"Bare infinitive" vs. "perfect infinitive" in past time narration



They emerged from the tunnel and were on the airport highway, with its lights on both sides attached to tall standards. Witty had watched Hardy operating the automobile at first, and had not spoken. He began to play with Yolanda, who was on her mother's lap, before they reached the airport highway. The three adults on the back seat were amused as Yolanda played enthusiastically with her uncle's animated fingers as he reached back over the front seat.

Hardy was completely absorbed with the driving and maintained his speed just below the posted limit. He wished he had known Nancy longer, and he could be sure that he was in love with her.

Perhaps they might be married by this time. He would kiss her for the first time before she boarded the plane bound for California. [The italics are mine.]

His previous thoughts about her had not been desirous, although he was sure they would have soon become lovers. “When she and Mamie and Albert reached California, she promised to send him their address, and he told her that he would be out there very soon. It did not seem proper, somehow, for him to tell her of his secret plans to marry her, so he did not mention it. How would she look when she became pregnant, he thought.

They would have one other child with Yolanda. Nancy's figure was beautiful, and he would have it distorted only once with pregnancy. This would be for their son. [The italics are mine.]

Quid Pro Quo -The Story of a Riot and the Cleavage By David McIntosh

If we set the narrative time as the present tense, the sentence in the fourth paragraph would be:

His previous thoughts about her was not desirous, although he is sure they would have soon become lovers.

I don't understand why the counterfactual 'would have become' is used here. Soon has a past future time reference here, why not just say "although he was sure they would soon become lovers" instead?

Secondly, the past tense verbs in italics in this passage are clearly in free indirect discourse; they narrate the train of thought in Hardy’s mind, which could be otherwise represented in direct speech as:

‘We may/might be married by this time. I will kiss her for the first time before she boards the plane bound for California.’

‘We will have one other child with Yolanda. Nancy's figure is beautiful, and I will have it distorted only once with pregnancy. This will be for our son.’

Since by this time has past time reference, I think the quoted sentence should be "they might have been married by this time" rather than "they might be married by this time". Why did the writer use the bare infinitive form over the perfect infinitive form?

Kinzle B

Posted 2016-01-16T13:28:25.527

Reputation: 7 089

Why do you call this "free indirect discourse"? Because the sentences reveal the character thinking? – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-01-16T17:21:23.233

The author means to have his character think: They might be married already [had he met her sooner]....He was sure they would have soon become lovers. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-01-16T17:31:33.317

@TRomano In that case, that should be "might have been married". – Kinzle B – 2016-01-16T22:41:43.423

:He's thinking "We might be married already, had we met sooner". Married the state, not married the ceremony. Compare: "We might be cured already, had we received the medicine sooner." – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-01-17T12:46:08.690

"It might be cooked already, had I put it in the oven sooner." – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-01-17T12:54:01.623

@TRomano See this: http://ell.stackexchange.com/questions/24463

– Kinzle B – 2016-01-17T14:15:18.987

That does not change my opinion. "by this time" refers to the character's "now". "This" is local, "that" is distant.The character is thinking, "if I had met her sooner, we might be married by now". Modal might refers to possibility where there are no prohibitive conditions, in other words, more to a likelihood than to a remote possibility. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-01-17T14:25:24.303

This question and answers might help: http://ell.stackexchange.com/questions/91547/mixed-conditionals-3rd-conditional-which-one-should-be-the-better-option-to-go

– Alan Carmack – 2016-08-13T13:37:01.703

That doesn't bother me much; the linked I gave above explained that much better. I'm asking why the context didn't imply any counterfactual protases for "would have become". @AlanCarmack – Kinzle B – 2016-08-13T14:58:00.913



By using the past perfect

had not been desirous

the author is conveying that in the past Hardy did not have these thoughts, however now he does, which brings us to the present, where the simple past

He wished he had known Nancy longer, and he could be sure

conveys that he did (possibly once he had these thoughts) and continues to wish he knew her for a longer period of time.

The time frame referred to by

Perhaps they might be married by this time

is the current time, when they are in the car going to the airport.

As happens often in stories of this type, the girl is about to leave and the guy is wondering what might have been, thus the changing of tenses from past to present and back again.


Posted 2016-01-16T13:28:25.527

Reputation: 63 575

But I think they might be married in the future, not by this time. Apparently they ain't married yet. – Kinzle B – 2016-01-17T11:13:02.873

No they're not married yet, but I think Hardy is thinking they might have been married by now, so the feeling might have been that he is sending off his wife, however now he is faced with the prospect of never seeing her again if she doesn't forward her address to him. They still might get married in the future, but I think it is implied that it is an unknown since Hardy has not revealed his secret plan. Lots of longing in this scene by Hardy. You can tell he is very much in love with her by now. – Peter – 2016-01-17T11:21:40.533

That's why I think it should have been "Perhaps they might have been married by this time.". Past participle indicates the past counterfactuality. It might have been there but it wasn't.. – Kinzle B – 2016-01-17T11:25:39.523

Compare: "If we had left sooner, we might be there by now." This means "there's good reason to think we would already be at our destination if we had departed earlier". – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2016-01-17T15:12:30.290