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<a title="Wiktionary: since" href="">Wiktionary entry</a>


For some years I have been helping a number of Romanian students with their English. The standard is variable. One has quite good English, but still types sentences which include, for example, the words I didn't went, not realizing that didn't contains an auxiliary verb and must be followed by the bare infinitive. Another has quirky, but always intelligible, English, while another has only a basic grasp of the language, so that I sometimes struggle to extract her meaning. The commonest errors they make look to me like French mistakes, but no doubt reflect patterns which exist in Romanian. Here are a few examples:

  • You have right.</li>
  • I have twenty-one years.</li>
  • I am student since two years.</li>

Since - a source of pitfalls

The third of the examples contains the word since, and this presents a number of problems, especially for speakers of Romance languages. It does not correspond exactly to French depuis or Spanish desde. My sister, who is not a linguist, once expressed the view that non-native users of English should be advised to avoid the word since, unless they are absolutely sure that they know how to use it.

The sentence I am student since two years contains three fundamental errors. In English we say I am a student, with the indefinite article. However, if we use the preposition since, we must put the verb in the present perfect tense. Also, the word refers to the starting point of something and not a period of time. So we could say I have been a student since 2016. We might possibly say ...since two years ago, but we are more likely to say ...for two years.

Some time after my sister's comment, I was reading a Wikipedia article. The text had clearly been written by a native English speaker of the old school. I could virtually hear the voice of this person, with its rather staid manner. If I had a criticism, it would be of the excessive use of the present perfect. In each instance it was used correctly, but there was just too much of it. The relatively short article contained sentences which read:

  • Her teachers have included...
  • Other prizes have included...
  • Contemporary composers who have written music for X have included...
  • and also:
  • She...has taught cello at the Y Music Academy since 2005.

A little while later I noticed that a Swiss editor had made some changes to the article. They had replaced have included with include in the first and third examples. I am neutral about the the first change, but I agree with the second - there is already a present perfect tense in the sentence. However, the editor went wrong by changing has taught to teaches. It would seem that they did not understand that English, unlike several other European languages, does not use the present perfect as an alternative to the simple past.[1] I don't think their English was as good as they thought, as an edit summary read simply "Grammatics". This is not a word, according to the dictionaries available to me, although there was a rock band which called itself <a title="Wikipedia article" href="">Grammatics</a>. Anyway, I replaced teaches with has been teaching, adding this edit summary: "In such a context the use of "since" requires the present perfect. To stress that she continues to teach, one can use the continuous tense."

    1. There is an exception to this. Police officers have a tendency to use the present perfect in the accounts which they give of incidents. This sounds very odd to me. For example, they might say, "The suspect has lost control of the vehicle and has mounted the pavement." The simple past would be preferable.

How can since be used?

As a preposition

It is appropriate to use since when a time is specified for the beginning of something which is continuing to happen:

    I have been a student since 2016.

However,if it has ceased to happen, we should say, for example:

    I was a student from 2010 to 2014.

If a period of time is specified, we should use for:

    I have been a student for two years.

As an adverb

Since can be used alone when the starting point has already been specified:

    He was at the meeting, but I haven't seen him since.

We might also say since then:

    He was at the meeting, but I haven't seen him since then.

We might use ever since for emphasis:

    We met forty years ago and we have been friends ever since.

The adverbial expression long since means much the same as long ago, but the associated tense usage tends to be different. I should be inclined to say:

    He has left this area long since.

On the other hand, I should say:

    He left this area long ago.

As a subordinating conjunction

A new complication now appears. Since can be used in much the same way as French depuis que or Spanish desde que, but it is still necessary to use the present perfect tense in the main clause:

    Since he studied Latin literature at school, he has had a thorough knowledge of classical mythology.

However, since can also be used to express a reason, thus corresponding to French puisque and Spanish ya que or puesto que, and in this case the verb in the main clause can be in the present tense:

    Since he studied Latin literature at school, he has a thorough knowledge of
    classical mythology.

Further information

There are more examples in <a title="CD: Since" href="">this article in the Cambridge Dictionary</a>.

    Posted February 2018