ENGLISCH/853: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (165) Tense matters (SB)


165. Problems with tenses

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

As an engineer I have to work on an oil platforms in the middle of nowhere. And wherever I go I take my digital radio and my portable computer with me, so I keep in touch with the world. But on the platform we haven't got much room for books, 'specially grammar books or dictionaries. So if something strikes me and I don't know the answer, I have to think it over and over again. Now, there is this rather stupid sentence:

"I've worked for the company for ten years."

And I keep on questioning myself whether the speaker of that sentence still works for the company or whether the person has left already? I know there was some kind of rule about this grammatical problem, but I can't remember. Could you possibly be so kind and help me?


Bernd N. (from s'Hertogenbosh/Netherlands)


Dear Mr N.

...Now, the answer to your question is, that the speaker of that sentence still works for the company. We use this third tense

"I have worked"

when we are talking about something that began in the past and is still true in the present. That means it's still true now. So if someone says:

I've worked here for ten years,

then what he or she means is, that he/she still works here. But what about the verb form:

I have been working for the company for ten years.

Does that have the same meaning? Yes - it does. And I think it is a bid more common when talking about the length of time that you have been doing something. Something that started in the past and you are still doing now. It's particularly common with words like live and work:

I've been living here for ten years.

I've been working here for five month.

But the main point is, that these two sentences

I've worked for the company for ten years.

I have been working for the company for ten years.

mean that the person speaking still works here. There is no real difference in meaning.

But what do we say if the person no longer works for the company? If the speaker no longer works for the company then we would use the simple past:

He worked at the company for ten years. But now he is a free lance writer.

The person in that sentence clearly no longer works at the company. So we used the simple past tense of the verb. This is my short-version-answer to your problem. Please, write again.


Mrs Gobbledygook

5 June 2009