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Recently we have been learning tense sequence with using after, before and so on. One of them - until turned out troublesome for me.

My first exercise was to write this sentence with until: not to agreed to take Kevin + they see how well we get on.

Logic says to me that not to let was the first action and seeing was the second action.

They hadn't agreed to take Kevin until they saw how well we get on.

My teacher told me English sometimes wasn't mathematical and logical and this sentence should sound like that:

They didn't agree to take Kevin until they had seen how well we get on.

I said to myself: " Ok. After until it should be past perfect (simple or continuous)"

The second exercise: She didn't watch television. They bagan to broadcast signed TV programmes. (use until)

I wrote this sentence accoring to my rule After until we use past perfect!

She didn't watch television until they had begun to broadcast signed TV programmes.

According to my teacher this was wrong and this sounds better:

She hadn't watched television until they began to broadcast signed TV programmes.

It is the first time I have been shocked so much by English. Who knows and has time to explain?

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    "They will not let me take Kevin until they see how well we get on." Until regulates sequence; tense is temporal, as always. Consequently it's fine to apply until to future events, and restricting it to past tenses/formations is wrong.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 21:44
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    @Łukasz: Let is an unfortunate verb choice for your context, since the past and present tense forms are identical. Maybe you'd be better comparing, say, "They hadn't agreed until they saw it" with "They didn't agree until they saw it". Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 21:44
  • Thanks a lot, I appreciate it, but I asked to explain "until"
    – xxxxx
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 21:50
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    Neither of your answers was wrong. True, English is not always mathematical and logical, but it is surprisingly flexible. We could debate the subtle nuances of meaning between your versions and hers. But if she wants you to do it her way, she had better come with a reasonable explanation of why her versions are "better"! Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 7:57
  • In your first example (where the subject of both phrases is the same [they]), I’d omit the second “they” and say “...until seeing ... .”
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 23:06

3 Answers 3

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Trying to tap into your teacher's mind:

It seems that your teacher wants you to decide how the events in the sentence are arranged chronologically and to use past perfect for the event that happened further in the past or before the other one. Let's check this hypothesis!

  • Example 1:

not to agreed to take Kevin + they see how well we get on

They want to see how well we get on before they agree to take Kevin. So we have:

First they see how well we get on -> previous event -> past perfect (had seen)

Second/after that they (may or may not) agree to take Kevin ->later event -> past simple (didn't agree)

The result:

They didn't agree to take Kevin until they had seen how well we get on.

  • Example 2:

She didn't watch television. They bagan to broadcast signed TV programmes.

At first She didn't watch television. -> previous event/circumstances -> past perfect (hadn't watched) Later They began to broadcast signed TV programmes. -> later event -> past simple (began to broadcast)

The result:

She hadn't watched television until they began to broadcast signed TV programmes.

It works!!!

I agree with the comments that: many variations (including the ones where both clauses are in the same, e.g. past simple, tense) are correct; until doesn't have to be restricted to past events (and you can even preserve the logic followed in this post - as in Andrew Leach's example: They will not let me take Kevin until they see how well we get on.).

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Until as a subordinating conjunction (to connect an action or an event to a future point in time)

I will not agree to take Kevin until I have seen how well we get on

I do not agree to take Kevin until I see how well we get on

Until as a preposition (meaning up to (the time that))

I will agree to take Kevin until his Mum arrives

I didn't agree to take Kevin until I saw how well we got on

She hadn't watched television until they began to broadcast signed TV programmes

source: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/until

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    Just a note, but it is also correct to say: She didn't watch television until they began to broadcast signed TV programmes. FYI: In America we write "programs." "Programmes" is the British way. Commented Feb 24, 2015 at 5:35
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    All of these are examples of until being used as a conjunction.
    – Anonym
    Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 23:45
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I have found this other example similar to the one you mentioned above.

Example:

"The accused man refused to speak until he had spoken to the judge." I think the use of the Past Perfect here is not that of expressing a fact of the past but a non-factual event. It's like when we say:

"He wishes he had spoken to the judge".

or

"He'd rather the judge had spoken to him".

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  • Yes: does until he had spoken to the judge modify 'refused' or 'speak'? Commented Oct 6, 2021 at 15:00

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