The Grammarphobia Blog

To have and have not

Q: I have a question about grammar. Which is correct: “I would have liked to go on the retreat” or “I would have liked to have gone on the retreat”? I always use the latter, but I am not sure if there is ever an instance when the former is acceptable.

A: Many people use too many “haves” in constructions like this and create a verbal pileup.

Here we have two verbs, “like” and “go.” Except in rare cases, only one of them needs a “have” (that is, only one needs to be in a perfect tense). That’s because you’re usually talking about only one time in the past, not two.

You can use “have” with either part of the equation. Both of these sentences are correct:

(1) “I would have liked to go” … (2) “I would like to have gone.”

When the first verb is in the conditional perfect (“would have liked”), then the second is in the infinitive (“go”).

But when the first verb is in the simple conditional (“would like”), then the second is in the present perfect (“have gone”).

The correct sentences have slightly different perspectives, because they emphasize different times.

When choosing one over the other, ask yourself: Did I wish THEN that I had gone? … or … Do I wish NOW that I had gone?

Here’s what I mean. In #1, the emphasis is on the past: “I would have liked [back THEN] to go.” But in #2, you’re speaking of the past from the point of view of the present: “I would like [NOW] to have gone [back THEN].”

Using two “haves” (as in, “I would have liked to have gone”) is usually incorrect, because it’s unlikely that you really intend to talk about two separate times in the past.

Buy our books at a local store, Amazon.com, or Barnes&Noble.com.