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Today I have encountered a phrase:

If not for you, I would be poor.

I would think it is like "if there were not you", is it like that?

On the other hand, how would I say the following as the meaning would be different:

If not for you, whom do I cook the cake for?

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Bob Dylan liked this idiom. – J.R. May 21 '12 at 15:11
Incidentally, one bakes a cake. If it goes in the oven it is baked (or broiled). If it goes on the stove it is cooked. – Jim May 21 '12 at 17:30
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The construction If not for X is an idiomatic phrase in English. The verb to be is normally left out when you use this construction, though if you restore it the full form would be:

If it were not for you, I would be poor.

However, the original version without it were is also correct:

If not for you, I would be poor.

Your version with if there were not you is grammatically incorrect. The construction There is X cannot be used with a pronoun in place of X under most circumstances.

Your example sentence If not for you, whom do I cook the cake for? is also correct, but this is a completely different construction which superficially resembles the one in your question.

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To me, "if not for you" means: If it were not for you to help, I would be poor.

The meaning of "it" is also clear (it means "to help").

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