Student Stumper 3: Perfect Infinitives
QUESTION: Do we really need a past form of the infinitive? The book says “would like to have seen”. Can’t I just say “would have liked to see”? Is it possible to say “would have liked to have seen”?
ANSWER: It’s true that often there is more than one way to express an idea. For example, the statements I’d rather not go and I’d prefer not to go are synonymous. Then again, some structures are synonymous in meaning but not in register. But and nevertheless can both express a contrast, but the latter is more formal.
I think these statements are synonymous:
- I would have liked to see that.
- I would like to have seen that.
Some may argue otherwise. Would you? Do you think that “would have liked” refers to a past possibility (It would have made me happy to see that, but I wasn’t there) and “would like” refers to a present possibility (Having seen that, I would be happy now)?
I think this statement (much like a double negative in English) is incorrect:
- I would have liked to have seen that.
Consider these concrete examples:
- There are some past U.S. presidential inaugurations many would have liked to see.
- Some consider elections more exciting than inaugurations. They discuss which elections they would like to have seen.
- Not all scenes filmed make it into a TV show or film. Aren’t there some deleted scenes you would have liked to see from your favorite film?
Changing the verbs and avoiding modals, we see less confusion:
- You seem to have recovered. (= It seems that you recovered.)
> Now you appear healthy. You must have recovered from your illness.
- You seemed to have recovered. (= It seemed to me that you had recovered.)
> The last time I saw you, you appeared healthy, but I suppose you had a relapse since that time.
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