I was interested in the following sentence which appeared in an article titled “No Rest for the Weary” in The New York Times (February 15, 2008).

Would you have liked to have been president from 1862-1864?

It sounds ungrammatical to my ear as the journalists (MICHELLE SALE and YASMIN CHIN EISENHAUER) did use "to have been" rather than "to be", but I am not able to find what rules govern this problem.

So, I would write:

Would you have liked to be president from 1862-1864?

Am I right? If so, why?

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    The quote is grammatical. The date range is in the past, and so must be the verb phrase. If a similar question was being asked about the present tense, it would read would you like to be president from 2012-2016? so that like and to be agree the way that have liked and to have been agree. Jun 4, 2012 at 13:49
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    There's a detailed discussion of this question on Language Log: languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3941 .
    – Shoe
    Jun 4, 2012 at 17:23

2 Answers 2


It's grammatical, but it's probably not what the journalist intended. Would you like to have been president... asks whether election in the past would please you as you are now; would you have liked to be... asks whether a 'you' in the 19th century would have wanted to be president; would you have liked to have been... is asking whether an election in 1862 would have pleased you as you were sometime between 1863 and last year.


I think your observation is sound.

I know these of Conditionals:

(If you were given the chance), would you like to be President? - Present Conditional

(If you had been born in that century), would you have liked to be President? - Past Conditional

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