In the game Rise of The Tomb Raider, there's a mission where Lara (main protagonist) explores her parents' mansion. Her parents died when she was a child.

As she explores the possession, she recalls memories from her childhood. At some point she says (about her mom) "I wonder how my life would have been different had she lived".

Here come my questions:

  1. Why does she say it like that? Is there any difference between what she said and "...how my life would have been different if she had lived". Why is there no IF ?

  2. She clearly uses here third conditional which refers to past, though she's still alive. Her life is an ongoing process! I would have understood if she used "childhood" instead of "life".

  • I think "my life would have been different" is an observation about her whole life, not just the part of it up to the present point in time. One could use the same construction to refer purely to the future: "I wonder how different my retirement would have been had I taken out a pension when I was younger". Mar 7, 2017 at 16:57

2 Answers 2

  1. There is no IF because she is using a different grammatical form, where you use "Had [subject] [past tense]" to indicate a past alternative that would have led to a different present. Like, "Had I known things would turn out this way I never would have invented that time machine". It's equivalent to the "IF" form but it's less common and a bit more formal. Maybe with more connotations of regret ?

Here is a video talking about several inversion forms including this one (at around 4:00)

  1. It is implied she is talking about her life up to that point. "Childhood" wouldn't work because presumably her whole life would have been different, not just her childhood.
  • First off, thank you for your answer and time. I understand now the first issue but have to admit it, still not really sure about the second point. Maybe I need a time to process it. Speaking of which, what difference would be if she said at that moment "I wonder how my life would be different..."
    – Nick
    Mar 7, 2017 at 13:33
  • 1
    @Nick I think it would be very similar, except there would be more of an idea that she's talking about the current state of her life as opposed to her whole life up to now.
    – Oosaka
    Mar 7, 2017 at 13:42
  • I think you're totally right ! I realized this as I was writing the comment
    – Nick
    Mar 7, 2017 at 13:44


I wonder how my life would have been different had she lived.

In English, conditional adjuncts look like interrogative clauses. We can use if-clauses, which look like subordinate closed interrogative clauses as conditional adjuncts:

  • If Bob won, he won by a large margin.
  • I wonder if Bob won.

A different way of doing this, is to use clauses displaying subject-auxiliary inversion. These clauses look like main clause closed interrogative clauses:

  • Had he won, he would have won by a large margin.
  • Had he won?

Here we see the subject and auxiliary verb inverted. We do not use if to mark the conditional adjunct if we have marked it with subject-auxiliary inversion. This is in the same way that we do not mark interrogative clauses with if when we have already marked them using inversion.


We are often told that conditionals using past perfect forms ("third conditionals") refer to past time. In real life this is not the case. We often, in fact, see past perfect forms in conditionals referring to the future:

  • If David Beckham had been playing tomorrow, we would have won.

We often use this kind of conditional to refer to a situation whose outcome has already been fixed in some way, regardless of whether it is going to happen or already has.

  • Interesting! I didn't know about this third conditional's future connection. Thank you for your answer!
    – Nick
    Mar 7, 2017 at 13:43
  • The last bullet point strikes me as incorrect or at least unnatural. I do sort of see how someone might say it in the context where the (future) outcome has been fixed in some way, despite not actually being fixed (since it's in the future). Mar 7, 2017 at 16:25
  • 1
    I'm not that familiar with what an "interrogative clause" and "conditional adjunct" are, so it may help some readers to illustrate that. I also thought the differing conjugation ("would have won" instead of "would win") deserves mention. Is that a form of the subjunctive or something? Mar 7, 2017 at 16:26
  • 1
    @6005 It's known as a doubly remote conditional and is well attested in the literature. You can see Professor Rodney Huddleston discussing it here Mar 7, 2017 at 16:34
  • 1
    @dlatikay The convention is that comma is only necessary if the if-clause (or equivalent) has been moved to the front of the sentence. If you put one in when the if-clause (or equivalent) comes last, then that's still grammatical - but it would tend to suggest that it is parenthetical. It could be seen as giving the same effect as using an em dash, or putting it in brackets. Mar 7, 2017 at 20:57

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