If it came yesterday he will surely have told her.

-- The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language

When I saw “Call me in the morning and I’ll have selected your living quarters (Invisible Man)”, its perfect tense was quite understandable.
But the example does not differentiate from ‘If it came yesterday he will surely told her’. Is there semantic difference between the two? If yes, on what case can the one with perfect tense be used?

  • 5
    ∗Will told (modal + past participle) is an impossible construction in English: modals can only take infinitives. In this case, by the way, will is epistemic, not futurive: "It is surely the case that he has told her". Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 14:06
  • Then, only 'If it came yesterday he would surely have told her' is possible, and so CGEL has typo there?
    – Listenever
    Commented Sep 26, 2013 at 22:56
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    That's a grammatical sentence, but it means something different. This is a realis condition, a real possibility, not an irrealis. "If it did come yesterday, as it may have done, it follows that he has told her." But you can't backshift that epistemic will have told without ambiguity, because would have told will inevitably be read as a backshifted would tell, implying an irrealis reading. All that requires is the very plausible reading of if it came as a colloquial variant of if it had come. ... Commented Sep 27, 2013 at 0:54
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    This is an intriguing problem. But lawyers have a saying: "Hard cases make bad law." The same is true of grammar: there are some knotty constructions that Great Mother Language just doesn't want us to push too far! Commented Sep 27, 2013 at 0:56
  • 1
    Exactly so. "He will surely have told her by now." Commented Sep 27, 2013 at 9:00

1 Answer 1


I'm not entirely sure I understand your question, but the sentences are grammatically the same.

Simplifying them down, you could write them like this:

He will have selected them

He will have told her

The second example you gave must have a mistake in it. It is not possible to say "he will surely told her". You need to add 'have' to the sentence before 'told'.

Some explanation can be found here: http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/verbs/modal-verbs/modals-have

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