I think the pattern 'modal + have + past participle' refers to the present or the past. Can it refer to the future as well? Are all of the following sentences correct:

He may have arrived yesterday. He may have arrived now. He may have arrived tomorrow.

  • Modals have no perfect tense. There are only forms for present and past tense. They can be followed by an infinitive or an infintive perfect.
    – rogermue
    Nov 6 '14 at 19:35

He may have arrived yesterday -perfectly alright.

He may have arrived now -just about scrapes in as grammatical but more usually one would say He may have arrived BY now.

He may have arrived tomorrow - IS NONSENSE. He may arrive tomorrow is the correct form of the future in this instance. In other words, with the modal 'may' or 'might', you do not need to use 'will' to indicate the future.

You could, of course, also say Maybe he will arrive tomorrow, which means the same thing.

  • His presentation is at 4:00, but he is still in Seattle. He may have arrived by 4:00, but he will not have enough time to prepare properly. Wrong? Nov 6 '14 at 11:52
  • @Armen: Wrong. It works with will and shall, because those are future-tense modals. Nov 6 '14 at 12:05
  • @ArmenԾիրունյան I don't see how it contradicts anything I said in my answer. Except that I should have added the possibility of He may have arrived BY tomorrow. I don't follow Peter's point.
    – WS2
    Nov 6 '14 at 12:12

This 'past in the future' using the 'future perfect' {Englishpage.com} is certainly acceptable {A Communicative Grammar of English: Geoffrey Leech, Jan Svartvik: p 154}:

They will have arrived by tomorrow.

Using more central modals instead of the basic future-indicating will is not always acceptable:

Mary should have arrived by next week.

*/?Mary must have arrived by next week.

?Mary must have arrived by next week to stand a chance of seeing her grandchildren.

(?)Mary may have arrived by next week.

Mary should have arrived by next week.

*Mary may have arrived tomorrow (as WS2 says).

*/?Mary could have arrived tomorrow.

Mary could have arrived tomorrow, had she managed to get that flight.

[these examples my own, not Leech et al's]

  • You gave an example of 'will have done' in the future. But I am seeking information on the use of 'may/might/could/should/must have done' in the future. Nov 6 '14 at 11:55
  • @KaptanSingh you asked about modals, you didn't specify in your question that you wanted it limited to a particular subset of modals. Nov 6 '14 at 12:28
  • I started with the modal 'will' as it is used in a virtually non-modal way (just to indicate the future, as 'have' is to indicate the past). And because Leech and Svartvik has an example. I went on to look at a few 'modal' modals, but Kaptan addressed my incomplete post (I find formatting difficult in Word say, as it changes on posting) just before I managed to add this material. Nov 6 '14 at 13:57
  • 1
    @Edwin Ashworth - There is no past perfect form in 'They will have arrived by tomorrow". In my 1975 edition of A Communicative Grammar of English, Leech and Svartik write (p 73) of 'The past in the future" "The past in the future is expressed by will + perfect infinitive".
    – tunny
    Nov 6 '14 at 14:06
  • Yes, thanks, tunny. I've deleted 'past'. Concentrating too much on which modals work. I've left the 'why just those modals?' and 'why just those temporal adverbials? questions; that may have to do with degree of probability. Nov 6 '14 at 14:20

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