I came across the following sentence:

  • "I acted as if it had been for you." (V. Hugo)

Since "if it had been for you/we/they" don't have results after searching on Google Search (site:.us), can someone clarify if it is grammatical?

Could we rewrite the sentence as follow without change in meaning?

  • "I acted as if I had been you."

Yes, it is grammatical. The context in which the sentence appears is helpful:

Farewell, my dear friend; I received a letter from M. de la Mertiniere lately, inclosing a few lines from you; pray thank him for it. I have done all I could for his ode, but he owes me no thanks for this; I acted as if it had been for you. Farewell; thank you again for your verses; I like them, they convince me much more strongly of your friendship than of my own talents.

The meaning here is roughly the same as,

I pretended that I was doing it for your benefit.

The suggested rewrite would not preserve the meaning.

  • +1, but who is 'it'. Is it the 'acting'? – Elberich Schneider Jun 13 '12 at 23:18
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    @RégisRoux The 'it' refers to the act of doing "all he could" for M. de la Meriniere's ode. Presumably, Victor Hugo gave writing advice to Meriniere, and is explaining to a mutual friend (to whom he is writing the letter) that giving the advice was not a burden, because he and the letter's recipient are such dear friends. – Cameron Jun 13 '12 at 23:53

Yes, Cameron is correct, about this construction in this context.

However, you have to distinguish this construction from the NPI idioms

  • if it hadn't been for X...
  • if it weren't for X...

These refer to a hypothetical outcome that has been averted by X, they require both negation and if, and they are brilliantly ungrammatical without them.

  • If it hadn't been/weren't for him, I'd be dead now.
  • *If/Since it had been/has been/was for him, I'd be/I'm alive now.

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