It seems that "I want to have seen you when I was in USA" is not very correct. However, I can see the sentences like:

So I do feel some sympathy for him, some feeling toward him. I want him to have done better than he did. I want him to have worked this conflict through. And he didn’t do it.


First, they want you to have worked in the area in which you are leading.

Still, is it correct to use perfect infinitive with want to address some actions in the past (which din't take place) or is it wrong?

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    It would be more natural to use wish instead of want. And, in doing that, also use had: I wish he had . . . Dec 25, 2018 at 15:15
  • I think so. I am just asking whether natives speak like that using want?
    – user1425
    Dec 25, 2018 at 15:22
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    I see. I could, as a native, say I want him to do better. But as an expression of wishing for something different to have happened in the past, I wouldn't think that want would normally be used in that way. If I tried to provide an actual answer, I would normally use a Google Ngram as evidence of this, but I can't think of how to form a useful query in this case. Dec 25, 2018 at 15:28
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    I want to have seen you when I was in the USA is awkward and unusual. But I can see it as something that might be said in conversation when not much thought is being given to what comes out of your mouth. (I frequently spot mistakes I make after the fact. Although I doubt this would be one of them.) Dec 25, 2018 at 15:33
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    If that wasn't "the example" you were referencing, which one was? (But I would use none of them.) Dec 25, 2018 at 15:46

1 Answer 1


Your first example is not grammatically correct (although someone might well say it when speaking, by accident). The other examples are correct.

The reason the first is wrong is because the time when 'you wanted' something was when you were in the USA. Therefore 'want' needs also to be in the past tense.

'I wanted to have seen you when I was in the USA'.

The other examples use the present tense because the subject of the sentence 'wants' something now, in the present.

"I [currently, at the present time] want him to have done better than he did.

I have added the words in brackets to make it clearer that the sentence is actually referring to something happening now, and that's why it needs to be present tense. It is probably made more tricky for non-native speakers to grasp by the fact that the sentence refers explicitly to something concrete that happened in the past, while referring to something less concrete (a desire) which is happening in the present.

  • WHy the first one can't be interpreted as I [currently, at the present time] want to have seen you when I was in the USA'. *I didn't want to see you then and now I want the opposite.
    – user1425
    Dec 27, 2018 at 20:43
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    In that case you would need to say "I want to want to have seen you when I was in the USA", but it would be better to find a completely different way to say it to avoid such a convoluted construction. Something like "I wish I had wanted to see you when I was in the USA, because I do now".
    – fred2
    Dec 28, 2018 at 1:23

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