EN: since + tense (simple past / present perfect)

célinem

Member
france, french
hello, a student of mine has written " it's been a while since I've talked to you", she told me she had heard that in a song..Do you consider the underline part as correct?
Thanks in advance

Moderator note: Multiple threads merged to create this one.
 
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  • Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    Je dirais que c'est faux. Pour moi, ce n'est qu'à la forme négative que le present perfect serait possible:

    It's been a while since I last talked to you.
    I haven't talked to you in a while.


    Sinon, voici un lien vers la chanson en question.
    Listen baby, it's been a while since I've talked to you
    And you've talked to me
     

    CapnPrep

    Senior Member
    AmE
    It should be wrong, but it sounds OK to me, in informal speech. As Maître Capello said, it means:

    It's been a while since I've talked to you = I haven't talked to you in a while
    With the simple past, it means something slightly different:

    It's been a while since I (last) talked to you = I (last) talked to you a while ago
    It's almost the same thing, but the second one focuses on a specific long-ago event, while the first one focuses on a long-lasting situation.

    If you cannot turn the sentence into a sensible "haven't … in a while" sentence, then the simple past must be used:

    It's been a while since I've driven my car = I haven't driven my car in a while OK
    It's been a while since I've bought my car = I haven't bought my car in a while :cross:
    It's been a while since I bought my car = I bought my car a while ago OK
    For truly correct grammar, one should always use the simple past after since, and the verb should refer clearly to a specific past event (for example, using the adverb last).

    It's been a while since I talked to you on Christmas Eve / since I last drove my car / since my dog died.
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    Strictly speaking, "since" indicates a moment in time, even if that moment isn't explicitly stated: It's been a while since (the last time) I talked to you. So in this sense, the present perfect is incorrect in the sentence your student wrote.

    However, the present perfect is also used to indicate the relevance (in the mind of the speaker, i.e., this is subjective!) of the past event. Certainly, I haven't talked to you in a while is perfectly correct. Switching the order around to It's been a while since I've talked to you may not be grammatically correct in the strictest sense, but it could be seen as simply the speaker's way of underlining the relevance of this fact in his mind at the present moment. The sentence sounds very natural.

    I think it would be a bit harsh to mark your student down for this inaccuracy, considering that many educated native speakers could very easily say such thing without even the slightest awareness that it was less than perfectly correct (although I suspect many of them would eventually come to the same conclusions as people in this thread have, if they were asked to think about it). That said, it might be easier for your student to learn what is correct (ie., since + present perfect :cross:) and realize that even native speakers make all sorts of errors all the time... :p
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Member Emeritus
    English - England
    I am very reluctant to agree that something which feels to natural and idiomatic, and necessary - in the sense that it uniquely expresses an idea - should be regarded as less than 'grammatically correct in the strictest sense'. I wonder if this isn't a bit like Roman Catholics looking for logic in the doctrine of the Church of England.

    Let's consider the difference between:

    1. It's been a while since I spoke to you

    and

    2. It's been a while since I have spoken to you

    The difference is subtle, but palpable and important.

    1. means that a good bit of time has passed between that significant occasion when I spoke to you. It could easily be the start of a considerable reprimand. Although it's been a while since I spoke to you, I would have hoped the lesson of my words would not have faded from your mind: something tedious on those lines.

    2. is what you'd say if you were in the habit of speaking to someone - maybe you have an agreement to speak from time to time - and it means that a good bit of time has passed between your last session together.

    The use of the tense springs from uses like I have spoken to you from time to time, or I have spoken to you regularly.

    It's hard to imagine these words being spoken harshly; this couldn't easily be the start of a reprimand. The I have spoken to you in this context can easily suggest fatherly or even priestly care from the speaker.

    Jann makes the point that since indicates a moment in time, the start of a period ending in the present in this case, and this makes the present perfect not just unconventional, but positively ungrammatical. However, if that moment is a little distant in the past, this consideration becomes nugatory, in my view, and certainly I wouldn't expect the most educated speaker of BE to raise an eyebrow at the expression used by célinem's student, either initially, or upon mature reflection.
     

    jann

    co-mod'
    English - USA
    Although we say and hear this sort of thing all the time, and it sounds quite natural to me as well, I suspect that it would be frowned up by a strict grammarian... and perhaps taught as incorrect in English classes for non-natives. The preferred form would probably use the preterit: "how long has it been since you saw him?" :)
     

    Oddmania

    Senior Member
    French
    I guess the preterit is mandatory when one uses last, isn't it ?

    How long has it been since you last saw her ?
     

    geostan

    Senior Member
    English Canada
    I would use the simple past without thinking. The present perfect would not occur to me in this sentence. I'm speaking about the second verb of course.
     

    Oddmania

    Senior Member
    French
    J'entends de plus en plus de present perfect après since.

    Sans vouloir tomber dans le hors-sujet, il y a une chanson que je connais où le chanteur dit It's been so long since you've shown me a sign of life.
     

    geostan

    Senior Member
    English Canada
    You said the present perfect would not occur to you, but how does it sound to you? Do you consider it odd or even incorrect?

    Curiously, the more I say it, the less sure I am. And I'm asking myself: If both are possible, what could the difference be? As for understanding English grammar, as it is far less prescriptive than French, even anglophones are not immune from having difficulties understanding it. Take Oddmania's quoted line; it sounds fine to me. :eek:
     

    alogbe

    Member
    English (UK)
    For what it's worth, it seems wrong to me; i think I would always use "saw" in that context. Probably the reason is that I understand it to mean:

    How long has it been since [the last time when] you saw him?

    The answer might be
    I have not seen him for ten years
    or
    I have not seen him since my birthday

    but I saw him on my birthday.
     

    toomuchtodo

    Member
    English - UK
    But here's one I've been known to use when checking up on children and their homework:

    'So, how much have you done since I last checked on you?'
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    Doesn't "last" rule out the use of the present perfect?

    So, how much have you done since I last checked on you?
    So, how much have you done since I've last checked on you?
    :cross:
    So, how much have you done since I've checked on you?
     

    toomuchtodo

    Member
    English - UK
    Ah, yes, didn't think that one through - I was only thinking of the perfect in the first half of the sentence. In fact, in this case, your last sentence: 'So, how much have you done since I've checked on you?', doesn't sound right at all! Here, I would only use the preterite!
     

    alogbe

    Member
    English (UK)
    I think we are now in the murky area between grammatically correct English and idiomatic English. Nevertheless, I dare to say that no. 3 is wrong also - or if not actually "wrong", it is not idiomatic.

    It doesn't seem to be the word "last" that makes the difference.

    […]
     
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    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    Nevertheless, I dare to say that no. 3 is wrong also - or if not actually "wrong", it is not idiomatic.
    But what about the original sentence? (How long has it been since you have seen him?) Does is also sound wrong/unidiomatic to you?

    If not, could you please explain what makes you decide whether or not it is "acceptable"?
     

    alogbe

    Member
    English (UK)
    But what about the original sentence? (How long has it been since you have seen him?) Does it also sound wrong/unidiomatic to you?
    Yes, it does.
    ...could you please explain what makes you decide whether or not it is "acceptable"?
    I haven't "decided" that it's not "acceptable" - it just sounds wrong to me as a lifelong English speaker. Such things can't always be rationally explained, as I'm sure you will agree.

    However, if you're referring to the original sentence, I have already tried to explain why it seems wrong to me.

    If you're referring to your third example: no, I can't explain why it seems wrong (although I see that toomuchtodo takes the same view).

    On the other hand I would say, for instance: I've checked on him twice and he still hasn't done much.)
     

    Jerail

    Senior Member
    English - Canadian
    How long has it been since you have seen him? sounds like perfect English to me. In spoken English, you'd say How long has it been since you've seen him? which could be why it sounded a little awkward.
    That said, I would be more inclined to say How long has it been since you last saw him?
     

    jmaa

    New Member
    USA
    USA English
    Precisely why would a strict grammarian frown upon " since you have last seen him? " I am in agreement with Jerail about all of this, and that "last saw him" is slightly preferable, but this does not mean the past perfect is wrong as others in this thread state. Perhaps it is slightly awkward, yes, but a grammarian should not then consider it ungrammatical.
     

    alogbe

    Member
    English (UK)
    I didn't mean to say that it is grammatically wrong, only that to me it seems non-idiomatic; in other words, it sounds odd.

    As an example of what I mean - closely related to the topic, in fact - consider these questions:

    (1) Did you write that letter yet?

    (2) Have you written that letter yet?

    I would describe both of these as grammatically correct in any version of English; but I would describe nº 1 as non-idiomatic in BrE and nº 2 as non-idiomatic in AmE. If a British friend said nº 1, I would think it strange. If an American friend said nº 1, I would think it quite normal. And vice versa, of course.
     

    geostan

    Senior Member
    English Canada
    I would never say (1), although I've often heard it. It simply sounds wrong to me. I don't know whether you would consider my brand of English American, but I would always say (2).
     

    Jerail

    Senior Member
    English - Canadian
    In a familiar context I would probably just say you write that letter yet?, but more formally I would say (2). I can also imagine myself or others I know saying (1), but (2) sounds like the preferable way of saying it to me.
     

    LV4-26

    Senior Member
    This is a joke about a man stranded on a desert island.
    The first question uses the present perfect while the last two use the simple past.
    [...]She comes up to the man and she says, "How long has it been since you've had a cigarette?" [...] Then she asks, "How long has it been since you had a drink of whiskey? [...]Then she starts unzipping the long zipper that runs down the front of her wet suit and she says to him, "And how long has it been since you had some REAL fun?" And the man cries out, "My God! Don't tell me you've got a set of golf clubs in there, too!"
    Given the context, the verbs used, and the structure of the sentences, there doesn't seem to be any significant reason for the shift and the choice of one tense over the other almost looks like a random one.

    Unless......
    ...that's where we need the natives' help.

    PS: Of course, I'm not talking about grammatical rules here. Only about the way everyday English is evolving.
     
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    Jerail

    Senior Member
    English - Canadian
    I agree, it seems completely random. In fact How long has it been since you had a drink of whiskey? doesn't seem like a very good choice of wording to me. Either they should have stuck with the present perfect, or said How long as it been since you last had a drink of whiskey?. The way they wrote it, when analyzed, it begs the question "what glass of whiskey?".
     

    geostan

    Senior Member
    English Canada
    Yet the simple past sounds fine to me with or without last. It is what I would have said.;)
     

    marget

    Senior Member
    For what it's worth, I think that using "...you've had a cigarette..." seems to imply that the person asking feels that the possibility of the occurence of this action may have been closer in time or more likely than the other two experiences stated. I don't feel that the choice of tense was random.
     

    helenezen

    Member
    FRENCH
    Personnally I would think the present perfect may be used twice in this kind of structure if you say :
    How long has it been since you haven't seen him? (negative form)
    Possible answers: I haven't seen him for ages/ for three years/ since 2009
    Otherwise I would use a simple past (last saw him) as it was said before.
     

    Woofer

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    One of the things that's happening here is that while the preterite is always acceptable, the present perfect has the more specific meaning of "time since the cessation of a repeated event". "Since you have x-ed" means roughly the same as "since you last x-ed".

    For example, consider the joke above:

    How long has it been since you had a cigarette/drink?:tick:
    How long has it been since you last had a cigarette/drink?
    How long has it been since you have had a cigarette/drink?:tick:

    How long has it been since you shipwrecked?:tick:
    How long has it been since you last shipwrecked?
    How long has it been since you have shipwrecked?:(

    The last isn't wrong exactly, but it's hard to imagine a native speaker saying it except in extraordinary circumstances. Or consider:

    How long has it been since you wrote a letter (any letter)?:tick:
    How long has it been since have written a letter (any letter)?:tick:
    How long has it been since you wrote that specific letter to your brother.:tick:
    How long has it been since you have written that specific letter to your brother?:cross:
     
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    L'Inconnu

    Senior Member
    US
    English
    Ok, I see your point.

    You’ve changed quite a bit, since the last time I saw you.
    In the above sentence, the present perfect is used in the independent clause. The event in the dependent clause that marks the starting time point is in the past tense, since it is a completed action. But, how would you translate this line from a popular song in Quebec?

    Depuis qu’on se connaît.
    I would translate it:

    Since we’ve known each other.
    And, I think you would be hard pressed to find any English speaker to translate it:

    Since we knew each other.
    Notice that the present tense is used in French, so, logically, the present tense is used in English. I suppose both French and English speakers alike could be wrong. Do you think the French Canadian should likewise use the past tense after depuis? For example,

    Depuis qu'on s'est fait la connaissance
    Then we could translate it:

    Since we made one others' acquaintance
     
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    danypol

    Member
    French
    It's been a long time since we've been in touch.

    Hi there,

    Can anyone explain to me why there is a present perfect after since ?
    I thought that a date was expected after since and thus a simple past.
    It's puzzling me.
    Thanks
     
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    Maxzi

    Senior Member
    Français - Belgique
    I couldn't explain it to you but that means:

    "We haven't been in touch for a long time"

    This may explain it. I hope so...
     
    Je pense que le present perfect dans ce cas-là signifie que l'action (ou plutôt l'absence d'action) continue dans le présent, c'est-à-dire que les deux protagonistes n'ont toujours pas repris contact.
     
    Dans ce cas je crois que "since we've been in touch" veut dire "since the last time we've been in touch". C'est donc comme une date, même si celle-ci n'est pas mentionnée.
     

    danypol

    Member
    French
    Et pourtant on dit : The last time I saw you,
    you can't say : the last time I've seen you

    Sorry to be such a bother....
     

    danypol

    Member
    French
    That's what I thought but isn't it strange that so many people use the present perfect ? Is this mistake commonly made by English speaker ? I keep seeing it online ?

    Thanks
     

    hippohippo

    Senior Member
    English
    I think the speaker gets to the word 'since' and then decides what the event is he wants to refer to.
    ..... since you have seen him?
    the event is -When was 'seeing him' most recently a past event?
    ..... since I last saw him
    the event is -When was 'seeing him' an event which actually took place?
     

    Aterian

    Senior Member
    French - Metropolitan France
    Bonjour,

    Dans un film, cela fait des années qu'il n'a pas vu son père et son amie lui demande :

    - How long since you've seen your dad?
    - Twenty-five years.


    La question ne devrait-elle pas être :
    - How long since you haven't seen your dad?

    Ou :
    - How long since you saw your dad?

    Est-ce que le mélange des deux comme ici est couramment admis ?

    Merci.
     

    Wordy McWordface

    Senior Member
    SSBE (Standard Southern British English)
    Bonjour,

    Dans un film, cela fait des années qu'il n'a pas vu son père et son amie lui demande :

    - How long since you've seen your dad?
    - Twenty-five years.
    That's OK. It strikes me as unremarkable. It's a normal, everyday question.
    La question ne devrait-elle pas être :
    - How long since you haven't seen your dad? :thumbsdown:
    No. Definitely not.
    Ou :
    - How long since you saw your dad?
    That's possible, but we'd probably say How long since you last saw your dad?. This fixes the significant event at a defined point in the past and supports the use of the past simple.
    Est-ce que le mélange des deux comme ici est couramment admis ?
    I'm not sure I understand. A mixture of which two questions?
     
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    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    En théorie since ne devrait pas pouvoir être suivi d'un verbe au present perfect vu que cette préposition indique un point de départ précis, donc en principe relaté au simple past. Toutefois, en pratique le present perfect est employé naturellement par les anglophones.
     

    Wordy McWordface

    Senior Member
    SSBE (Standard Southern British English)
    En théorie since ne devrait pas pouvoir être suivi d'un verbe au present perfect vu que cette préposition indique un point de départ précis, donc en principe relaté au simple past. Toutefois, en pratique le present perfect est employé naturellement par les anglophones.
    That's right. There are many natural phrasings involving the use of since followed by the present perfect, which we use to indicate a period of time up to and including the present e.g. since I've lived here or since I've known you. Strictly speaking, I suppose it should be in the time that I've known you, but the since+pp construction is actually more common. It's unfortunate that this does go against everything that we teach ESL learners about since (and everything that we teach francophone ESL learners about the difference between since and 'depuis').
     

    Reynald

    Senior Member
    français - France
    That's right. There are many natural phrasings involving the use of since followed by the present perfect [...] the since+pp construction is actually more common.
    Cela a toujours été la règle enseignée en France dès la première année : for et since + present perfect, ago + prétérit. On peut le vérifier aujourd'hui encore (taper for, since, ago dans Google. Les trois sont présentés ensemble dans l'enseignement traditionnel de l'anglais).
    La forme it is... since + prétérit ou pp, beaucoup plus difficile à maîtriser, était vue bien plus tard.
     

    Maître Capello

    Mod et ratures
    French – Switzerland
    Attention, il n'est pas ici question du temps de la proposition principale, mais de celui de la proposition de temps elle-même. On enseigne en effet certes que le temps de la principale est typiquement au present perfect, mais on enseigne que le temps suivant since est normalement au simple past.

    Exemple : I haven't seen you since you moved out of town.
     

    Reynald

    Senior Member
    français - France
    Ah, en effet, Wordy McWordface a bien écrit followed... Lu trop vite.:(

    Ce qui m'a conduit à chercher la justification grammaticale de la réponse de WmcWf (#44) à la question de Aterian (#43). Parce qu'en effet, en français on emploierait la forme négative pour formuler cette question. L'explication se trouve dans la Grammaire explicative de l'anglais de P. Larreya & Claude Rivière :
    Il s'agit d' « exprimer qu'une action ou un état ne s'est pas produit pendant une certaine durée. Le verbe introduit par since n'est jamais à une forme négative parce qu'il représente la dernière fois où s'est produit l'événement. Le verbe est soit au prétérit (souvent accompagné de last) soit au present perfect (jamais au présent).»
     
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