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すでに食事の準備はできている。

As per the title, I just wanted to confirm does the statement mean:

1 - The preparation of the food is already complete?

or

2 - The preparation of the meal has already started and is in the process of being made. ( the ている at the end for me means it is in the process )

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The constuction て + いる has multiple meanings depending on the context. For the sake of simplicity, we can boil it down to three meanings:

  1. Progressive state
  2. Habitual state
  3. Resulting state.

To exemplify, consider the sentence マイさんは飲んでいます. This has three possible meanings:

  1. Mai-san is drinking (progessive state)
  2. Mai-san drinks (habitual state)
  3. Mai-san had some drinks and she is drunk now (resulting state).

In order to infer the meaning, we must pay attention to time expressions and the like. For example, consider the sentence 私は今ピザを食べています. This translates to I'm eating pizza now, not I eat pizza regularly or I have eaten pizza and now I'm full because of the adverb 今 (now). Similarly, 兄は毎朝一時間走っています translates as My brother jogs one hour every morning. Why? Simply because of 毎朝 (every morning). If we instead said 兄は今朝一時間走っています it would translate as My brother was jogging for one hour this morning. We cannot talk about habitual states if we refer to small time frames such as 'this morning' or 'now'. This is why context is important, when did it happen?

With this in mind, the sentence you provided makes use of an adverb, namely, すでに, which basically means 'already'. This adverb does not provide any time frame and therefore we have to then focus on the clause, 食事の準備はできている. Now, we focus on the verb, not all verbs can express habitual states or progressive states (can be prolonged). できる is a verb which, in this case, expresses a change-of-state action and as such we can't use it to refer to progressive states. できる means, in this case, 'to be completed', 'to be made', 'to come into being' and therefore the verb expresses a resulting state and not an ongoing action.

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  • 1
    Suggestion: In the "With this in mind" paragraph, change the gloss for できる from "to exist" (an ongoing state with no clear beginning or end, closer to the meaning of ある) to "to come into being" (a distinct event and change of state, closer to the meaning of できる). Sep 3 at 17:05
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(It may be more or less the same as the discussion in the comments of wanwandrew's answer.)

For the particular sentence of the question, you are right, the preparation is completed. But this is mainly because of the meaning of できる as discussed in the comments in wanwandrew's answer.

It will depend on the nature of the individual verbs whether a sentence describes a completion of action/state change.

Examples:

  • すでに食事を準備している

This can mean (1) the preparation is completed like the sentence of the question or (2) somebody already started the preparation of food. It may or may not be finished.

  • 彼はすでにラテン語を勉強している

This sound more like (1) He already started to study Latin than (2) He finished learning it. I guess this is partly due to the meaning of 勉強している="(still) studying" and due to the common sense (Learning Latin takes a lot of time).

So in general, if you want to say something is finished, using すでに is not enough and you need to choose a proper word (e.g. 習得している for the Latin example above) or add something like し終わっている or を完了している.

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From what I understand at an intermediate level and if you were to take me only on trust and intuition, I would heavily wager that this means the food is already being prepared, but is not yet prepared. This is because the verb at the end would be conjugated in past tense if it had already been prepared.

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  • ている for a verb expressing status like this means "the state changed in the past and it continues to be in that state now". So it means it's done, not in the process of being prepared.
    – Leebo
    Sep 2 at 22:01
  • @wanwandrew, as Leebo says. The verb できる in this context describes a change in state -- from unfinished, to ready and done. State-change verbs in the ~ている conjugation commonly express that "the state has changed, and the new resulting state is". See also this other post on a different question, describing this kind of aspect in more detail, for the verb [覚える]{おぼえる}. Sep 2 at 22:28
  • I see, now. This was quite insightful. Thank you. HOWEVER, if this was the case, then what would the purpose of 出来た be?
    – wanwandrew
    Sep 2 at 22:55
  • Without going into too much detail, an example of when you would use できた would be when something has just finished and very little time has passed. When dinner is ready and you are announcing that you just finished you would use できた and not できている. There's are more distinctions, but you can find questions about those in the search.
    – Leebo
    Sep 3 at 1:19
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    @wanwandrew It's a little bit complex. Easy to understand, but takes time to grasp. Shortly, it's about events and states. Events happen at specific time and we focus on occurrence within timeline. States describe current condition and we focus on general situation. For example, "I ate today" (eating happened), "I've eaten" (my stomach is full). Generally we use the latter type when situation brings some present/future related result or we talk about experience. Despite habitual are often used with ている, the same is possible in non-past too. Difference in how much it affects present situation. Sep 3 at 8:50

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