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The question What does “would not have been possible had I remained” mean? was closed as general reference.

It's a grammar question. Of course any grammar question can be looked up in a grammar textbook — once you know which grammar rule applies. But how was the asker to know which grammar rule would apply? One commenter left a link to a non-authoritative source that can only be found by knowing the answer.

Grammar questions are very different from questions asking for the meaning or construction of a word, where the word to look up is the object of the question. Here, figuring out which entry in the grammar textbook applies is the whole object of the question. The general reference close reason doesn't apply.

And lest someone mention ELL…

  1. I'm sure that some people will say that since the asker doesn't know something about English, his question must be off-topic here. But this is by no means consensual.
  2. In any case nobody told the asker to go to ELL.

What could possibly justify saying that this question is not answerable here?

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Yeah, someone should have simply answered the OP's question.

It would most likely take only a minute or two. It would take less time to answer the question than to go around searching for an exact "duplicate"; also the OP wouldn't then have to pore over the "duplicate" thread(s) in an attempt to construct an answer to the original question.

On EL&U, there are so few actual questions getting asked about grammar, compared to all the one-word requests and other stuff of similar ilk, that maybe we ought to actually answer them.

By actually answering grammar related questions, the community itself improves its grammar knowledge, by having its own members actually researching and composing a specific answer to a specific question.

And by answering the question, the OP gets an answer tailored to that question--which will most likely make the OP happy, or at least satisfied.

I know that if I ever asked a grammar question on this site, I would want an answer tailored specifically to my question. The answer could also have links to older threads that are related to my question--that is fine. But I most certainly would not want to see my question closed and only be given a link or two to older threads.

Too many of these older threads have too much garbage in them, and that includes the accepted answers. The newer answers ought to be better than those older threads, because the community has the older threads as a resource, and so, the newer answers would, ideally, retain the good info of the older threads while ignoring their bad info.

Imagine if you call online support with a question, and instead of being given a 30 second answer, you were told that your problem is a duplicate and then given links to a file or two for you to read. How satisfied will you be with that service?

  • 5
    "Imagine if you call online support with a question..." : I think that's the point, ELU is not 24/7 support for customers, It's a Q&A site. You're already searching, why not search for your answer? That may not always be successful, but the question may still already be answered. Therefore, 'duplicates'. – Mitch Jun 15 '14 at 22:00
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    I have just proven wrong your statement that “It would most likely take only a minute or two. It would take less time to answer the question than to go around searching for an exact "duplicate"”. – tchrist Jun 15 '14 at 22:58
  • Yup. That's what I try to do, mostly in comments, since the Qs are closed to answers by the PtB. – John Lawler Jun 20 '14 at 5:14
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Well, it actually has been answered here. We have many questions on bare conditionals with if-deletion and inversion.

It would probably be better to re-open and re-close it as a duplicate of one of those.

  1. Conditional sentences not starting with “if”
  2. A special use of “should”?
  3. Inverted conditional sentence using 'can' and 'will'
  4. What is the meaning of this sentence — “Were it not for the bodies there on the ground, it would have appeared to be a normal day at the oasis.”?
  5. “Even were he not to…”
  6. The verb “should” as a conjunction

Edit

To capture more permanently what I’ve just said in a potentially ephemeral comment, one trouble with finding something canonical here is that most such questions get closed as duplicates of question #2 above, but this seems more akin to question #1 above. We do close non-should questions as duplicates of the “should” one, but I’m not entirely convinced this is optimal.

Here’s the sentence in question:

I am sure this would not have been possible had I remained a typical Anglophone North American.

The thing about the question under discusion is that this is not just a bare conditional, it’s also a reversed conditional, with the “consequent” (apodosis) in front of the “condition” (protasis). It could be rewritten to this:

Had I remained a typical Anglophone North American, I am sure this would not have been possible.

And thence to this:

If I had remained a typical Anglophone North American, I am sure this would not have been possible.

But I can’t find a good duplicate about all that.

The related questions I’ve so far discovered all seem to assume that all conditionals begin with the protasis not the apodosis, but not only do they not do so in English, the closed question is one such. Both of these two:

  1. I’ll do it unless you say otherwise.
  2. I wouldn’t have done it had you only said something.

have the protasis at the end, but only the second uses inversion and consequent if-deletion there.

I’d prefer that it were a duplicate covering both “bare” conditionals and “reversed” ones, but I haven’t found one for the second issue.

Yet.

  • Sure, that I can believe. Someone just has to find an appropriate duplicate. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jun 15 '14 at 16:03
  • I agree. Find an appropriate duplicate and I will do this. – Kit Z. Fox Jun 15 '14 at 16:12
  • @KitFox I’m not sure that the quasi-canonical “special use of ‘should’ ” applies here so much as “conditional sentences not starting with ‘if’ ”. The trouble is that that assumes all conditionals begin with the protasis not the apodosis, but not only do they not do so in English, the closed question is one such. Both “I’ll do it unless you say otherwise.” and “I wouldn’t have done it had you only said something” have the protasis at the end, but only the second uses inversion and consequent if-deletion there. – tchrist Jun 15 '14 at 16:17
  • @KitFox I then suggest for english.stackexchange.com/q/1308 as the dupe, the first on my list. I don’t know how to close as dupes of multiple things, but maybe you do. – tchrist Jun 15 '14 at 17:15
  • @KitFox I’ve gone and created a reversed-conditional tag and tagged several questions that way. Whether that is strictly necessary for answering that given question, I’m not sure, but I figured we could use it. – tchrist Jun 15 '14 at 18:39
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    @KitFox, tchirst, the reversed-conditional tag won't really work. Just about everyone who works with the grammar of conditionals would say that the "P if Q" is the sentence without any movement of the clauses. "If P, Q" on the other hand involves the preposing of the subordinate clause. So really, any 'reversed conditional' tag should apply to sentences where the if-clause or subordinate clause comes first. – Araucaria Jun 22 '14 at 10:01

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