'I would have liked to be a ballet dancer.' How does this fit into the English grammar? Are there any guidelines in using 'would' in this way?
Last edited by colloquium; 13-Aug-2008 at 14:08.
In my first sentence I said 'almost certainly'; that's because there's a very unlikely case where the doubling of the perfect would make sense*. If the wish, in the past, refers to an even earlier unfulfilled ambition, you would use both. This is pretty unlikely, and I have a lesson to prepare so don't have the time to work out an example!
I'll post timelines for these two forms later.
*Of course, making sense and spoken language don't always go hand-in-hand; and when users make this 'mistake' there's little risk of their being misunderstood. So there will presumably come a time when it will no longer be seen as a mistake. (That time may even have come, for some users, for whose benefit I used quotation marks - ). But it's certainly not wrong to use one of the shorter (one perfect) versions.
Many thanks BobK. That's a very helpful post.
I have tried to give examples based on your explanation. Please let me know if I have made any errors (particularly in my last attempt).
(would + present perfect + full infinitive)
I would have liked to be a ballet dancer, but my mother couldn't afford the lessons.
Present wish about a past desire.
(would + like + perfect infinitive)
I would like to have been a ballet dancer. Unfortunately I am too old now.
Past wish about an even earlier desire.
(would + present perfect + perfect infinitive)
I've always loved ballet, but unfortunately my mother insisted that I play the violin. Once my violin lessons came to an end, I realised that I would have prefered to have taken ballet lessons.
Afterthought: when I first saw the title of this thread I thought you were going to ask about a not very common usage (rather archaic, but preserved in some expressions - like 'would that it were [so]'). This is reminiscent of the Greek optative - in fact it wouldn't surprise me if I were told (note: I'm not telling anyone, myself) that this usage had been invented by early prescriptive grammarians to match the classical languages.
This is the Greek bit in Rupert Brooke's Grantchester:
(Yes, he really wrote that. )έιθε γενοιμην - would I were
In Grantchester, In Grantchester