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I had a question in an exam and I don't understand why I was wrong.

1) When we finish the painting we'll have a cup of tea. I PUT THIS ANSWER AND WAS WRONG

2) When we've finished the painting, we'll have a cup of tea. THIS WAS A GOOD ANSWER, BUT I DON'T KNOW WHY

Is this a when clause? Is it present perfect? What is the struture of this so I can search more for this type.

I have seen this sentence before but don't know why it is correct, can someone explain please?

Thanks

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    What was the question? Mar 4 '15 at 10:09
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    Both versions look perfectly fine to me, but I'm no expert on grammar. For the full English idiom, though, you should say we'll have a cup of tea now, and the painting be damned. Mar 4 '15 at 10:35
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    Nobody would say "I'll tell him that when I will meet him" and people would not normally say "I'll tell him that when I have met him again". "I'll tell him that when I meet him" is idiomatic, and shows that the use of present tense in a when-clause denoting a future event is not incorrect per se. Both your answers are idiomatic English. Examiners sadly tend to lag many years behind accepted usage. Mar 4 '15 at 11:01
  • Ok thankyou! This is good help for me. So is the second answer using the when clause?
    – Dave
    Mar 4 '15 at 11:17
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Consider the following examples:

  • Wear slippers when you paint the room.
  • Wear slippers when you've painted the room.

The first sentence implies that slippers must be worn during the painting activity. The second tells you that slippers must be worn after the painting activity has finished. We get this reading because the painting takes some time to do. The use of the present perfect have painted emphasises that it refers to when the activity has been completed. Sometimes when on it's own can be ambiguous. It might mean during or might mean something like just after:

  • When Mary cooks dinner we eat junk food.

This might means that we eat junk food while Mary cooks the dinner, or that after Mary's cooked we eat junk food (implying that's what she's cooked).

We can use the present perfect in such when-clauses to emphasise that the action in the main clause happens after the action in the when-clause is completed:

  • When Mary's cooked the dinner, we eat junk food.

The Original Poster's Question

The difference between the two versions of the sentence is neutralised here. The reason is that the present perfect emphasises the completion of the activity, but in this case the verb actually is the verb FINISH. Secondly, when the action descibed in the when-clause is punctual, in other words we don't think of it as having any duration, but as being something that happens instantaneously, the difference in meaning between the present simple and the present perfect is lost. In both cases it is obvious that the action in the main clause must happen after the action in the when clause:

  • When she completes it, call me.
  • When he stops crying, call me.
  • When she finishes the puzzle, call me.

In all of th cases above, the calling is obviously going to happen after the explosion, the stopping, the finishing. So the sentences above get pretty much the same reading as:

  • When she's completed it, call me.
  • When he's stopped crying, call me.
  • When she's finished the puzzle, call me.

In short both of the examples given by the Original poster are fine. As often happens with exercise books, tests and exams, there's more than one correct answer to this question.

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To fully interpret this sentence, an assumption must be made.

When we finish the painting we'll have a cup of tea.

It can be read as:

While we finish the painting, we'll have a cup of tea.
Once we finish the painting, we'll have a cup of tea.

The assumption in the first interpretation is that the conjugation of finish has been intended as an in-progress action. The assumption in the second interpretation is that the conjugation of finish has been intended as an upon-completion action.

The interpretation of the sentence hinges upon the reader's impression of the duration of the action. If finish the painting is an action that takes hours, one could presume that we would have a cup of tea while the painting is being finished. If it is perceived as an action that is instantaneous (perhaps by a Yogi Berra fan -- It ain't over 'til it's over.), then we won't have the cup of tea until the painting is complete.

The answer that you have been told is correct has no ambiguity.

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