I have not noticed this construct until now. All what I was taught in ELL books was related to the moment now but not as a verb in the simple present form.

I understand that "until" seems to be used as follows:

present perfect + until + present simple

I have given some examples of this below. My questions are:

  • is my understanding of this construction correct?
  • is this a common construction? Does it apply to other words besides "until"?

In recent years, Metro officials have been conservative in improving bus services. For example, before scheduling evening bus runs, they have waited until demand surges for the latest bus on that route.

Title: Ambitious Metro plan seeks to ride new wave; Project targets once and future passengers. Author: JAMES ROBINSON; Staff. Source: Houston Chronicle

Influenced by Iris Murdoch's claim that choices are what you do when everything else has been lost, I became increasingly convinced that what we do is not what destroys us. Rather, our fate rests on how we describe what we do. Indeed, we do not know what we have done until we get the descriptions right.

Title: Learning from others. Author: Stanley Hauerwas. Source: Christian Century

Film, meanwhile, is single-use. You make a permanent image on the film once you expose it. If you want to take more pictures, you carry more film. And you don't know for sure what you have shot until after the film is processed. With digital cameras, images can be displayed on a tiny screen. Don't like one? Erase it and shoot again.

Title: Picture perfect. Author: Jay Dickman. Source: Boys Life

  • I don't see any problems with the tenses used in all the three highlighted sentences. Is there anything that made you think there was something wrong with those sentences? (I'm guessing that it might be the use of the present perfect and the present tense in the same sentence.) Jan 18 '14 at 13:16
  • No not at all. Looks fine to me, I mean makes sense. Just as I wrote above "and that this construction is common enough to be noticeable.". Maybe I was not clear by my understanding; I meant this construction is fine because it made sense to me.
    – learner
    Jan 18 '14 at 13:24
  • Remember that ELL grammar books don't give it as an example as far as I know.
    – learner
    Jan 18 '14 at 13:25
  • As far as I can tell from those grammar books I have, they seem to prefer to discuss tenses within the scope of one single clause. Perhaps, there are only a handful of exceptions (and the infamous Conditions I, II, and III are among them). Obviously, without the concept of RT (reference time), learners like us would have to struggle hard to cope with tenses. Jan 18 '14 at 13:29
  • You brought up a very important point. Even though I have not gotten enough time to read detailed account on RT, but the moment I read about it, it helped me understand many puzzling situations! Two decades ago, I had some criticisms that were handled only recently, but I still have some that have not yet. Sometimes, I feel this ESL business is a business! many are just copycats. Soon I'll see if this feeling true or not; only a couple of months when I have finished home studying some upper and advanced ESL books.
    – learner
    Jan 18 '14 at 13:42

1: Is my understanding of this construction correct?

Yes, but it's slightly more general than that. The tense used on both sides depends on whether that event has happened. For before the until, the tense is used as normal. For after the tense is past if it has happened and present if it has not.

  • Example 1: try to think of the author as writing from the point of view where the officials are waiting for a surge. They have already been waiting for one, but one has not happened yet. Hence, perfect + until + present.

  • Example 2: the person has already done something they're unaware of but don't yet have the descriptions right. Hence, perfect + until + present.

  • Example 3: they have shot ** but **have yet to process. Hence, perfect + until + present.

  • An extra example: 'I will wait until he arrives'. The person has not started waiting and he has not arrived.

  • An extra extra example: 'I'd waited until he arrived'. The person has already waited and he has already arrived.

2. Is this a common construction? Does it apply to other words besides "until"?

Until is a common word in English, and it's almost always used in this fashion. It's an action that ends upon a condition, where the action is before the 'until' and the condition is after the 'until'.

No words that act in the same way come to mind, so I can't answer that question. I can show you the word since though.

We've been gazing at the stars since he arrived: this is basically the opposite of 'until'. This defines an action that has started after a condition is met, instead of stopping. The tenses work almost exactly the same way.

To avoid confusion:

  • Action has started and continues UNTIL a condition is met, then action stops.
  • Action has started SINCE a condition is met, and action continues.

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