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Can you say "I can have had been..." doing something?

Example:

I can have had been reading a book if I could send a letter back in time to tell myself.

So, not could have had been, specifically can. Like, I can be doing something, but the something has already happened.

If you can not grammatically express the idea like that, how can you?

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1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I don't think your idea can exist.

In your sentence...

I can have had been reading a book if I could send a letter back in time to tell myself.

... the conditional if and past-tense makes your opening can illogical.

Instead,

I could have been reading a book if I could have sent a letter back in time to tell myself to read it.

-or-

I could have read a book if I could have sent a letter back in time to tell myself to read it.

-or-

I could be reading a book if I could have sent a letter back in time to tell myself to be reading it.

If you're writing fiction, and the idea you're trying to communicate is that you could be doing something else right now if you could change the timeline, I would say it like this:

If I can send this letter back in time to myself, then I can have read the book before it's too late.

When you try to say "I can have had been" you're creating a time paradox. Consider the following:

I can be reading if I can send myself a letter back in time to tell me to be reading.

If the above is true, why aren't you reading? And if you were reading, you couldn't be sending yourself a letter to tell yourself to read, so you wouldn't be reading.

So, like I said, I don't think the idea (as you've expressed it) is able to exist, the grammatical problem merely uncovers the time paradox.

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1  
As the smiley face nazi, I condemn your smiley faces. –  Mahnax Dec 21 '11 at 6:00
1  
What is the point of removing them? –  victoriah Dec 21 '11 at 6:23
2  
Too many smileys make no point in particular. However, one or two in the right place help convey the right intent that sometimes cannot be expressed in words alone. 'I don't think your idea can exist' said with a poker face is not the same thing when said with a smile? –  Kris Dec 21 '11 at 10:31
    
What Kris said. But I'm not going to edit the smileys back in. @Jcubed, please note that my tone is intended to be light, not condemning. I think you've raised an interesting question or I wouldn't have bothered with an answer. –  Andrew Dec 21 '11 at 20:59

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