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Reading an answer under this question, I found one interesting point: the use of the future perfect with the verb possess. My question is rather simple. Consider:

By that time, I will have possessed three cars.
(NOTE: It doesn't have to be "By that time", it might be something like "By the time I retire", "By the time my son graduates", a more idiomatic phrase such as "By then", etc.)

Will I still own the cars by that time?

In my opinion, it could be interpreted as either a) my possession will be over (so the perfect tense), or b) the possession will keep building up and by that time I will have already owned three cars.

Are both interpretations possible?


Note: I think this is a good example on the use of stative verbs with perfect tenses. Possess, in my opinion, is a stative verb. Saying "By that time, I will possess three cars." would be enough already; thus, saying "By that time, I will have possessed three cars." explicitly might be used to emphasize the sense that the cars will have already, by that time, gone.

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tl-dr: With perfect aspect, current/ongoing state is ambiguous. In your sentence, the time phrase may condition our view of the ongoing state.

I would interpret your original sentence as follows: at the point of retirement, you may or may not own one car, but you won’t concurrently own all three (in that case, you would have used ‘will possess’.)

Perfect aspect does not say anything about the current/ongoing state – that is the domain of the continuous aspect. Thus current/ongoing state is ambiguous, although we may infer something about it from the situation or other factors. For example,

I have owned a car.

It’s not clear if you currently own one, but we can infer that you don’t, because otherwise you would have just used the present simple. This is an inference, because the current state is ambiguous.

Different time phrases used along with perfect aspect may define (or imply) whether the action is ongoing or not. For example,

I have owned this car since 2011.

Clearly you still own it.

I have owned this car up to/until now.

Clearly you don't own it anymore.

It seems that with your original sentence, it’s the time phrase that conditions our view of the state of possession at the point of retirement.


Addendum: Concerning your idea about stative vs active verbs, I’m not sure if that’s relevant here. Look at the following examples.

By the time he retired, Alan had been married three times.

By the time he retired, Alan had gotten married three times.

Being married is a state, getting married is an action. But in neither case do we know if Alan is currently married.

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I think both are quite possible as you said.

But I'll avoid this. Leaving the future perfect, I'd rather concentrate on possessed. The word possess when used in a passive way generally means having control over something/one.

By that time, my black magic will have possessed three cars. Those cars will then automatically start and start killing people.

If you don't use passive there, ambiguity goes.

By that time, I'll possess three cars.

This can also mean both - by that time, you'll have three cars (and you won't plan for another OR maybe, you plan for another one). But since we are talking about by that time, I think simply putting possess shall work.

  • One reason that I raised this question is because the pattern "By the time [simple present], ... [future prefect] ..." is quite common. So, if someone says "By the time I retire" it will sound almost as if they are going to finish the sentence with the future perfect tense. The underlying problem is, "Do we really have to use the future perfect tense? And if we choose not to, will it sound wrong?" – Damkerng T. Apr 6 '14 at 7:35
  • By the way, thank you for the answer! However, I need to think this though and I'd also like to hear from others. I think I'm gonna wait and see for a day, maybe. Hope you understand. :-) – Damkerng T. Apr 6 '14 at 7:40
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    I agree that own or have would be better verbs than possess. By that time, I will have owned three cars, or, By that time, I will have had three cars. – J.R. Apr 6 '14 at 9:12

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