She could not follow the ugly academic jargon, that rattled itself off so glibly, but said to herself that she saw now why going to the circus had knocked him off his perch, poor little man, and why he came out, instantly, with all that about his father and mother and brothers and sisters, and she would see to it that they didn't laugh at him any more; she would tell Prue about it. What he would have liked(1), she supposed(2), would have been to say(3) how he had gone(4) not to the circus but to Ibsen with the Ramsays. He was an awful prig –– oh yes, an insufferable bore.
(Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse)

What’s the time orders between (1), (2), (3), and (4)?

When I consulting the reference time (2), it seems (4) < (1) < (3). But I think there’s no need to have perfect tense in “What he would have liked.” This is confusing me.

  • 1
    Neither of those haves is perfect. They are both pasts of modal-present would - see the footnote at [ell.stackexchange.com/a/6313/32] Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 21:16
  • You cannot say "time orders among". Among is not correctly used in this way.
    – tchrist
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 14:31

1 Answer 1


I believe that this is a valid re-wording of the sentence in question:

She supposed (2) that he would have liked (1) to say (3) how he had gone (4) [...]

This hopefully makes it slightly less opaque that all the other events are prior to reference time (2), and go in the order of 4-> (1/3) -> 2; that is, at time N, he went to Ibsen; at time N+1, he (probably) wanted to say something about it; at time (N+2) she supposed that he had wanted to say something about it at time N+1.

I don't see how you can escape the use of "would have liked", though, even after rearranging the sentence.


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