As I was studying for my upcoming grammar exam, I stumbled across the following sentence:

  • Your membership will only be renewed if you pay your subscription within the next seven days.

Is it also okay to use “if only” + inversion in this case? Isn't the following the more logical sentence?

  • Only if you pay your subscription within the next seven days will your membership be renewed.
  • 1
    Yes, but why would you want to do that? – BillJ May 4 at 11:49
  • 1
    In your version, I'd take out the comma. – Yosef Baskin May 4 at 12:08
  • The limiting modifier 'only' does seem misplaced (Your membership will only be renewed ... you won't get a discounted price or special privileges ...). But while Your membership will be renewed only if you pay your subscription within the next seven days is the most logical sentence here, it sounds highfalutin and the original is what most people would choose (even in print). Everybody knows what it means, in spite of the dodgy placement of 'only'. So usage makes it acceptable. – Edwin Ashworth May 4 at 14:34
  • In your inversion, I would NOT take out the comma. When a subordinate if-clause precedes an independent then-clause, a comma is required after the if-clause. Whether you write, "If you pay your subscription only within the next seven days, (then) your membership will be renewed," or write, "Only if you pay your subscription within the next seven days, (then) will your member ship be renewed," it makes no difference. The comma is nevertheless required when the if-clause precedes the then-clause, inverted structures within those clauses notwithstanding. – Benjamin Harman May 4 at 15:23

Yes, you could. But I would be cautious with that.

In case of doubt, stick to the more straight away logical approach. A will happen IF B happens. Assuming that IF B happens, A will happen would be a logical fallacy: it may happen, but there is no certainty. Of course, when you say ONLY IF B happens, A will happen, that is not the case. But you see it's tricky. When you add negatives it gets even more complicated. Language is more open regarding conditionals than pure logic, but being a foreign language I would be cautious in the exam. Conditionals are sort of playing with fire at times.

I'll share some extracts from Logic Made Easy, by Deborah J. Bennett on failures in logic regarding conditionals:

  1. Conversion:

'According to Susanna Epp, there is extensive evidence that people perceive "If p then q as equivalent to its converse, "If q then p." This is the identical conversion mistake that individuals make when they think "All A are B" is the same as "All B are v4." Individuals make this mistake with conditionals hastily and all too frequently, convinced that they are reasoning correctly.'

  1. Inversion

'The contrapositive of the converse is called the inverse. The inverse of the conditional given above is "If you are not exceeding the speed limit, then you are not breaking the law." Like the error of conversion, it is a mistake to believe that its inverse is true just because a conditional is true'

  1. Biconditionals:

'Conditionals with negative antecedents have a particular tendency to be interpreted as biconditionals. "If you don't see a trash can, then you put the litter in your pocket" is interpreted as meaning "If you don't see a trash can, then you put the litter in your pocket and if you put the litter in your pocket, then you didn't see a trash can." The tendency to (mis)interpret the conditional as the biconditional (the conditional and its converse) is universally acknowledged in children and adults'

All this happens to all of us when using our own language. Take that into account when doing your test in a foreign language.

Regarding “if only”, its meaning is closer to "I wish" than to an actual conditional structure. It's an expression of empahasis Therefore, it could lead to confusion in meaning if badly used.

Examples of uses of "if only"; from Practical English Usage, by Michael Swan:

past to talk about the present

If only I knew more people! If only I was better-looking!

We can use were instead of was

If only your father were here!

would + infinitive (without to) to talk about the future

If only it would stop raining, we could go out.

If only somebody would smile!

Past perfect to talk about the past

If only she hadn't told the police, everything would have been all right.

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