I am reading a economics book and the following sentence confuses me:

Were such individuals to gain a lot of money, they would stop buying insurance.

It seems strange to me. What is the meaning of this sentence? What sentence pattern does it belong to?

  • I don't understand your confusion, it seems pretty clear to me. If a group of people were to accumulate wealth (get rich) they would not need to buy insurance. Please provide the context and the sentences that preceded this one, and explain what you think it is saying. Is it the Were that confuses you?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 22, 2015 at 12:03
  • @Mari-LouA : You are right. I have only came across questions that start with 'were'.
    – Nighty
    Feb 22, 2015 at 12:43
  • Think of it as "(If [all questions]) Were all questions to begin with auxiliaries, we would never have examples such as "You OK?" It's a formal way to write a conditional type sentence. See: grammar-quizzes.com/10-8.html
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 22, 2015 at 12:49
  • "Were has a special use in conditional clauses when these clauses are used to mention situations that do not exist, or events that are unlikely to happen. When the subject of the clause is I, he, she, it, there, or a singular noun, were is sometimes used instead of 'was', especially in formal writing." Read more here: thefreedictionary.com/were (Scroll down until you find the above lines and continue reading.) HTH.
    – Kris
    Feb 22, 2015 at 12:51
  • 2
    Please visit English Language Learners
    – Kris
    Feb 22, 2015 at 12:51

2 Answers 2


Normally an unreal if-clause has the form if + past subjunctive/ past perfect subjunctive as in

  • If I had* enough money/If I had* had enough money ( had* = past subjunctive).

You can choose a variant without "if" and with inversion

  • Had* I enough money/ Had* I had enough money.

This variant is always possible in written elevated style.


I can’t tell you what grammatical construct this is; I can tell you the meaning:

The sentence poses a hypothesis. There is a group of people who apparently don't have a lot of money. Hence they cannot pay for the consequences should a particular risk materialize and they buy insurance to safeguard against the economical consequences of that risk occurring.

Now, take another group of people with enough money. They do not need to insure themselves against this risk because they can pay for the consequences out of their own pocket. That is, they think the cost of insurance over X years is more than the cost from the risk materializing itself once every X years.

Now suppose this first group of people, by magic, suddenly has enough money. Then they don't need insurance either.

So, "were these people to have enough money, they would not insure themselves"

  • But why is that so? What makes the sentence hypothetical? "I can’t tell you what grammatical construct this is:" see the reference I cited in the comment at the OP.
    – Kris
    Feb 22, 2015 at 12:53
  • @BrianHitchcock Please see the reference I cited in the comment at the OP.
    – Kris
    Feb 23, 2015 at 6:36

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