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There is a missing knowledge of Tenses in Modals in English grammar textbooks.

Ok, we know that "Present Perfect Continuous" is used to express a duration from the past until now.

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Ex: They have been talking for the last hour. (the "talking" action happened 1 hour ago & continuously progress until now.)

Yeah, that's easy. But what about the structure "MODAL + HAVE BEEN + ING VERB"?

What meaning does the structure "MODAL + HAVE BEEN + ING VERB" carry?

See this example

  • The baby must have been sleeping when I passed by his room 2 hours ago.

Does that mean "I am very sure that the baby was sleeping at that time (2 hours ago), but he woke up 1 hour ago"

or

Does that mean "I am very sure that the baby has been sleeping for 2 hours, and he is still sleeping now"

This page says "The perfect continuous conditional can be used in type 3 conditional sentences. It refers to the unfulfilled result of the action in the if-clause, and expresses this result as an unfinished or continuous action."

But what does "an unfinished or continuous action" mean?.

Ex: If she hadn't got a job in London (but she did), she would have been working in Paris (maybe still she is working in Paris now) (but she wasn't).

So "MODAL + HAVE BEEN + ING VERB" expresses an ongoing action which finished or lasts from the past up to now?

Note: could you please include a referenced source in your answers?

  • No, /I am very sure that the baby was sleeping at that time (2 hours ago), but he woke up 1 hour ago/ is wrong. At the TIME the subject [I] went by the room, the baby was still sleeping, or the baby had not finished sleeping i.e. the baby had not yet woken up. The question to ask re MUST + the PC is: Was the action ongoing at the TIME the utterance was spoken? On your timeline (great timeline by the way), the person creating the utterance is "standing" right at the present division line. – Lambie Jan 30 '17 at 15:07
  • (1) 'They have been talking for the last hour.' : your diagram applies. // (2a) 'They should have been talking for the last hour.': it is my opinion that your diagram probably applies. /or/ (2b) 'They should have been talking for the last hour.': If your diagram doesn't reflect reality, they need telling off. >> The connection between modals per se and timeframes is usually slight or non-existent. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 30 '17 at 15:12
  • "The baby must have been sleeping [then]" doesn't imply anything about whether he/she is still asleep now. – Kate Bunting Jan 30 '17 at 15:18
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You're right. After a modal, HAVE+pp does not have the sense of perfect, but of past.

"Must have slept" corresponds temporally to "slept" not to "has slept"

Similarly "must have been sleeping" corresponds in tense to "was sleeping", not to "has been sleeping".

Edit: after thinking about it, I think it would be more accurate to say that after a modal, the distinction between past and perfect is neutralised. "Must have slept" can correspond to "has slept" or to "slept". So:

Look at the bed! Somebody must have slept here!

has perfect force: it's equivalent to "I conclude that somebody has slept here".

What did he do after that? I don't know. He must have slept.

has non-perfect past force: it's equivalent to "I conclude that he slept".

So "the baby must have been sleeping" could have the usual present-relevance (perfect continuous) but might not have (past continuous).

  • Could you include a referenced source because noone has mentioned this? – Tom Jan 30 '17 at 15:22
  • But why they said "The perfect continuous conditional can be used in type 3 conditional sentences. It refers to the unfulfilled result of the action in the if-clause, and expresses this result as an unfinished or continuous action.". Ex: she would have been working in Paris (does that mean she is still working in Paris now or not?) – Tom Jan 30 '17 at 15:25
  • I found the link (web2.uvcs.uvic.ca/courses/elc/studyzone/410/grammar/…) "To say you think an action was happening at a time in the past, use modal + have been + progressive verb, as in the next example." Ex: The fire alarm sounded very early in the morning. Most residents of the building must have been sleeping at the time. – Tom Jan 30 '17 at 15:45
  • @Tom--If she hadn't gotTEN a job in London (which she did), she would have been working in Paris (in theory, not reality). 'Would have' sets the timeframe in the world of possibilities, not a specific time. The context shows timing. —PAST: "Back then, if it wasn't for her actual London job, the Paris job had all that work to keep her busy. Still, she liked London and stayed there." —PRESENT: 'If it wasn't for the London job that she had, then the Paris job could have her busy even today." —FUTURE: "Without that London job, she could have this entire upcoming year with us in Paris. Shame." – Yosef Baskin Jan 30 '17 at 16:23
  • youtube.com/watch?v=7fn7HWBZVpQ, this teacher at 5:10 confirmed "Modal+Perfect continuous" was similar to "Past continuous" & before that he also meant "Modal+Perfect continuous" was similar to "Past Perfect continuous", but he did not mention "Present Perfect continuous" at all – Tom Jan 30 '17 at 16:42

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