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"‎If I could have seen you by the end of next month, it would have made me very glad"

To my way of thinking, there seems to be no grammatical problem in this sentence, because "could have p,p" can refer to the future event according to context, but it seems like a lot of native speakers tend to object to this usage of "could have seen". I know we use "could have done" usually in the past, not the future, but in this combination "could have seen + by the end", can "could have seen" be used to refer to the future event?

What do you think?

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  • The sentence only makes sense for "... the end of last month ..." Aug 20, 2019 at 20:21
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    "it seems like a lot of native speakers tend to object to this usage." Based on what? According to whom? There is nothing wrong with the sentence—either grammatically or idiomatically. At best, there is a (prescriptive) stylistic objection. Aug 22, 2019 at 1:42
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    @Jason Bassford They said "could have seen" is strange with "next month" because "could have seen" is usually used to express past events This was the main reason they talked about and for this reason, they said, like one, the sentence doesn't make any sense. I hope to get an answer from you.
    – GKK
    Aug 22, 2019 at 5:08
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    But it does make sense. They might have been hoping or planning to see the person by the end of next month, but the plans didn't work out. Aug 22, 2019 at 11:40
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    @Jason Bassford There neither is any but clause in the sentence about the plans not working out, nor was such a clause the OP's intention, obviously. If there were one, then it would have only repeated my answer. Aug 22, 2019 at 13:14

2 Answers 2

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The example sentence:

‎If I could have seen you by the end of next month, it would have made me very glad

is at least sure to raise eyebrows, and at first look I tended to regard it as incorrect. Additional context might make it more acceptable.

A form such as "could have seen" normally refers to a past event that did not take place.

I could have seen you in Paris if I had known that you planned to travel there.

Such a form might easily be used of a future event if the context explicitly indicates that it is a future than can now not happen.

I could have seen the film next month, but the showings have been canceled.

This is a version of the subjunctive, the consequences of a now impossible premise are being stated.

If the example sentence is referring to some sort of changed circumstances, whether abandoned plans, or something else that changed (a pandemic lock down, say, or illness of one of the people involved) it would be correct. It would be much less confusing if the context made such a changed circumstance clear.

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I don't know where you took your example from, but it seems to me to be totally incorrect. The only case I know for could + the present perfect to refer to the future is when you are talking about abandoned plans, hopes and the like:

It could have been nice to see you by the end of next month, but unfortunately I've got to visit my father and I'll be absent until the end of the year.

Not a native speaker, though, so I might be wrong on this matter.

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  • The original sentence is idiomatic and grammatical. Your statement about it being "totally incorrect" is not only wrong but not backed up by anything objective. Aug 22, 2019 at 1:43
  • @Jason Bassford It's a colloquialism. I don't doubt many use it, but that doesn't make it grammatical to use the Present Perfect for future events in a conditional clause. What is the Perfect there for? Why not If I could see you by the end of next month, it would make me very glad? Aug 22, 2019 at 8:10
  • There is nothing ungrammatical about the mixing of tenses in general. if you don't like it here, that's a matter of style and personal opinion—but not one of grammar. Aug 22, 2019 at 11:42
  • @Jason Bassford A link, please, to the source supporting such constructions. All grammar sites I'm aware of advise against such phrasing. Bad habits should not be condoned even if their examples abound. Aug 22, 2019 at 12:57
  • My sentence was written by a native English speaker and he said it sounds natural. By the way, could you please give any reasons why it seems to be totally incorrect? I wonder about the reason.
    – GKK
    Aug 24, 2019 at 5:21

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