Ask Language Log: "… would like to have VERBed"?

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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.

And Thackeray:

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
to VERB"
Pcnt "to have VERBED"
1810-1839 0 1 0%
1840-1869 2 35 5%
1870-1899 13 102 5%
1900-1929 24 143 8%
1930-1959 26 191 9%
1960-1989 42 181 11%
1990-2011 22 75 15%

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:

[1]     I would like to know Marilyn.
[2]     I would like to have known Marilyn.
[3]     I would have liked to know Marilyn.
[4]     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 [4] 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 [4] 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.



40 Comments

  1. Faldone said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 6:32 am

    Without digging too deeply into the grammar or meaning, [3] just plain sounds wrong to me. If I had been a 17th century blogger, perhaps I could have made my purely personal prejudice a carved-in-stone zombie rule, thus saving the world from the menace of irrational grammar.

  2. peter said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 7:08 am

    Bob Ladd said:

    "But my empirical observation was simply that (to use your numerical references) people often use construction [4] when they want to convey meaning [3′]."

    In my experience, expression [4] is a common utterance when someone speaks after the death of a person they did not know, but wish they had. Their intended meaning is [4'], not [3'], since they are expressing a desire to have known the deceased person while that person was still alive, not just at the time of their death, ie at times t_0 earlier than the time of death t_1, when speaking at t_2.

  3. richard howland-bolton said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 7:09 am

    [3] seems odd (and somewhat Biblical) to me too.

  4. Jon Weinberg said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 7:35 am

    A good example of an instance when meaning [4'] is meant is "I would have liked to have met him." But people plainly also use [4] when they mean [3']; without any data, I suspect that most folk are more likely to say "I would have liked to have slept with Sandy" than "I would have liked to sleep with Sandy", even though it's the act rather than the memory that most people find most valuable.

  5. David L said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 7:36 am

    I agree that [3] sounds unnatural, and I'm also not convinced there's much of a difference between [2] and [4], both of which amount to saying "I wish I had known Marilyn [but now it's too late]." Geoff Pullum's interpretation of [4] seems to me to carry the implication "I wish I had known Marilyn [at some earlier point in time] but now I'm not so sure…"

    [(myl) I'm not convinced that you're reading or thinking very clearly here. In Geoff's [2], the matrix "would like" refers to the time of speaking or writing, which Geoff calls t0; in [4], the matrix "would have liked" refers to some earlier time, t1. If you try substituting pattern [2] in the various past-tense narratives cited in the post, you'll see (I hope) the difference. Your analysis says, for example, that Oscar Wilde's passage

    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.

    might as well have been

    She breathed more freely, and for the first time for many months she really admired her son. She would like to have continued the scene on the same emotional scale, but he cut her short.

    Do you really think that there's not much of a difference between patterns [2] and [4] in such cases? That's the option that Fowler describes as a hypercorrection:

    Sometimes a writer, dimly aware that 'would have liked to have done' is usually wrong, is yet so fascinated by the perfect infinitive that he clings to that at all costs, & alters instead the part of his sentence that was right: On the point of church James was obdurate; he would like to have insisted on the other grudging items (would have liked to insist).

    ]

  6. Brian said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 7:59 am

    David L, there's a less fraught interpretation of [4] that doesn't require the implication of not being so sure. Maybe this will help: "Right now, I'm declaring that I would like to have known Marilyn — in fact, in 1962, when I heard of her death, I said I would have liked to have known Marilyn, and my feelings have never changed." Yes, they both express the same sentiment, but you do need the different tenses if you're going to accurately represent when they were uttered.

    [3] sounds fine to my ear. I wonder if it will start to sound unsuitably bare because we're all getting accustomed to excessive verbiage such as "If I would have known the answer, I would have said so."

  7. mollymooly said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 9:27 am

    "He would have hated to have died without having ever felt like she made him feel."

    [3] or [4]?

  8. C Thornett said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 9:59 am

    [4] does seem to express a set of time relationships and plural contrary-to-fact in a way that the others do not. It's probably a form to be used only sparingly, when the alternatives are too convoluted, especially in writing. It seems less wrong than double modals to me.

  9. D.O. said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 10:00 am

    I cannot decipher Disraeli's rather convoluted prose style, but the quotes from Thakeray, Wilde, and Hemingway are clearly in the sense [3']. Stoker's quote can be [3'] or [4'] at least with the given context. Moreover, I'd go further and suggest that for the Th, W, and H quotes there is implied time t1', immediate future relative to t1, when the actual action was desired to have happened.

  10. Brad said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 10:01 am

    I think I've used this sort of construct before, and my reasoning reconstructs like so:

    To get to "She would have liked to have continued the scene on the same emotional scale" you start with "If she could have continued the scene on the same emotional scale, she would have liked it", reorder it as "She would have liked it if she could have continued the scene on the same emotional scale" and then replace "it if she could" with "to", as a simpler way of connecting the two parts.

    On the one hand, I suppose there's an urge to adjust the tense to be consistent with other structures, but there's a counter balancing urge not to do so to if the situation is now irrevocably hypothetical. "I would have liked to have seen her one last time." But that could just be trying to make up a stylistic justification for all of that. :)

  11. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 10:10 am

    @Brian: I'm surprised to see so many people saying 3 sounds unnatural. I wonder whether their preference a concord thing: once you get into perfect mode, you stay in that mode.

    (I probably say 4 to mean 3', but I don't think I write it much.)

    @mollymooly: That one's 5 (if not a higher number, possibly an irrational one).

    @myl and the Fowlers: I hoped to have have succeeded doesn't convey irrealis to me any better than I hoped to succeed. Maybe others' mileage varies. Anyway, the failure is usually clear from the context.

  12. Coby Lubliner said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 10:14 am

    Mark's hypothetical change of Oscar Wilde's text from "would have liked to have continued" to "would like to have continued" violates the convention of the usual free indirect style, in which (unlike, say, Hilary Mantel) the past is the normal tense of the narration. Pragmatically if not grammatically, "would like" represents a present state of experience (as a milder version of "want"), and (for lack of any other form) "would have liked" is its past (equivalent to "wanted"), as in Geoff's analysis.

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 10:23 am

    An early one from a well-known writer:

    "In the first place, let us consider (we, who are in possession of Estates by legal descent) how we should have liked to have been such naked destitute varlets, as we must have been, had our Fathers been as wise as ourselves, and despised Matrimony as we do…"

    Richardson, Clarissa (1750).

    I suppose that "we" might be an indication that the writer of the letter (apparently John Belford) didn't use good grammar, depending on Richardson's ideas.

    What's the html for the long s?

  14. John Roth said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 11:07 am

    I would have to say that Geoff's 3 doesn't sound at all natural to me. The reason, logical or illogical, seems to be that I expect parallelism, not a further refinement of the tense structure.

  15. Rick Sprague said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 11:08 am

    I imagine that some people are finding [3] unnatural because of Prof. Pullum's choice of "know" to exemplify the time relationships. Times t0, t1, and t2 are essentially point-like, but this conflicts semantically with "know", which (in this meaning at least) extends over a time range. Try substituting "meet" and [3] should sound just find.

  16. Coby Lubliner said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 11:16 am

    Jerry Friedman: ampersand pound 383 semicolon: ſ

  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 11:47 am

    @Coby Lubliner: Thanks, I ſuppoſe I ſhould have found that myſelf.

    Here's another attempt at a link to that page of Clarissa (volume 4, letter 26).

  18. Ian Preston said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 11:50 am

    I don't like [3] because it is suggestive to me of a form one might use when the past liking refers to an event that is now present. Suppose, for example, that one wanted to say: Speaking at t2 I would have liked at t1 to know Marilyn at t2. It's a bit difficult imagining wanting to express precisely that but such timings do crop up in other contexts. Take, for example, the distinctions between:

    I would have liked yesterday to have accepted yesterday the invitation to dine today (=? I would have liked to come to dinner)

    I would have liked yesterday to have accepted yesterday the invitation to dine yesterday (=? I would have liked to have come to dinner)

    I would have liked yesterday to have accepted the day before yesterday the invitation to dine the day before yesterday (=?? I would have liked to have been to dinner)

  19. Michael Cargal said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

    My preference would be, "I would have liked knowing Marilyn."

  20. John Lawler said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

    I'm familiar with all these constructions from student papers, where they flower madly and display the usual variability of constructions in the wild, viz:

    a. I would of like to seen it in person.

    b. I would like to of seen it in person.

    c. I would of like to of seen it in person.

    [(myl) And on the web: "I would of like to seen it"; "I would like to of seen it"; "I would of like to of seen it".]

  21. David Walker said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 3:07 pm

    I agree with Geoff Pullum and not with Fowler: "I would have liked to have known you" [4] seems clearer and more correct than "I would have liked to know you" [3]. Especially for what Elton John (or Bernie Taupin) was expressing, number 3 just seems odd, especially since Norma Jean is no longer with us.

    Number 3 sounds like it's mixing tenses (even if it's not).

  22. Rubrick said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

    I find it interesting and revealing that Fowler has as a category "Useful, but incorrect and unncecessary."

  23. Ted said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

    I think what may be going on, to some greater or lesser extent, is the intrusion of a subjunctive structure. Compare:

    [a] I wish to know her (future, and possible), with

    [b] I wish I knew her (present, and not currently true, but possible), with

    [c] I wish I had known her (past, and no longer possible).

    The fourth possibility, parallel to Geoff's [3], would be "I wish to have known her," but that doesn't make sense because it implies that it's possible to have known her without currently knowing her. "I wish to have met her" sounds very strange — the normal way to say that would be "I wish I had met her" — in other words, a version of [4].

    If you change "wish" to "would like to," sentence [3] becomes possible. But are both "haves" in sentence [4] tense markers, or is only the first a tense marker while the second retains the function of marking the contemplated event as impossible?

  24. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 5:07 pm

    I'll just point out that Fowler's "hoped to have succeeded" can, rarely, mean something in the 4 category, as well as irrealis.

    Yuan said that that the IBM group which consisted of “IBM’s best performing and high-potential employees” hoped to have succeeded in leaving a lasting legacy to the community through Comteq… "we hope that what we have done here benefits as many persons as possible…”

    From here. (Comteq is a college near Subic Bay, Philippines.)

    I'm not sure whether the writer of the article is a native speaker of English, but the construction looks fine to me.

  25. Eric P Smith said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

    Would I like to have done a parachute jump? Yes: I would feel so proud.

    Would I have liked to do a parachute jump? No: I would have been so afraid.

    At last night's party, would I have liked to have done a parachute jump? Yes: I would have enjoyed reminiscing about it with my friends.

    These seem to me to be the logical usages and I try to follow them myself, but I do not necessarily look for them in others.

  26. John M said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 7:00 pm

    Ted,

    You seem to be making diagonal comparisons. Compare these with Geoff's sentences:

    [1] I wish to know Marilyn.
    [2] I wish to have known Marilyn.
    [3] I wished to know Marilyn.
    [4] I wished to have known Marilyn.

    Note that "wish" can be replaced with "want" or "would like".

    When you write "I wish I" you are omitting a "that", so to make it clearer:

    [1] I wish that I know Marilyn.
    [2] I wish that I knew Marilyn. / I wish that I had known Marilyn.
    [3] I wished that I know Marilyn.
    [4] I wished that I knew Marilyn. / I wished that I had known Marilyn.

    Her "wish" cannot be replaced with "want" or "would like" (well, I suppose there may be some dialects where this is acceptable).

  27. Bert Cappelle said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 7:18 pm

    I'd just like to point out that the situation of speaking, the situation of liking and the situation liked can't always be located on a time line in the way described above:

    [a] "I would have liked to come next week but I am in Manchester all day." (www)
    [b] "I would have liked to have come along to this but it's a bit short notice for me." (www)

    These have the structure of [3] and [4] in the post but they can't be paraphrased in a similar fashion as [3'] and [4']:

    [a] doesn't mean:
    [a′] !'Speaking at t2 I would have liked at t1 to come next week at t1 [but I am in Manchester all day].' (with t1 preceding t2)

    [b] doesn't mean:
    [b′] !'Speaking at t2 I would have liked at t1 to have come along to this at some earlier point t0 [but it's a bit short notice for me].' (with t0 preceding t1 and t1 preceding t2)

    The problem can be resolved, I think, by allowing t1 to be posterior to t2, or better still, to locate it in an alternative ('possible') world rather than on a time line in the same world as that of the situation of speaking.

  28. m.m. said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

    Wow [3] is painful. Like its missing something. [1] is definitely different than [2] and [4], but i'd definitely use [4] over [2], which sounds overtly formal/archaic.

  29. Jangari said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

    Kind of off topic, but tangentially related. Some office buddies and I have observed people using a construction such as:

    He would have rathered a beer, but there was only wine.

    Analyse that! ('Cause we've hit a serious wall here)

  30. Ted said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

    John M:

    When you write that I am omitting a "that," that's exactly my point. If I don't know Marilyn, your second example [1] is ungrammatical, because counterfactual "wish" requires the subjunctive. Hence "I wish that I knew Marilyn," your example [2]a, is describing the *present* situation, not the past.

    If you want to introduce the past tense, you first have to ask what occurred in the past — the wishing, the counterfactual knowing, or both. (Or, more precisely, whether from the perspective of current t=2 you (a) now wish that, at t<2, you knew Marilyn; (b) wished at t=1 that you knew Marilyn at t=1, or (c) wished at t=1 that you knew Marilyn at t=0.)

    Depending on the answer, your [2]b ("I wish that I had known Marilyn"), your 4[a] ("I wished that I knew Marilyn"), or 4[b] ("I wished that I had known Marilyn") would be correct, respectively.

    But [1] and [3] just don't work in the counterfactual case.

  31. Peter said,

    May 7, 2012 @ 9:45 pm

    @Jangari: “He would have rathered a beer” seems a lovely case of reanalysis of a phrase that has become opaque.

    The widespread and well-established form “I would rather a beer…” is a bit tricky to analyse compositionally: one can either take it as an ellipsis of “I would rather have a beer”, or claim that it’s a hangover from a time when would itself meant something more like modern would have.

    However, one can easily (consciously or un-) give a quite compositional misanalysis, by imagining that rather is a verb, meaning something like prefer. And having accepted this reanalysis, the past tense is clearly “I would have rathered a beer…”

  32. Mar Rojo said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 5:53 am

    My simple understanding:

    I would have liked to have known your father.
    (in this one the father is likely no longer available to be known)

    I would have liked to know your father.
    (in this one, it is likely still possible, but you have likely been denied the opportunity and doubt you'll have the chance).

  33. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 7:07 am

    @Ted: I thought I was agreeing with your analysis, until I got to your final question:

    > But are both "haves" in sentence [4] tense markers, or is only the first a tense marker while the second retains the function of marking the contemplated event as impossible?

    I think that actually only the second is a tense marker, while the first has the function of marking the contemplated event as impossible. Compare "I would like to have known him", which seems to imply that it's still possible for the speaker to come to have known him.

  34. ps said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 8:08 am

    Personally, I've noticed that when I use [3] (or, rather, when the people from whom I learned English used [3]), the intended meaning is along the lines of: "Speaking at t2, I decided at t1 that I would like to be doing x now at t2." So the sentence “I would have liked to stay longer” would mean “I am saying now that earlier I came to the conclusion that at this point in time I would want to stay longer.” Well, I say that, but the more accurate, albeit vocally denied, meaning would be closer to: “I want to stay longer, but I am going to passive aggressively use a verbal construction I don’t understand, and that sounds educated and dignified, to claim that the desire was in the past and I am magnanimously sacrificing my wishes for the benefit of others so everyone will feel bad about disappointing me, despite the fact I don’t know what ‘magnanimously’ means, so there.”
    I fully realize this reading of the sentence form is illogical and grammatically flawed, but honestly, outside of academic situations, I have never met anyone who uses logic to determine the words they say, instead relying on words and turns of phrase they heard (often erroneously) while growing up and pretending their ideas are logical after the fact. The double perfect, “I would have liked to have stayed longer,” or “I would have like to have known you,” from the standpoint of where and how I learned English, seems to be subconsciously reinforcing the fact that the desire and the ability to perform the indicated action are both in the past (with the timeframe for the action being further in the past).

  35. Ted said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    RA-G: Yes, that sounds right. I don't think I thought it through all the way, which is why I left it as a question. I didn't feel like I had reached a conclusion I could comfortably assert, and your comment probably explains why not.

  36. Ted said,

    May 8, 2012 @ 10:38 am

    ps:

    You make an interesting point about [3]. I think it makes sense if you interpret it as "[If circumstances were otherwise,] I would have liked to stay longer," with "would have liked" marking the contemplated event as impossible, as Ram Ari-Gur suggests.

    So, for example, assume that staying longer would have caused me to miss my train. Staying longer would have been nice, but I didn't want to miss my train, so on balance I didn't actually want to stay longer. But I would have liked to stay longer, if only I could have done so without missing my train.

  37. Ted said,

    May 17, 2012 @ 12:10 pm

    myl's subsequent post on Thurber led me to the discovery that he has addressed this issue as well:

    The gentleman, with two variants on his hands, takes to mumbling them to himself, first one and then the other — "We would have liked to have found you in," "We would have liked to find you in." After he does this several times, both expressions begin to sound meaningless. They don't make any sense at all, let alone make precise sense.
    The full article is at http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/2010/01/thurber-tonight-ladies-and-gentlemens_05.html.

  38. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik said,

    May 18, 2012 @ 10:01 am

    [...] up some scary quotes and explored a skeptical Irish expression. At Language Log, Mark Liberman verbed some words and called some BS, while Ben Zimmer solved the mystery around a Sherlock Holmes “typo,” and at [...]

  39. Viseguy said,

    May 26, 2012 @ 11:17 am

    To me (a native speaker of English, but not a linguist), Prof. Pullum's analysis of the four distinct meanings is spot on. I propose the following as a kind of mnemonic:

    [1] I would like (now) to know Marilyn (now).
    [2] I would like (now) to have known Marilyn (then).
    [3] I would have liked (then) to know Marilyn (then).
    [4] I would have liked (then) to have known Marilyn (before then).

    I don't understand why some people have a problem with [3]. The grammar and meaning are perfectly ordinary and clear. In all four instances, the infinitive takes its temporal point of reference from the main verb and either maintains it (present infinitive) or looks back from it (perfect infinitive).

  40. Link love: language (43) « Sentence first said,

    June 10, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

    [...] "Would have liked to [verb]" or "Would have liked to have [verb]ed"? [...]

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