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Grammar: will have + past participle

Construction of will have and past participle is rather interesting. It is used to “express certainty or confidence about the past” (Swan 622).

Examples of will have and past participle

A student is given this sentence to rephrase by using WILL  (taken from Spotlight on CAE):

Paul said he would call April to tell her he’s not going to the party, and I’m sure he has.

Rephrased using WILL:

Paul will have phoned April to tell her he’s not going to the party, because he said he would.

The meaning: the speaker is fairly confident that April was told he would not come to the party.

Let’s see some other examples and rephrase them quickly:

  • Dear Sir, You will recently have received a form… (We are sure you got that form.)
  • I wonder why we haven’t heard from him – do you think he won’t have got our letter yet? (I am fairly confident he did not get the letter.)
  • We can’t go and see them now – they’ll have gone to bed. (I’m sure they fell asleep.) [All three examples are taken from Swan.]
  • That means workers will have received a total 9pc pay rise in the past three years. (We are quite certain that the rise was 9pc per worker.) [Irish Independent.]
  • If, like me, you are a BHP Billiton shareholder, you will have received a handsome 192-page shareholder circular last month …. (If you are also a shareholder, you got the same circular last month.) [Forbes]

That’s an interesting use of a modal!

2 replies on “Grammar: will have + past participle”

Aspects of Modern English Usage for Advanced Students: A Comparison with French, by Paul Lambotte, John Potter, Harry A. Campbell

§ 506

1) ‘Will have’ is used to make an assumption about an action or situation in the past when the speaker considers something to be certain (modal certainty), which does not mean that it is certain, a fact (factual certainty), it generally refers to the recent past, when the speaker is most likely to be so assertive.

Peter has never been hardworking. He’ll have dropped out of the scheme by now.
There is an assumption, not a logical conclusion, because you have no evidence on which to base a conclusion, only your general knowledge.

2) ‘Will have’ is not common at all to reter to the distant past and more especially to express a theory about the past. e.g. in historical studies, because it would make it appear too certain in the absence of adequate factual evidence. The standard phrase in this case is ‘would have’, which makes the theory more cautious, more tentative. (See § 509.)

§ 507

‘Would’ is used to indicate a little less certainty in the assumption than would be the case with ‘will’. This past tense form of modal ‘will’, like that of ‘may’, with its conditional connotation, makes the judgment more tentative. The term ‘conjecture’ is meant here to refer to the tentative form of assumption.

About a building you cannot see properly in the distance, you could say: That building would be about ten storeys high.

This opinion is based on a rough estimate and you are not sure that it is correct. ‘That building will be…’ sounds more confident.

§ 509

‘Would have’ is the usual phrase to express a theory about the past, i.e. in historical accounts when there is hardly any doubt about it. It states what most probably happened, what things were most probably like etc. in the absence of evidence stating those things as facts.

‘Will have’ is uncommon in this case because it is too close to an assertion for what is, after all, only a theory.

(In Old Sturbridge Village, an American living museum where young craftsmen revive the eighteenth-century trades, explanations often run as follows 🙂

They would have baked their bread in this way…
Here are two examples from ‘Chasing the Monsoon’ by Alexander Frater (1990) :

One of da Gama’s preoccupations would have been the safety of his fleet.

Each year, between 1852 and 1869, usually between the 6th and 7th day of June, he would have noted the appearance of the Monsoon Star.

The use of a simple past – ‘was’ and ‘noted’ – would imply that we actually know from e.g. his diary that it was indeed one of his preoccupations and that he noted the appearance of the Monsoon Star, but we do not know, we only assume that it was so.

§ 513

The speaker is looking at the past from the present. As the judgment is made in the present, the model is in the present tense, while the pastness of the action/situation is expressed by the perfect infinitive. (See § 508.)

‘Will have’ can only be used to make an assumption about the recent past (See § 506.)

‘Would have’, which expresses things in a more tentative way, is the usual way of expressing conjecture -and more particularly theories about the distant past. (See § 508,509.)

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