I know that I cannot say like this:

I would love to be living in the 19th century

because this is not a real oppotunity and you can't live in the past. I spoke with my American friend and he suggested this variant:

I would love to have been living in the 19th century

But I don't understand why it is correct. I think that saying "have been living" implies that action have been lasting for some period and finished recently or still continues. But it cannot be with the 19th century because it wasn't recently, it was more than 100 years ago.

Is there any rule or grammar which could clarify the present perfect continuous tense usage in this sentence?

  • 1
    It is all fantasy. To be living in the 19th century would be great. To have been living in the 19th century would have been great. One is expressed in the present about something impossible and the other is expressed about an impossible past (irrealis, as they love to say around here).
    – Lambie
    May 20, 2021 at 18:34

1 Answer 1


To have been living is not a present perfect: it is an infinitival expression, and so does not have a tense.

In my view, it is misleading to refer to to have X as a "perfect infinitive": it does not have the implication of "present relevance" that is characteristic of the present perfect. I prefer to call its a "past infinitive". (I object to the term "past perfect" for the same reason).

As you suggest, the have here doesn't actually have past meaning, but irrealis (or counterfactual) meaning. But either way, it doesn't have the special meaning of the "perfect" in "present perfect".

So the form here to have been living refers to an event which the speaker is choosing to characterise as both counterfactual (could not happen) and an extended process.

  • What if we rearrange the sentence this way: "In the 19th century I would love to be living"? Would it be correct? Would it convey the same sence if we replace "be living" to "have been living"?
    – Denis
    May 21, 2021 at 9:40
  • 1
    In the 19th century I would love to be living is grammatical but it makes hardly any sense. Your original examples were about "living in the nineteenth century" not about "living (and it happened to take place in the nineteenth century)", which is the only obvious interpretation of this new paraphrase. The same applies if you put the "have been" in.
    – Colin Fine
    May 21, 2021 at 10:42

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