Future perfect in the past

English grammar questions, answered by Alan

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Alina Cherry
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Future perfect in the past

Post by Alina Cherry » Mon Nov 09, 2020 7:36 pm

Hello! Could you please give me a hand?
While reading an article I stumbled upon one sentence that completely confused me. I thought that any Future Perfect sentence is supposed to refer us to a completed action in the future. But here we have only "only the past few years" which obviously refers to the past instead of future. What does it mean, how can it be possible, which rule have I missed?

Thank you!
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Re: Future perfect in the past

Post by Alan » Wed Nov 11, 2020 2:18 am

Your confusion is understandable, but you need to bear in mind that 'future perfect' is simply a convenient LABEL for this type of verb phrase and does not mean that its uses are limited entirely to the future.

'Will' is a modal verb that originally denoted a willingness or a tendency to act in a certain way (a sense preserved is such expressions as 'If you WILL just sign here....' [= if you are willing to ...] or 'Pigs WILL eat anything' [= tend to...]).

From this older sense of tendency derived a sense of probability (and, ultimately, the predictive future sense that we now mainly associate with 'will') , and it is this meaning that is denoted by such as expressions as 'You will have noticed', which therefore means simply 'It is probable that you noticed...'.