I'm reading Bloodline by F. Paul Wilson and came across the following snippet:

Jack needed to read this. He'd have loved to take it home to pore over, but Bolton would know he'd been invaded when he found it missing.

The narration goes when Jack snuck into Bolton's room and now he's looking at the book. Why does the author uses the perfect tense after the modal verb? This way it seems that Jack doesn't want to take it home right now looking at it but wanted to do that in the past

3 Answers 3


Modals followed by auxiliary have are almost always irrealis (counterfactual) conditionals.

He would love to would be realis: there was a possibility that he might yet take it home. He would have loved to means that he did not take it home - that possibility was not realized.

I don't agree with WS2 that there is anything sloppy about He would have loved to take it home. To have taken it home is of course possible, but English speakers often omit that sort of complexity when the temporal relationships are clear.

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    There was a big bully at school. I'd have loved to punch his face. I held back because his Dad was a Tory councillor and my father's boss. Jan 15, 2023 at 22:00
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    Are you sure? To my mind, "He would have loved to take it home" is Past Tense for "He would love to take it home" right now (Present Tense). And in that past tense context it was effectively "still a possibility" (albeit a remote possibility, because of the deterrent). The situation where that possibility was not realized would be "He would have loved to have taken it home" (but in fact he didn't). Jan 15, 2023 at 23:11
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    @FumbleFingers "He would have loved to take it home" is past tense, which fits when [he] already let go of that desire due to an earlier consideration. Consider: "I would love to take you out to dinner" is an active desire. "I would have loved to take you out to dinner [but I won't because I know you're married to Bob]" is stating a present tense irrealis. If she wasn't married at the present time, he would have taken her to dinner at the present time. "I would have loved to have taken you out to dinner [before you got married to Bob]" is a past regret, and says nothing about the present.
    – Flater
    Jan 16, 2023 at 5:36
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    @Flater Going back to the question, I would agree that if it is a present tense "irrealis" then it is correctly worded. But most novels are written and stories told in the past tense. My presumption is that "He'd have loved..." expresses a past feeling - in which case it needs to be followed by "...to have taken it home."
    – WS2
    Jan 16, 2023 at 9:56
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    @FumbleFingers: The author of that sentence would not have been able to double-stack both the intention of (a) narrative past tense and (b) expressing an irrealis in the present time (relative to what the narration is narrating - i.e. his desire was to take it home "now", his desire was not that he had already taken it home in his own past). We deconstruct this sentence and you assume it must be (a) and I assume it must be (b), but there's nothing stopping it from being both, and I think that's what it is.
    – Flater
    Jan 16, 2023 at 22:46

The reason seems simpler than the other answers to me: the narrator is describing past events. Jack needed (in the past, from the narrator's perspective) to read this, and (at that time) would have loved to ...

The alternative

Jack needs to read this. He'd love to take it home to pore over ...

would also be perfectly acceptable, but that is not normally how fiction is written.

  • I ran into such a construction as: "He was willing to do that job, if he WERE put to it, for less money". Why is it "were" here and not "had been"? It is the past, from the narrator's perspective, and he could have been put to it at that time. Shouldn't it have been: "He was willing to do that job, if he HAD BEEN put to it, for less money"?
    – Eugene
    Aug 2, 2023 at 22:28
  • @Eugene because the act of being willing comes before the hypothetical act of being put to it. If this ordering were reversed, you might use "had been", as in "He would have been willing [...] if he had been [...]". Here the sense is that the (missed) opportunity to put it to him came before the time in focus. Aug 3, 2023 at 10:47
  • Thank you. Will the following modification be correct: "He was willing to do that job, and he would be put to it if he were not so whimmy"?
    – Eugene
    Aug 3, 2023 at 11:15

You are quite right. It is sloppy English in my view.

I think we can assunme that "He'd have loved" is short for "He would have loved". That part is not a problem.

But the whole sentence should read He'd have loved to have taken it home to pore over...

But relevant to this answer is my comment to @FumbleFingers below. I will concede that if the book is written in the present tense, or what has sometimes been described on ELU as "the historical present" - like Carlyle's French Revolution (unlikely) - then it is correctly worded.

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    @Denis Hold on! I think I see what you mean. But if he is wishing that he had already taken it home - he would surely say either He wished he had taken it home or He would have loved that he had (already) taken it home.
    – WS2
    Jan 15, 2023 at 23:06
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    Hmm. Surely in your library scenario, when you're actually there, it should be Present Tense I would like to borrow it, but I can't.., Talking about it later, I would have liked to borrow it, but I couldn't... But I agree with your most recent "Going back to the question" comment under Colin's answer - there's a potential very fine distinction between "to take it home" / "to have taken it home" in terms of Past / Present irrealis, even though few of us would particularly notice "inappropriate" phrasing. (And it's starting to give me a headache thinking about it! :) Jan 16, 2023 at 11:42
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    Actually no. You can say I would have liked... when you're actually there, since you're referring to an "unreal" situation (if the "but..." clause hadn't been the case). Jan 16, 2023 at 11:45
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    @FumbleFingers Yes - I agree with your last comment. Standing there in front of the bookshelf one could and probably would say "I would have liked to borrow this - if only my membership hadn't lapsed". But later me to you "I would have liked to have borrowed it if only my membership hadn't have lapsed". But I also agree that it is headache inducing...
    – WS2
    Jan 16, 2023 at 13:23
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    @FumbleFingers This would have been better discussed on ELU. I do incidentally still believe I'm right - but the reason people haven't voted for it is that ELL is by definition comprised of learners. And it is too complex for people to bother getting their minds around. It cannot possibly be right, when reporting a past event to say "He would have loved to take it home". It has to be "He would have loved to have taken it home". And we are doing a disservice to learners if we do not make that clear.
    – WS2
    Jan 16, 2023 at 19:23

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