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My question is about usage of perfect infinitives with main verbs e.g.

I would like to have lived in the 13th century.

She was going to have worked in her mother's business, but decided instead to continue her studies.

It's particularly the second sentence that I don't understand. How does it differ from the following?

She was going to work in her mother's business, but decided instead to continue her studies.

PS: Are these forms actually used in speech? They seem quite unnecessarily long and cumbersome to be used in ordinary everyday conversation.

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1 Answer 1

The perfect infinitive means exactly what its name implies: it indicates the perfect tense in contexts when an infinitive is needed.

Your first sentence is fine: “I would like to have lived in the 13th century” is slightly different from “I would like to live in the 13th century”, but both mean basically the same thing. In the former, you are looking at things from the present, in which case a life spent in the 13th century is naturally already finished; hence the perfect tense. In the latter, you are looking at things from the ‘phrase-internal’ perspective of the 13th century, using a present tense. You can turn them both into finite clauses easily, and they are still both correct and perfectly normal sentences:

It would be nice if I lived in the 13th century
It would be [or have been] nice if I had lived in the 13th century

In your second phrase, though, the perfect infinitive does not make any sense—or at least, it requires quite a stretch of the imagination.

“She was going to have worked in her mother’s business” means that she was just on the verge of entering into a state where she had already worked in her mother’s business, but no longer did so. This might possibly make sense if she were currently working there and considering to quit, but it would be a very odd way of wording it. And with the rest of the phrase clearly indicating that she wasn’t actually working in her mother’s business at the time, it becomes an impossibility. The only viable option here is then:

She was going to work for her mother’s business, but decided instead to continue her studies.

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Thank you. So the difference is 'just' in, as you you call it, 'looking at things'? Does the perspective really make that great a difference? Are there any different contexts in which one sentence (with perfect infinitive for example) is more likely to appear? –  Tomáš Mach Jul 15 '13 at 22:04
    
Is the perfect infinitive also fine in constructions such as : 'I need to have reached my mother's before the storm hits.' etc.? –  Arun Oct 2 at 11:58
1  
@Arun Yes, it’s perfectly fine there, although it would be much more common to just use a simple infinitive in that case. Technically, the meaning is slightly different with a simple infinitive, but the difference is so negligible in your sentence that the flow of the simple infinitive wins out. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 2 at 12:01

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