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The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, page 148, reads

I would like to have met her and I would have liked to have met her, which are often used to convey the same meaning as I would have liked to meet her, are ambiguous: they also have interpretations in which anteriority applies to the meeting. These interpretations are pragmatically unlikely in the examples chosen, but become more salient if we change met her to finished it.

What are the two interpretations of such sentences which make them ambiguous?

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    In I would have liked to meet her, it is clear that you haven't ever met. But in the two bolded sentences, it is somewhat ambiguous as to whether you ever met at a later time. – Phil Sweet Oct 15 at 10:39
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    I would like to have met her explicitly indicates that right now, at time of speaking, I still regret the fact of not meeting her, whereas (in principle, at least) I would have liked to have met her implies that my regret is now in the past. But in practice, most native speakers / listeners wouldn't normally neither intend / understand that fine point, which wouldn't be likely to have much if any real-world significance. – FumbleFingers Oct 15 at 11:25
  • The ambiguity arises because it is possible to apply the past (anterior) meaning to either the liking or the meeting. – BillJ Oct 15 at 11:36
  • (As Cambridge point out, if the thing that never happened was finished it as opposed to met her, the different tense choices might have more significant real-world implications.) – FumbleFingers Oct 15 at 11:38
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    I would like to have finished it before I go expresses my current desire to be in a specified state (that of having finished something) at some specified time in the future (when I leave). Note that I would have liked to have finished it before I go is a very unlikely permutation (for most contexts it would be ...before I went). But for both of those, would have liked implies it's no longer my current desire, because that's no longer even a possibility (regardless of whether I've already left by time of utterance). – FumbleFingers Oct 15 at 12:49
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The following are the two different meanings that are alluded to:

1. I would have liked to have met her.

I wish we could have met.

2. I would have liked to have met her.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed the experience of meeting her.


The ambiguity comes from the use of like. It can be used in its literal sense of pleasure, happiness, or accord, or it can be used to convey a sense of wishing for something.

For instance:

I would like you to get on with the terribly painful torture now.

The use of like here is an indication, phrased politely, of your desire for some action. In this case, it most definitely will not be a pleasant experience; you won't actually like it. It's simply being used as part of a request.

I would like the taste of a world-class meal.

Here, like is (probably) talking about how the thing will be pleasant. But it could also be talking about the desire to experience it—whether you'd actually enjoy it or not. No pun intended, but it's likely you'd enjoy it.

  • Interesting contrast between two identical sentences. – Anton Sherwood Oct 19 at 6:50

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