For or Since – What’s the Difference?

For or Since – What’s the Difference?

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Level: Beginner    Reading Time: 6 minutes    Category: Vocabulary

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For or Since? These prepositions of time both talk about past events that continue until now but they work in different ways.

I hear so many people get these two words wrong when they are trying to explain how long a situation has been happening for. 

However, if you read to the end of this lesson, you will know exactly what these words are and how to use them correctly.

Don’t forget to try the quiz at the end of the lesson to make sure you fully understand these words.

What are prepositions of time?

Basically prepositions are used in English to tell the listener the connection between two nouns. They tell the listener how the two things are related. The relationship could be related to time or it could be related to location.

Prepositions usually go before a noun or pronoun and tell us the extra details. Today, we are talking about for and since because they are used a lot in English. There are loads of other ones though, like:

In, on, at, above, about, across, against, along, among, around, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, down, during, except, from, inside, into, like, near, of, off, to, toward, through, under, until, up, upon, with, within.

If you want to learn all about in, on and at to talk about time, you can check the full lesson here:

What does For mean?

When we use for in English, we are talking about an amount of time. That amount can be seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades or even centuries. 

When we use for, we can use it with very specific periods of time. We can also use for in past, present and future tenses. Check out these examples:

  • Last year, I went to Kyoto for 2 weeks.
  • I’m currently taking an English course for 2 years.
  • Next year, I am going to visit my friend in Korea for 1 month.

In each of those examples, we are using a very specific period of time, like 2 weeks, 1 month or 2 years. That is a super common way to use for, but not the only way.

What does Since mean?

When we use since, we are not talking about a period of time. We are talking about a particular point in time where the event started. That point in time can be anything really… last week, December 25th, 1996… whatever. 

There are two main ways that we use since. The first is to talk about an event that started in the past and continues until now. It is ongoing and hasn’t stopped since it began. Check out these examples:

  • I have been living in Japan since 2016.
  • They have been married since October.
  • I have been playing the saxophone since high school.

In all of those examples, the thing started at some point in the past and is still happening now. That’s why we use since.


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How are For or Since used?

So, today’s lesson is all about the prepositions of time: for and since. Think about these two sentences:

  • I have been learning English for 3 years.
  • I have been learning English since 2018.

Do you know why we use for in the first sentence and since in the second one? If you are not sure, keep reading to find out. 

Many learners get confused when it comes to prepositions of time because they often work differently in other languages. 

Today we are talking about for and since and how we can use them to talk about events that started in the past but continue until right now. 

How to use for.

Vague periods of time are the opposite to specific periods of time. It means that we are not being exact about how long the period of time is. It is also possible to use for in this situation too.

We tend to use phrases like ages and a long time when we are not being specific. This is really useful if you are not sure exactly how long the period of time is. Here are some examples:

  • I have been dating my girlfriend for years.
  • They have been playing baseball for ages.
  • He has been working there for a long time.

Anyway, the basic rule is for + a period of time and the period of time can be specific or vague.

How to use since.

There is another way we use since though. We can also use since to talk about events that started and finished in the past. Check out these bad boys:

  • I had been working at Google since 2006 until I joined Microsoft in 2009.
  • I had been living there since 1997 but I left in 2012.
  • I had been writing the report since 6am but finished about an hour ago.

In all of the examples above, you will probably have seen that we use the present perfect and past perfect tenses. This is really common when we use since. We can’t use any future tenses though, because since literally means a point in the past.

Anyway the basic rule is: Since + a particular point in the past

Common Differences with for or since.

When it comes to for and since, there are a lot of similar points. However, we are talking about some differences that you need to be aware of. 

  • Although for can be used with past, present and future tenses, since can’t. Since can only be used to talk about events that started in the past and either finished in the past, or continue until the present. It is impossible to talk about the future with since. 
  • When it comes to these prepositions of time, in some cases, you can choose to use for or since and there is no real difference in the meaning. The grammar is different, but the meaning is the same. As both prepositions of time can talk about an event that started in the past and is still happening now, you can decide which one you want to use.
  • Another important point is that with for you can use vague periods of time but you can’t do this with since. Since needs to have a specific point in the past to work. For example I can say:

I have been learning English for ages.

But I can’t say:

I have been learning English since ages.

  • When it comes to since, you must have a specific point in time. That point in time might be very big, like since the 18th century, but it must be a specific point in time.

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