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How long have you..?

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

Talking about how long we have been doing something can cause problems for learners of English.

In German, it's quite easy to express a concept such as the following;

  • "Ich wohne in Zürich seit 15 Jahren."

in this sentence, the use of a present tense ('wohne') shows that the speaker still lives in Zurich and the word 'seit' shows that this period started in the past. Simple!

In English we express this idea differently. We use the present perfect (have + past participle) to show that something that started in the past is connected to the present. If we want to say the number of years, or months we use 'for'. Alternatively, we can use 'since' if we say when the period started. To translate the German sentence above, we get;

  • I have (I've) lived in Zurich for 15 years.


  • I have (I've) lived in Zurich since 2003.

Unfortunately many students say 'I live in Zurich since 15 years' which is not correct. Often this doesn't cause big problems but if you are writing your CV or are doing the Cambridge exam then it is worth trying to get it right.

Read the following sentences about our teachers and then try to write similar sentences about yourself;

Past simple

Adrienne lived in Manchester for 10 years. (She doesn't live there now.)

Present perfect

Adrienne has lived in Zurich since 2003. (She still lives in Zurich.)

Adrienne has worked as a teacher for many years. (She still does this.)

Peter has been waiting for the bus for 10 minutes. (It still hasn't arrived.)

You might have noticed that the present perfect continuous (have + been +'ing) was used in the final sentence. This is often our first choice when talking about how long we have been doing something. However, we can't use this continuous form with state verbs (verbs like 'see', 'own' and 'know'). For some verbs like 'live' or 'work' it doesn't make a big difference whether we use present perfect simple or present perfect continuous. The continuous form might sound more temporary and the simple form more permanent.

Now try to make sentences about yourself to practice this. Good luck and see you next time!

If you would like to improve your English grammar, contact us for a trial lesson.

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