Preterite perfects with a doubly remote intrepretation

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If they had gone tomorrow they would have met her son.
I’d rather you had gone tomorrow.

-- The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language

I have familiarity with temporal anteriority of perfect tense, but not with the perfect above. The book says they are doubly remote with future time. It seems like it says the preterite expresses modal remoteness and the perfect makes further remoteness, and so they call it doubly remote construction. It amazes me that perfect tense makes time distance not backward but forward for making psychological remoteness.

Do you really make psychological distance by using preterite prefect with future time, or is it just an imaginary possibility?

Listenever

Posted 2013-09-27T13:46:35.427

Reputation: 25 811

2Doubly remote is misleading. Ordinary tense-expressions are remote in a single dimension, along a Newtonian timeline extending indefinitely to the past and future from the deictic moment (ST). Conditionals and modals introduce a second dimension: if marks a point where a timeline forks, with one branch leading to a 'future' (or, with perfects, a past) where the condition is true and the other toward a future where it is false. (Your expression "imaginary possibility" is apt: think of imaginary numbers, which cannot be graphed on a real-number axis but require expansion to a plane.) – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-09-27T14:34:53.307

1I suppose CGEL is "scraping the bottom of the barrel" in order to illustrate the potential usage, but it just comes across as clunky to me. More naturally, *If they went tomorrow they would meet her son.* In general, I wouldn't advise learners to use would have [past participle] when referring to a hypothetical *future* possibility. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-09-27T16:28:27.107

2@FumbleFingers But that doesn't express the same thing. This is expressing (as Listenever says) "I'd rather you had gone tomorrow." As in: "I wish they hadn't gone yesterday. If they had gone tomorrow they would have met her son." – snailplane – 2013-09-27T17:09:58.593

2@snailboat Exactly. Tomorrow modifies the lexical verb gone, not the perfect construction, which identifies the point at which the hypothetical forks the timeline. ... The great joy of playing here is that NNSes constantly call my attention to figures like this which I've never noticed but which demonstrate the marvellous ingenuity of the language in coping with situations it wasn't designed for. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-09-27T22:22:12.633

@StoneyB: As you say, English tenses aren't designed for this particular kind of "unreal future". I can't see that snailboat's specific temporal interpretation is any more strongly implied than, say, "I wish they hadn't gone tomorrow. If they had gone next week they would have met her son." There's a law of diminishing returns when you attempt to put an unambiguous interpretation on this kind of "mend and make do" use of the tense/mood forms we have available. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-09-27T22:44:29.553

@FumbleFingers Mmm... There's got to be some sort of anteriority for a speaker to select a perfect. I can't imagine anyone coming up with a perfect if the fork was still in the future, as in your example. They'd say "I wish they wouldn't go tomorrow. If they went next week they would meet her son." – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-09-28T12:01:46.427

@StoneyB: I think it depends how you choose to interpret the context. To my mind, "I wish they hadn't gone tomorrow" means *"I wish they hadn't decided [in the past] that they would go tomorrow [in the future]"*. I'd still prefer "I wish they weren't going tomorrow", but they both have the same "fixed future" implication to me. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-09-28T19:19:27.293

@FumbleFingers I had a bet with myself that you would come up with that, and I won! Of course you're right; but what that marks is I think your unusual linguistic competence. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-09-28T19:22:13.707

@StoneyB: haha nice of you to say so! Mind you, I'd certainly go for *"I wish you wouldn't go tomorrow"* if I was still hoping the person I was speaking to might change their mind. I'd tend to reserve the "past tense" versions for contexts where I acknowledged that the current situation wasn't going to change (i.e. - I'd just be moaning about what was presumably someone's prior decision, rather than seriously trying to get them to change their plans). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-09-28T19:32:58.217

Answers

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You seem to be misreading slightly.

It seems like it says the preterite expresses modal remoteness and the perfect makes further remoteness, and so they call it doubly remote construction.

Yes. In both of your examples, CGEL makes the point that the doubly remote construction is necessarily counterfactual ("If they had gone tomorrow" necessarily means "they're not going tomorrow", perhaps because they already went yesterday, and "I'd rather you had gone tomorrow" necessarily means "you're not going tomorrow"); whereas with the preterite alone, as in "If they went tomorrow" and "I'd rather you went tomorrow", they wouldn't necessarily be counterfactual. (However, CGEL also gives some present-time examples where the doubly remote construction is not necessarily counterfactual.)

It amazes me that perfect tense makes time distance not backward but forward for making psychological remoteness.

No. The remoteness here is not the remoteness of future time; after all, CGEL says this construction can occur "with present and future time" (emphasis mine), and explains in a footnote that "The double remote construction is not available for past time because the perfect construction is not recursive"; that is, the reason you can use the doubly remote construction with present and future time, but not with past time, is that with past time the perfect is already being used to express anteriority, so it can't be re-used to express remoteness (since *"if they had had gone yesterday" is ungrammatical).

ruakh

Posted 2013-09-27T13:46:35.427

Reputation: 4 098

-3

"If they had gone tomorrow they would have met her son" does not make sense. You could say "If they had gone yesterday they would have met her son", or if you really mean tomorrow you could say "If they go tomorrow they will meet her son."

Similarly "I’d rather you had gone tomorrow" is not correct. Either "I’d rather you had gone yesterday" or "I’d rather you go tomorrow" is ok.

Phil

Posted 2013-09-27T13:46:35.427

Reputation: 1

3Sure it does. "I wish they hadn't gone yesterday. If they had gone tomorrow they would have met her son." It's the proper way to say what it's trying to say. – snailplane – 2013-09-27T17:08:42.307

Yikes - fair enough! Yes, you could say that, though I might argue with the use of "would have met her son", which implies something definite (would have) about something indefinite (the future.) I'd prefer "could have" - but this is a slightly separate issue. I stand corrected. – Phil – 2013-09-27T17:23:39.277

Ah, please don't be discouraged! I didn't mean to prod you hard enough to cause a "Yikes"! ;-) If you'd like to contribute to ELL in the future, I'm sure it would be more than welcome. – snailplane – 2013-10-02T08:28:45.967