Present Perfect Prepositions (Since, For, and In)

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Eioaioai
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Present Perfect Prepositions (Since, For, and In)

Postby Eioaioai » 2017-07-04, 12:04

So I'm teaching my romance language-speaking students how to use English's present perfect… yeah I know, difficult battle. However one issue that I'm having trouble understanding myself is the usage between a couple of prepositions, namely for and in.

The classic prepositions that are taught are since and for. Ex:
- I have lived in New York since I was a kid.
- I have lived in New York for my whole life.
And honestly you can find hundreds of examples online and it's easy to explain / teach: for with time periods, since with points of time, blah blah blah…

My problem though is the rarely taught for-in distinction. Take for example:
- I haven't been here for a long time.
- I haven't been here in a long time.
Here I perceive a difference in meaning, however:
- I want to do something I have not done for a year.
- I want to do something I have not done in a year.
Here I can't hear any difference. (Can you?)
Furthermore sometimes only for works. Ex:
- We haven't known each other for a long time.
- We haven't known each other in a long time.
While other times only in works. Ex:
- This is the first time I've washed the dishes for days.
- This is the first time I've washed the dishes in days.

After doing a little bit or internet spelunking I found out that is may be linked to negation, but notice in my last pair of examples, there is no grammatical negation.

This is just a wild guess, but I think a revised definition for the usage of these three prepositions in present perfect sentences could be:
Since: is used with a starting point.
For: is used with a period of time when the action DOES happen.
In: is used with a period of time when the action DOES NOT take place.

What do you guys know about this? Both prescriptive and descriptive explanations accepted. I've also heard there may be a difference between RP and GA English… I just don't know.
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IpseDixit
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Re: Present Perfect Prepositions (Since, For, and In)

Postby IpseDixit » 2017-07-06, 18:56

I know my opinion as a non native-English-speaker might not be worth much, but I've always been under the impression that "in" is mainly used when someone hasn't done something for reasons that (at least to a good extent) go beyond their will, and in certain cases, I also get the feeling that "in" gets across a sense of regret (maybe "regret" is too strong a word) or, more in general, it very subtly gets across some sort of moral judgment for not having done that thing.

While other times only in works. Ex:
- This is the first time I've washed the dishes for days.
- This is the first time I've washed the dishes in days.


Might this be because "in days" actually goes with "this is the first time" rather than with "I've washed the dishes", i.e: "this is the first times in days that I've washed the dishes"?

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linguoboy
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Re: Present Perfect Prepositions (Since, For, and In)

Postby linguoboy » 2017-07-06, 19:14

This is the first time I've washed the dishes for days.

For "works" perfectly well here, it simply has a different meaning than in would. It implies continuous action whereas in is punctual. If you haven't done something "in days", it means you haven't done it even once within a period of time consisting of days. If you haven't done something "for days", it could mean you've gone for days without doing it, but it could also mean you've done it but not for a continuous period of more than one day.

As you say, it's not negation which determines the usage. It's the aspectual nature of the action(s) in question. Know doesn't generally work with "in" because its meaning is inherently continuous. But observe:

"This is the first time in days I've known exactly where I am."

Here the action is viewed punctually ("first time") rather than continuously, thus in works but not for.
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Re: Present Perfect Prepositions (Since, For, and In)

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-10-03, 17:49

linguoboy wrote:
This is the first time I've washed the dishes for days.

For "works" perfectly well here, it simply has a different meaning than in would. It implies continuous action whereas in is punctual. If you haven't done something "in days", it means you haven't done it even once within a period of time consisting of days. If you haven't done something "for days", it could mean you've gone for days without doing it, but it could also mean you've done it but not for a continuous period of more than one day.

I guess "this is the first time I've washed the dishes for days" could also mean "this is the first time that I've spent days washing the dishes continuously," at least in theory.


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