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:

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.

Are you stumped by perfect infinitives? Can you offer any insight?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Zach says:

    Very interesting quetion. I think I’ve always thought that “I would have like to have seen that” was correct but that it was too complicated to say. But I guess you’re right, it does have a sort of redundancy to it similar to the double negative.

    1. englishwithjennifer says:

      It seems redundant to me, but I could be wrong. I’m hoping that another teacher will shed some light on this one. I just haven’t found any grammar reference book to confirm the structure as correct or incorrect. I think what you said about it being too complicated to say already says a lot. Let’s see if anyone else has an opinion. Thanks for sharing yours, Zach.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s