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I instinctively said

I would have had to have been over 180 lbs for that to have happened.

I thought that seemed overly wordy. Too many "have"s and "had"s. So I tried:

I would have had to be over 180 lbs for that to happen.

That didn't feel right, though.

My brother and I were talking of a past event. He suggested something that could have happened. (Something like, You could have hung from the chandelier to get it out). I tried the first of the above statements. I want to speak about something that would need to occur for something else to occur in that past situation.

What would be the proper way of saying what I was trying to say up there‽

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6 Answers 6

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I would have had to have been and I would have had to be are alternatives, but have had already sets up the time reference, so the infinitive to be, rather than the perfect infinitive to have been is enough. Usage seems to confirm this. The British National Corpus has 15 records of would have had to have been and 45 of would have had to be. The figures for the Corpus of Contemporary American English are 38 and 67.

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  • 1
    I woulda hadda be ten feet tall! I woulda hadda be really fast! :) My instinct is would have had to be as well. I doubt if I ever use had to have been in normal speech.
    – aedia λ
    Dec 1, 2011 at 20:17
  • So, in a technical sense, both are considered proper English? Good to know! :) Much thanks, Barrie! I appreciate the reference, too.
    – MicronXD
    Dec 1, 2011 at 23:48
  • 1
    @MicronXD: Yes, we have a tremendous advantage now in being able to consult corpora. We can see how people actually use language, rather than having some vague idea of how they ought to use it. I prefer not to think in terms of 'proper English' or 'correct English'. It seems to me to make more sense to think in terms of effective English. Dec 2, 2011 at 7:22
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Speaking casually:

"I'd have to have been over 180lbs . . ."

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  • Thanks Mr. Wiz! I wanted to upvote your answer, but I haven't enough reputation.
    – MicronXD
    Dec 1, 2011 at 23:50
  • @MicronXD thank you. The points will come soon I'm sure.
    – Mr.Wizard
    Dec 1, 2011 at 23:55
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I would say "I would have to have been. . .". "I would have had to be..." would be grammatical, but as you say sounds odd here, possibly because it's not the tense your brother used.

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I just wrote this same phrase in a document and Googled it for sanity. This discussion was interesting and so here's my own deconstruction:

"I would" (me and some possibility)

"have" (possess)

"had" (possessed in the past)

"to have" (possess in the future)

"been" (in the past)

"over 180lbs." (something)

It does seem that there are too many words ("had" and "been") that make the connection with the past. Is that why the alternative:

"I would have to have been over 180lbs."

also sounds right and may actually be better English?

The third alternative:

"I would have been over 180lbs."

feels more certain although "would" still implies some uncertainty. Doubling up on the "have"s seems to emphasise uncertainty. But is that really necessary?

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  • After I wrote this myself as a native speaker, I too wondered if English grammar was more insane than I had previously thought. Sep 12, 2023 at 6:28
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I say "I would have to have been" but I hear it said differently usually. This is the only site I have found just now, so I don't know how to verify this. I wonder if my form is British?

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This is actually right because it's framing a double conditional: the meta conditional is something that:

  • has already concluded and is in the past and
  • is a hypothetical condtion which was not achieved,

thereby making the first conditional a statement of another conditional statement that defines what circumstances would have allow the post conditional to be achieved.

It is sandwiching a part conditional perfect progressive "I would have been" tense (which needs an if and then portion) with a filling of conditional past imperfect (an incompleted action): "had to have (been) [180 lbs]" which was not completed/achieved.

This sets it up for the 'then' statement "for so and so to happen" - so it completes the thought on the continuity and conditional statements.

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  • Extremely confusing answer. Extensive editing and rewording needed.
    – VTH
    Aug 19, 2018 at 10:39
  • It made sense to me. I think it just needed extra whitespace and minor punctuation changes, so I've edited those in. Apr 5, 2023 at 11:13

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