In the section "Complex anteriority: continuative and non-continuative perfects" of CGEL, there's this example given:

He may have told her last week. - Non-continuative perfect

Now, I'm confused. Some sources tell me to never (never to?) use specific time expressions like 'last week' with present perfect (with 'in the last week' being okay as in "I have seen that movie six times in the last week."), so am I to understand it as something else? Is "He have told her last week" also acceptable or must I use "He had told her last week" ?

Is it like a remote conditional where the apodosis verb must be a modal aux?

If the meeting finished on time, he may have caught the train


1 Answer 1


It is only the present perfect which constrains temporal reference--that is, a construction in which the HAVE piece is a present-tense finite form only accepts time references which include the present, because here the tense itself resides in the perfect construction.

But in the construction you give, He may have told her last week, the HAVE piece is not a finite verb but an infinitive, the complement of may. Tense resides on may, which expresses a present judgment of the likelihood of the eventuality expressed by the tenseless perfect construction.

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