Bob Ladd asked:
Is there any discussion anywhere of the multiple tense-marking (if that's what it is) in constructions like "We would have liked to have stayed longer" (as opposed to just "We would have liked to stay longer")? And is it just my impression, or has this become more common?
For what it's worth, there's a very clear discussion of what the difference theoretically could be here.
Web search turns up the original lyrics to Elton John and Bernie Taupin's song Candle in the Wind, which includes the line "I would have liked to have known you". You would think some Telegraph reader might have made the connection between the song's popularity and the decline of the English language, but if that happened I can't find any evidence of it.
Henry Watson Fowler is probably not what Bob means by "some Telegraph reader"; but Fowler 1926 says
After past conditionals such as should have liked, would have been possible, would been the first to, the present infinitive is (almost invariably) the right form, but the perfect often intrudes, & this time without the compensation noted in 1, the implication of non-fulfilment being inherent in the governing verb itself. So:– If my point had not been this, I should not have endeavoured to have shown the connexion. / Jim Scudamore would have been the first man to have acknowledged the anomaly./ Peggy would have liked to have shown her turban & bird of paradise at the ball./ The Labour members opened their eyes wide, & except for a capital levy it is doubtful whether they would have dared to have gone further.
(For more on the "implication of non-fulfilment", see the end of the post.)
Many other usage guides follow Fowler, often more emphatically, in viewing the double perfect marking in such cases as illogical and wrong. Thus Garner 2009:
would have liked. This phrase should invariably be followed by a present-tense infinitive–hence would have liked to go, not *would have liked to have gone, *would have liked to have read. The erroneous phrasings are very common–e.g.:
- "One would have liked to have been [read would have like to be] present at the meeting in which the introduction of this equipment was ratified." Giles Smith, "'Replay' Ends Dispute over Hurst's Goal," Daily Telegraph, 16 Aug. 1997, at 21.
- "Clapp said he would have like to have seen [read would have liked to see] more teams involved in postseason play," Richard Olbert, "expanded Playoffs Rejected," Ariz. Republic, 29 Aug. 1997, at C12.
Such phrasings, erroneous or not, have certainly been common for a long time. Here's Disraeli:
The world goes on with its aching hearts and its smiling faces, and very often, when a year has revolved, the world finds out there was no sufficient cause for the sororws or the smiles. There is too much unnecessary anxiety in the world, which is apt too hastily to calculate the consequences of any unforeseen event, quite forgetting that, acute as it is in observation, the world, where the future is concerned, is generally wrong. The Duchess would have liked to have buried herself in the shades of Brentham, but Lady Corisande, who deported herself as if there were no care at Crecy House except that occasioned by her brother's rash engagement, was of opinion that 'Mamma would only brood over this vexation in the country,' and that it would be much better not to anticipate the close of the waning season. So the Duchess and her lovely daughter were seen everywhere where they ought to be seen, and appeared the pictures of serenity and satisfaction.
And Bram Stoker:
It seemed to me that we were simply going over and over the same ground again; and so I took note of some salient point, and found that this was so. I would have liked to have asked the driver what this all meant, but I really feared to do so, for I thought that, placed as I was, any protest would have had no effect in case there had been an intention to delay.
The dirty fist in the young surgeon's pocket was obliged to un-double itself, and come out of its ambush disarmed. The poor fellow himself felt, as he laid it in Pen's hand, how hot his own was, and how black – it left black marks on Pen's glove; he saw them, – he would have liked to have clenched it again and dashed it into the other's good-humoured face; and have seen, there upon that ground, with Fanny, with all England looking on, which was the best man – he, Sam Huxter of Bartholomew's, or that grinning dandy.
And Oscar Wilde:
The exaggerated folly of the threat, the passionate gesture that accompanied it, the mad melodramatic words, made life seem more vivid to her. She was familiar with the atmosphere. She breathed more freely, and for the first time for many months she really admired her son. She would have liked to have continued the scene on the same emotional scale, but he cut her short.
And Ernest Hemingway:
Frances was a little drunk and would have liked to have kept it up but the coffee came, and Lavigne with the liqueurs, and after that we all went out and started for Braddocks's dancing club.
Here's some data from COHA, which suggests that such phrasings may have been becoming more rather than less common, despite the best efforts of Fowler, Garner, and their ilk:
|Date Range||"would have liked
to have VERBED
|"would have liked
|Pcnt "to have VERBED"|
Responding to Bob's note, Geoff Pullum gave a grammatical and logical analysis of why Fowler (though not Garner) might be right:
Having thought about this before, I'm inclined to say that there is no "double marking". I think these sentences:
 I would like to know Marilyn.
 I would like to have known Marilyn.
 I would have liked to know Marilyn.
 I would have liked to have known Marilyn.
are all four grammatical, with different meanings. Let t0, t1, and t2 be three time points in chronological order, t2 being now. I think the meanings are:
[1'] Speaking at t2 I would like at t2 to know Marilyn at t2.
[2'] Speaking at t2 I would like at t2 to be in a state of having known Marilyn at t1.
[3'] Speaking at t2 I would have liked at t1 to know Marilyn at t1.
[4'] Speaking at t2 I would have liked at t1 to have known Marilyn at some earlier point t0.
If there are mistakes out there, I think they involve people saying one that isn't the one they really meant; but some of the truth-conditional differences are subtle, so not only would it be hard to convince someone they had made an error, it would be hard even to convince yourself.
Bob Ladd responded:
Right – I agree that the meanings are all potentially distinct, and in fact that's exactly what it says at the useful link I included in my earlier message.
But my empirical observation was simply that (to use your numerical references) people often use construction  when they want to convey meaning [3']. Sometimes it's hard to tell, of course, but in general meaning [4'] doesn't make much sense. [...]
It's for that reason that I think we're dealing with double marking, at least in the way construction  is normally used. Calling these mistakes is dangerously close to suggesting that somebody who says "I didn't see nothing" really means "I saw something".
For what it's worth, I seem to be among those who prefer what Bob calls "double marking" — "I would have liked to have known you" seems better to me than "I would have liked to know you", in the meaning that Geoff identifies as [3']. As Fowler suggests, the double marking feels like a way of emphasizing the irrealis character of the embedded clause:
1. After past tenses of hope, fear, expect, & the like, the perfect infinitive is used, incorrectly indeed & unnecessarily, but so often & with so useful an implication that it may well be counted idiomatic. That implication is that the thing hoped &c. did not in fact come to pass, & the economy of conveying this without a separate sentence compensates for lack of logical precision. So :– Philosophy began to congratulate herself upon such a proselyte from the world of business, & hoped to have extended her power under the auspices of such a leader./ It was the duty of that publisher to have rebutted a statement which he knew to be a calumny./ I was going to have asked, when . . .
The section on The Perfect Infinitive in The King's English (1908) is even more sympathetic to perfect infinitives as irrealis markers:
This has its right and its wrong uses. The right are obvious, and can be left along. Even of the wrong some are serviceable, if not strictly logical. I hoped to have succeeded, for instance, means I hoped to succeed, but I did not succeed, and has the advantage of it in brevity; it is an idiom that it would be a pity to sacrifice on the altar of Reason.
In this context, "strictly logical" can be glossed as "interpreted according to the illogical premise that each morphological category has an a single and invariant meaning". As often, the Fowlers' linguistic intuitions are better than their linguistic theories.