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She wants [Tm] to have finished it [Tr] when you return [To].
(The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language)

The time order of above sentence is: Tm < Tr < To.

But there’s no sequence expressed between [Tr] and [To] in CGEL below.
Is one of two, [Tr] and [To], anterior to the other, or can’t we know?

She wants [Tm] to finish it [Tr] when you return [To].


The abbreviations used above are defined in The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language as shorthand for the following terms:

Tm - matrix time
To - time of orientation
Tr - time referred to

  • 3
    It might be helpful to spell out what Tm, Tr, and To mean for those of us not familiar with these terms. BTW, the first sentence, though it seems cumbersome to me, indicates "it" should be finished before "you" return, e.g. "She wants to have finished washing the dishes [before] you return;" or at least finish it in some close time frame to the return: "She wants to [start and] have finished washing the dishes when you return." The second sentence implies she wants to wait until you return, then finish it. – Howard Pautz Oct 8 '13 at 15:57
  • I agree about needing definitions for Tm, Tr, and To (or replace them with A, B, C if you're just using them as labels). – Martha Oct 8 '13 at 17:38
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    @HowardPautz In more usual (Reichenbach) notation Tm=Speech Time (ST or s), To=Reference Time (RT or r), Tr = Event Time (ET or e). – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 8 '13 at 21:37
  • thx @snailboat for adding the list, but unlike the one @ StoneyB provided, it doesn't make much sense to me. (Am I in the Matrix ? :) Perhaps this should be a reference item. ... or maybe I need to go to Cambridge and kick some butt ... LOL – Howard Pautz Oct 8 '13 at 22:24
  • @HowardPautz It puzzled me a bit, too. I don't have CGEL, or time to consult it at my wife's school. Glottopedia has an article on the HuddlePuddleum framework, but that uses a different rubric for Tm. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 8 '13 at 23:24
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The rule with clauses modified by when clauses is that eventives are understood to follow what is described in the when clause and statives are understood to overlap (start before and continue during) what is described in the when clause.

When I met John he liked beer. - "like" is stative, so John liked beer before and after I met him.
When I met John he bought me a beer. - "buy" is eventive, so I met John, and then he bought me a beer

Finish is an eventive, so you RETURN precedes she FINISH it.

In your first sentence the perfect construction introduces two twists.

  • Perfects actually express two time relationships, a primary 'tense' T1 on the HAVE form and a secondary 'tense' on the VP which complements the HAVE form. T1 is located at RT and T2 is always anterior to T1.

  • Regardless of the aspect expressed in the complementary VP, the perfect construction itself is stative.

Your first sentence thus presents an anterior eventive eventuality she FINISH it embedded in a stative eventuality, she HAVE FINISH it. It is this stative which interacts with the when clause; as a stative it overlaps the when clause.

For as much more detail as I can follow, see the tag-wiki entries on tense and aspect.

| improve this answer | |
  • Wow, this is pretty heady stuff... why shouldn't it be migrated to ELU ??? I doubt seriously that a 'learner' would benefit much from such a jargon-laden explainer. (I can't think of one instance where I'd have used anywhere near this level of detail teaching / tutoring English to a non-graduate level student.) – Howard Pautz Oct 8 '13 at 22:29
  • @HowardPautz Well, look at OP's question, and her history here; she's comfortable with this sort of discourse. And by and large other nations are much better at teaching grammar than we are. When I was 12 years old I lived in Austria and attended an ordinary Realgymnasium; and I was exposed to more grammatical discourse in that year than was covered in my entire linguistics minor in college. To be sure, it was trad grammar; Chomsky was brand-new cutting-edge stuff then. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 8 '13 at 23:15
  • OK understood about OP's creds. So I give up on understanding the differences between here and ELU. (Re Realgymnasium - I know, I tutored English to Germans for several years as was impressed how well they understood sentence structure (as was then depressed when I remembered how poorly we get it here:) @listenever - may I ask why you choose to ask this here as opposed to over on ELU? – Howard Pautz Oct 9 '13 at 1:14

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