I came across the following sentence and I would like to ask if it is grammatically correct to say the second one also and if we can what will it mean?

1 .His parents make him stay at the table until he's eaten everything.
2. His parents make him stay at the table until he eats everything.

  • 1
    They're both "grammatical", and I don't really see how anyone could draw a meaningful semantic distinction. But idiomatically I think #1 is probably more likely. On the other hand, with something like The headmistress makes the teacher mark exam papers until he goes home you couldn't possibly say ...until he's gone home. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Apr 20 '16 at 15:30
  • @FumbleFingers Thank you that example makes it clear – Mrt Apr 20 '16 at 15:45

until really requires an event.

"he has eaten everything" definitely provides that event- the moment the last morsel is finished, junior may leave the table. The action is completed, and the consequences of that action are in Junior's stomach. It's the same as "he has posted the letter".

"he eats everything" is less satisfactory: it sounds more like a habitual action, which does not provide an event. Set against that, "his parents make him stay at the table" is a habitual action- they always make him do it- so the present simple as a habitual action is justifiable in that context.

Some verbs indicate events- throw, fall, die and swallow. Others like read, run, watch and eat are activities. An activity has a minimum of two events- a start and an end- it can also have a middle, but that's not so precise. When talking about past activities, we normally assume that the end is the event

I read this book yesterday (could be continuous, could mean finish)

for future activities, we normally assume that the start is the event

We will eat at 7pm. (future, start)

We eat at 7pm (planned or habitual, start)

We can indicate that we don't mean the normal event using start and finish

I started reading this book yesterday

We will finish eating at 7pm.

We usually finish eating at 7pm.

With until, we use present perfect simple to indicate future completion of activity verbs. Compare these two sentences:

I will stay up until I have read this book (PPS - sounds OK)

I will stay up until I read this book (present simple - sounds strange)

using PPS with event verbs in the positive definitely seems wrong:

We will shop until we have dropped

But in the negative, it can be used to imply doing something after the event

Don't open your present until I have gone.

  • 3
    In that context "he eats everything" is not a habitual, but a neutral present-tense form. The reason it is less fitting is that it is a process (that probably takes some time) rather than a point in time. "Until he has eaten everything" means "Until the point in time when he has eaten everything" but that interpretation isn't possible with the present "eats". – Colin Fine Apr 20 '16 at 16:05
  • 1
    @ColinFine: agreed, present simple doesn't work as a neutral present tense form because it doesn't offer an event, eg completion. That would also make it unsuitable in the context of the parent's habitual action. IMHO, habitual/habitual does at least make some kind of sense. – JavaLatte Apr 20 '16 at 16:17
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    +1. Except that eat implies completion. You haven't eaten what you're chewing. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 20 '16 at 19:10
  • The coach makes us run wind-sprints until we fall over in exhaustion. (no need for 'have fallen' ) – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 20 '16 at 19:14
  • @TRomano, when you fall, it's an event. you can't fall again until you get back up again. I can eat and eat and eat and eat and eat... and I don't get fat! – JavaLatte Apr 20 '16 at 19:48

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