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Would I rather say

He would have forgotten about the incident, if it wasn't for the huge backpack

or

He would have forgotten about the incident, if it hadn't been for the huge backpack

or are even both wrong? (If so, how could I say that the backpack has been the reason for him to not forget about the incident in an equal manner?)

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    You missed out ... if it weren't for the huge backpack, which I'd probably be more likely to use. Particularly if the huge backpack still had current significance, noting that OP's second alternative (hadn't been) somewhat implies that the backpack issue is very much a thing of the past. – FumbleFingers May 15 '15 at 12:50
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I would offer this rephrasing:

"He would have forgotten about the incident were it not for the huge backpack."

This eliminates some of the uncertainty around the conditional phrase, and applies "weren't" as the verb. In most cases, the presence of a desired or notional alternative outcome carries with it the use of the subjunctive "were" for the verb.

  • Plural "were" or subjunctive "were"? – Henry May 15 '15 at 13:38
  • Sorry - you're absolutely right. Subjunctive. Edited accordingly. – David W May 15 '15 at 13:44
  • I think the verb - subject reordering is formal/dated by comparison with if + standard word order. Here's the NGram showing how if it were not for... was less common until a century ago, but is now the more common form. – FumbleFingers May 15 '15 at 13:55
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    @JohnLawler We respectfully disagree. A structure of age is not inherently wrong, and in this case offers an alternative that steers away from a problem many such beginners confront - excessive commas. Thanks for your insight. – David W May 15 '15 at 15:23
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    @user2422960 Although Mr. Lawler disagrees, I don't find this construct quite so "incongruous." English beginners tend to overuse commas, leading to such fundamental issues as comma splices and run-on sentences. Such things stand out, and are sins far worse than sounding "like an Oscar Wilde play." As a result, I'm happy to stand by the construction I offered in this answer. Good luck in your learning. – David W May 15 '15 at 15:56
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CORRECT:

  1. He would have forgotten about the incident, if it had not been for the huge backpack.

  2. He would have forgotten about the incident, had it not been for the huge backpack.

The use of 'were' would be incorrect here, because it doesn't correspond to the tense "would have forgotten", which is Conditional Perfect.

But the sentence could be re-written, with a slight twist in the tense as follows:

"He would forget about the incident were it not for the huge backpack."

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