Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Does as soon as mean "immediately after" in the following sentence?

He got home as soon as 2 hours.

I know that this could be a tad messy without context, but I found it as an example with the the meanings of as soon as, but in this case, the meaning is not clear.

share|improve this question
7  
The quote is ungrammatical in English. –  tchrist Feb 17 '13 at 21:38
    
This sounds strange. Does the context seem to intend 'He got home in two hours.' or 'He got home within 2 hours'? 'as soon as X' requires that X be a full sentence; X can't be simply a time range. –  Mitch Feb 17 '13 at 21:39
3  
Yes. As soon as introduces a clause (as soon as he could get there), not a measure of time. –  John Lawler Feb 17 '13 at 21:39
    
Though it can have two different meanings, depending on the nature of the subordinate clause: as soon as they arrived means immediately after, but as soon as he could means the earliest time possible for him. I think the difference is whether the clause is counterfactual or not, but I haven't thought deeply about it. –  Colin Fine Feb 17 '13 at 22:19
    
One could say, however, by changing "as soon as" to "in as soon as", If there's no traffic on the freeway, I can be home in as soon as two hours. –  user21497 Feb 18 '13 at 5:40

4 Answers 4

My first thought was to agree with tchrist's comment, that OP's construction is ungrammatical. But suppose you've just bought something over the phone, and you ask when it will be delivered:

"I can't promise anything, but if you're lucky it will arrive as soon as next week"

I'm certainly not going to say that's "ungrammatical". But it wouldn't mean immediately after - it would mean [perhaps] as early as [the stated date/time]

An example from Google Books: As soon as an hour after a queen disappears, the lack of her pheromonal presence is pretty well understood by all or most of the bees in the colony.


Having said that, I do in fact agree that OP's specific usage isn't grammatical. My examples are okay because they're as soon as [some point in time], where OP has [some duration of time].

share|improve this answer
1  
The correct form of the OP's question should then be: He got home as soon as 2 o'clock or He got home as soon as fourteen hundred hours if his wife is in the Military(?) –  The Frog Feb 18 '13 at 0:20
    
Or conversely, to make yours match the OP's, it would need to be "...since you're lucky, it arrived as soon as one week." –  Jon Hanna Feb 18 '13 at 1:36
1  
If you are going to use week, then the corresponding ungrammatical phrase is “. . . as soon as two weeks”. Notice that “two hours” is a time span, whereas “next week” is a point in time. Therefore you need another span of time, like “a few months” or “seventeen minutes”. It’s still nonsensical. –  tchrist Feb 18 '13 at 2:14
    
@tchrist: You're quite right. Edited accordingly. –  FumbleFingers Feb 18 '13 at 4:34
    
@Tim: That is my point now, but at the time Jon posted the comment, I hadn't added my final paragraph clarifying that point as now made by The Frog, tchrist, and now yourself (i.e. - my examples are valid, but OP's isn't). –  FumbleFingers Feb 18 '13 at 21:22

The sentence, as written, does not make any sense in the English language. It is therefore open to any number of interpretations.It doesn't mean immediately after in the sentence.

To me, and entirely dependent upon the context in which it is placed, it could be better written as: "He got home within two hours" "He was home within two hours" "Within two hours he was home" "He was home before the two hour deadline had expired" Visit (http://www.yahoo.com) As soon as means immediately not immediately after.

share|improve this answer

I'm not sure how to interpret the original example, but I would expect one of the following two formulations to express the intended meaning:

He got home within 2 hours [of some unnidentified event].

or

He got home in as little as 2 hours [after some unidentified event].

Neither of these formulations suffers from the ambiguity of the original example, but they say very different things. The first establishes 2 hours as the outside limit of the length of time the person took to get home. The second establishes 2 hours as the inner limit of the length of time the person took to get home.

share|improve this answer

The phrase as soon as is idiomatic with a fixed meaning. It references an instant, a point in time, or (the moment of occurrence of) an event, not a duration as in the OP's sentence. See examples below.

Also, it cannot be used as in the example for semantic reasons. Grammar treats an idiomatic expression as a syntactic unit and as such it is not an issue of grammar but only semantic validity.

as soon as
at the same time or a very short time after As soon as I saw her, I knew there was something wrong.
immediately after something I'll call you as soon as I get home from work.
immediately at or shortly after the time that call as soon as you get there; let us know as soon as you get the news from the hospital

It may be used in the sense of as early as, though it is not entirely correct from the definition of the idiom:

He could jump right into the starting lineup and play limited minutes or he could come off the bench for a few games to get back in rhythm. He could come back as soon as Wednesday or he could wait until after the All-Star break. Danny Granger close to return

(i.e., as early as Wednesday)

Android 4.2.2 rumored to debut as soon as this month Yahoo! News

(i.e., as early as this month)
Even in these cases, it is still referring to a point in time, not a duration.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.