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Going mad over some grammar

 
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kugaas



Joined: 24 May 2009
Posts: 5
Location: London

PostPosted: Thu Jun 13, 2013 2:26 am    Post subject: Going mad over some grammar Reply with quote

Hello all,

I was writing an email and I simply got stuck between using



I happened to speak to

and

I happened to have spoken to

Can anyone give a detailed breakdown of the two?
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johntpartee



Joined: 02 Mar 2010
Posts: 3231

PostPosted: Thu Jun 13, 2013 3:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The first one sounds better. That's my criteria for everything.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9040
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Thu Jun 13, 2013 7:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It might be helpful if we knew the context... perfect infinitives are scary...
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Ignatius Reilly



Joined: 30 Jun 2011
Posts: 29
Location: East of Suez

PostPosted: Fri Jun 14, 2013 3:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Isn't this a question of tense and aspect? The first example because it uses a tense would seem to require a time marker of some kind. The second is an aspect and therefore doesn't as it refers to some indeterminate time in the past. I may be wrong, of course. I frequently am. It was such sloppiness of thought that had me removed from higher liturgical learning and had me retrain as a haruspex. There's so little call these days for decent haruspices...
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12354
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Fri Jun 14, 2013 6:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Ignatius Reilly,

Indecent ones, however, are raking in the cash:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQ9glAxYLhM

Regards,
John
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Ignatius Reilly



Joined: 30 Jun 2011
Posts: 29
Location: East of Suez

PostPosted: Fri Jun 14, 2013 11:55 pm    Post subject: EFL Reply with quote

Ah, my dear Death Metal friends from Milwaukee. I find their music to be excellent background as I proceed with my specialist classes in Entrails as a Foreign Language.
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Mr. English



Joined: 25 Nov 2009
Posts: 262
Location: Guangzhou, China

PostPosted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 2:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm looking at Swan's Practical English Usage, International Student's Edition, 2005, at page 264, section 288.2 (perfect infinitive for "unreal" past). Your example is of course not about an unreal past, but otherwise the example fits. Swan writes: "I meant to have telephoned, but I forgot. (or 'I meant to telephone ...')"
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johnslat



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 12354
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

PostPosted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 1:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'd say that the time relationship in the context is what determines when the perfect infinitive needs to be used. The perfect infinitive expresses the potential or past possibility depending on the context. It is simply a matter of where the possibility is located in time.

In the OP's first sentence:

I happened to speak to him

both actions took place at the same time in the past.

but in the second example

I happened to have spoken to him

the "to have spoken" action took place further back in the past than the "happened" action.

The sentence could be written in this way:

I happened to have already spoken to him

Reading the conditional, here are a couple of quotes:


1. "There is a simple rule about past conditionals which will prevent a lapse into that deep contemplation which is so often fatal. After 'would have liked,' 'would have hoped,' 'would have feared,' etc., use the present infinitive. The implication of non-fulfillment is inherent in the governing verb itself, that is, in the 'would have liked,' etc. You don't have to shade the infinitive to get a nice note of frustration. Let it alone. Dr. H. W. Fowler himself says: 'Sometimes a writer, dimly aware that "would have liked to have done" is wrong, is yet so fascinated by the perfect infinitive that he clings to that at all costs.' That's what it is--a fascination--like a cobra's for a bird. Avoid the perfect infinitive after the past conditional as you would a cobra."
(James Thurber, "Our Own Modern English Usage: The Perfect Infinitive." The New Yorker, June 22, 1929)

2. "Perfect infinitive [is the] traditional, but pointless, label for a sequence of to plus have plus the past participle of a verb. An example is to have met in I would like to have met Napoleon. The name is inappropriate, since such a sequence is neither an infinitive nor a grammatical unit of any kind."

(R.L. Trask, Dictionary of English Grammar. Penguin, 2000)

Very Happy

Regards,
John
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