(1) He seems to have asked her to arrange an interview.
(2) He seems to ask her to arrange an interview.

I understand that the phrase to have asked in the sentence (1) is past tense, which means the act of asking has already occurred. But I am not sure about the tense of the phrase to ask her in the sentence (2).
How should I understand the sentence (2)? He seems, that sounds like present tense but what about the tense of the phrase "to ask her"? Is it present tense or future tense? Could you help me clarify it? Thank you always.

5 Answers 5


The first sentence contains a perfect infinitive.

Examples of the perfect infinitive: to have claimed, to have gone, to have pretended, to have eaten, to have lost, to have drunk, to have seen, to have expected, etc. The perfect infinitive describes the realization or non-realization of actions: actions which happened, which may have happened, or ones which are strictly imaginary.

One use of the perfect infinitive is in the main clause of the third conditional. (Something which could have happened in the past, but did not, and would have had a result). The perfect infinitive can follow modal auxiliary verbs (in this case it drops the to).

If I had bought a new motorbike, I would have told you immediately.            (neither action happened)

Another use of the perfect infinitive is to refer to a previous time:

I'd rather to have won that game than lost.                            (to have won refers to the past)
I would prefer to have lived in Tokyo than Singapore.                (the speaker lived in Singapore)
Thought to have lived in the sixth century BC, Heraclitus is still an interesting philosopher to many today.
          (He might have lived in that century.)

To refer to past actions that did not happen, and no grammatical subject is mentioned:

To have succeeded would have been wonderful.                        (did not happen)
To have learned French in France would have been extraordinary.             (did not happen)

The second sentence is the present infinitive (or simple infinitive): to tell, to go, to eat, to see, to reward, to drink, to throw, to kow-tow, etc.


(1) He seems to have asked her to arrange an interview. Past Tense, OK

BARE INFINITIVE (2) He seems to ask her to arrange an interview. [non-standard present when used for a single situation, which the sentence implies. Unless the sentence say: every week, every day, never, ever, etc. it does't not work.]

Please note: the bare infinitive in 2) suggests, grammatically, a general statement, which would be impossible here.

(2) He seems to be asking her to arrange an interview. [at a present point in time]. Present Continuous used for a one-time thing in the present: once.

(2) He seems to ask her to so many questions during class. [here, a general statement with the bare infinitive works fine.]


If I am not wrong, word association is wrong in the question — so direct answer is not possible.

We have "seems to" ("to seem to") and we have second verb: "have asked" or "ask".

Therefore, we cannot speak about a "past tense infinitive", as infinitive is non-temporal.

Does it make more sense now?


I must have the same conception of yours.

The first sentence, as you said, implies that the act of asking happened before the act of his seeming, and the second sentence, to me, does not sound very good.

If he is asking her to arrange him an interview, then continuous tense would make the sentence sound better:

He seems to be asking her to arrange him an interview.

The second sentence is not wrong, though it sounds weird.

  • The second sentence is wrong for the situation unless it is a general statement: He seems to ask her to arrange an interview [every week, every month, all the time, often, never] etc.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 15:57

What is that you want to say? If you were observing a conversation between some powerful person and one of his female staff where a name had been mentioned as someone the important person really should not see, and yet from what the important person says, but you cannot be sure, "he seems to ask her to arrange an interview", then there is nothing wrong with the grammar of the sentence you quote.

It will not have escaped your notice that the situation that I had to invent to make sense of that sentence was rather fanciful.

So "non-standard" is not the way to describe it because it could be standard, but only in bizarre circumstances.

  • powerful person and female staff? Anyway, if you are not sure and you comment on that fact, you would say: He seems to be asking her, He seem to have asked her. A native speaker would never say: He seems to ask her to arrange an interview. The only possible time that would happen might be if you are watching a movie: "What is the character saying in that sequence? He seems to ask her...." etc.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 15:55
  • My example specifically mentions observing, as if watching a movie, but it would not have to be. Interesting that all three answers so far have displeased somebody and been downvoted - but not by me.
    – JeremyC
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 17:05
  • 1) is not standard unless it is a general statement, and frankly, I am hard pressed to see it as one. In any case, this is called the bare infinitive and in this: "He seems to ask her to arrange an interview" is odd unless in a discussion re a play or movie etc. Whereas: He seems to ask her on a date every week [and she is loathe to accept]. Don't you think that is useful information? :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 17:16

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