The old woman, rummaging through her purse, asks, "What was that again?" and the cashier - a frog-eyed gum chewer with dreads, a Live Strong bracelet, and a nametag-less green apron - says, "Eighty-eight, sixty-six."[...] In line behind her, another customer - an unshaven guy with bloodshot eyes and a ratty tee shirt spelling out the words "Guided by Voices" and a chin that looks as though he's dipped it in beard, a guy who's holding a six-pack of Coors and a shopping basket stacked with three packages of pre-formed hamburger patties - shuts his eyes and lets his head fall backward, as if to say, "Please God, no." The old woman, who looks approximately the same age as the price of her groceries, begins writing - with gnarled, age-spotted, thick-knuckled hands - the name of the grocery store on the "to" line, which means that she, unlike those super-prepared shoppers who've filled in everything but the total before they've set foot in the store, has failed to think ahead.

Literary Review - Checkout by Vollmer Matthew

Could someone explain to me what does the bolded part of the last sentence exactly mean here?

Does this part relates to the shoppers who've ever set foot in the store before, or to the ones who are now in the store?

I can't discern the right meaning!

  • It just means the kind of people who know exactly what they're going to buy in the supermarket. They don't "browse" the aisle looking for interesting new products to buy. So even before they step inside the store, they know everything that will be on the checkout trill rteceipt when they leave. Everything except the final line with the total price, that is. Commented Jul 1 at 10:45
  • 2
    [Could someone explain to me what the bolded part of the last sentence means exactly here?]
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 1 at 13:22
  • @Lambie Exactly, this is my real question!
    – MickeyQ
    Commented Jul 1 at 14:03
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    Lambie was showing how you should have worded your question!! Commented Jul 1 at 15:25
  • @KateBunting Oh, I get it! Thanks!
    – MickeyQ
    Commented Jul 1 at 15:42

3 Answers 3


The OP asks in a comment "I thought that for the general statements the present simple is used: '..shoppers (in general) who fill in everything but the total before they arrive in the store...' Why the present perfect [in the story]?"

One thing that English-language learners should bear in mind is that tense choices contribute to aspectual meaning but are often not sufficient to establish the meaning alone, and neither are they the only way to establish that meaning.

The simple present can be be used to make general "truthy" statements that are not rooted in a particular instance or set in temporal relation to some other event, happening before it or after it or simultaneously with it. But the simple present isn't the only way to make general statements.

The author here is making a general statement about "super-prepared shoppers" but since the nature of the generality involves a sequence of events and also the notion of completing an action (here, to the extent possible) before another action is completed and long before yet another action is commenced, the statement isn't expressed using the simple present but using the present perfect:

... unlike those super-prepared shoppers who've filled in everything but the total before they've set foot in the store...

He could have written:

... unlike those super-prepared shoppers who fill in everything but the total before they set foot in the store...

relying exclusively on before to carry that sequential meaning. But he chose instead to enlist the help of the present perfect to drive home the idea of "super-preparedness", to emphasize not only the sequence but the completion. Long before they reach the checkout counter, even before they have set foot in the store (on any shopping trip they make to the store), they will have filled out the check as much as possible.

  • 1
    Yes, this is the answer to my question! I'm sorry if I wasn't clear enough in the OP. In the comment section of the one of the previous answers I was more specific but that answer's been deleted and along with that, my question too. So, thanks for bringing it up!
    – MickeyQ
    Commented Jul 1 at 14:14
  • Nevertheless, I'd like to ask one more thing! If someone asked me while in the store "Do you have your check filled in?" would this answer be right: "Of course! I've filled in everything but the total before I've (just) set foot in the store."? Both of the actions are relevant in the present: I'm holding the check and I'm in the store; or the past simple should be used: "I filled in everything... before I've (just) set foot..."?
    – MickeyQ
    Commented Jul 1 at 14:30
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    No, that would not be correct. But please ask a separate question as the answer is too complex for the space allowed in a comment, though I'll make an attempt: "I have set foot" in "before I have set foot in the store" does not refer to an action that took place at a past point in time, which is a requirement of your context. You need to say "before I set foot" or "before I had set foot".
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 1 at 15:23
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    Compare this ungrammatical statement: "I took my medicine before I have eaten breakfast this morning." (spoken in the afternoon or evening). You would need to say "before I ate" or "before I had eaten" in that context.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 1 at 15:26
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    The adverb just can be included if you like. A rule of thumb: don't use the present perfect in any clause where there is a time-phrase that places the action of the verb in question entirely in the past. For example: "I have dreamed last night about winning the lottery" That should be "dreamed" not "have dreamed".
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 1 at 18:02

This refers to paying by cheque. Something I haven't done in a shop for a long time. The prepared shoppers have filled in the date and name of the shop (on the "to" line as stated in the quote), but left the amount to pay. I appreciate this is not obvious to younger readers (younger than me that is).


As timchesshish notes, the writer is referring to paying with a check. For those too young to know about checks :-) this is a piece of paper on which you wrote the date, the name of the person you were paying, and the amount. Normally they were pre-printed with the name of the bank and the name of the bank and the routing number (which identifies the bank) and your account number. If not, you could write these on also. And you would then sign it.

The writer is saying that customers who thought ahead would fill out the date and the name of the store (the "to"), and possibly sign it, so that when they got to the store all they had to fill in was the amount. Signing it before writing in the amount was generally considered a bad idea as if the store got a hold of your check without an amount written in, they could fill in some very large amount.

"unlike those super-prepared shoppers who've filled in everything but the total before they've set foot in the store" They filled in everything before they entered the store today. If they come back to the same store tomorrow or next week, they'll have to do it again with a new check.

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