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“Would you have liked to have been” vs. “would you have liked to be”

Is "have" redundant when repeated in successive verb phrases?

Well, let us read the following sentences:

I would have liked to have seen New York before the cyclone,

I would have liked to see New York before the cyclone.

Am I right in saying that one instance of "have" seems to have prompted another? Or are there subtleties and shades of meaning?

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Context? Depending on context, I think both of these or "I would like to have seen ..." are all possible. –  Peter Shor Jan 20 '13 at 19:15
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Geoffrey Pullum has written on this somewhere. Anyone seen it? I've gone back through Language Log to 2009, but can't find it. –  Barrie England Jan 20 '13 at 19:56
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The first sentence is grammatically and semantically correct. The second sentence is incorrect on both scores: it should be "I {wanted / had hoped [CHOOSE ONE]} to see...". IOW, change the tense & aspect of the main verb to allow the infinitive or use the first sentence. –  user21497 Jan 20 '13 at 23:37
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Pullum’s contribution now located and shown in my answer. –  Barrie England Jan 21 '13 at 8:21
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marked as duplicate by TimLymington, Carlo_R., Hellion, MετάEd, Robusto Jan 21 '13 at 19:38

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

5 Answers

It feels to me that ”I would have liked to have seen New York before the cyclone” refers to a completely amorphic possibility of seeing New York in the past, whereas “I would have liked to see New York before the cyclone” refers to a more tangible possibility that was either missed or avoided in the past.

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There was an extended discussion of this topic on Language Log last year, prompted by a post by Mark Liberman http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3941, in which he reports an analysis by Geoffrey Pullum, which may throw some light on the examples given in the question.

Using Pullum’s methodology, if T-0, T-1 and T-2 are three points in chronological order, then both I would have liked to see New York before the cyclone and I would have liked to have seen New York before the cyclone are spoken at T-2, and in both the speaker would have liked at T-1.

However, in the first, the speaker would have liked to see New York before the cyclone at T-1, whereas, in the second, the speaker would have liked to have seen New York before the cyclone at some earlier point T-0.

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(1) I would like to have seen...is correct.

(2) I would have liked to see... is also correct.

In (1) the liking is in the present. In (2) the liking is in the past.

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The tense vector framework in English is capable of being used for 2nd order temporal (i.e., time-based) projection. That is, to place a temporal anchor on a particular point in time, and then project a set of tenses with reference to that point in time.

For example, let us temporally anchor ourselves to the present:

  • I eat breakfast (=One of my temporally indefinite feature is that I eat breakfast)
  • I am eating breakfast
  • I have eaten breakfast (= I possess the recent experience of completing eating breakfast).
  • I will be eating breakfast soon.

Let us temporally anchor ourselves to yesterday:

  • Yesterday, I (belong to a species who) eat breakfast, though I did not actually eat any breakfast (= yesterday, one my features as a human was the ability to eat breakfast).
  • I was eating breakfast at 10 am yesterday.
  • I had eaten breakfast by 10 am yesterday.
  • I would be soon be eating breakfast, yesterday at 10 am.

How about anchoring ourselves to tomorrow 10 am:

  • Tomorrow, I (will still be of a species who) eat breakfast, but I am not sure if I will actually be having any breakfast.
  • I will be eating breakfast at 10 am tomorrow.
  • I will have eaten breakfast by 10 am tomorrow.
  • At 10 am tomorrow, I will be eating breakfast at 11.

Let us analyse the temporal projections of the following sentence:

I will have hoped to have had breakfast by 10 am, when I relocate to NYC.

The story behind the above sentence:

I prefer to have breakfast before 10 am. I seldom have breakfast before 10 am. I always hope to have breakfast before 10 am. I am relocating to NYC next month. I fear that my bad breakfast habit will follow me to NYC.

I have a premonition that the day after I relocate to NYC, I will have hoped to have had breakfast by 10 am. On that day, I will have the awfully unfulfilled wish to have had breakfast by 10 am.

Let us say that we recognise the following four tenses:

  • infinite/indefinite
  • continuous
  • completed
  • expected

Let us also say that we wish to express our world with three modes of temporal projection:

  • past
  • present
  • future

Therefore, under the above supposition, we would be able to form a tensor matrix of 4 X 3 = 12 combinations.

It should also be noted that the subjunctive mood is expressible using the past projections.

Let us analyse a subjunctive case :

I had the chance to relocate to Paris last year. I regret that I did not take that opportunity. I can say that today I have, had the chance to relocate to Paris last year. I would also have had the joy of savouring having seen the Eiffel Tower every evening.

If I had relocated to Paris, I would still have preferred to have breakfast before 10 am. On the day after my relocation, I would have preferred to have had breakfast by 10 am.

I might have a chance to relocate to NYC next month. If I do relocate to NYC, I would still prefer to have breakfast before 10 am. On the day after my relocation, I would have preferred to have had breakfast by 10 am.

So, the tensor framework of English allows us 2nd-order time travel. I wish to propose that it could even allow us 3rd-order or Nth-order time travel.

Yesterday, I would have preferred to have had a day in my life when I could have preferred to have completed my research before the day when I had stopped preferring having had breakfast before 8 am.

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By now, I myself have become rather confused by the time projection matrix I have laid out, especially the nth-order projection. Which could have caused an instance or two of tenses that need to be corrected. –  Blessed Geek Jan 21 '13 at 0:15
    
Sorry, but I think this answer is irrelevant obfuscatory nonsense. –  FumbleFingers Jan 22 '13 at 3:04
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Consider that before the cyclone, you would have said "I would like to see New York". You are using the present tense to describe an ambition for some unknown hypothetical point in the future.

You are now describing this prior ambition*, in the past time, which makes it a form of indirect speech. The ambition is now in the past, while the hypothetical visit is in the future-of-the-past.

In such cases, we sometimes backshift the tense of the subordinate clause.

The first form does this:

I would have liked to have seen New York before the cyclone,

Here the subordinate is in the past tense, due to this backshifting.

I would have liked to see New York before the cyclone.

Here backshifting isn't used, and the subordinate is still in the present tense.

There are times where one has a strong advantage over the other. In particular, if there's no other indication then the backshifted form suggests that the range of the future-of-the-past has ended, while the non-backshifted suggests that the range of the future-of-the-past continues continues and is still the future now. (Similarly, with statements about the continuous-present-of-the-past, where that continuous-present may or may not have come to an end).

The example phrases though have two indicators that the ambition was never fulfilled. The "would have" and the "before the" tells us that the speaker didn't see New York during that time. This reduces the degree to which the choice to backshift or not tells us whether the ambition is still current.

That the latter is the form we would use if the ambition was still current gives a slight suggestion to my reading that its still being harboured despite its impossibility. That's a subjective response though, and either phrase allows that reading, while neither entails it.

*Of course, we can project impossible ambitions into the past, and it may never have occurred to the speaker that they would like to see New York, until after the cyclone had already happened.

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