if only for the scaffolding…

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Senior Member
Dear all,
Could you please help me out with a difficulty in the novel by Dennis Lehane 'Gone, Baby, Gone'?

The construction crew working on the house across the street was nowhere to be seen; I knew they were somewhere nearby, though, if only for the scaffolding erected against the building facade.

I guess 'if only for the scaffolding erected against the building facade' means 'unless they only erected the scaffolding against the building facade and then stopped working'. Is my understanding correct?
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    No: think of 'if' here as "even if", and 'for' as "because of". Even if all you could see was the scaffolding, you would know they were nearby, because of that. There might also be other reasons for thinking they were nearby. The use of 'for' with the meaning "because of" is unusual, but there are other idioms with it:

    But for the scaffolding, I would never have known they were there. (= I never saw them, or heard them doing anything, so it was only by the scaffolding that I knew of them.)
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