4

It's been a long time since I went to Canada

Does the above sentence mean: since first or last went to Canada?

When you as a native speaker hear the above and below sentences, could you give me probabilities (by a sample of number of visits ) on the difference between those two sentences? This is of course if the first sentence has the meaning: first went to Canada

It's been a long time since I have been to Canada

If you feel it is better to change a long time into e.g. 5 years to make your answer clearer, then please do so.

  • 2
    If it were "It's been a long time since he went to Canada", it would likely mean that he went to Canada a long time ago and never came back. And in first person, if the speaker lives in Canada and is currently visiting another country, it would mean the same thing. In that case, it wouldn't be either the first time that he went to Canada or the last time he went to Canada, but the time that he moved there. – Peter Shor Jan 2 '14 at 15:32
  • 1
    This is for went and it's clear if I understood you correctly, but what about have been? – learner Jan 2 '14 at 15:37
  • 3
    For have been, it clearly refers to the last time. Similarly, if it were "it's been a long time since I went to the gym," it would clearly mean "last went". If it were "it's been a long time since I went to college," it would probably mean "first went" (unless the speaker's talking about the entire period he was in college). – Peter Shor Jan 2 '14 at 15:38
  • 1
    When you say clearly do you mean there is no possibility of going to the gym after that, and you consider the speaker is in error, or the possibility is negligible? – learner Jan 2 '14 at 15:43
  • 2
    Unless context gives some indication otherwise, I would say there is no possibility of the speaker having gone to the gym after that. – Peter Shor Jan 2 '14 at 15:46
7

It's been a long time since I went to Canada.

To me, the above sentence is ideal only in cases where there is only one visit to Canada. In that sense, it would be both a first and the last (most recent) visit. That said, it's a valid construction in a situation where multiple visits had occurred, but in these cases I’d argue for:

It's been a long time since I have been to Canada.

The way I figure it, the statement above has two main pieces of information:

  1. I have been to Canada (at least once; possibly multiple times)

  2. It has been a long time since then (since my last visit)

Broken down the same way, the first sentence has these two main pieces of information:

  1. I went to Canada (most likely just once)
  2. It's been a long time since then (since my one and only visit)

So it comes down to what you want to say. This might be the situation:

  1. I went to Canada throughout my teens
  2. It's been a long time since then

You could make an argument for either option in this case, but I maintain that the second sentence would more clearly indicate multiple visits.

  • This is great. I'll be back a couple hours to reread carefully and ask some questions for clarification if any. – learner Jan 2 '14 at 16:07
  • I think you're quite right that in OP's exact context, the most likely distinction a native speaker would infer is that went implies there was only ever one visit (but only because have been very strongly implies there were multiple visits). In other contexts though, we might find a totally different distinction. For example, in "It's been a long time since I went/have been hungry", the went version is more likely to mean "I've had enough to eat for a long time now" (but didn't always), where the alternative might be taken to mean "I permanently lost my appetite a long time ago". – FumbleFingers Jan 2 '14 at 19:00
  • @FumbleFingers I contemplated covering more, but quickly saw the possibilities spider out forever like cracks on the surface of a frozen lake. I suspect “went hungry” presents a special case, and I'm sure there are others. It seems like the technique of breaking down the information while determining the right verb for each statement would still work, though, even if there isn't a one-to-one correspondence between that example and OP's. – Tyler James Young Jan 2 '14 at 21:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.