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To answer, you would have had to have been able to have answered this question...
October 26, 2009 5:43 PM   Subscribe

GrammarFilter: A friend and I have been discussing this construction: "would have had to go" vs. "would have had to have gone." It seems they are both correct and are almost always interchangeable, so it would seem the former, simpler version is preferable. Thoughts, explanations, examples otherwise? Are they both correct?

The one case we could think of where the latter form is necessary is something like this: (murder investigation example ;) ) "Were it not for the contrary evidence, he would have had to have done it." In this case, "he would have had to do it" wouldn't make sense.

In a more general case, they seem interchangeable: "If the restaurant closed at nine, we would have had to go already;" "If the restaurant closed at nine, we would have had to have gone already." Are these both correct? They seem so to me, but they do feel different. Only I can't put my finger on it exactly. Is it just the difference between passive and active voice, like "we go" or "we are going?"
posted by Badasscommy to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Both correct, but not interchangeable, I think. IANAGrammarian, but:

If I hadn't renewed my lease I would have had to go apartment hunting (i.e., at the time of non-renewal).

If this job I interviewed for had required a degree, I would have had to have gone to college (i.e., at some time in the past, not at the time of the interview).
posted by philokalia at 6:05 PM on October 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, your first example is a textbook case of the subjunctive mood, expressing an idea contrary to fact. The had in would have had is necessary in expressing the past pluperfect. Some textbooks say that the subjunctive is on the way out. Bryan Garner gives six cases where it is necessary, and you've demonstrated one of them (contrafactuals) very nicely here. As you say, the meaning is changed if you don't say would have had.
posted by mattbucher at 6:06 PM on October 26, 2009


They are both correct, but mean very different things, when you think about it. Without getting into subjunctive vs. past pluperfect, think about what the sentences mean. Say, for example, I tried to get a job that requires that I attended a certain seminar at some point in the past. I would have had to have gone to the seminar if I wanted to get the job. It's absolutely not true, however, that I would have had to go to the seminar; I couldn't go, since the job started at that moment, and they needed someone right then. I would have had to have gone. One is past tense, one is present with relation to the action.
posted by koeselitz at 6:23 PM on October 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


Here's what sounds right to me:

You can say either "If the restaurant closed at nine, we would have had to go early" or "If the restaurant had closed at nine, we would have had to have gone early" which mean two slightly different things.

Either way, you can't change tenses in the middle.
posted by AlsoMike at 6:35 PM on October 26, 2009


Thanks guys. ;)

I agree the two cases for the job/seminar example are different, and the first sort of implies that you come for the job and then you take the seminar, and the other implies you come for the job and must already have taken the seminar. So the sentences, with their responses, might be:

"Had the job been of interest to me, I would have had to go to a seminar."
"I didn't get the job, because I didn't want to go to a seminar."

"Had the job been of interest to me, I would have had to have gone to a seminar."
"I didn't get the job, because I hadn't gone to a seminar."

But I'm still a little fuzzy on the difference between the two in the restaurant example. Seems to me that responses to those sentences would be the same regardless of which construction you used. "The restaurant closed at midnight, so we didn't have to leave early."
posted by Badasscommy at 7:07 PM on October 26, 2009


Badasscommy: But I'm still a little fuzzy on the difference between the two in the restaurant example. Seems to me that responses to those sentences would be the same regardless of which construction you used. "The restaurant closed at midnight, so we didn't have to leave early."

The odd thing about using a past tense in a past tense construction is that it seems a little superfluous, and on a certain level it is. In your example, the whole thing took place in the past, so "we would have had to go early" and "we would have had to have gone early" both generally imply the same thing. But note the shades of difference: in the first example, "we would have had to go early," the past time referred to is the moment you're at the restaurant and find you have to leave; in the second example, "we would have had to have gone early," the past time referred to is the moment after you've already left the restaurant. The two sentences mean different things, although they can be used to imply the same thing.

It sounds a little silly, I guess, but I do the same thing trying to riddle out tenses that I do when sorting out processes in a math problem; I isolate the difficult part. So in this case, presented with "would have had to go early" and "would have had to have gone early," I take off the "would have had to..." from each example and imagine myself in the past, having to do something. Then all I have to sort out is the difference between "to go" and "to have gone." One is present tense (relative to me standing there in the past) whereas the other is past tense. Therefore, one is speaking with regard to the moment while I'm having to leave, at the moment that I'm going; the other is speaking of the moment when I'm looking back at me having to leave, after I've already gone.

I hope that made at least a tiny bit of sense. Heh.
posted by koeselitz at 7:57 PM on October 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


... also, thinking about it now, it occurs to me that your two examples:
"If the restaurant closed at nine, we would have had to go already."
and
"If the restaurant closed at nine, we would have had to have gone already."
... mean the same thing but in different ways... almost. The trouble is that the second example isn't really formulated correctly for them to mean the same thing; as I said in the last example, it uses the past tense, so it speaks rather awkwardly of a time after we left but before now. It would make a good deal more sense if we just shift it to the present tense:
"If the restaurant closed at nine, we would have to have gone already."
... see? If the restaurant closed at nine, then it would be necessary at this moment that we'd already have left in the past. Whereas your original second example indicated something to the effect of: if the restaurant closed at nine, then it would have been necessary at some in the past for us to have left the restaurant at some point in the past before that. A little more awkward as tenses go.
posted by koeselitz at 8:08 PM on October 26, 2009


The difference I was thinking of was more along the lines of

"Remember that restaurant we used to go to that closed at 9? And then one time we got there and they had closed at 8?"

In the present tense, it's the same difference between "this restaurant closes at 9" and "this restaurant is closing at 9". The first is about what generally happens, and the second is about what is happening today in particular, which could be an exception or something.

So:
"today, we're closing at 9" --> "they had closed at 9 that day" --> "we would have had to have gone early"
and
"we always close at 9" --> "they closed at 9" --> "we would have had to go early"

Not that I'm a grammarian :D
posted by AlsoMike at 11:03 PM on October 26, 2009


AlsoMike: In the present tense, it's the same difference between "this restaurant closes at 9" and "this restaurant is closing at 9". The first is about what generally happens, and the second is about what is happening today in particular, which could be an exception or something.

I'm no grammarian either, and people can use it to mean whatever they want, but I don't think I've ever heard that distinction between the pluperfect and the subjunctive before. "Would have had to have gone" and "would have had to go" only seem different to me in the sense that in one you would have had to have gone (i.e. already went before then) and in the other you would have had to go (that is, had to go right then). But maybe I'm just not familiar with that shade of meaning attached to it.
posted by koeselitz at 11:42 PM on October 26, 2009


There are two things (sorry I don't have the proper grammatical terms) in your sentence(s) of note:
- when someone had to go, and
- the direction of causality implied.

"would have had to go" means to me that if X happened, the subject of the sentence (a person) would have had to go. The going is caused by X occurring, and it implies that the going would happen after X. The past tense in the sentence refers to X, but the going itself could still be in the future with respect the utterance of that sentence. For example, "if we had lost that customer, our salesman would have had to go (be fired / appease customer / whatever)".

"would have had to have gone" most likely means (to me) that we are deducing that someone did go because we have noted that X occurred. In other words, the going is a pre-condition of X not a result of X. The speaker is saying that if we knew X to be true then we could deduce that someone went. The reversal of the causality also means that we now know that because X is in the past, the going is also in the past. For example, "for Alice to have heard of that paper, she would have had to have gone to the conference".

"would have had to have gone" can also mean very nearly the same thing as "would have had to go" in terms of causality, but modified with the additional past-tense bit to imply that both X and the going are past tense.
posted by polyglot at 6:12 AM on October 27, 2009


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