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CONTEXT:

If not for you, my sky would fall.

This is a part of lyrics from "not for you" song. So, can I use " would have fallen" in place of simply "would"? Would the meaning be same or not if I do this replacement?

  • Suppose you'd just performed the Heimlich Maneuver on a choking fellow-diner in a restaurant. They'd say Thanks! If not for you I would have died! (not ...I would die) because it's obvious that at time of speaking that "risk of death" is in the past. For your context the singer almost certainly wants to convey that his life still depends on his relationship with the addressee, so he'd use "hypothetical present/future tense". That's to say it's just an ordinary past or present/future distinction. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 12 '17 at 15:42
  • "Would fall" is a potential future event. "Would have fallen" is a conditional past event. So the lyric would be slightly different. – Andrew Jul 12 '17 at 15:59
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1) If . . . my sky would fall.
2) If . . . my sky would have fallen.

These do not mean the same thing.

  • 1) would fall speaks of a non-past consequence. The condition If not for you is understood to be an unrealized event, something like "If you were not present/in my life" or "If you did not support me". Since the condition is unrealized, the consequence is not realized either; consequently the condition is understood as a hypothetical future event.

  • 2) would have fallen speaks of a past consequence, and the condition is understood to be an event which was not realized in the past. Again, since the condition was not realized, the consequence was not realized either; consequently the condition is understood as a counterfactual past event.

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  • I'm a bit iffy about If not for X referring to a hypothetical future event. It seems to me in that construction X is pragmatically required to be something that was or is present / true / happening before / at time of speaking (the "hypothetical" allusion being to a possible alternative past/present where it wasn't/isn't true). I've tried thinking of contexts where it could apply to something in the future (If not for my old age pension I will [would?] be destitute in retirement), but it just doesn't seem to work so well. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 12 '17 at 15:53
  • @FumbleFingers If it is not true/actualized now it can only be true/actualized in the future. – StoneyB on hiatus Jul 12 '17 at 15:55
  • It's a hypothetical, which doesn't necessarily have any direct relationship with past, present, or future. If not for gravity you would go spinning off into space in no way implies that gravity either did or will cease to exist, past or future. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 12 '17 at 15:59

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