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What is the meaning of the following sentences:

  1. I would like to ask you a question.

  2. I would like to have asked you a question.

  3. I would have liked to ask you a question.

  4. I would have liked to have asked you question.(is it natural English ?is it grammatically correct? And does it make sense?

These sentences are in different forms and look similar but quite confusing to me. Could you please help me to distinguish between their meanings?

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All of the example sentences given are grammatically correct and have similar meanings but differ in the time tense they imply.

1) I would like to ask you a question:
2) I would like to have asked you a question:
3) I would have liked to ask you a question:
4) I would have liked to have asked you a question.

#1 says you have a wish (in the present) to ask a question (sometime in the future).

#2 says that you (in the present time) still wish you had asked the question (in the past).

"I would like to" implies some future action you want to do.

"I would have liked to" implies some action you wished you had done in the past.

Both #3 & #4 have almost identical meanings (most people wouldn't notice the difference in meaning between them). They both have the meaning that (in the past) you wish that you had (in the past) asked the question.

Unfortunately, English doesn't handle time tenses very clearly. To explain the difference between #3 and #4 I am going to create a timeline:

    A1=time you first regretted not asking question
    A2=any time between A1 and A3 when you regretted not asking
    A3=Now (when you make the statement).
    A4=Future (from when you make the statement).

Statement #1 is you at A3 talking about A4.

Statement #2 is you at A3 talking about A1.

Statement #3 is you at A3 talking about A2.

Statement #4 is you at A3 talking about (A2 when you were thinking of A1).

"Have" or "Had" implies something in the past, "has" or "is" implies something in the present and "would", "will have", or "will be" implies the future.

  • Is 4th sentence correct ? I think there is double verbs, is it natural and does it make sense ? – yubraj Jun 2 '16 at 6:45
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    It is correct, but #3 and #4 are so close in meaning that most people wouldn't use #4 unless they were worried about exact meaning, and in that case it would be better to break the idea into more than one sentence. – Mark Ripley Jun 2 '16 at 7:25
  • I haven't got you yet, Could you please include your idies in your answer itself. Next, you have said ". . . . . . .meaning that most people wouldn't use" what is the meaning of 'would' here ? – yubraj Jun 2 '16 at 8:18
  • I find #2 strange-sounding, I think because it parses as "I would like, right now, that I had asked you a question, in the past." Those tenses clash, if you ask me. Oddly enough, if you say "I wish", it parses better, I think because would is a hypothetical and wish is not. I find #4 pretty common and natural to my (Northeastern US ear), at least as much as #3. – stangdon Jun 2 '16 at 14:51
  • I agree that #2 is a clumsy statement. I find that English allows many sentences that are correct grammatically but that normally are not used because there are better (more understandable) ways to construct a different sentence that carries the same or almost the same meaning. – Mark Ripley Jun 3 '16 at 6:26

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