I found myself parse this sentence differently on different occasions,

(a) (I was going to wait) until (we had finished eating), but my thoughts burst from my mouth: ...

(b) I was going to (wait until we had finished eating), but my thoughts burst from my mouth: ...

Knowing that "be going to" could be used for future events, as if it were a tense (is it really a tense?), I think I should parse it as in (a). However, sometimes glancing through it quickly made me parse it as in (b), which in my opinion is a rather logical way to parse.

Perhaps my parsing as in (b) might be influenced from a similar construct, such as:

(c) Her parents had asked her (not to have a boyfriend until she finished the fourth year) and she was still in the third.

Parsing it either way results in a similar meaning, but I wonder.
Should I stick with (a) or (b), or both alternatives are equally acceptable?

  • 1
    "I was going to wait" is a statement about a state in the past. To me, (a) suggests that the state (of intending to wait at some point in the future for unknown reasons) ends due to having finished eating, without the intention of waiting ever being fulfilled! This is silly. In contrast, (b) makes sense, suggesting that the state (of intending to wait until after dinner) ended early, without finishing the act of waiting.
    – user230
    Dec 23, 2013 at 17:20
  • You were going to wait until something happened at a later time, so you can't use the past perfect tense in the 'until' clause.
    – JayHook
    Dec 23, 2013 at 18:12
  • 1
    @JayHook Sure you can. This is a backshifted present perfect: "I am going to wait until [the time arrives when] we have finished eating", that is until the completed state has been established. The perfect is unnecessary, but not ungrammatical. Dec 23, 2013 at 18:57
  • For whatever reason my brain thinks of wait until as a single unit- a phrasal verb. I think what that means is that when I enter the wait until activity I know that I have a clearly defined exit condition, whereas if I simply wait the expectation is that the exit condition is more of a "you'll know it when you see it"-type of a thing.
    – Jim
    Dec 23, 2013 at 20:04

2 Answers 2


I don't think this sentence supports what I (and snailboat, in her comment) take to be what you mean in parse (a)—that when you had finished dinner something caused your intention of waiting to end, whereupon your thoughts burst from your mouth.

  • but negates/denies what precedes it. If you want to use but without implicating we had finished eating in the negation, you must place we had finished eating somewhere outside the negative scope of but. But in its present position we had finished eating lies within that scope.

  • until designates the endpoint of a state or activity, either the state BE going to in parse (a) or the activity WAIT in parse (b). But parse (a) also requires the until clause to mark the startpoint of the activity BURST. until cannot designate a startpoint; for that you need a co-referential when or then.

For the sentence to support parse (a) will require some combination of rearrangement, repointing, and rewording. Here are some possibilities:

Until we had finished eating, I was going to wait; but then my thoughts burst from my mouth.
I was going to wait—until we had finished eating, when my thoughts burst from my mouth.
I was going to wait, but when we had finished eating my thoughts burst from my mouth.

  • Thank you very much, especially for great possibilities for rewording. Dec 23, 2013 at 19:20

Which parse is correct?

(I was going to wait) until (we had finished eating),

I was going to (wait until we had finished eating),

The second parse is the correct model. This is because the "until" clause modifies the verb "wait".

The first parse is based on the hypothesis that "until" is a sort of conjunction or complementizer which relativizes two clauses.

The problem with the hypothesis is that the verb in the main clause is "to be (going)", and the "until" is interpreted as applying to that verb; in other words, the parse leads to the wrong conclusion that the meaning is "to be going until".

Contrasting sentence:

I waited until I changed my mind.

There is a potential ambiguity with "until" in conjunction with "wait". Namely, the "until" part can specify the event which is being awaited. Or it can specify an interrupting event which stops the waiting, but is not the waited-for event.

I waited until the price reached $19.75 per share. [What I waited for was the price reaching 19.75.]

I waited until I got bored and left. [I was waiting for something unspecified, but my waiting was interrupted by becoming bored.]

The question is: is this only a semantic distinction, or is there a difference in the parse? Are the above two parsed the same way, or are they like this:

I (waited until the price reached $19.75 per share).

(I waited) until (I got bored and left).

There is evidence to support the hypothesis that these different parses are at play.

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