I recently got stumped by an old question I had considered in a previous post on perfect infinitives. What do I really believe about perfect infinitives? Am I certain when and when not to use them? Apparently others are stumped, too, because I see inconsistency even among journalists and novelists. Using the Corpus of Contemporary American English, I see a few instances of perfect modals (would have liked) combined with perfect infinitives (to have seen). This double use of perfect forms seems a bit redundant to me, but is there any source to confirm it’s incorrect?
Here’s my take on the use of perfect modals vs. perfect infinitives:
- Perfect infinitives can express a past time: She claims to have met many famous people.
- Perfect infinitives can express an earlier past point in time: He seemed to have lost his way, so I approached him and offered help.
- Perfect modals can express a regret or a wish that was never realized: While growing up, I would have loved to have a sister. (Also possible: I would love to have had a sister. Redundant: I would have loved to have had a sister.)
If you agree with the logic above, then you might like to offer your advanced students the conversation activity on my Perfect infinitives_handout.