I wanted to express my disdain for certaing people and say something along the lines of "If they by any chance were to die tomorrow, I wouldn't care" (I know it's a wrong thing to say, and I'm sorry.) What I actually said was:

They could have been killed tomorrow; I couldn't care less.

Shouldn't I have said: They could be killed...? I used the perfect infinitive to emphasize the improbability of them being killed any time soon. Now I feel I overdid it.

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    More simply (and I think more commonly) They could get killed tomorrow and I couldn't care less/wouldn't care. In emphatic phraseology, simpler is shorter is more memorable is better. – John Lawler Apr 30 '14 at 18:23
  • Incorrect use of the present-perfect tense "have been". 1: The time cannot be exact, so "tomorrow" defeats it. 2: The event would have occurred in the past, not he future. "They could have been killed; I wouldn't have cared less." Keeping it as close to the original as possible: "They could be killed tomorrow [; I couldn't care less.]" [and I would not care.] [for all I care.] – Apple Freejeans Apr 30 '14 at 18:31
  • One more comment. If you go with your corrected response, a semicolon does not sufficiently explain the relationship between the two independent thoughts. The coordinating conjunction "and" would do better. "He could be killed tomorrow, and I couldn't care less." The time differential is the reason: {He could die tomorrow. [;] I could not care right now.} {He could die tomorrow. [, and] I could not care right now.} – Apple Freejeans Apr 30 '14 at 18:38
  • I'm pretty sure it's not about the present perfect tense and the lack of exact time. If it were, we couldn't say: "You shouldn't have done it yesterday", and I feel it's quite correct. – jules Apr 30 '14 at 21:29
  • To quote my favorite online resource for perfect tense, "We use the Present Perfect to say that an action happened at an unspecified time before now. The exact time is not important. You CANNOT use the Present Perfect with specific time expressions such as: yesterday, one year ago, last week, when I was a child, when I lived in Japan, at that moment, that day, one day, etc. We CAN use the Present Perfect with unspecific expressions such as: ever, never, once, many times, several times, before, so far, already, yet, etc. " englishpage.com/verbpage/presentperfect.html – Apple Freejeans May 1 '14 at 11:28

You did overdo it. Tomorrow is not a point in the past, however you stretch the imagination, and you are using something perfect where the point of completion is tomorrow. As noted below, that could happen, but would be totally unrelated to what you meant.

You could render it on-topic, but very strange, by putting 'by' in front of tomorrow, making it future perfect. But as stated, it simply doesn't mean what you want to say.

Your correction is OK. But you should consider 'may' or 'might' when you want 'could' to denote possibility rather than ability, especially in the future. "She may be killed tomorrow; I couldn't care less" feels less cramped.

  • Er, "They could have been killed tomorrow. You knew they were planning to go camping in the mountains. You didn't have to kill them today, especially not in my kitchen. Now I gotta clean up this mess!" – F.E. Apr 30 '14 at 19:02
  • OK, you are right, it was already grammatically correct, but very strange, just in a way totally unrelated to his intent. English knows so few bounds, and so many back-alleys. – Jon Jay Obermark Apr 30 '14 at 19:09
  • Also, "They could have been killed tomorrow." isn't a present-perfect or a past-perfect. – F.E. Apr 30 '14 at 19:11
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    Edited to acknowledge these comments. The have definitely makes it perfect, so I don't see how it can be neither past nor present perfect. – Jon Jay Obermark Apr 30 '14 at 19:13
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    OK, so someone is insisting that instead of present subjunctive English has only an absolute subjunctive. Seems like an excuse to pick on old people, to me... – Jon Jay Obermark Apr 30 '14 at 19:27

The perfect infinitive can refer to something that will be completed at a point in the future:

We hope to have finished the building works by the end of March.



The correct degree of insouciance would be rendered by "if they dropped dead tomorrow, I wouldn't (care/shed a tear/lose any sleep)". A fussier grammarian would say "if they were to drop dead . . " but such sentiments are rarely voiced in a formal style.

There are a few such ready-made expressions, with perhaps the best one describing how little trouble you would go to if you saw them on fire :-)

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