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Can the present perfect be used to refer to habitual actions as follows?

John always has a smoke when he has taken a shower.

Could the sentence convey the idea that his having a smoke habitually follows his shower?

I'd appreciate your help.

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  • Yes, it's fine but slightly confusing. Do you mean "John always has a smoke after he has taken a shower", or "... while he is taking a shower"? – Andrew Dec 15 '18 at 6:24
  • I mean "after he has taken a shower." Doesn't the present perfect indicate the smoke follows the shower? – Apollyon Dec 15 '18 at 6:30
  • Your sentence as it stands should be John always has a smoke when he takes a shower. And it, on its own, is ambiguous as to whether the smoking happens during or after the showering. – Jason Bassford Dec 15 '18 at 7:33
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Yes, you can use the present perfect in that way:

John (always) gets a hangover when he's had too much to drink (the night before).

John gets a hangover when he's had too much to drink.

The habitual aspect is expressed by the simple present gets a hangover. The condition when he's had too much to drink expresses perfective aspect: when John has crossed that particular threshold.

John always kisses the ground once he has safely landed.

John kisses the ground once he has safely landed.

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If you mean to say:

John always has a smoke after he has taken a shower

then I suggest using "after" instead of "when". While it is true that the present perfect does imply one thing happens after another, because "when" represents an ambiguous time frame it can be slightly confusing. Its' always possible you used the present perfect by mistake.

For example, consider this sentence with the simple present:

John always has a smoke when he takes a shower.

After a shower? During the shower? We have to guess. But if you say:

John always has a smoke after he takes a shower.

there is no confusion. A similar example:

You must make a decision when the sands in the hourglass have run out.

What if I make a decision before they run out? Is that okay? Again, it's not clear, because "when" does not adequately restrict the time frame.

The point is, if you want to be sure that you get the meaning of a sentence across with 100% accuracy, you can't always rely on the present perfect. Using the right adverbs of time can be helpful.

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