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This is from a TV show in which a family reunites 14 years after. And the son, Zach, along with mom, are waiting at the airport for the father to show up. At that time, the presenter says:

It'll be the first time Zach has met his dad.

I wondered why the second part of the sentence is a perfect tense, because they have not met yet. But then, the present perfect seemed to make sense because the presenter might have assumed he has already arrived around the airport and could be there any minute.

However, I also wondered if we can also use the simple future tense, because they have not met yet and we might want to emphasize the future aspect of the case.

So, I wonder if all the three versions would be the same in meaning or would the number 2 or 3 (which I made up) would be wrong grammatically?

1- It'll be the first time Zach has met his dad.

2- It'll be the first time Zach meets his dad.

3- It'll be the first time Zach will meet his dad.

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3 Answers 3

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It is common to use the present perfect to refer to something which has happened before now or which has never happened before now:

They have met.

They have never met.

They have been introduced to one another.

They have never been introduced to one another.

There is a nuanced difference between "in the past" and "before now" even though in a strictly chronological sense (where there is no concept of "now" or "the present") the two phrases are equivalent, but that is because the complexity of time is reduced to the simplicity of a timeline by chronology. However, natural language does not reduce time to a timeline.

The present perfect can be used to express the notion of "relevant to the present".

This will be the first time they have met.

"This will be" refers to the situation as something near at hand or impending (because of "this") and "they have met" refers to the meeting as "consummated", as having taken place. Soon it will be something that has taken place.

If you contemplate what soon means, it will become clear that the "near future" is understood in relation to "now".

If you were describing the TV show episode for the schedule page of a streaming service, a terse description might say:

Zach meets his dad for the first time.

You are describing what happens in the episode. That description is divorced from the "now". It is about the episode's plot, and it is not spoken as if it is coming from the mouth of someone who is living in the fictional space-time continuum of the episode.

Your example with the double future :

It will be the first time Zach will meet his father.

strikes my ear as unidiomatic. The subordinate clause [Zack ... father] shouldn't itself be in the future but in the present or present perfect.

P.S. But that double future isn't ungrammatical. However, it seems to have foreknowledge of future meetings between Zach and his father, despite the fact that you only need to know their history to know it's their first meeting. Even so, it seems to suggest there will be a second and a third meeting, and so on, and so it doesn't hit the nail squarely on the head that they have never met before.

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  • very detailed and satisfying explanation. And It answers all my questions. Thank you very much.
    – Yunus
    Sep 27, 2023 at 17:33
  • "This will be the first time they have met" seems wrong to me; I'd instead say or write, "This will be the first time they will have met."--that's future perfect, right? Sep 27, 2023 at 18:49
  • @PatrickSzalapski The future perfect in the subordinate clause sounds unidiomatic to me in this example where the matrix clause it already in the future. It feels like the sentence is swallowing its own tail, such that it could be paraphrased: "There will be additional times in the future when the situation will arise that there will be a scheduled meeting between them that is set to happen in the then near future." Sep 27, 2023 at 20:04
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    English speakers often don't use complex have forms when they could, if the temporal relationships are clear without. (Note that, though such forms are often called "perfect" - past perfect, future perfect, perfect infinitive etc - they do not have the special semantics of the present perfect, and simply move the action into the past relative to where it would have been. If that "past"-ness is already established,speakers often simplify the construction).
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 27, 2023 at 20:54
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To add to FumbleFingers' answer, note that there are in fact two tenses operating at the same time. We can see that more clearly if we rewrite the idea and break it into two sentences:

  • Soon Zack will meet his father. (future)
  • He has never met his father before. (perfect)

And now the combined sentence picks up both tenses:

  • It will be (future, referring to the coming meeting) the first time Zach has met his dad (perfect, referring to the entire past period during which there has been no meeting.)
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  • I understand thanks. So, do you think number 2 or 3 would be wrong?
    – Yunus
    Sep 27, 2023 at 14:11
  • They make sense to me, but I would not say it that way. (And you can see a similar response from the other answers.) Sep 27, 2023 at 20:57
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Use the first option ("Present Perfect in the Future", or "Future Perfect"; terminology varies)...

1: If you give me a cigarette it will be the first time I have smoked since I quit
...as opposed to "standard" Present Perfect referring to the actual Past...
2: I just had a cigarette. It was the first one I have smoked since I quit

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    I hate to question FumbleFingers, and should 2: not be 'He gave me a cigarette. It was the first (one) I had smoked since I quit'? Sep 27, 2023 at 20:01
  • @RobbieGoodwin They didn't smoke before he gave the cigarette, but when he gave the cigarette
    – tac
    Sep 27, 2023 at 22:28
  • @RobbieGoodwin: Present and Past Perfect are fine for my context #2. But seeing a couple of people have updated your comment, perhaps it would be less confusing if I change it to I just had a cigarette. It was the first one I have smoked since I quit. Again, both Perfect tenses are "credible", but I suggest because of just, almost all native Anglophones would use Present Perfect in that context. Sep 28, 2023 at 10:58
  • I haven't seen any updates… Either way, I don't think Comments would be the place for extended discussion in ELU and I do think ELL needs more precision so I'd be happy if you wanted to go to Chat… Sep 28, 2023 at 20:50

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