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Should I use ‘from’ or ‘since’ in this sentence? Posted by on Dec 5, 2013 in English Grammar

I was listening to a news report on the radio last night and heard a non-native speaker of English, make a very common grammar mistake, misusing the prepositions ‘for’ and ‘since.’ So, I thought today I would write a review of how to use these words correctly as prepositions when talking about time.

 

In English we use ‘for’ when we are talking about or measuring a duration of time, that is to say, when we say how long something lasts up to the present time. We most often use the present perfect tense with ‘for’ as in this example:

I have known how to speak English for a long time.

Here we are talking about something that started in the past and continues to the present.

When using the present tense with ‘for’ we are referring to a period of time that extends into the future, as in this example:

How long are you here for? (The question could also be ‘Until when will you be here?)

We can in fact use all verb tenses with the time preposition ‘for’, as long as we are talking about something that started in the past and continues to the present (even if it is just about to stop).

Examples:
They practice their English for 1 hour every day.
They are practicing for 2 hours today.
They have lived in America for a long time.
They have been living in America for 1 year.
They worked in America for 2 years.
They will be in America for at least 1 month.

One final note about ‘for’, don’t use the expressions ‘all day’ and ‘all the time’ with the preposition for.

Examples:
He was there all day. (Correct)
He was there for all day. (Incorrect)

In English we use the word ‘since’ to talk about the starting point of actions, events, or states of being. ‘Since’ is used to refer to when something began or started; the action may continue to the present, but it also may have stopped. ‘Since’ is always used with a specific time, date, or age (7:00pm, January, or 5-years-old, prehistoric time). ‘Since’ is generally used with the present perfect, past perfect, and past perfect continuous tenses. For example:

I’ve been studying English since 5 o’clock.
I have studied since 5 o’clock and I am tired.
I had been studying since 5 o’clock and I was getting tired.

‘Since’ is also often used in the following sentence construction: it has been + period of time + since.

For example:
It has been two months since I last spoke English.

Okay, now here is the summary, or take-away, from this review:

Use FOR to talk about a period (or duration) of time.
Use SINCE to talk about the starting point of a period of time (that continues, or went on for some time, but has now stopped).

Also remember that ‘for’ and ‘since’ do have other meanings in English that are not associated with time. For example:

This book is for you.
Since he didn’t study he didn’t pass the quiz.

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About the Author:Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.


Comments:

  1. Ana:

    I thought the article was for the use of “from” instead of for……… Useless

  2. Gajali:

    So can one say, “*** has been known in Syria for 700 years, from the time of the crusades.” Can one use since instead of “from the time”

    Thanks in advance!

  3. Thyra:

    Thank you for the useful article. However, the headline is “Should I use from or since…” – the information I was actually looking for but the article itself deals with *for* and since.