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Someone has told me recently that "A as soon as B" does not imply that B will be complete before A starts, but rather that both events will take place at the same time. Example:

He will speak as soon as he finishes eating.

I have always understood that the subject will start to speak right after he finishes eating. According to what I have heard recently, the subject will start to speak while he finishes eating. Which one is the correct meaning?

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    Note the idiomatic (colloquial) usage They'd have killed him as soon as look at him, where it means killing him would be no more "significant, important" than looking at him (they think of both as equally trivial things to do). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Sep 20 at 15:38
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    Not simultaneously, but without delay. – Anton Sherwood Sep 20 at 18:13
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    Actually finishing something does not have a "while". It is either still happening or is finished. So finishing eating has a duration of exactly zero seconds. In which case things that happen immediately after it and simultaneous to it is one and the same - in both cases the event happens zero seconds after the zero second event (yes, both zero seconds overlap because there is no possibility of adding 0.000000001 or less seconds in between) – slebetman Sep 21 at 9:05
  • @slebetman In many activities, finishing is a process. E.g. you finish eating when you're taking the last few bites. Finishing work is the process of shutting down the computer and walking out the door. What you're describing sounds more like "done". – Barmar Sep 21 at 13:42
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    I would say there are two kinds of finishing, the kind that occurs at a particular instant (e.g., finishing a race) and the kind that is a process with a duration (e.g., finishing a piece of furniture). But the use of simple present tense, "he finishes eating," signifies to me that the first kind of finishing is meant. Otherwise I would expect something like "as soon as he is finishing eating." – David K Sep 21 at 21:05
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This depends on context.

He will do B as soon as he finishes A.

(as in the example) should mean that B will start right after A ends. However

He will do B as soon as A occurs.

may mean that B will be started more or less right after A is started. It depends on the nature of A, and of any qualifing words used.

He will call you as soon as he goes on his trip.

may mean that he will call from car or airport by cellphone, or that he will call once he arrives at his destination.

He will call you as soon as he leaves on his trip.

should mean that he will call while enroute.

Also, people are sometimes less than precise with their wording, or do not act exactly as they have said they plan to. It may be risky to assume precise timing without quite explicitly confirming the planned sequence.

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Where I come from, "A as soon as B" means "A immediately after B" (not during B).

Examples:

We will inform you as soon as we have the information.

I'll be able to leave as soon as my car is fixed.

Add the noodles as soon as the water starts to boil.

They will continue the work as soon as the power comes back on.

This would apply especially to your case where B has the word "finish" in it.

  • I agree with this answer. I think it would be useful to point out that the scenario stated by the OP and each scenario in your answer are events that happen at a specific point in time. Simultaneity doesn't really apply to events such as these. Your last sentence hints at this with by referring to the word "finish", but perhaps you could elaborate? – Tashus Sep 21 at 1:06
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It does not. This always means A will happen when B is completed.

If A or B talk about a "spawning process", then that's where some complexity could happen.

I will eat as soon as Jane starts talking.

Jane will be talking while I eat. Technically, though, the event called "starting talking" has been completed - the moment after she starts talking, she is now "continuing talking."

  • I think you touched on part of OP's confusion -- "as soon as he finishes eating" takes place after the eating, but overlaps with the state of "being finished eating". Consider also "You can hit the gas as soon as the light turns green" vs "You can hit the gas as soon as the light stops being red" – A C Sep 21 at 6:38
  • Usages such as "the package will arrive as soon as Tuesday" or 'the both finished the test as soon as each other' are obvious contradictions to your first paragraph. – Pete Kirkham Sep 21 at 17:51
  • @PeteKirkham Could you explain what those sentences mean? – Alan Evangelista Sep 22 at 11:14
  • @AlanEvangelista the first is the answer to 'how soon will the package arrive?', meaning it could arrive some time on Tuesday; in such cases Tuesday doesn't have to be over, it only has to have started. 'They both finished as soon as each other' means they finished at the same time, so B is completed but so as A. – Pete Kirkham Sep 22 at 13:47
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If A "will happen as soon as B", this certainly implies that B is a precondition that must be satisfied before A happens; there is also a strong suggestion that A will happen soon after B happens. But I don't think there is a guarantee that A will happen immediately. Clearly "I'll answer as soon as I can" implies some deliberate vagueness about exactly when I will answer; and if I respond to an email saying "I'll deal with it as soon as I'm back from my vacation", I don't think anyone would expect me to deal with it as the first thing I do after I arrive home.

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If B is an event - i.e. of negligible duration, then A is triggered by B and would occur with negligible delay at the time of B.

If B is an action of appreciable duration, then a triggering event E should be described for action B on which A could be triggered unambiguosely - such as the start of B or the end of B; for example: "The Band should resume as soon as the rapper drops the mike during his recital"

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He will speak as soon as he finishes eating.

As a native speaker of English, he is definitely going to speak after eating. Consider another case that implies concurrency:

She will turn off the lights as soon as the music starts.

Something is still happening after an event, but since the triggering event is not ending it can be interpreted that the events happen concurrently. The music will be playing while the lights are being turned off.

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