How to use “since”

“Since” can be an expression of time, and it can mean “because”.

“Since” as a time expression

When used to express time, the word “since” means:
— from a time in the past until the present
— from a time in the past until another time in the past.

1. From a time in the past until the present

Because of its relationship with time “since” must be used with the correct verb tense. Have a look at these examples of a common mistake:

WRONG
He is out of the office since you last phoned.
As you may recall, the Paris office assists us with this project since it started.
Mr Jones is employed by the Company since September 2016.

In these three sentences the writers have made the mistake of using the Present Simple tense (is / assists / is employed) instead of the Present Perfect tense.

RIGHT
He has been out of the office since you last phoned.
As you may recall, the Paris office has assisted us with this project since it started.
Mr Jones has been employed by the Company since September 2016.

Note that these examples follow this pattern:
Present Perfect tense in the main clause and Past tense (or a date in the past) after “since”.

More examples:
No Public Authority or third party has raised any claims or allegations under Clause 4.1 since the Agreement was signed.

Since he joined the firm as a junior associate in 1998, he has become one of the most highly regarded lawyers in his field.

(Since joining… is an alternative structure that may be used in this type of sentence.)

In all sentences of this type you must use the Present Perfect tense in the main clause. However, the rule that you use the Past tense after “since” is flexible. Sometimes we can use the Present Perfect here as well. For example:

The department has been extremely busy since we have had an office in Mumbai.
I’ve been feeling much better since I’ve been taking more exercise.

We use the Past tense after “since” when we refer to a point in time in the past, and we use the Present Perfect after “since” when we refer to a period of time from the past until the present. We could rewrite the above two examples to refer to points in time (and use the Past tense after “since”) as follows:

The department has been extremely busy since we opened an office in Mumbai.
I’ve been feeling much better since I started taking more exercise.

2. From a time in the past until another time in the past

“Since” can also be used to express time from a starting point in the past until an end point in the past. Such sentences may follow this pattern:

Past Perfect tense in the main clause and Past tense after “since”.

We were sorry to lose MaxCo when they ceased operations in Poland in 2016. They had been a client of ours since they entered the country in 2003.

In 2013 I was asked to direct the company’s promotional film. I had not done anything like that since I worked in TV advertising in 1993.

When I arrived I realised that they had been in the meeting since 9 am.

It is also possible to use the pattern Past Perfect tense in the main clause and Past Perfect tense after “since”. For example:

It had been 20 years since I had directed any kind of film.

3. “Ever since”

You can add stress to “since” by adding “ever”.

Our two senior partners have known each other ever since they were at primary school.

He moved to London in 1994 and he has been living there ever since.

4. Do NOT use “since” to express present time, future time or general time

Note that in all the above examples, “since” is used to describe past time. When used to express time, “since” can ONLY be used in this way.

WRONG
Present
We want the office to start operating since now, or by the end of June at the latest.

Future
I’ll be in the bar since 7 o’clock this evening.

General time
The licence-granting procedure should not take longer than 90 days since the submission of the application.

Instead use “from”:

RIGHT
Present
We want the office to start operating from now, or by the end of June at the latest.

Future
I’ll be in the bar from 7 o’clock this evening.

General time
The licence-granting procedure should not take longer than 90 days from the submission of the application.

5. Do NOT use “since” to express duration

WRONG
The Landlord may terminate the Agreement with immediate effect if the Tenant is in arrears with payments since three months.

Although we would usually expect a decision within six weeks of making an application, the Claimant has now been waiting since ten weeks.

Instead use “for”:

RIGHT
The Landlord may terminate the Agreement with immediate effect if the Tenant is in arrears with payments for three months.

Although we would usually expect a decision within six weeks of making an application, the Claimant has now been waiting for ten weeks.

Another common mistake

WRONG
He worked at Microsoft since 2003 to 2006.

RIGHT
He worked at Microsoft from 2003 to 2006.

Do not use “since” with “to”. Use “from” and “to” or “from” and “until”. Another example:

He worked at the company from the moment he qualified until his retirement.

WRONG
According to the statement, no accidents at work or on the way to or from work have occurred since 2006 until now.

RIGHT
According to the statement, no accidents at work or on the way to or from work have occurred since 2006.

Because “since” — and the Present Perfect tense — incorporate “until now” into their meanings, including “until now” in the above sentence is not necessary.

“Since” meaning “because”

We do not recommend the course of action you propose since there is a risk that the employee will refer the matter to court.

This usage of “since” is rather formal, and may be ambiguous in some sentences because “since” is more commonly used to express time. Consider this example:

We have analysed the tax aspects of the transaction since we were instructed to do so.

This could mean “We have analysed the tax aspects because we were instructed to do so” or “We have been analysing the tax aspects from the time we were instructed to do so”.

As a result, I recommend using “because” or “as” instead of “since”.

 

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One Response to How to use “since”

  1. Pete Versage says:

    Very useful.. I teach business English here in New York and I share your posts with my students. Thank you Barnaby!

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