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I got this sentence -

Now he wished he could have had longer alone with Katerina.

Context - He was talking with Katrina, after some time his brother came. And he wished this (the quoted sentence).

I understand the meaning of this sentence, and the structure is also not new to me. It's familiar. But now today when I read this sentence I started to analyze the structure of this sentence.

I was initially more confused about the usage and meaning of "had" in this sentence, but they were nicely explained in answers and comments.

After that I started to think about this sentence, and came to know my real confusion is about whether this sentence is grammatical or not. If it is please explain how and even if it's not please tell me how.

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    This looks wrong, both grammatically and in word choice. Where did you read it from? Could you give more context? Also, there is no form of the word "get" in the sentence. By "get" do you mean "have"? – Dan Getz Dec 4 '14 at 13:34
  • @DanGetz Like I said the had in the quoted sentence mean get. This is what my assumption is. So what get mean here? Or as you can say what have mean in the sentence? – Man_From_India Dec 4 '14 at 13:39
  • @DanGetz Could you please explain why it is not grammatically incorrect. In fact I am in doubt, sometimes I think it is wrong, and inserting an it after had will make the sentence correct. And sometimes I think it is correct. And that's why I wan to know the meaning of "had" here. – Man_From_India Dec 4 '14 at 13:55
  • thanks for explaining. As for whether this is correct... maybe this is from a different dialect than mine? I'm pretty sure it would be wrong in my dialect. From searching google and checking n-grams, it looks like "longer" is really (but very rarely) used in this way. – Dan Getz Dec 4 '14 at 14:48
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    In my dialect I think we would say instead "could have had more time alone with" or "could have been alone longer with" or "could have stayed longer alone with". To me, "have longer" is missing a verb or noun to say what is being "had", and those phrases provide it ("more time", "be", "stay"). – Dan Getz Dec 4 '14 at 14:53
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So, the verb you are talking about is similar to 'to get' in meaning, but not quite the same. The entire phrase is 'could have had', and you really need to think of it all together, because it is the combination of words that gives the meaning.

This is a modal verb, and these are quite tricky in English.It expresses a possibility that existed in the past, but no longer exists. If he had made different choices in the past, he could have had more time with Katrina. However, the time is over and with the choices he actually made, they spent less time together.

So, let's compare these two sentences:

Now he wishes he could have had longer alone with Katrina.

Now he wishes he could have longer alone with Katrina.

In the first one, his time with her is over. His choices are made. The time they spent alone together is all of the time he will have with her.

In the second one, without the word 'had', he knows he has a set amount of time with Katrina and he regrets that he will not have more, but some of the time they have together may be in the present and some of the time they have together may even be in the future - it just isn't as much as he wants. I think from the comparison you can see that the 'had' expresses that the possibility was completely in the past.


Adding a new example to help explain. Imagine a student, Anna. She is taking an exam right now. She had to work a lot in the days before the exam, so didn't have a lot of time to study. There are a lot of topics on the exam she didn't go over. She is taking the exam right now, so it is too late for her to go back and study them. She wishes she could have had more time to study them.

Now imagine it is Tuesday and Anna will be taking her exam on Friday. She knows the exam will be hard and she wants to study for it. She looks at her schedule and sees that she will be working double shifts on Wednesday and Thursday, so will only have a few hours in the evening each day to study. She wishes she could have more time, but that is all the time she has.

Do you see the difference? In one, all of the time is in the past. She can't get it back. She can't make different choices and get a different outcome.

In the second one, the time period we are discussing is in the future. It is possible (but maybe unlikely) that she could make different choices (for example, quitting her job) that would change the amount of time she has to study.

  • Just commented in response to the question to say, basically, exactly what this answer says but in fewer words. Great answer. – Lewis Heslop Dec 4 '14 at 14:09
  • I still have problem understanding the difference the two sentences make. I believe the difference is very slight, but yet I can't make out the difference. You explained it nicely, yet to me it looks like they both mean the same even after your effort to explain the difference. Well, how "could have had/could have with Katerine" make the sentence correct? – Man_From_India Dec 4 '14 at 14:15
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    It's a difference between Mike's home from college, and he's with Katrina now, but they both have to go back to college soon. Mike wishes he could have longer along with Katrina. He's spending time with her right now, and wishes he had more time to spend with her. Contrast that with Katrina broke up with him last month because Mike was always busy doing stuff with friends, working, and going to school. Now he misses her, realizes he misses her, and wishes he could have had more time alone with her. – Maurice Reeves Dec 4 '14 at 14:27
  • Great example, Maurice! I just added another one to my answer, as well. – michelle Dec 4 '14 at 14:32
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    @michelle Nice example to make your explanation more understandable. But how "could have had/could have with Katerine" make the sentence correct? – Man_From_India Dec 4 '14 at 14:35
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To my American ears, it sounds marginally grammatical. My ears want an infinitive phrase complement to "had longer".... had longer to _VERB_.

We do have the expression "had longer". Let's say we're assigned the task of writing a report that must be done in a very short time. We might say when handing it in:

I wish I'd had longer to do it!

or even more colloquially:

I wish I'd had longer to do it in!

ngram seems buggy, so take this with a grain of salt, but it shows no hits for had longer alone or have longer alone.

  • Didn't understand the last line. What do you mean? – Man_From_India Dec 5 '14 at 15:29
  • ngram is a search tool provided by Google that goes against a database of texts published over the past several hundred years. When it's working properly, it can show whether a particular word or phrase is common in present day English, whether it was popular two hundred years ago but has become archaic, and things like that. hits=search results. buggy=not working as it should. take this with a grain of salt=a caveat, do not rely solely upon this as it may not be a reliable indicator. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 5 '14 at 15:40
  • How cool - I've never seen ngram before. I tried the phrase "could have had longer", and it showed that usage peaked in the early 20th century and it is less used since then. That may tell us more about which era's texts Google has digitized more than anything, but it is still interesting. – michelle Dec 8 '14 at 13:49
  • Can't believe I forgot this usage! My ears also like hearing an infinitive phrase with "to". I think the "with" threw me off. (But I've seen evidence that "with" doesn't sound bad to other English speakers around the world.) – Dan Getz Dec 10 '14 at 0:42

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