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According to New English File (Upper-intermediate, 2nd edition), "when you are talking about the future, use a present tense after these expressions: as soon as, until, when etc. This can be ANY present tense, e.g. present simple, present continuous, or present perfect." Then there are the following examples:

  1. I'll be ready as soon as I've had a shower.
  2. We're not going to go out until the rain has stopped.

However, no further details have been offered on whether using such different tenses would probably make any difference in the meaning of the sentences or not. My question is, what difference would it make if both present perfect tenses above were replaced by present simple?

  1. I'll be ready as soon as I have a shower.
  2. We're not going to go out until the rain stops.
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    I think your first "alternative" isn't really valid, but if it's not examined too closely it sounds sorta "okay". The problem for me is that as soon as I [have a] shower identifies either the time when you start your ablutions, or the entire span from when you get in the shower until you're out and have dried yourself. But clearly you can't be ready until after that. – FumbleFingers Nov 3 '16 at 16:39
  • @FumbleFingers: Thanks for your comment. So you think there's no difference in using either present perfect or present simple for the second example? (until the rain has stopped/stops) – M.N Nov 3 '16 at 16:56
  • Well, we could consider a contrived context where I'll phone you as soon as I have a bath actually means I'll call you from my bath as soon as I get in it. But since we tend to favour simpler tenses wherever we can get away with them, and since that's a very unlikely meaning (that would probably be contextually known to the addressee anyway) normally you'd be quite safe to assume it makes no difference. And since we favour the simpler present tense, the second "original" slightly emphasises after the rain has stopped (maybe a key condition which the speaker will rule on). – FumbleFingers Nov 3 '16 at 17:25
  • It can be subtle though. Imho, She said we couldn't have our pudding until we had eaten our dinner is "better" than ...until we ate our dinner, because it more explicitly underlines that the pudding wouldn't arrive until after the dinner was eaten (not while we ate it). But switching to direct speech it's more likely to be You can't have your pudding until you eat your dinner! because the last three words also serve as the implied imperative Eat your dinner! So that's two closely-related usages where the "best" versions are completely opposed. Circumstances alter cases. – FumbleFingers Nov 3 '16 at 17:35
  • (It's a brilliant question though!) – FumbleFingers Nov 3 '16 at 17:52
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Very often, it doesn't make a difference. But using the present perfect focuses the action on the time after the specified event, rather than at the time it happens.

Real world knowledge means that "We'll go out as soon as I have/I've had a shower" mean the same thing. But what about "We'll go out as soon as he watches the programme"? That is ambiguous: it could mean as soon as he starts, or it could mean only when he's finished. (To be fair, the first interpretation isn't very likely; but it's possible). But "as soon has he has watched the programme" is unambiguous.

Edit: added missing "as soon" in the above.

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    Colin, if I say, "We'll go out as soon as he watches the program," it implies we'll go out after he's done watching it. Otherwise I would use something different like "while* he's watching ..." or "when he's watching..." I agree it could be ambiguous, but only usually in a way that deliberately exploits the ambiguity (like a joke or a pun) – Andrew Nov 3 '16 at 16:44
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    @Andrew: I'm inclined to agree; I was trying to find an example where the choice of present or perfect really makes a difference. Can you find one? – Colin Fine Nov 3 '16 at 17:26
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    @Colin: Trivially, I'll phone you as soon as I have a bath could be the only valid choice if you were talking to your plumber friend who'd offered to install some new sanitaryware you expected to acquire. I'm not sure if I can contrive a context based on two conversants who've previously enjoyed phone sex while one or both was in the bath. Maybe using the perfect there could imply the speaker wasn't "in the mood" this time. (Or was going to be unfaithful and have "bath phone sex" with a rival!? :) – FumbleFingers Nov 3 '16 at 17:49
  • @Colin Fine: Thanks a world for your clear explanation. +1 – M.N Nov 3 '16 at 21:52
  • @Colin: I was reading more on first conditionals when I came across the following examples: 1. I'll do my homework as soon as this programme ends. 2. He won't leave home until he finishes university. To me, it would've been more sensible if present perfect had been used for both the present simple tenses above. In that case, as you said, they would've not looked ambiguis since present perfect focuses the action on the time after the specified event. What's your take on this? – M.N Nov 4 '16 at 8:38
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I'll be ready as soon as I have/have had a shower.

We're not going to go out until the rain stops/has stopped.

While the present perfect indicates an activity that continues up to the moment that we're talking about, and the simple present indicates an activity that occurs in that moment, there is no real semantic difference between the two in this sentence structure.

In both cases, the base sentences are about what happens after that activity, not what precedes it, and so it makes little difference whether we say the activity has been happening, or just happens.

As a side note: I say use "get" or "take" a shower rather than "have" a shower. There's nothing wrong with "have", I just wanted to make you aware that there are variations in the idiom.

  • Generally speaking, I knew "take a shower" is preferred in American English while "have a shower" in British English, but I had no idea about "get a shower". Thanks anyway for the side note. – M.N Nov 3 '16 at 16:50
  • @M.N if it's of any interest, in my family we also say "jump in the shower". But I can't say if that idiom is widespread. – Andrew Nov 3 '16 at 17:06
  • @ Andrew: "jump in the shower" is quite close and similar in meaning to what we say in Farsi! And thanks for your comment on Colin's answer. I found it really useful. +1 – M.N Nov 3 '16 at 21:54

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