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Can anyone explain to me why this is correct:

Please don't forget to ring me when you get home.

And why this is incorrect:

Please don't forget to ring me when you will get home.

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  • Very simple (and probably should be in the other forum). The future never comes after the word "when" in a when clause where the meaning points to the future. This error is heard all the time with new speakers of English. – Lambie Aug 7 '17 at 19:25
  • The future with will or going to – Lambie Aug 7 '17 at 19:33
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Why is this correct?

You ask why the first example is "correct", and why the second is "incorrect", and there are several things to consider in the question.

In maths, we can say with certainty that 1 + 1 = 2 is "correct", and that 1 + 1 = 42 is "incorrect". Language, though, is not governed by as strict a body of rules as maths! "Correct" and "incorrect" in the context of English usage may not be appropriate terms. In any language, "correct" usage is that which is readily understood and employed by native speakers of that language. An instructor may tell you that something is "correct", and you should probably agree—as long as you understand that it is wiser to think of a given usage as being natural or best than as being correct.

The "why" is an entirely different question. Why do we (as in this case) use a present tense to describe actions that clearly take place in the future? Linguists have a variety of theories about the reasons for this and the other oddities in English and other languages; but for our purposes, it may be best simply to say:

"Why? Because that's how we say it in English!"

The Grammar

The remainder of this answer is concerned with grammar, and here we are on firmer ground. Your sentence contains a subordinate clause introduced by the subordinating conjunction when.

Please don't forget to ring meMAIN CLAUSE

whenSUBORDINATING CONJUNCTION you get home.SUBORDINATE CLAUSE

The most common subordinating conjunctions of time in English are when, after, before, until, since, while, once, as and as soon as. In clauses with these conjunctions, we often talk about the future by using the present tense. This is what your example demonstrates:

  • Please don't forget to ring me when you get home.
        NOTPlease don't forget to ring me when you will get home.
  • They want to be ready when their car arrives.
        NOTThey want be ready when their car will arrive.
  • She will come home when she is ready.
        NOTShe will come home when she will be ready.
  • Dave will make dinner as soon as Mary comes home.
        NOTDave will make dinner as soon as Mary will come home.
  • Don't answer the phone until you find a pencil.
        NOTDon't answer the phone until you will find a pencil.
  • I am leaving after JayZ performs.
        NOTI am leaving after JayZ will perform.

Swan, in Practical English Usage (p 573) tells us:

2 present instead of future: I'll write when I have time

Present tenses are often used instead of will + infinitive to refer to the future in subordinate clauses. This happens not only after conjunctions of time like when, until, after, before, as soon as, but in most other subordinate clauses...

This can happen even if the main verb is not future in form, provided it refers to the future.     Phone me when you arrive
    Make sure you come back soon

The British Council article on "verbs in time clauses and if clauses" includes more examples and explanations.

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As a non-native speaker I was taught to treat things like if or when like this: You just use the Present Simple. That's it. I remember it very well.

So how it works: When you create a sentence with if you use the Present Simple (except for some particular cases).

If you forget your umbrella, we will get soaking wet on our way home.

See? We mean the future, but use the Present Simple. Your example is just perfect.

So it's just as simple as that. We (I mean native speakers of English, of course) normally use the Present Simple with words like when, if, after, and so on, and so forth.


Okay, and now a small addition to what I said. Remember when I said "Except for some particular cases"? Now closer to this. In English when they use if, they have a very interesting thing: You can use will in the if clause.

First an example:

If you will help me, I will help you.

That's not a mistake. If you use will, you show that it would be wonderful if someone themselves wanted to help, if they were willing to help. That's very easy to remember, because will isn't used only for expressing the future. It has its own meaning, like in the word willpower. In German it even means "want", I mean, it's German equivalent for "want".

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