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If you don’t buy it you will soon envy [a] the one who did [b].
If you don’t buy it you will soon envy [c] the one who does [d].
(The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language)

No doubt, [b] is anterior to [a]. But the relation between [c] and [d] is somewhat ambiguous (The book only says [d] is posterior to deictic time [speech time, I think]): [d] might be simultaneous with [c] or posterior to [c] or vice versa, I suspect. Which one is posterior to the other, or does it depend on the context?

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  • It depends on the context...
    – Sweet72
    Sep 18, 2013 at 14:06

2 Answers 2

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My first thought is that this depends on the context, namely, whether this is a product that one buys once and then keeps indefinitely, or if it is something that one buys and consumes in a regular cycle. Consider:

If you don't buy a house, you will soon envy the person who did.

If you don't buy diet soft drinks, you will soon envy the person who does.

In the first case, I expect to buy a house and keep it for a long period of time, so the purchase is a one-time event, so the verb should be past tense. In the second case, buying soft drinks is something one would likely do on a regular basis, so a continuous verb makes sense.

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    @Listenever Jay got it entirely right and I got it half wrong. I urge you to un-accept my answer and accept his instead. Sep 19, 2013 at 1:57
  • +1 But I suggest a different term than continuous, which is used by many writers as a synonym of progressive, as in the progressive construction person who is buying. Sep 19, 2013 at 1:59
  • @StoneyB, When I clicked up Jay's reply, I weighed as much as yours, in fact. So it was regret that I had to choose one, technically. Respecting both of you and your comment, I'm changing. I can't thank you enough for both the replies.
    – Listenever
    Sep 19, 2013 at 6:25
  • Both examples in the question used it, which is singular. Your habitual example uses diet soft drinks, which is plural. I think the plural lends itself to a habitual reading which is blocked by the singular it. Compare: "If you don't buy a diet soft drink, you will soon envy the person who does." Now that I've put this in the singular, is the habitual reading still available? I don't think it is, so I'm not sure this fully answers the question.
    – user230
    Sep 22, 2013 at 18:36
  • Depending on the context (how often do we say that on this site?), "it" could refer to a single item or to a type of item. That is, I could say, "This is the last can of Coca Cola in the store. If you don't but it ..." Here "it" is referring to that one particular can. But I could also say, "Coca Cola is the best soft drink ever made. If you don't but it ..." Then "it" is referring to the product in general, not to one specific can or bottle. The first case calls for "did"; the second for "does".
    – Jay
    Sep 23, 2013 at 21:28
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In this case, common sense (that is, the shared presuppositions of speaker and hearer) tells us that the purchaser cannot be envied until he has bought it—the purchase must be anterior to the envy.

My gut feel is that this is built in to the telic aspect of verb [d] (or, rather, of the verb BUY to which it refers) and you can only create simultaneous reference with an atelic:

If you don't adopt this technology you will soon envy those who are using it.

ADDED:
I got it half right; but Jay's answer makes me realize that I completely missed what should have been an obvious understanding of your second sentence. Present-tense buys has, as he points out, an habitual or 'generic' sense which is inherently atelic: in he buys it every day each day's purchase has a goal which is reached, but the habit which is expressed does not.

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  • Can you use present perfect has instead of past did in the first sentence? If you don’t buy it you will soon envy the one who has.
    – JK2
    Jun 21, 2021 at 2:10
  • If the purchase must be anterior to the envy, shouldn't present perfect has be the default choice? Also, see this excerpt: I, for one, will just lament in the fact that even if I were quick enough to snipe a reservation, I couldn’t afford the actual car, and as such will envy those who follow this through to actual delivery. tflcar.com/2021/02/… Here, the writer is talking about buying an expensive sports car, a one-time event, but the writer used present tense follow.
    – JK2
    Jun 21, 2021 at 2:58

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