Here is an example from an old book. I know it’s old but it can’t be simply discarded, I hope.

"I never dare have spoken — never dare have told you that my love for you was killing me"

So, I wonder if the following three all mean the same thing?

  1. I never dare have told you.

  2. I never dared to have told you.

  3. I didn't ever dare to have told you.

I would like to know how popular in terms of the usage frequency the combination of dare and a perfect infinitive is.

  • Apropos nothing (but something I fight interesting and funny at the same time): a former neighbor of mine, probably 50 years my senior, used to say, "I dasn't do that." I think she meant, "I dare not do that," or "I don't dare do that," or something similar. Funny! Commented May 15, 2013 at 13:59
  • @rhetorician This was once a widespread dialect form - I heard it in Alabama in my youth, and you'll find it for instance all over Twain. I think it's a contracted "daresn't", just as "ain't" is "aren't"/"amn't"/"isn't" - perhaps with influence from the durstn't tchrist notes. Commented May 15, 2013 at 15:20

2 Answers 2


This is a very rare usage and cannot be regarded as idiomatic today.

Dare is an odd word—it wanders back and forth between performing as an ordinary lexical verb and as a sort of modal. For instance, it is used with both marked and unmarked infinitives, and it may be used with or without DO-support:

I dare tell you so. ... I dare to tell you so.
I dare not tell you so. ... I do not dare tell you so.
Dare I eat a peach? ... Do I dare to eat a peach?

I dare have spoken/told is a use consistent with treatment as a full modal—except that every instance of such use I find (in a quick-and-dirty survey on Google Books) employs the present form in a past sense, as your example does. This suggests that the few authors who used it (all such uses I found appeared in the last half of the 19th century) were influenced—and somehow confused!—by the conventional of use of the “perfect infinitive” to backshift past modals employed in a present sense, as when “I might do this” is backshifted as “I might have done this”.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon, and I am glad to have had it drawn to my attention. But it was never common, and for practical purposes you may ignore it.

  • Need is similar; they're called "semi-modal" verbs. It's always possible to treat them as regular verbs, that inflect and take infinitives with to, but in a Negative Polarity context (like not or never or Question), they can be used like modals, with no inflection and infinitives without to. Many archaic affordances like this linger on as NPIs; I often think of Negative Polarity as a Poet's Corner of the language. Commented May 15, 2013 at 13:45
  • @JohnLawler A place where famous utterances which no one reads any more are buried? Commented May 15, 2013 at 19:40
  • 2
    No, where they dodder around with their walkers and mumble incomprehensibly while they're being converted into idioms and eggcorns. Commented May 15, 2013 at 21:24

Those now all sound wrong to the modern ear. In contemporary English, that should just be one of:

  • I never dared to tell you.
  • I never dared tell you.
  • I dared never tell you.

Of those, the second may be preferable. Notice how dare can be used without a to-infinitive but just a bare infinitive, where it acts more like a modal verb.

The OED gives only one citation using a “perfect infinitive” with dare, and this citation is with a bare infinitive (not a to-infinitive) complement:

  • 1790 Cowper Let. to Mrs. Bodham 21 Nov. — Such as I dared not have given.

Perhaps it is more normal to say to have dared do something than to say dare (to) have done something.

  • I’ve never dared tell you.
  • I’ve never dared tell you.

Dare is actually a somewhat complicated verb with a complex history. The OED says of it:

Etymology: One of the interesting group of Teutonic preterite-present verbs, of which the extant present is an original preterite tense: see can, dow, etc.

[. . .]

The original 3rd sing. pres. he dare, and pa. t. durst, remained undisturbed to the modern period, in which the transitive senses (B. II.) were developed; but early in the 16th c. the new forms dares, dared, appeared in the south, and are always used in the transitive senses, and now also in the intransitive sense when followed by to. In the original construction, followed by the infinitive without to, dare, durst are still in common use (esp. in the negative ‘he dare not’, ‘he durst not’); and most writers prefer ‘he dare go’, or ‘he dares to go’, to ‘he dares go ’. The northern dialects generally retain ‘he dare, he durst’, and writers of northern extraction favour their retention in literary English when followed by the simple infinitive without to.

Dare has an irregular simple past tense durst that you will sometimes read in literature but which is today preserved mostly in regional English only.

  • I durst never tell you.

In older works you can also find durst used as a past participle, or used in places traditionally analysed as past subjunctive or conditional.

The OED also notes that the present-tense form dare is occasionally “carelessly used for the past dared or durst”. This seems to have been more common during the 19th century. Some of the OED citations from then of this are:

  • 1811 A. Bell in Southey Life (1844) II. 651 — I wish I dare [= durst] put them down among our books.
  • 1847 Marryat Childr. N. Forest vii, — He told me he dare not speak to you on the subject.
  • 1857 Kingsley Two Y. Ago I. 214 — She was silent; for to rouse her tyrant was more than she dare do.
  • 1857 Kingsley Two Y. Ago 298 — But she went into no trance; she dare not.

I would advise against using dare as a past tense form. If you still wanted an old-time feel to it, you could use durst. You can find durst have used in the 17th and again in the 19th centuries. The 17th-century data isn’t very good, but here is a Google N-Gram starting from the 18th:

durst vs dare

However, once you add have dared to the mix, everything else flatlines:

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