It's been a while since we have/had been in touch

m34

New Member
Polish
Hi everyone,

I wanted to ask you about the tense which should be used in the second part of the following sentence: "It has been a while since we have/had been in touch."

My gut feeling, supported by some fragmentary reminiscences of grammar classes, tells me that past perfect is the most suitable choice here, as we are referring to an action which was developed and terminated in the past. However, since my version of the sentence was challenged by an English native speaker (who relied purely on his linguistic intuition), I wanted to ask for a third opinion.
 
  • Forero

    Senior Member
    Hi everyone,

    I wanted to ask you about the tense which should be used in the second part of the following sentence: "It has been a while since we have/had been in touch."

    My gut feeling, supported by some fragmentary reminiscences of grammar classes, tells me that past perfect is the most suitable choice here, as we are referring to an action which was developed and terminated in the past. However, since my version of the sentence was challenged by an English native speaker (who relied purely on his linguistic intuition), I wanted to ask for a third opinion.
    Welcome to the forum, M34.

    Since can be tricky. Besides the well-known alternative meaning, something like "because", we have to distinguish the meanings "ever since", "at least once since", and "since ... last". Compare:

    Since he has not left, I have had to get used to him. ["because"]
    Yes, I have seen them in various places since we have been living here. ["at least once since"]
    I have lived in this house since I have been in this country. ["ever since I have been in this country"]
    It has been years since I have been in France. ["since I have last been in France"]
    It has been a while since we have been in touch. ["since we have last been in touch"]

    Past perfect anchors on a point in the past and it bears the same relationship to that anchor point, or temporal reference point, that present perfect bears to "now", or sometimes the same relationship that simple past bears to "now".

    Past perfect does not fit this context because the only temporal reference point even suggested here is "now". Note that "It has been" is present tense.

    The whole sentence can be shifted into the past and then past perfect might fit:

    It had been a while since we had been in touch.

    Are you thinking of simple past were as in "It has been a while since we were in touch"? That would mean almost the same thing as the original sentence:

    It has been a while since we were in touch.
    = "The time (so far) from when we were (last) in touch has been a while."

    It has been a while since we have been in touch.
    = "The time after the last time (if any) that we were in touch has been a while."
    = "The time (during which) we have not been in touch has been a while."

    Note the implied negativity with since + perfect, when naming a period of time.
     

    m34

    New Member
    Polish
    Thank you for all the replies, they've been very helpful.

    I do understand that present perfect refers to a process which started in the past and has been continuing up till now. However, my logic behind the sentence was that at one point in the past, when the speaker still kept in touch with their friends, he would have said: "We keep in touch (or: have been in touch for two years now)". Then the contact stops - let's mark this point as 'X'. Fast-forward two years to the present, the speaker wants to renew his friendship. At this stage, he may rightly say that, "It's been a while since...", because he will be referring to a process which started in the past, when the contact stopped, and has been going on till now. Thus, as Forero pointed out, he could use simple past here and say: "It has been a while since we were in touch." What I thought was also possible, though, was to take the sentence in present perfect and shift the tense in the clause following the reported speech pattern. That way, by saying "It has been a while since X", we refer to some point in the past--but the action of keeping in touch was taking place earlier, which is why the tense would have to be changed from present to past perfect. (I was set on explaining to myself why I chose this particular tense and managed to recreate this convoluted logic. ;-))

    So, just to make sure: regardless of all possible elaborate explanations to support it, the sentence "It has been a while since we had been in touch." would always be considered incorrect, yes?

    Thank you for your replies.
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    Hey again

    I can't really answer your question (doesn't often stop me from posting, of course), but I want to say your argument had me wavering on my position. In the end, I would suggest you simply use the available alternative:

    >>It has been a while since we were in touch.

    and thereby avoid raising eyebrows. Like your friend, I'm relying largely on my "linguistic intuition," given that I have little else to fall back on.
     
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