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An ELL post says

We talked on the phone several times. Later I didn't hear anything for a long time, so I figured she didn't need my help anymore

which uses past simple tense with "for a long time".

Usually "for a long time" is a sign to use present perfect tense, such as

I have studied English for a long time

So, is it grammatical to say "I didn't ... for a long time"?

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  • when i first read the sentence , it immediately gave me the sense of "suffering a hearing loss for a long time"
    – Mohammad
    Mar 18, 2020 at 8:52
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    "I haven't heard from her for a long time" i think would sound right
    – Mohammad
    Mar 18, 2020 at 8:54
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    @Moha - "I haven't heard from her for a long time" means that you still haven't. "I didn't hear from her for a long time" suggests that, eventually, the speaker did hear something from or about the other person. Mar 18, 2020 at 9:50
  • oh thats a very good one to know....thank you
    – Mohammad
    Mar 18, 2020 at 10:15
  • @KateBunting simple past ("didn't hear") doesn't suggest anything about what may or may not have happened later, it just says that at some previous point that was the case. past perfect ("hadn't heard") does potentially have some implication that that isn't the case anymore, though (but not always).
    – Foogod
    Mar 20, 2020 at 22:18

1 Answer 1

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Yes, you can use either simple past or present perfect. They mean different things, though:

I didn't hear anything for a long time

This is saying that at some point in the past you had already not heard anything for a long time (the last time you heard anything was a long time before the point in the past you're talking about now).

I haven't heard anything for a long time

This is saying that right now it has been a long time since you heard anything. This is talking about your present condition (which is why it's called the present perfect).

"For a long time" does not imply anything about the verb tense you should use, because it does not actually say anything about what point in time you're talking about (past/present/future). It just says that at whatever point in time you're discussing, some condition is/was/will be true for a long duration.

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  • Thanks for your comprehensive explanation. If you were the poster of the quoted sentence, would you add something like "from her"?
    – WXJ96163
    Mar 20, 2020 at 22:23
  • You certainly could add "from her", and it might help to clarify that you were specifically expecting/wanting to hear from her directly. Since the previous sentence had just been talking about talking to her directly, however, this is already somewhat implied.
    – Foogod
    Mar 20, 2020 at 22:42

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