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Hello Grammar Exchange members!

(a) Only when he needed some help did he call me.

(b) Only if we invest more money can we save the company.

I'd like to ask you whether or not the dependent clauses in (a) and (b) can be reduced.

To the best of my knowledge "Only when he needed some help" can be reduced to "Only when needing some help" as in (c) because the subject in the dependent clause is the same as the subject in the main clause.

(c) Only when needing some help did he call me.

However, I only see the change when the conjunctions leading the dependent clauses are when, while, after, before, etc.

So the question I have here is what about if in (b)?

(d) Only if investing more money can we save the company.

Is (d) possible?

Thanks in advance!

KDog

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Hi, KDog—Only if the -ing form functions as a substantive (or as a modifier of a noun) can "if" be followed by an -ing form.

  • Only if owning guns is made illegal will people cease to buy them.
  • Only if sitting ducks are visible will people be able to shoot them.

You are right that (c) works, but (d) does not. However, you can say: "Only by investing more money can we save the company."

Only if the -ing form functions as a substantive (or as a modifier of a noun) can "if" be followed by an -ing form.

  • Only if owning guns is made illegal will people cease to buy them.
  • Only if sitting ducks are visible will people be able to shoot them.

You are right that (c) works, but (d) does not. However, you can say: "Only by investing more money can we save the company."

Hi, KDog and David,

I've been thinking this over and my impression is that, while it is certainly true that (d) does not work, there might be a case where an -ing form can be used as a reduced adverbial clause in front position (causing inversion), and this is when the verb in the -if clause expresses an existing state or a prior action (sometimes reinforced by already). Instead, when a by+-ing clause can be used to express the means by which or the manner in which the result in the main clause is to be achieved (as is the case with (d)), only if+-ing will not work.

- Only if living in an emerging country can you apply for that scholarship. (We cannot say: Only by living...)

- Only if coming from an English-speaking country will you be accepted as an interpreter in that congress. (We cannot say: Only by coming...)

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