Since and For: What’s the Difference?

Something I notice Germans do a lot is mix up the proper use of since and for in English. Understandably so, because the usage of seit and für in German is almost the complete opposite as in English!

Since and for are both used to describe things that started in the past, but there’s a small difference between them. Take these two sentences, for example.

  • I’ve been working for Bespeaking since 2016.
  • I’ve been working for Bespeaking for two years.

Can you tell the difference in meaning between the two? It’s very subtle so don’t worry if it’s not clear- yet!

When to use since

Since is used to refer to a specific point in time in the past. You use time words when you use since.

Take a look at these examples:

  • My cousin has been staying with me since last Monday. (Last Monday is the specific point in time)
  • It has been raining since 8 o’clock. (8 o’clock is the specific point in time)
  • I’ve been working for the same company since 2006. (2006 is the specific point in time)

In sentences using since, we usually use the present perfect and past perfect tenses. Did you notice a lot of “has beens” and “have beens” in the example sentences?

Tip: Never use a future tense with since because since is used to refer to a specific point in the past and it doesn’t make any sense!

When to use for

We use the preposition for to talk about a more general period of time or a range of time in English. This time period could be seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, or years. The important point to recognize, though, is that it won’t mention a specific point in time (such as 2010, as that’s reserved for since).

Check out these examples:

  • My cousin has been staying with me for about a week. (for about a week is a general period of time)
  • It’s been raining for ages! (for ages is a general period of time)
  • I’ve been working for the same company for 10 years. (for 10 years is a general period of time)

Unlike since, you can use for with past, present, or future tenses.

For example:

  • I traveled to Asia for three weeks last year. (past)
  • I’m traveling for three weeks. (present continuous)
  • I’ll be traveling for three weeks next summer. (future)

No matter which tense you use, for will always be followed by a period of time!

I always tell my students that if you want to be specific with when something started, use since, and if the specific date isn’t important, use for to show the time range.

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Do you have any tips for remembering when to use since and for? Share them with our community in the comments below!

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Looking for grammar? Try Tricky Adjectives and Adverbs, when to use Which and ThatOrder of AdjectivesIts vs It’s, and Present Continuous tense!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, a blogger, a yoga instructor, and can’t believe she’s been writing the Bespeaking Blog for such a long time – since 2016 – for over two years!! So cool! 

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