could have done -- with "now" adverbial

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Yichen

Senior Member
Chinese
Hello everyone,

I'd appreciate it very much if you would help me with the following:

1. He could have been Prime Minister now but he got involved in a big financial scandal.
2. They will have received our letter now.
3. When you get here tomorrow I would have finished the report.
4. He can't have finished his homework now.
5. He can't have finished his homework by now.
6. I will have finished all of this job by 5 p.m.

Sentence1 must be one from an English web (but I can't remember the specific name), so it should be correct.(I don't know why, though.)
sentence 6 is not corrrect because it needs a sub-clause instead of "by 5 p.m." only.

What about 2,3,4,5? I was taught "modal + have done" is used to refer to a past action, but I often read it when such a structure is used with a present adverbial.I feel confuded.



Thank you.




 
  • Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Hi Yichen,

    1. Not really correct: "have been ... now" is inconsistent. "He could have been Prime Minister by now" works, because "by now" (= already) covers any time in the past, up until now. Personally, I would prefer "He could have become Prime Minister by now".

    2. Again, I would use "by now" (for similar reasons to (1)). In this case it's the future perfect construction, but not used to refer to an instant in the future; rather to suggest that something has probably already happened by now, but implicitly that we won't know until a future moment (if at all).

    3. Doesn't make sense. You could use "would have" (conditional) in a sentence such as "If you had come today (instead of yesterday), I would have finished the report".

    4. No. (See (1)).

    5. OK (see comments on (1)).

    6. Looks perfectly good to me. I can't see why you'd need a 'sub-clause' (subordinate clause?).

    Ws:)
     

    Yichen

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    6. I will have finished all of this job by 5 p.m.
    6. Looks perfectly good to me. I can't see why you'd need a 'sub-clause' (subordinate clause?).
    I thought a future perfect cannot be used alone without a reference tense, similar to the case of a past perfect as in "He had finished his homework yesterday(X)".
     

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    I see what you mean about the past perfect (personally I like the term pluperfect - somehow it seems to suggest 'more past than the past'): Yes, there needs to be some reference to the past so that the pluperfect can then refer to a time even further in the past, though I'd suggest that it needn't be in the same sentence. "George went to the cinema on Saturday. He had finished his homework on Friday and had decided to enjoy himself".

    Similarly the future perfect needs a 'time-hook' to put it into context. So "I will have finished the job", with no other reference, provokes the question "when?" (or "by when?). That's cured by adding a time reference, but I don't see why it has to be in a subordinate clause. It could be:
    - "I will have finished the job before you come" [subordinate clause], or ...
    - "I will have finished the job by 5 pm", [adverbial phrase], or ...
    - "Come round tomorrow. I will have finished the job." [separate sentences, two main clauses]; implicitly "... finished the job by then", but I wouldn't say it's mandatory to state it explicitly in the second sentence).

    Ws:)
     

    Yichen

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you for your time,Wordsmyth.

    1) I will finish the job by 5 p.m.
    2) I will have finished the job by 5 p.m.

    3) I may finish the job by 5 p.m.
    4) I may/should have finished the job by 5 p.m.

    From the above posts, now I am sure 1,2 are correct. And 3 is correct, too.
    Sentence1 means I am certain that I can finish the job before time comes to 5 or I am determined to finish it by then.
    Sentence2&3 mean basically the same thing to 1 in terms of possibility.

    What about sentences 4? (I think they may be correct, but not sure.)
     
    Last edited:

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    For me, all are correct; and yes, to my ear sentence 1 has a sense of intent or determination about it, whereas 2 is more a predictive statement.

    Similarly, I hear the same distinction between 3 & 4, but with uncertainty added in each case.

    In both 3 & 4, "may" can be replaced by "should", but that reduces the uncertainty: "may" says it's possible, whereas "should" says it's probable.

    Ws:)
     

    Yichen

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    4) I may/should have finished the job by 5 p.m.[font]A native told me this sentence(sentence 4) is still understood as one referring to a past event, even if with the time of utterance being specified as in the morning. In other words, this sentence is wrong. :( As a stand-alone sentence , it may be easily understood as one referring to a past event. What about this one : "I should have finished the job before 5 o´clock tomorrow afternoon." ? Now the time frame is clear, and there couldn´t be any problem with it, could there? :) ^_^ [/font]
     
    Last edited:

    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Good point. Because we were concentrating on future events, I read sentence 4 in that way; but it could indeed refer to a past event. This is the problem with many modals (could, should, may): they often have more than one meaning &/or grammatical identity. I don't think sentence 4 is wrong, but out of context it is ambiguous. I see it as ...

    - I will have finished by 5 pm tomorrow - (predictive statement)
    - I should have finished by 5 pm tomorrow - (predictive statement, but with some uncertainty)
    - I had finished by 5 pm yesterday - (reporting a past event) (pluperfect because 5 pm yesterday is already the past, and finishing preceded that)
    - I should have finished by 5 pm yesterday - (reporting a past obligation that wasn't satisfied)

    That's usage. However I'm prepared to be contradicted by any expert grammarians out there.

    Ws:)
     

    Yichen

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you very much for your time . I think I´ve totally overcome the time-frame of "modal+have done" now.
     
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