The (Un)Reality of the Perfect Infinitive, Reconsidered from a Constructional Perspective

  • Elisabeth Senft
Keywords: infinitival perfect, be to, constructions, corpus


Due to great diachronic as well as synchronic variation and change, the perfect aspect has been studied to a great extent. In English, its infinitival form (have + past participle) has been largely neglected, however. This paper therefore seeks to explore ‘non-core’ grammatical constructions of the type Vpast; + perfect infinitive, especially their function and use in BNC, COCA and COHA. It challenges previous explanatory attempts by arguing that the perfect infinitive in the environments discussed does not indicate counterfactuality, as commonly believed. Instead, by taking a constructional perspective, the use of the perfect infinitive is argued to be a case of anteriority agreement, whereby speakers feel the urge to place the proposition on the same temporal level as the matrix verb. The findings of the corpus-based study further suggest that perfect infinitive constructions are in decline and might be in the process of disappearing from English altogether. Thus, this article attempts to extend the discussion of the perfect aspect to one of its non-finite forms but at the same time provides further implications for explaining recent change of the perfect aspect in general.


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How to Cite
Senft, E. (2013). The (Un)Reality of the Perfect Infinitive, Reconsidered from a Constructional Perspective. Rhesis. International Journal of Linguistics, Philology and Literature, 4(1), 40-64.