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Были бы они поумнее, могли бы сами так делать.

I wonder if a past-tense verb followed by "бы" always makes for a conditional clause without "если"? Is there any difference in register and whatnot, compared to the usual conditional clause with "если"?

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That adds a bit of contempt and disregard I'd say. One more thing adds up in this particular phrase: the prefix "по" in "поумнее". We can compare

Если бы они были умнее, то могли бы сами так делать

pretty neutral, however a bit of disregard exists even there, but that's the usual thing in phrases like "if they had been smarter".

Если бы они были поумнее, то могли бы сами так делать

adds up to that. And then your phrase

Были бы они поумнее, могли бы сами так делать.

I think that the maximizing of that disregarding effect is reached exactly because you throw some words "если, то" away. The phrase start to sound as if it was spoken by an old woman from a village. And if she knows how to make the things properly....

2
  • Interesting. By the way, I seem to notice that you use both "сделать" and "делать". I wonder why you use "делать" only in the 3rd phrase? Jul 8 '18 at 7:00
  • Oh, sorry for that. I just incorrectly read it as "сделать" from the beginning and in the 3rd case I copypasted your phrase. I'll fix that. Jul 8 '18 at 8:37
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Regarding the grammar side, use of "если" in such constructs is sort of optional (implied) in conversational speech, but expected in formal/literary speech. Regarding the meaning itself, both "если бы были поумнее" and "были бы поумнее" are equivalent. Old-ish/out-of-use equivalents: "ежели/кабы [как бы] были поумнее"; if you want to (jokingly) parade your (Church Slavonic) erudition: "аще были бы поумнее".

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