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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26 Responses 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!

  2. Alimotij5 says:

    Which one is correct?

    Since he……president,both taxes and unemployment……. .

    A)has become – increased
    B)became – have increased

  3. Rose says:

    Is it correct to use since on the end of a sentence? If yes, which situation?

    • Yes – for example:
      “When did you last see John?”
      “Last night. In the pub.”
      “Have you seen him since?”
      “No.”

      Another example:
      “Have you seen John?”
      “I saw him in the pub last night, but I haven’t seen him since.”

      Note that the context provides the information about since when.

  4. San Samman says:

    English is second language in my country and we had an exam, I think the teacher made a mistake could you help me clarify my suspicions please?
    Here is the question:
    Since early yesterday, the people there ( fight ) to save their children.
    Correct the verb between the brackets.
    should the answer be A or B?
    A. fight —-> have been fighting.
    B. fight —–> fought.
    Thanks a lot.

  5. JJs says:

    Can we say ” I started to learning English since I was 8″?

    • No. The correct phrase is “I started learning English when I was 8” or “I have been learning English since I was 8”.

      “To learning” is incorrect.

      “I started learning English when I was 8” uses “started” (the Past Simple tense) with an expression of definite time (“when I was 8”). This is a moment of time in the past.

      “I have been learning English since I was 8” uses “have been learning” (the Present Perfect Continuous tense) with an expression of indefinite time (“since I was 8”). This refers to the time from when I was 8 until now. This is described in point 1 above.

      Also see my post “Common mistakes with the Present Perfect tense”.

  6. HuaGoor says:

    I write: C has held 1 share (0.01% of the whole shares) of S Ltd on trust of CS since Dec 2003.
    My boss rewrite: C holds 1 share (0.01% of the whole shares) of S Ltd on trust of CS since Dec 2003.
    Am I correct?

    • HuaGoor – Yes you are correct 🙂
      However, to be 100% correct you should write this: C has held 1 share (0.01% of all the shares) of S Ltd on trust for CS since Dec 2003.

  7. Kyeoptashi says:

    Thanks for this!

  8. Anila Celin Poly says:

    “Since one year and many more to go.” Is this sentence correct??

    • No. As I say in the post, you cannot use “since” to express duration. So “since one year” is wrong. It should be “for one year…”
      Without more context I can’t say whether the rest of the sentence is correct, but here’s an example that may help: “I have been horseriding for one year, and I hope there are many more to go”.

  9. Rachel says:

    Can i say
    1. I’ve been working in TCS since 4 years or
    2015 ? (Is it right when I mention 4 years?)
    2. I worked in TCS for 4 years.

    • Hi Rachel,

      The following are correct:
      I’ve been working in TCS since 2015.
      I worked in TCS for 4 years.

      But this is wrong:
      I’ve been working in TCS since 4 years.

      “4 years” is an expression of duration, so you should use “for” instead of “since”.

  10. Ying says:

    Hi, may I know which is correct ..

    A. Mother rewarded Jake since he had done well in his exams.
    (exams were over, which happened in the past, so can we use the past perfect tense here ‘had done’?)

    B. Mother rewarded Jake since he has done well in his exams.
    (the fact that Jake did well is still current, so should we use present perfect tense instead?)

    C. Mother rewarded Jake since he did well in his exams.
    (I think this is correct as ‘since’ is used as ‘because’ here. But I would like to know if ‘A’ and ‘B’ are acceptable)

    • Ying,
      A and C are grammatically correct. B is not.

      B is wrong because the fact that Jake did well is not current in the context. The context is the rewarding, and Jake’s exam success happened before that.

      To my mind “since” means “because” in all three sentences. If it did not, then the sentence should be written as follows: “Mother has rewarded Jake since he did well in his exams.” This means that Mother has continually been rewarding Jake in the period of time that followed his exams until the present.

      “Since” is rarely used to mean “because” nowadays, except in formal written English. “Because” or “as” are more common.

      Your example sentence sounds rather strange. Referring to “Mother” in this way was common 100 years ago, but not anymore. I would write the sentence as follows:
      Jake’s mother rewarded him for doing well in his exams.

  11. Maggie Murtha says:

    Sometimes I hear an adult say, “Since I’m in high school”, or talking about an older dog, say, “Since he’s a pup”. Isn’t that totally off the chart wrong? Shouldn’t it be, “Since I was in high school”, and Since he was a pup”?

    • I would not use “Since I’m in high school” or “since he’s a pup”. I would say “Since I’ve been in high school” if I’m still in high school when I’m saying it, or “since I was in high school” if I’ve left. “Since he was a pup” implies the dog has grown up. “Since he has been a pup” doesn’t make much sense – what would the dog have been before he was a pup?
      I wouldn’t say using the present tense is off the chart wrong, but I wouldn’t use it myself. I use standard British English, where it would be considered wrong. But such usage may be acceptable in certain dialects or among certain people.

      • Maggie Murtha says:

        Thank you very much for your feedback. I was hoping you would answer as you did.
        Maggie
        Southern California Girl

  12. WILLY MUSAAZI says:

    What is the difference between; I have played soccer since last year and I have been playing soccer since last year?

    • In this example there is no difference.
      However, you would be more likely to say, e.g. “I have been playing soccer for two hours” than “I have played soccer for two hours”. We tend to use the Present Perfect Continuous for activities taking place in the short term. Similarly, you would say “I have been playing soccer since 10 o’clock this morning”, rather than “I have played soccer since 10 o’clock this morning”.
      For longer-term activities – especially when talking about things you’ve done in your life – you can use either the Present Perfect Simple or the Present Perfect Continuous – as in your example.

  13. Lovepreet says:

    Quite a useful content that u wrote here 👍

  14. Pingback: Use of Since- Present Perfect Tense III - English Grammar

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