'If it weren't/ wasn't for' vs 'If it hadn't been for'

I wonder what the difference is between those two, since my grammar books are a little vague about them.

Swan, 2nd edition, gives me the impression that ‘if it weren’t/ wasn’t for’ is used to talk about the present and ‘if it hadn’t been for’ about the past.

Two examples:

If it wasn’t/ weren’t for his wife’s money, he’d never be a director. (present)
If it hadn’t been for your help, I don’t know what I’d have done (past)

The other day I also heard Sandra Bullock say in ‘The Heat’: ‘You wouldn’t have known anything about it, if it wasn’t for me.’

Please help me understand the difference between those idioms, because I think I intuitively use them correctly, but I don’t know if I’m always right. By the way, is it possible that they can be used interchangeably.

@Torsten, @Alan, @Anglophile


Yes, it is somewhat like saying as follows:

  1. I wish I were there!
  2. I wish I had been there!

No.1 indicates present to mean that you wanted to be there now, and No.2 indicates past to mean that you should have been there then.

In any case, to me, this sentence does not appear to be grammatical as it sounds like a conditional: ‘You wouldn’t have known anything about it, if it wasn’t for me.’ which should be either of the following:

1. ‘You wouldn’t have known anything about it, if it hadn’t been for me.’
2. ‘You wouldn’t know anything about it, if it wasn’t for me.’

(Let’s wait for the comments of the other two Coaches, @Masme)


My dearest of all my dear friends,

How kind of you to shed some light on this. I really appreciate your positive input. You are the only one who can upgrade me, as it were, in the sense that you always try to do so and most of the time you succeed to ameliorate my English. I’d love to have you as my professor. If I’m getting a little emotional, please forgive me, but it really comes from the bottom of my heart. I’m not perfect, no one is and I think you’ll understand that sometimes, if not often, I’m doubtful, because you hear a lot of people say that ‘English is such an easy language’ whereas in reality, it is not.

By the way, how are you and your family?


Dear @Masme
You may thank or compliment me if my explanation has convinced you. But please do not eulogize me like this, particularly in public. (Please ignore this maxim here for the time being: Praise your friend publicly and admonish him privately.) What you have stated is a little too much! Nevertheless, I feel humbled and honoured.
Thank you for asking after us. My wife and I keep well. So do you and your family, I hope.


The examples in both instances show use of the subjunctive, which is slowly disappearing in modern English. You can use it or not - it’s simply a matter of choice. The conjunction ‘if’ used in both examples is considered by some as sufficient indication that the following verb is used to show uncertainty, possibility, supposition and on.


So, Alan, the clause ‘If I were you’ would soon be replaced by ‘If I was you’ in all cases, and the practice (the use of appropriate verbal patterns) being followed for the four types of conditional sentences would also cease, I think.


Hi Lawrence,

That’s true but oldies like me will continue with - if I were you. Of course the subjunctive and the indicative in English are indistinguishable unlike some European languages. It is only with the verb ‘be’ that the subjunctive shows. And then the other subjunctive form shows in the present as in - Long live the Queen! - a strong hope for thar at the moment when the good lady we’ll know her 90’s has to deal with her troublesome family.


Considering the EU disagreement about distributing vaccines and the fact that Covid-19 is far from a thing from the past - both are enormously stressful - I and my family are in good health.
Thank you as well for asking.


Alan, oldies like you and me will continue with - if I were you.
I think you know I’m a septuagenarian.


In a certain way, I’ve tried to apologize. It doesn’t seem to work. I very much regret that. I thought Our Lord Jesus Christ said or learnt us to forgive those who’d done something wrong, but trying to force me to regret for days for what I wrote, which wasn’t meant to harm you in any way, now seems to be a dreadful and very conservative misconception as it were. I can’t and I’m certainly not obliged to keep apologizing until The Last Judgement. Once again, I’m sorry if I got carried away a bit and in future I’ll think more than twice whether to call upon you or not for your help. Also have a nice weekend. Adieu.


With ‘Adieu’, I meant ‘Goodbye forever, oldie.’ and I mean it.