What do we use the modal perfect for?

The modal perfect is used to express situations or action in the past with the purpose of criticizing them or saying how they could be different, or as we say in the modal perfect perfect, how they could have been different.

Basically the modal verb is about changing the past so it is a hypothetical tense. In this sense we are talking about possibility and that the opportunity was not taken and the situation did not occur in this way.

 

You might like to review the modal verbs

Also, review irregular participles

Form: modal verb + have + past participle

+ I could have worked harder.

I could not have done more to help you.

? Should you have asked for permission?

 

We use various different modal verbs in the perfect:

 

SHOULD HAVE + PARTICIPLE

The meaning of this is the same as ought to have done; it expresses that something would have been better in another circumstance.

You should have done your exam last year. 

You didn´t do your exam and it would have been a good idea to have done it.

 

OUGHT TO HAVE + PARTICIPLE

The meaning of this is the same as should have done; it expresses that something would have been better in another circumstance.

We ought to have saved more money last year.

We didn´t save enough money and now we don´t have enough.

 

COULD HAVE + PARTICIPLE

This shows past possibility that did not come to reality.

The job offer could have been more appealing.

The job offer was not appealing and it was not a good enough offer to accept.

 

MIGHT HAVE + PARTICIPLE

This shows past possibility that did not come to reality.

You might have told me the truth.

You did not tell me the truth and now I am not happy.

 

We also use could/would have + participle as part of the 3rd conditional, mixed conditionals and wish tenses. This is because the 3rd conditional, wish and the mixed conditionals talk about unreal pasts.

Practice questions:

  1. Should you have studied more English last year?
  2. Could you have worked more overtime last month?
  3. Might you have studied a different degree in the past?
  4. Should you have tried a different hobby in the past?
  5. Would you have become more successful if you have been more dedicated to your career?
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