have been waiting vs had been waiting

Discussion in 'English Only' started by nomnom27, Aug 20, 2012.

  1. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    Quick yes or no questions.

    1. Does "I have been waiting for two hours" mean that I was waiting and still waiting?
    2. Does "I had been waiting for two hours" mean that I waited but currently I'm not?

    I'm asking because I've been using "had been" and "have been" instinctively and now I want to know if I understand the reasons behind them.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2012
  2. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    Spanish
    1. Does "I have been waiting for two hours" mean that I was waiting and still waiting?
    - It could mean that. But it could also mean that the waiting is over. In that case, you might use the sentence as a comment when the person you have been waiting for shows up.

    2. Does "I had been waiting for two hours" mean that I waited but currently I'm not?
    - Yes. You're definitely not waiting at the moment of speaking. The possible meanings are the same as above, except that they refer to the past: either the waiting continued or was over.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2012
  3. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    So on No. 1 your saying that it could also mean that the wait is over, but it still is a current topic. Something like:

    "I'm going home.(4 hrs later after arriving home)I can't believe him, I have been waiting for him for two hours."
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2012
  4. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    Spanish
    I was thinking of a context such as this one:

    You and your friend are travelling (without cell phones) through Europe and have agreed to meet at a particular place and time, say, at 5 pm next to the entrance of Eindhoven railway station. You are the first to arrive, and so your waiting begins. After two hours, your friend finally shows up. Frowning, you say: I've been waiting for two hours. Where have you been?

    'Have been waiting' is possible here because you've just finished waiting; therefore the waiting, although finished, is seen as part of the present.

    In the context you're suggesting, it would be a little different because you have given up waiting and left the appointed place. Those acts put your waiting in the past. Four hours later you think about the event: I can't believe him. I was waiting for him for two hours.

    'Have been waiting' is not possible here because the event is in the past only, thus you'd use 'was waiting'.
     
  5. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    The answer to both questions is: not necessarily.

    The second sentence anchors on a point in the past, and it just says that two hours of waiting was, at that time, already in my past.

    The first sentence normally anchors on a point in the present, saying that two hours of waiting are, now, already in my past, but there is also something called historical present, in which we use present tense to report something past.
     
  6. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    For some reason I'm still not getting it.:(

    You're saying that No. 1 suggests that the 2 hrs of waiting is in the past, but does it mean that the waiting in general is over or still going?
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2012
  7. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    Can it be "had been waiting" instead of "was waiting" as well?
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2012
  8. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    No. It not only suggests but actually states that there was waiting in the past, but it says nothing about the present except the fact of having waited. In particular, it does not say whether that waiting in the past continues or repeats in the present.

    I have been waiting for two hours, but I have given up waiting. :tick:
    I have been waiting for two hours, and I am still waiting. :tick:
    I have been waiting for two hours, and having to go ahead without you, several times this year, and I am getting tired of it. :tick:
    I have been waiting for two hours, when you have not shown up on time, but I won't do it again.
    :tick:
    The difference between had been waiting and was waiting is in what particular time in the past is being talked about. If you mention a specific time in the past, had been waiting says there was waiting before that time, and was waiting says there was waiting at that time. If you do not mention a specific time, you still have a choice to be considering a specific time, or not to be. If you are not even thinking about a specific time, don't use had been waiting.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2012
  9. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    Spanish
    In that particular context it would not be correct to say: I had been waiting for him for two hours. It's incomplete. It's as though there was an ellipsis (...) at the end of the sentence. Something is missing. Here's how the past perfect could be used:

    I had been waiting for him for two hours when I decided to go home.

    The first part (in red) refers to a time that precedes 'the now part' (in blue). Every account needs a 'now', a point in time when it takes place. And the past perfect simply can't provide such a 'now'. Because of that, it is dependent on the simple past.
     
  10. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    Is "the now part" you're reffering to an action that happened in the past that happened after the past perfect progressive?
     
  11. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    Spanish
    Yes. The past perfect always precedes that past 'now'.
     
  12. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    I think I get it but to make sure I understand. Is the following sentence correct:

    "I had been raised in the United States since I was nine until a year and a half ago."

    Since "a year and a half ago" is a point in the past that happened after "raised," is it okay to use the past perfect that way?
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2012
  13. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    That does not make sense. Where is "a few years ago" in the sentence?
     
  14. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    My bad. I meant "a year and a half ago"

    Sorry for the confusion :confused: I'm kind off sleepy right now. I've already corrected my previous post.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2012
  15. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    I don't know what happened I corrected my previous post but it went back to the way it originally was. I hope it doesn't do that again.
     
  16. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    The difference between these sentences does not lie in the facts they describe.
    The difference is in the point of view of the person describing the facts.
    It is not an objective, factual difference in the world out there.
    It is a subjective, mental difference in the perspective of the speaker.

    You can see this difference when you put the sentences in an appropriate context.

    I was at the station yesterday morning in good time. Fred had warned me he might be delayed, but I was not prepared for what happened. He did not appear till 11.30. I had been waiting two hours.
    I was furious, and I let him know it. I said 'Where the .... have you been? I have been waiting two hours!'


    The difference here is that when the writer was talking to Fred ('I have been waiting two hours'), the time perspective is at the end of the waiting.
    When the writer is recounting the events later to someone else ('I had been waiting two hours'), the time perspective is one day later. In this case, the past perfect is used, because it places the event one stage further back in the past.
     
  17. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    Spanish
    I don't think I've happened upon 'raised' combined with 'since' before. I GoogleBooked it and got so few hits I believe the collocation is incorrect. If we use 'living' instead of 'raised' and simplify the sentence somewhat:

    I had been living in the United States until a year and a half ago.

    Is it correct? I'm inclined to say it is not. To me 'ago' starts counting from the present. Thus, we would be mixing past and present. I think 'before' is permissible though:

    I had been living in the United States until a year and a half before.

    'Before' would start counting from the past 'now', not from the present 'now'.
     
  18. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    I almost had it right.

    What about this sentence:

    "Wait a minute. I had been in this house before when I was five."
     
  19. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    It would be good with a comma after before, and the meaning is "I was in this house when I was five, before the time in the past that we are talking about."

    Is this what you expect the sentence to mean?
     
  20. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    Spanish
    In my opinion, it’s not entirely correct. I feel there’s an unnatural mix of tense references.

    I regard ‘wait a minute’ as referring to the present. I don't see how it can be followed by the past perfect tense here. Instead, I'd use the present perfect:

    “Wait a minute. I have been in this house before, when I was five.”

    In order to use the past perfect, the entire event needs to be put in the past, e.g.,

    "Wait a minute," I said, realizing I had been in the house before, when I was five.

    (With more context, my opinion might be different.)
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2012
  21. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    Well I found this sentence in a grammar book "David danced with the woman who had been flirting with him."

    and I also found this sentence on the internet "She had been warned several times of her careless driving habits."

    Shouldn't they be "has been"?
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2012
  22. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    I found this sentence in a grammar book "David danced with the woman who had been flirting with him."

    Shouldn't it be "has been"?
    -------------------------
    whoops posted it twice

    Anyway, to me those sentences seem to be written in the present "now" (unless I'm wrong) and they use had been.

    I don't see much difference between those sentences and my post #18 sentence.

    If there is a difference tell me. For some reason I can't seem to get this subject right.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2012
  23. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    Spanish
    It could be 'has been', but it could also be 'had been'.

    In, for example, a conversation: - David danced with the woman who has been flirting with him. - You don't say.

    When telling/writing a story set in the past: David danced with the woman who had been flirting with him.

    When telling/writing story set in the present: David dances with the woman who has been flirting with him.
     
  24. nomnom27

    nomnom27 Senior Member

    Castellano
    So if I'm telling a story set in the past is "Wait a minute, I thought to myself, I had been in this house before when I was five." Correct? Or I'm I not getting it still?
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2012
  25. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    Spanish
    I'm afraid you haven't quite grasped it yet. (It's close though, I think. :))

    In a line such as

    "Wait a minute," I said.

    you are dealing with two tenses. The text within quotation marks is in the present tense, the text outside is in the past tense. You need to keep those two separate. In

    Wait a minute, I thought to myself, I had been in this house before when I was five.

    you are again mixing the two. Although you're not using quotation marks (which is correct when it comes to thoughts), the structure of quoted speech applies:

    "Wait a minute," I said. "I have been in this house before, when I was five."
    Wait a minute, I thought to myself. I have been in this house before, when I was five.

    However, with a small change your sentence would work:

    Wait a minute, I thought to myself as I realized I had been in the house before, when I was five.
     
  26. funnyradion Junior Member

    vietnamese - English
    Dear EStjarn;

    Could you please tell me that whether my sentence is correct or not?
    "I had been waiting for Mary for the last two hours, but she still hasn't arrived. "
     
  27. EStjarn

    EStjarn Senior Member

    Spanish
    Hello funnyradion,

    Because you are mixing past perfect and present perfect, your sentence is not correct, I'm afraid. It can easily be made correct though, simply by replacing 'had' with 'have', providing the speaker is describing a situation taking place in the present rather than in the past.
     

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