Ask Language Log: The historical future

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J. Eric Butler wrote:

As an academic in a humanities discipline, I read a lot of formal prose concerning historical subjects. I often come across the English future perfect in these contexts, which strikes me as odd, albeit easy enough to understand. So I usually just barely register it and then move on. But at some point it occurred to me that I have no idea what motivates this usage, so I thought LL would probably have some insight.

Here's some actual examples of this usage "in the wild":

"We cannot claim that this is an exhaustive list of the political functions of the Areopagus in the archaic state. Its mandate will have been wider and vaguer than our scant evidence permits us to reconstruct." (Ostwald, From Popular Sovereignty to the Sovereignty of Law)

"Even if he did make for the coast from Babaeski east of Edirne (which seems less likely, since he had severed contact with his fleet until he reached the Danube), the journey will have been not much shorter." (Cawkwell, The Greek Wars: The Failure of Persia)

"And here too, reinterpretation of the Clouds parabasis both casts new light upon the attitude of Aristophanes towards politically oriented poetic rivals like Eupolis, and also reveals the possible existence of a satirical method – metacomedy – which brings into play a whole swathe of lost dramas by competitors which will have been reused, in full expectation of audience recognition, in order to subvert and satirise rival poets’ earlier political satires." (Sidwell, Aristophanes the Democrat)

"The case will have been heard after 357/6, the earliest year in which joint trierarchies (cf. 7.38) are known. The most likely date is the spring of 354" (Gagarin, Introduction to Isaeus 7, in Speeches from Athenian Law)

Eric ends this way:

I don't have access to The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, but none of the English usage sources I do have seem aware of this usage. If it's not in CGEL, do you think Huddleston and Pullum will let me name it? ;-)

I suspect that Huddleston and Pullum would be better disposed towards this option if Eric bought a copy of the book. But in fact, I'm so distracted by the idea of "naming rights" for syntactic constructions that I'm having a hard time focusing on his original question — once the bidding starts, I doubt that J. Eric Butler will be able to compete. This one, for example, might end up as "the BNY Mellon Future Perfect of Historical Speculation". (Though, as we'll see, it's neither future nor perfect…)  And there are hundreds of these naming opportunities — thousands, if we include things like "the Dodge Charger Northern Cities Shift", or "Positive Anymore Presented by New York Life".

Turning regretfully away from this visionary solution to the LSA's money troubles, I'll only note that the usage pattern at issue is consistent with CGEL's argument that "will [...] is an auxiliary of mood, not tense" (pp. 208-210):

The difference in interpretation between a simple present tense and its counterpart with will is to a very large extent a matter of modality. Compare, for example:

PRESENT TIME FUTURE TIME
SIMPLE PRESENT That is the doctor. They meet in the final in May.
will + PLAIN FORM That will be the doctor. They will meet in the final in May.

In each pair the time is the same, but the version with will is epistemically weaker than the simple present.

Note that J.E.B.'s examples all deal with past time. And as Rodney Huddleston has pointed out (P.C.), this suggests that  just as the will here indicates epistemic modality rather than future time, so the have indicates past time, rather than perfective aspect:

"He will have told her yesterday" is the modalised version of "He told her yesterday".

But "the will of Epistemic Weakening" is not so attractive as a naming opportunity. Maybe "the will of Optimal Inference"?

Update — I should add that similar modal uses of "will have been" are common in the natural sciences and mathematics as well, e.g.

Some regions are likely to be more reliable than others. For example, regions in the core of the protein will tend to have more clearly defined electron densities and so will have been easier to interpret during the determination of the structure.

For this reason the reader cannot be sure what to expect when he turns to the entry that interests him, beyond knowing that the article will have been written by someone with first-hand experience and some authority.

These faulty spectra remain in the refined second edition. To a high probability most of these problems will have been caused by interference, either affecting the temperature scale or the profile shape with spurious components.

[H]owever, there is far more in it than can be covered in a single degree course, and its main usefulness may well be as a reference book for postgraduate students who need to know more algebra than they will have been formally taught.

(Despite the use of have, note that with the partial exception of the third example, these all deal with inferences about a hypothetical sequence of events, rather than inferences about the placement or nature of events with respect to a concrete past time-line.)

See also "That would be in the modal auxiliary, Bob", 1/9/2008; "We've met the enemy, and that would be in the modal auxiliary, Bob", 3/18/2009; "Why 'That would be me' (part 1)", 4/2/2009; "Why 'That would be me' (part 2)", 4/3/2009.

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52 Comments »

  1. tk said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 6:35 am

    The inner reading voice-in-my-head substituted conditional 'would' for future 'will' in each of the JEB examples above.

  2. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 6:39 am

    My IRVIMH substitutes "must" and says, "The author will be British (and by the way, Jerry, you should check whether Irish people, Australians, etc., use "will" with this meaning)."

  3. Sarah Proud and Tall said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 7:56 am

    This usage sounds odd to me. I agree with tk – in each of these my choice would have been "would have been", not "will have been".

  4. Martin J Ball said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 8:06 am

    @Jerry Friedman As a Brit my thought was that the authors must be American, as no Brits I know would use this… :)

  5. Mr Fnortner said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 8:12 am

    The "will" of epistemic knowledge is used to speculate about the past with some certainty. Q. "Who just came in? I didn't see." A. "That will have been the doctor."

    I'm hard-pressed to interpret the situations introduced by "will have been" in the cited examples as speculations on past actions. Rather, they appear as future or conditional actions.

  6. James said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 8:15 am

    I think it's more British; Americans will would use 'would'.
    Jerry Friedman, I think 'must' is different. It's not epistemically weaker than the simple present, but it indicates that the epistemic warrant is indirect, or involves an inference. Compare:

    Look, he's wearing a lab coat, he must be a doctor.
    *Yum, this tuna sandwich must taste good!

  7. languagehat said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 8:21 am

    It is neither British nor American, but High Academic. Having spent most of my life reading works in High Academic, the usage seems to me entirely unexceptionable. It does not feel to me identical with either "would" or "must," but I'd be hard pressed to pin down the difference.

  8. James said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 8:24 am

    J Martin Ball,
    Ah! Surprising (to me).
    What about Mr. Fnortner's past version — does that sound British?

  9. James said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 8:26 am

    Languagehat;
    But don't Americans (try to) follow Oxbridge when speaking High Academic?

  10. languagehat said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 8:31 am

    But don't Americans (try to) follow Oxbridge when speaking High Academic?

    Certainly not for the last sixty years or more. But High Academic is more a written dialect than a spoken one.

  11. Al said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 8:33 am

    I have noticed a similar speculative use of will in UK sport reporting often enough to have occasionally noted it down, e.g. on Federer’s second round defeat of del Potro in 2007: ‘It was a consummate performance from the champion, who will equal Bjorn Borg's record of five successive Wimbledon titles with victory in this championship.’ [BBC News]

    Now as it happens, Federer did go on to win the title, but the author was, I think, being hypothetical rather than prophetic, just as the Eurosport reporter who wrote in 2009 that ‘[Manchester] United will regain top spot with victory against Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday’ would not have been troubled by the fact that they actually went on to lose 2–0.

  12. Tim Martin said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 8:51 am

    Does "epistemically weaker" simply mean that the assertion is less strong?

    [(myl) No, that would be "assertionally weaker" or something of the sort. "Epistemically weaker" means that the relevant knowledge is weaker -- in these cases, that the proposition represents a conclusion drawn by inference or extrapolation rather than a documented fact.]

  13. marie-lucie said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 9:08 am

    Like languagehat, I find will have been quite unremarkable in this type of prose, and I don't remember wondering about its meaning. I think the synonym of will here is not 'must' but 'is most likely to', as in "The case will have been heard after 357/6 = 'the case is most likely to have been heard …'. The use of will is independent of the following perfect, as in That will be the doctor = 'That is most likely to be the doctor'. Not absolute certainty, but very strong potentiality. Of course, this use of will may be more British than North American.

  14. Andy Averill said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    They can't all be British — one of them said oriented instead of orientated.

  15. Sid Smith said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 9:32 am

    It's the same in Italian. 'It'll be the doctor;' 'Sarà il medico'.

    (This Brit finds it pretty normal. The phone rings — 'That'll be George.')

  16. Simon Spero said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 9:38 am

    Past contingents?

    (1) Contemporary documents suggest that by the time LSA met there will have been a battle over naming rights.

    (2) Contemporary documents suggest that by the time LSA met there will not be have been a battle over naming rights.
    (3) Contemporary documents suggest that by the time LSA met t there might could have been a battle over naming rights.

    Also, I don't know if it's really desirable to describe the future time examples from CGEL as Epistemically weaker, since that could be seen as committing to future propositions having a truth value. Are they closer to doxastic weakening?

    Those specific examples could best be reasoned about using my favorite logical Cupertino, "athletic modal" logic (it is not the case that I necessarily could not have been a contender).

  17. Sid Smith said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 9:50 am

    Actually, if we're talking about transAtlantic oddities in handling hypotheticals about the past, the current lead headline in the New York Times is:
    "Egyptian Soldiers Said to Kill At Least 51"

  18. Faldone said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 10:15 am

    I don't do a lot of reading stuff in the High Academic, but my take has always been, at least in the historical narration context, that the author is referring to some point (Tࠠ) in the past and commenting on some other point (Tࠡ) that, while still being in the past for us, is in the future for the time Tࠠ.

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 10:20 am

    I think that NYT quote is headlinese – perhaps a distinctively AmEng version, but not a construction one would get in exactly the same form in running prose, academic or otherwise, where space constraints were not as tight. The synonymous "Reportedly Kill At Least 51" seems unexceptional, but would be a few characters more (but if they'd swapped in "Troops" or "Army" for "Soldiers" maybe it would have evened out?). As to the choice of tense, the "historical present" is sufficiently common that it has its own wikipedia article, in which headlines are specifically noted (with a cite to CGEL) as be a common context for its use. This historical future seems perhaps less well documented in the literature.

  20. marie-lucie said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 10:33 am

    Faldone, your definition of the historical future corresponds to what I have learned, but the will have been examples above are not futures but statements of very high probability.

  21. Jeff Carney said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 10:38 am

    The scene is familiar on film and TV. A group of rascals (kids, employees, soldiers, etc) disobeys their lenient supervisor and causes havoc. The supervisor's supervisor enters the scene and is shocked! "Which of you lame-brains is responsible for this mess?" he shouts. Close-up on the supervisor, extricating himself from a compromising posture. "Err, that would be me, sir."

    I think I go with the "epistemically weaker" interpretation of this assertion, since it creates a kind of irony. Namely, the person most likely to suffer harsh consequences has been caught red-handed, yet confesses in a way that allows him to introduce the slightest possible element of doubt, while retaining a semblance of dignity through what comes off as a slightly upward shift in register. We chuckle at the incongruity.

    Curiously, I find that the stock phrase has been so thoroughly integrated into everyday language, that for many speakers the sense of irony is lost, leaving only the register shift. Every semester, it seems, 2-3 of my students habitually write "would be" where a simple "is" is required.

    I suspect they are attempting to up-shift the register to fit the academic setting, though of course I really can't confirm this. Nor can I confirm that their usage is influenced by comedic contexts rather then serious ones. But I think it's a reasonable guess.

    [(myl) See also "That would be in the modal auxiliary, Bob", 1/9/2008; "Why 'That would be me' (part 1)", 4/2/2009; "Why 'That would be me' (part 2)", 4/3/2009.]

  22. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 10:44 am

    I'm wondering why these humanities-academic uses aren't in the form "must have been," since they seem to be conveying, more or less, "I am sure that this is what happened; I'm just hedging because I don't have direct documentary evidence." Using "must" in that sort of context seems like it would be consistent with, e.g., how circumstantial evidence is handled in detective stories and criminal trials the like. We don't have any eyewitness sightings or surveillance video of the killer, but working inferentially (or is this deductively?) from the evidence we do have we say that he "must have entered the house between 9:30 and 9:45 pm" or something like that.

  23. Sid Smith said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    @ J.W. Brewer

    Yes, it's definitely AmEng headlinese, and impossible in a UK paper (I'm in the business). OTOH, Americans don't seem able to use quotes in such instances, which are often better: "Egyptian Army 'kills 51' ".

    But I am jealous about commas: 'Man eats cakes, chocolate'. Impossible for me.

  24. Eric P Smith said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 11:01 am

    I'm with marie-lucie. The epistemic weakening “will have [past participle]” is normal for me. “Would have [past participle]” doesn't work for me in the same sense. If I read

    We cannot claim that this is an exhaustive list of the political functions of the Areopagus in the archaic state. Its mandate would have been wider and vaguer than our scant evidence permits us to reconstruct.

    then I should wonder "in what circumstances"? – that is, I should read the “would” as conditional.

    What I find interesting is how the perfect can substitute for the preterite in such cases. We have:
    He heard the case yesterday (grammatical)
    *He has heard the case yesterday (ungrammatical)
    It is most likely that he heard the case yesterday (grammatical)
    *It is most likely that he has heard the case yesterday (ungrammatical)
    and yet:
    He is most likely to have heard the case yesterday (grammatical)
    He will have heard the case yesterday (grammatical)

    English doesn't have a preterite infinitive, but the perfect infinitive stands in for it just fine.

  25. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 11:05 am

    Sid Smith: Actually, the New York Post frequently uses single quotes in headlines as a way of conveying "alleged." E.g. (taken at random from an old issue I have to hand), " 'Rape' teacher ducks vic's kin." (The subject of the story had been formally accused but not thus far convicted of raping a student at PS 386 in the Bronx; he failed to turn up at a preliminary court hearing where the alleged victim's — "vic" is of course the clipped form — relatives were waiting to confront him.) The New York Times would not have headlined the story the same way, of course, even if they deigned to cover it.

  26. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 11:13 am

    Of the four examples given, Cawkwell's stands out as odd because it really is conditional/hypothetical, rather than simply a plausible conjecture made without direct evidence. Cawkwell is asserting whoever is being talked about probably did not, in fact, take the route via Babaeski now under discussion, but if he had done so, it wouldn't have been much shorter than the alternative route (presumably described in a prior sentence) he probably did take. "Would" (rather than "will") seems like it would have been an especially good fit there.

  27. Barbara Partee said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 11:15 am

    That last fascinating point about non-finite perfects being able to have many properties of the preterite was explored insightfully by the late great James McCawley: McCawley, James. 1971. Tense and time reference in English. In Studies in Linguistic Semantics, eds. Charles T. Fillmore and D.T. Langendoen, 96-113. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
    It's a wonderful topic, and shows how non-trivial it is to sort out the relation between tense and aspect in English.

  28. Eric P Smith said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 11:31 am

    @J.W. Brewer
    I don't think so. Cawkwell is prepared to entertain the less likely route as a live possibility: “Even if he did, the journey will have been not much shorter.” You are paraphrasing it as a counterfactual: “Even if he had done, the journey would have been not much shorter,” which is not the same thing. The hybrid “Even if he did, the journey would have been not much shorter” leaves me, like, eh?

  29. SK said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

    I don’t think that the examples provided by Al, earlier in the thread, really demonstrate the type of 'will' under discussion here. In 'United will regain top spot with victory against Liverpool', the 'will' is just doing its usual job of marking a prediction of future events – it is no more speculative/hypothetical than it would be in 'United will regain top spot if they beat Liverpool', which is totally unremarkable. What may actually be a distinctive trait of UK sports reporting (I've noticed it too) is the tendency to express a condition, such as 'if X wins', by means of a with-phrase like 'with X’s victory', which can sometimes leave you wondering whether or not the event specified in the with-phrase has taken place yet. But that doesn't alter the value of 'will' itself in these cases.

  30. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

    EricPS: Your "hybrid" works better for me (although I would find the "not" more naturally placed right after the "would"), so maybe we just have a trans-Atlantic difference or even something more arbitrary/subjective than that.

  31. John Lawler said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

    @Barbara Partee:
    I recently posted a short summary of the four senses of the Perfect Construction that Jim gave in his article here.

  32. Xmun said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

    I think the sentences given by J. Eric Butler are better described as examples of the "suppositional" future perfect rather than the "historical". Sid Smith's example (at 9.32 am) can be matched in Spanish, e.g. Habrá mas de cien personas en la fiesta (there must be more than a hundred people at the party), which is the first of ten examples of the "suppositional future" given in para 14.4.2 of Butt and Benjamin's New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish.

  33. Keith said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

    All the example cited use "to be" as the main verb… try using another for comparison.

    For example "by the end of next week, millions of students will have sat their final exams" or "before the end of the year, millions of taxpayers will have hoped in vain to receive a refund".

    K.

    [(myl) But your example is semantically a normal and unsurprising future time reference with perfect aspect. So I'm not sure why it's relevant.]

  34. Ellen K. said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 7:41 pm

    Keith, looking at the original post, though all the examples have "will have been", some of those examples are passives, with the main verb following "been".

    What the significance of that is I don't know.

  35. Margaret Dean said,

    July 8, 2013 @ 11:24 pm

    My "inner-reading-voice" agrees with tk's in the first batch of examples (the historical ones), and wants to substitute "would" for "will," but in the second batch of examples (the sciences ones), it's fine with "will."

  36. zythophile said,

    July 9, 2013 @ 4:12 am

    I'm with Margaret Dean on this: the "historic putative" seems to demand "would", while the "science" examples are less "historic putative" than merely "putative", and therefore "will" sounds perfectly acceptable. (I'm British, btw.)

  37. Eneri Rose said,

    July 9, 2013 @ 9:40 am

    Trivia question – Can you name a pop/country song with lyrics that include the future perfect tense? I know of only the following one.

    Hints:
    written by Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard;
    popular version released by Ronnie Milsap in 1982.

    Answer:

    Any day now, I will hear you say, "Good bye, my love"
    And you'll be on your way.
    Then my wild beautiful bird, you will have flown, oh.
    Any day now, I'll be all alone, whoa, oa, oa, oa.

  38. Ethan said,

    July 9, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

    @Eneri Rose:
    pop: Elton John "The Letter"
    And it will have been a long, long time
    And I will have missed you growing
    And I'll have missed you crying
    And I'll have missed you laugh

    country: Javier Colon – If I Never Get To Heaven Then At Least I Will Have Known….

    Going back to the original set of examples, I see the first of the examples from the sciences is from my own specialty and I can state with confidence that the use of "will have been" indicates a strict temporal ordering of events. That is, having begun the passage in the mode "X will tend to be Y", the author wants to elaborates by explaining that this a consequence of something that necessarily happened earlier. Hence "X will tend to be Y because [at some time before that] A will have been B".

  39. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 9, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

    Does this "will", or does "must", differ epistemically from "surely" and "undoubtedly" and such words, which paradoxically weaken the verbs they modify?

  40. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 9, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

    Jerry Friedman: to go back to my detective-story narration example above, would you agree that "The killer must have entered the house between 9:30 and 9:45 pm" seems weaker than "The killer entered the house between 9:30 and 9:45 pm"?

  41. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 9, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

    Yes. However, "The killer undoubtedly entered the house between…" seems just as strong or weak to me as "The killer must have entered the house between…" Well, maybe "undoubtedly" is a millismidge weaker.

  42. languagehat said,

    July 9, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    I suspect they are attempting to up-shift the register to fit the academic setting, though of course I really can't confirm this. Nor can I confirm that their usage is influenced by comedic contexts rather then serious ones. But I think it's a reasonable guess.

    No, it's a fun hypothesis but certainly wrong.

  43. Nathan Myers said,

    July 9, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

    My rule for whether "will have been" makes sense is whether substituting "will turn out to have been" or even "will, if examined, turn out to have been" reads. Otherwise it should be "would have been".

  44. DaveK said,

    July 9, 2013 @ 7:08 pm

    I read once that the past tense of "will" is "would" and always wondered about how that would play out in practice, but "Even if he did, the journey would not be much shorter" seems normal to me, as does "even if he does, the journey will not be much shorter".

  45. Adrian said,

    July 9, 2013 @ 10:16 pm

    I agree generally with the OP. Calling "will have been" the future perfect is misleading. I used to tell my students to unlearn the "fact" which most of them had learned that English forms the future tense with "will". English has no future tense, only a future mood. And "will" is a modal verb, stronger in meaning than "must". Once you think of "will" as a modal rather than as the future, sentences such as "He will have arrived yesterday" cease to appear wrong or illogical.

  46. Bloix said,

    July 10, 2013 @ 8:12 am

    I was watching a rerun of the 1980's British TV show "Rumpole of the Bailey" last night. At one point, Rumpole makes an objection, which is denied. Rumpole insists that the jury be instructed on the point. The judge rolls his eyes and says,

    "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you will have heard Mr. Rumpole's objection."

    How that differs from, "You have heard etc." I'm not sure. Perhaps it means, "I heard the objection so I suppose that you heard it as well."

    Anyway, this was a literate show and the usage was there, whatever it means.

  47. Mr Punch said,

    July 10, 2013 @ 8:43 am

    This high academic usage is, I think, purely a matter of diction rather than grammar: "will" is chosen in preference to "would" (natural but implicitly conditional) and "must" (too definite and judgmental).

  48. Ken Brown said,

    July 10, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

    I think that "must" implies that the point is being asserted against some opposition, but "will have been" tries to claim consensus.

    If (speaking High Academic) I say that "the manorial court will have fined him for using horse-drawn carts to remove brushwood" I claim that anyone who knows anything knows that it is very likely to have happened. If I say "must have" I'm saying that I believe it to be true and I have evidence to back that up even though others don't believe it.

  49. dw said,

    July 12, 2013 @ 2:52 am

    I want to change all the "will"s in the OP's examples to "would"s. For my mental grammar, "would" is the past tense, as well as the conditional, of "would". Since all the OP's examples are talking about the remote past, "will" feels all wrong to me.

  50. Colin Fine said,

    July 12, 2013 @ 8:17 am

    I want to echo what Adrian said. The idea that English has a future tense (and a fortiori a future perfect) may work as a rule of thumb, but is unhelpful gobbledegook for any sort of serious analysis. I know of no syntactic test that will distinguish "may go" from "will go".

  51. Molly said,

    July 16, 2013 @ 2:37 am

    Coming into the conversation a bit late, but this pings my ear as English being squeezed badly into Latin grammar.

    The reading of "will have been" as "must" is almost certainly an attempt to adopt the passive periphrastic from Latin (the standard example of which is "Carthago delenda est", which is generally translated as "Carthage must be destroyed" but literally reads "Carthage will have been destroyed.")

    That being said, none of the examples sound especially like they mean "must", so there has to be something else happening here.

    This is all wild speculation, but I wonder if there was a multi-stage process that produced this construct in High Academic:

    Stage one: Latinists run amok, start using "will have been" in English to mean "must".
    Stage two: Other academics pick up the formulation because it sounds fancy, but lose the "must" meaning and drift closer to the more intuitive "would have been" meaning.

    (It is of course also possible that my long-ago undergraduate Latin is causing me to run amok with Latin-based speculation.)

  52. dw said,

    July 16, 2013 @ 7:04 am

    @Molly:

    "Carthago delenda est", which is generally translated as "Carthage must be destroyed" but literally reads "Carthage will have been destroyed.")

    My Latin is a bit rusty, but wouldn't a word-by-word translation be:

    Cartago = "Carthage"
    delenda = "to be destroyed" (gerundive feminine, to agree with Carthago)
    est = "is"
    ?

    Thus: "Carthage is to be destroyed".

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