterfactual that you can use the structure there. Jan 3 at 12:16

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Ignoring any awkward or unnaturalness to the wording, if this is correct English:

  • Had they ever been friendly, our hosts' gazes were now anything but, as we retreated to the car while Marco kept apologizing for the rudeness of the twins.

Then the originally quoted inversion of it should be correct too:

We retreated to the car while Marco kept apologizing for the rudeness of the twins to our hosts, whose gazes were now anything but friendly, had they ever been.

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  • I find the original sentence unacceptable, and Ray's recasting of it barely more acceptable.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 4 at 17:47
  • @ColinFine, as I said, "Ignoring any awkward or unnaturalness to the wording …". I'm claiming only that it is grammatically acceptable. Jan 4 at 18:32
  • Maybe we could try to find established examples in literature to prove the "had they ever been" is correct. So far I haven't found any.
    – Apollyon
    Jan 4 at 23:40
  • @Apollyon, Google Ngram Viewer shows "had they ever been ." as quickly rising in use since 1980. But it's still only about 5% of the same phrase without the period. Jan 5 at 0:06
  • @RayButterworth But those cases of "had they ever been" are not non-counterfactual conditional usages. We're investigating it as a non-counterfactual conditional, aren't we?
    – Apollyon
    Jan 5 at 1:00

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