I have a question regarding the order of tenses. Even after looking at many graphs and questions, I couldn't quite figure out the place of present perfects.

I thought the order went from past perfect-> past simple-> present perfect-> present-> future.

Then I saw this example on a website:

The fans would like to have seen some improvement this year. ["Would like" describes a present condition; "to have seen" describes something prior to that time.]

Is would not past tense? How can the present perfect happen before the past tense?

If that is true, is one of these more correct than the other? I thought that the second one would be better since "present perfect" happened after "simple past", but now I'm not quite sure.

I did it as you've requested.


I've done it as you requested.

  • to have seen is not present perfect but a (marked) perfect infinitive - it has no tense. May 23, 2013 at 14:02

2 Answers 2

  1. Forget the "order of tenses". There is a natural sequence past → present → future. Perfect forms, however, do not designate past events but current states brought about by the past events. A present perfect designates a state which is current 'now', and the events which brought about the state may have happened at any time before that, before or after some other event designated with a simple past.

  2. Would, as you rightly observe, is a past form used with present reference to signify that the action represented by the verb sequence it heads is 'counterfactual' (or irrealis, or impossible). Would like consequently designates its object as something now wished for which now, in the present, has not happened.

  3. The phrase to have seen is not, strictly, a present perfect — it is, rather, a perfect infinitive, the marked infinitive of HAVE + the past participle of SEE. It has no tense, and therefore can be employed in a complement to a verb with any tense.

Accordingly, "The fans would like to have seen some improvement this year" may be paraphrased as

The fans wish that they had seen some improvement this year[, but they didn't see it].


The first example you quoted has an error, as you suspect. It should read:

The fans would have liked to have seen some improvement this year.

It is already a foregone conclusion that they did not see any improvement, so they are no longer hoping for it. So you use would have liked because in the past they were wishing to see improvement, and it didn't happen.

As for your second set of examples, the first one is not quite correct. You could say:

I did it as you requested.

Both the request and the doing are in the past; simple past is fine here. Your action (the doing) is already completed, so the request is not still present; you've completed the request.

I've done it as you requested.

This is fine, though I think you're more likely to hear the first version. This implies that you completed the task more recently than the first version; in the first example you might have did what they asked a year ago, whereas in the second you're looking at a more recent time frame. (Likely, you're handing them the assignment right now, even.) But both are perfectly acceptable sentences.

  • 2
    +1, but I disagree with your seeing an error in the first example. I think would like here is ordinary and idiomatic: it introduces a present counterfactual: it didn't happen, they wish (now) that they had seen it, they would be happy (now) if they had seen it. "I would like to have seen Olivier on stage, but I never had the chance." You will find this not only in colloquial but in literary and scholarly use. May 23, 2013 at 13:54
  • 1
    What StoneyB said. Google Books claims 6.2M instances of "I would like to have been" as opposed to only 300K for "I would have liked to have been", so even if it was a "tense error" (which I don't accept), you'd have to say it's pedantic/contrary to bother pointing it out as such. May 23, 2013 at 15:39

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