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Here is a logic-grammar question that I am struggling with.

Say I would like to say something like this:

[1] "If X did not happen, Y would be different."

The intended meaning of [1] is, of course:

[2] "If X did not happen, Y would be different from Y if X did happen."

Now, using [2] seems overly bulky to me and I am not even sure if it is grammatical.

[1] can be used with prior sentences providing context. Example:

For many in the country, the lack of electricity is just another problem. And some cannot help but wonder whether the situation would be different if the military had not taken power.

In the above example, the first sentence (plus the prior ones that I have not included) provide context that help the second sentence seem correct.

The question is what to do when such context is absent. Example of [1] as a standalone sentence:

The political leaning of a person would be different if he or she had no college degree.

In the above example there is no prior context. I am not sure if it is correct (in terms of logic and grammar) to use such a sentence. What I am trying to say here is: Each individual would have a certain leaning if he or she had a degree, and a different leaning if he or she had no degree.

My question is: Is it correct if I only use [1] instead of [2]? Alternatively, what is the right way to address these situations?

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    Did you do any research? For example, did you search the phrase "did not happen" with the phrase "would be different" to see how they're used together? Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 11:55
  • Yes, I did. [1] seems to be used when prior sentences help convey the meaning of the second part of [2]. The question is whether it would be possible to use [1] as a standalone sentence (i.e., without those prior sentences).
    – user161917
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 12:38
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    Then please include your research in the question (what you found, where you found it, why it didn't clear up the issue, etc.). Those are the kinds of things that make a good question on this site. Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 12:44
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    Yes, that would be useful. It would help to illustrate the issue, provide evidence that such structures are used in modern English, show that you are making an effort and not simply relying on others to do work for you, allow answerers to avoid repeating information that you clearly already know, etc. Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 12:55
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    @pierrot5 I've added your example to your question above. In future, you can do this yourself using the "Edit" button.
    – gotube
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 15:14

1 Answer 1

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The sentence

The political leaning of a person would be different if he or she had no college degree.

is grammatically valid, and a fluent speaker should have no trouble understanding it. It is not unnatural.

There is no rule or custom that requires a sentence of the form

If X then Y would be different.

to have previous context. In some cases such context may be needed to make the meaning clear. Not in this case, at least not in my view.


By the way, when you assign an identifier to an example sentence, such as "[1]" or "(A), or "(2B)". it is helpful if you restrict that identifier to that exact sentence, and create a different identifier for related sentences you wish to discuss.

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  • Thank you. Would you always use the short sentence instead of the longer, clearer, bulkier one?
    – user161917
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 6:16
  • @pierrot5 Probably Yes. At least, I cannot off-hand think of a situation where the longer one would would seem preferable. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 13:10
  • "X would be different if Y" seems to suggest that Y is not true—it is hypothetical. If you want to express a causal relationship between two things without treating one as real and the other as hypothetical, you can say "X depends on Y", "X differs/varies depending on Y", "for X, it matters whether Y", etc.
    – nschneid
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 20:32
  • @nschneid The statement "X would be different if Y" does not imply that Y is either true or false. It can be, and often is, used for the exact same meaning as "X depends on Y". and similar statements. Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 23:02
  • I think it presents a hypothetical in the electricity example above. It may depend on context and the choice of "would" vs. "will".
    – nschneid
    Commented Dec 31, 2022 at 23:46

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