‘BUT FOR’ (third conditional)

We know that ‘but for’ + a phrase means except for or if it were not for.  At C1, this structure can be combined with a ‘would have clause’  so it is similar to a past conditional.  All together this construction means “if it wasn’t for this thing that happened, then this other thing was not possible to happen.”

Here’s a student example of ‘but for conditional’:

But for her advice in a lot of situations, I would not have had a wonderful childhood.

PELIC JapaneseFemale level 5 grammar class.

*Her grandmother gave her advice.  She had a wonderful childhood.  The writer imagines the opposite past situation.

77 GSE C1

  • ‘but for’ + noun phrase, ‘would have’ clause (third conditional)
  • replace past conditionals with ‘but for’ in formal statements.


A search in the MOVIE corpus for collocates of ‘but for‘ does not locate any conditional structures:

1 SOME 302
2 REASON 263 *The most common use of ‘but for‘ is not conditional.  For example:

Well, they‘re my mom‘sbut for some reason, they seem to help.

Bad Girls from Valley High

3 SAKE 179

But for the sake of honesty, have you ever been unfaithful?

The Knot

4 MOST 86

Well, but for the most part, thats true.

The Last Word

6 GRACE 58
7 PART 58
10 RECORD 29

But for now, I would be satisfied beaming new medicines across the globe.



Why will the English Grammar Profiler now start to incorporate the GSE alongside the EGP?

The following two images show the difference between including a GSE grammar point to level prediction.  In the first, ‘but for‘ is highlighted as A1 and in the second C1, the ‘would’ verb phrase changed from A2 or B1 to C1.  Lifting the overall second part prediction from B1 to C1.  This structure does not exist in the EGP or EVP which might mean it is actually higher than C2.