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From a post on Scott Alexander's Slate Star Codex blog:

I also think that nobody has ever been able to consistently extract anything useful or scalable out of them, and until someone does, they’ll remain a weird toy where you take them and feel transcendent joy for a few hours...

Is there right concord between nobody has ever been able and until someone does? Should not it be until someone is or until someone has?

Is there a rule, similar to that of tagged question, that governs such combinations? Might it be that all the variants are correct but differ in meaning?

  • 'Nobody has ever been (consistently) able to do this' requires '[and] until someone is [(consistently) able to do this]. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 3 '16 at 15:22
  • The situation being referred to in the future could either be "someone being able to extract", in which case it's "is", or it could be "someone actually doing the extraction", in which case it's "does". I think that either interpetation is valid. – Max Williams Oct 3 '16 at 13:39
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The situation being referred to in the future could either be "someone being able to extract", in which case it's "is", or it could be "someone actually doing the extraction", in which case it's "does". I think that either interpetation is valid.

For example, there could be two expanded versions of that sentence:

I also think that nobody has ever been able to consistently extract anything useful or scalable out of them, and until someone is able to extract something useful, they’ll remain a weird toy where you take them and feel transcendent joy for a few hours...

or

I also think that nobody has ever been able to consistently extract anything useful or scalable out of them, and until someone does extract something useful, they’ll remain a weird toy where you take them and feel transcendent joy for a few hours...

Both of these are valid interpretations. We don't know which one the author actually had in mind, so we could give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they intended the second interpretation, in which case there's no error there.

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I also think that nobody has ever been able to consistently extract anything useful or scalable out of them, and until someone does, they’ll remain a weird toy where you take them and feel transcendent joy for a few hours...

This is a big sentence so far. It's a Compound-Complex Sentence. I'll diagram the Main clause, the dependent clauses, and other independent clause. After that, I'll be able to answer your question.

I also think | that nobody has ever been able to consistently extract anything useful or scalable out of them | and | until someone does | they’ll remain a weird toy | where you take them and feel transcendent joy for a few hours...

All I need is to focus on the verb tense because that's what you are asking about; so, I'm striving for simple subject/predicate...

I think that nobody has ever been able and until someone does. STOP

"has been" is Present Perfect Tense, which means starting at some unknown time in the past and continuing up to the present, nobody (not one person) has extracted, AND as it stands nobody has in the present, so until someone does (does is present) extract, the toys will remain as they are

until someone does extract, the toys will ream as they are

until someone is extract, the toys....

until someone has extract, the toys...

In other words....

I also think that nobody has ever been able to consistently extract anything useful or scalable out of them.

Until someone does consistently extract anything useful or scalable out of them, they’ll remain a weird toy where you take them and feel transcendent joy for a few hours...

To use is

Until someone is consistently extract anything useful or scalable out of them, they’ll remain a weird toy where you take them and feel transcendent joy for a few hours...

Or has

Until someone has consistently extract anything useful or scalable out of them, they’ll remain a weird toy where you take them and feel transcendent joy for a few hours... [extract would need to be changed to extracted]

All the verbs and their tenses are correct in the original sentence; "is" or "has" are not the correct helping verbs.

  • I understand your point and it seems that's the way the author of the quotation has built it - "does" refers to "extract" and that makes perfect sense. And I wonder if that's right, since the main verb of the clause is "has ever been able to do" and the opposite of it seems to be "until someone is able to do" or "until someone has been able to do"? – Mv Log Sep 3 '16 at 14:31
  • Let's put it in the form of a tagged question: Nobody has ever been able to consistently extract anything useful or scalable out of them, has they? - but not does they? Is it acceptable in an indicative sentence to refer not to the main verb of the clause but to the verb complement? – Mv Log Sep 3 '16 at 14:31
  • @MvLog “Has they” and “does they” are both ungrammatical anyway. Your tag comparison doesn't work because tag questions rely much more strongly on the syntactic matrix verb. The example in the question here is a separate sentence where do is a dummy verb with an antecedent, and there is no limitation that antecedents to dummy verbs must be specifically the main verb in a preceding clause; just like there is no rule that the antecedent to a relative pronoun must be the subject of a preceding clause. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 2 '16 at 15:16

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