I am struggling a little with a question I received from one of my Russian students today.

She doesn't understand the sense of :

You can go to the country break when you have passed your last examination


We can pass this exercise when we have done this one.

I am of the opinion that WHEN is being used as a conditional

"If you pass your exams, you can go to the country for a break" but if I do this it changes the tense and she wants to know why they use past participle / present perfect and I cannot for the life of it, figure it out.

I said it could be that WHEN is being used as a conjunction here.

Her objective is to change this sentence using "will be able to"

"We will be able to pass this exercise when we have done this one." but does not understand the original sentence.

I have also explained that "pass your exam" in Russian is very different to that of British English as we "take an exam" and "pass the exam" but they use "pass the exam" to say they have taken the exam.

Can anyone please help me here? I am trained as a TEFL teacher but do not have full indepth knowledge/training as a Teacher of English as the 1st language.

I would appreciate any help.

Thanks in advance.

  • 2
    On the day when you are free to go into the country, the exam will be in the past. It is not the same as the conditional - "If you pass (succeed in) your exam" implies a possibility that you may not pass. Taking the exams is presumably a certainty. Mar 19 at 14:23
  • She might be having trouble with "last examination." The more appropriate phrase would be *all of your examinations." This is addition to the problem of "to the country break," which makes sense in Russian but not English. I presume you have no control over the words in those sentences, but it could be confusing things.
    – Stu W
    Mar 19 at 15:25
  • What does "go the country break" even mean in English? In any case, there is not past participle, there is when followed by a present perfect.....
    – Lambie
    Mar 19 at 15:31

When is being used as an conditional, specifically as an adverb; it indicates at what point in time something happens. For example: You can do X when Y has happened.

Why is Y has happened in the past perfect? First, because the event has to have already happened for the speaker to do X. If it has not happened, the speaker cannot do X. Second, because the past perfect is precisely for this situation. It relates something that has happened to something else closer in time -- and in this case, it is moderated by the adverb (at what time this happens).

This link goes over this in more detail (and with a British approach): https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/grammar/online-grammar/past-perfect-simple-with-time-expressions

  • 1
    Thank you so much for your help. It is most appreciated.
    – Lorraine
    Mar 19 at 15:06
  • You can take your country break when you have passed your last examination

is used with various meanings and emphases.

  1. Purely to show temporal sequencing availability ('Here's one possibility for you to consider – you can[/could] take your country break when you have passed your last examination. Then you'll have no revision pressure on you.)

  2. Mainly to remind the beleagured examinee that there is a pleasant country break not too far ahead (so again, the temporal sense of 'when') ('And remember, exams don't last forever – you can take your country break when you have passed your last examination. Have you forgotten?)

  3. To state a conditionality ('You can take your country break when you have passed your last examination. Until then, not a chance.')

In each case, 'when you have passed' is equivalent to the clunky 'when you have achieved your qualification', ie you are in the 'qualified state' and the passing is an accomplished event, in the past.


  • When/If you [at some future 'point in time'; think of finding out the result/s] pass all your exams, you can [will then be able/allowed to] [then] take your country break.

For this, present simple ('pass') suffices to mark thefuture possibility. 'If you have then passed all your exams ...' also works, but is far stodgier.

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