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I know that the proper way to use "not too long ago" is: "Not too long ago, contractors used to build houses and sell them to dealers. It was the responsibility of the dealers to provide financing to potential home buyers."

Instead of these two sentences, can I use:

"If not too long ago, contractors used to build houses and sell them to dealers, who were responsible for providing financing to potential home buyers, today most builders also offer financing alternatives."?

My question is whether "if not too long ago" is correct or not. If it's not correct, I would highly appreciate it if someone could explain why.

Thank you,

Maria

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There are a couple of issues with the proposed alternative.

The phrase "If not too long ago, ..." can be initially read as "If [it was] not too long ago, [then] ...". This makes the rest of the sentence sound confusing. The reader who happened to pick that interpretation of the starting phrase then needs to start again.

If the reader didn't stumble at the first phrase, they have another opportunity. The form of the proposed alternative can scan as the pattern "If [time-frame], [condition], [question starting with 'who were ...']". Again, the reader needs to switch gears mentally and start again.

My question is whether "if not too long ago" is correct or not. If it's not correct, I would highly appreciate it if someone could explain why.

Technically, the construction is grammatical. It is, however, a more complex structure than the original and may take several attempts to understand the intended meaning.

If your aim is to communicate, go with the original version. You can add the final clause as a new sentence to complete the thought: "... to potential home buyers. Today most builders also offer financing alternatives."

  • Thank you so much for your fast response! Now everything is crystal clear... – magdafloasiu Feb 2 '16 at 16:21
  • @magdafloasiu Glad to help, and welcome to EL&U. – Lawrence Feb 2 '16 at 17:06
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This is not a question of correctness of syntax applied in the English language, but of logic. Therefore, this question applies to any language in the world.

Such a sentence logic is probably more suitable to fantasy stories, especially those with time travel, the physics of multiple time lines, or stochastic events happening over a spectrum of possibilities. Such sentence logic is also applicable to retrospective statements, and especially apt in financial analysis, or any analysis of stochastic possibilities.

  • If Captain Janeway did marry Captain Picard, and they became joint dictators of the Federation, our action at this juncture is to Schrodingerically suppress that spectrum of possibility to ensure the stochastic dominance of intergalactic democracy.
  • If 2000 years ago Jews were in fact the rightful occupants of Palestine, today the world is struggling to resolve the morals of the conflicts affecting Israel due to that legacy.

  • If three months ago my husband did go to the race course as opposed to his claiming to have spent time at a bar, today I am basking in the rewards of his winnings, sitting in our spanking new sun room.

  • If not too long ago, cutesy musical ice cream trucks had plied our neighbourhoods, today they have morphed into stationary ice cream and candy huts at strategic locations of the neighbourhood, plaguing the anxieties of parents with our children flocking to those locations.

The {if} statement requires a consequential predicate. Logically, what follows an if-predicate, is spontaneously the consequence of that if-predicate.

  • {if-predicate}, {consequence of if-predicate}.

Alternatively what precedes an if-predicate, is also spontaneously the consequence of that if-predicate.

  • {consequence of if-predicate}, {if-predicate}.
  • Don't drive home tonight, if it rains too heavily.

Other forms

  1. {preamble} {if-predicate}, {consequence of if-predicate}
  2. {if-predicate}, {mid-amble}, {consequence of if-predicate}
  3. {if-predicate}, {consequence of if-predicate}, {post-amble}
  4. {preamble} {if-predicate}, {mid-amble}, {consequence of if-predicate}, {post-amble}

Your sentence is most likely the 3rd form:

  • { if-consequence predicates }, {post-amble}
  • {[if-predicate]If not too long ago, contractors used to build houses and sell them to dealers,
    [consequence]the dealers were responsible for providing financing to potential home buyers}.
  • {[if-predicate]If not too long ago, contractors used to build houses and sell them to dealers,
    [consequence]the dealers were responsible for providing financing to potential home buyers},
    {[post-amble]today most builders also offer financing alternatives}.
  • {[if-predicate]If not too long ago, contractors used to build houses and sell them to dealers,
    [consequence]who were responsible for providing financing to potential home buyers}.
  • {[if-predicate]If not too long ago, contractors used to build houses and sell them to dealers,
    [consequence]who were responsible for providing financing to potential home buyers},
    {[post-amble]today most builders also offer financing alternatives}.

If you wish to avoid the confusion of preamb-if-midamb-consequence-postamb, the alternatives are the use of

  • considering
  • probably
  • maybe
  • perhaps

For examples,

  • Considering not too long ago, contractors used to build houses and sell them to dealers, who were responsible for providing financing to potential home buyers, today most builders also offer financing alternatives.
  • Probably/Perhaps/Maybe/Considering three months ago my husband did go to the race course as opposed to his sticking to his story of having been sleeping on the hammock, though I remember clearly having stored the hammock in the attic for the winter, today I am basking in the rewards of his winnings, sitting in our spanking new sun room.
  • Thank you for taking the time to provide such a comprehensive explanation! I really appreciate it!! – magdafloasiu Feb 2 '16 at 16:19

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