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Example 1

Our son is going to the Yale university. In 4 years, you will meet a guy who graduated from Yale university.

Example 2

Our son is going to the Yale university. In 4 years, you will meet a guy who has graduated from Yale university.

I am often confused over whether to use present perfect in a relative clause like this. I don't know when the reference in time is. Example 1 feels like the person graduated before the moment of speaking. I don't know whether it can mean something else or not. Because my intended meaning is that the action of graduating happens years after the moment of speaking.

What do you think?

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  • 3
    This seems to be an artifical case to cause tense confusion, rather than something that is likely to be natural.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 25 at 7:40
  • Either is OK to me, but it's artificial because you're placing yourself (or the listener) forward in time.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 25 at 10:50
  • 3
    Yale University, not "the Yale university".
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 25 at 11:51
  • A happy student who has just been accepted to a prestigious medical school might say: You're looking at a future brain surgeon but if she really wants to play with time she could project into the future and say: In nine years time, you will be looking at a gal who will have graduated from medical school, completed her internship and her residency and her fellowship, taken her boards and been board certified in brain surgery.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 25 at 11:59
  • it's "will have" as explained in the answer. Just purely FYI another common way to say this would be using the noun .. "in four years you'll meet a guy who's a Yale graduate"
    – Fattie
    Commented Mar 25 at 15:07

2 Answers 2

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If we are being picky, and writing "for the test" then use a future perfect:

In four years you'll meet a guy who will have graduated

Otherwise both would probably be understood given the context. But the perfect is preferred over the past tense, since you are talking about the state resulting from the event, not the event itself.

In the given example there is an element of word-play, the statement about the future and "meeting a guy" when we know exactly who the guy is so there is no need for the indefinite article. You can play with tense too, here the play is that the speaker is deliberately not indicating that we know that "the guy" will graduate in four years time, but pretending that it is just a guy who has a Yale degree. It's all games.

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    I don't think the future perfect works here; we use the present tense rather than the future tense in most types of subordinate clauses, and while there are some nuances and some flexibility, I hope you'll agree that "In four years you'll meet a guy who's 22 years old" is clearly better than "In four years you'll meet a guy who'll be 22 years old". So the picky version would be "In four years you'll meet a guy who has graduated" (present perfect).
    – ruakh
    Commented Mar 25 at 20:31
  • Feel free to write your own answer. The irony (?) works less well with future perfect. But that is sort of the point.
    – James K
    Commented Mar 25 at 20:33
  • Re: "The irony (?) works less well with future perfect": I'm not talking about the irony, I'm talking about the grammar. Irony or no, we don't normally use the future tense in this context.
    – ruakh
    Commented Mar 25 at 21:09
  • Feel free to write an answer!
    – James K
    Commented Mar 25 at 21:10
  • 1
    OK, done! (Sort of.)
    – ruakh
    Commented Mar 25 at 21:20
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As James K writes in his answer:

[B]oth would probably be understood given the context. But the perfect is preferred over the past tense, since you are talking about the state resulting from the event, not the event itself.

Unfortunately, I can't upvote that answer — and in fact have downvoted it — because its main recommendation is wrong. (In English, when a relative clause is embedded in a future-tense matrix clause, the relative clause normally uses the present tense rather than the future tense.) But the paragraph that I've quoted here is the correct answer, and stands alone quite nicely.

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