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Suppose, we're (I and my wife) asked by people how long our marriage is since we got married. Which tense should I use? Past tense or perfect tense or else?

  1. We were married for 15 years.
  2. We've been married for 15 years.

Since a marriage is a status and it occurs once (each marriage), but the status is continuous until both people get separated or divorced, I'm confused, whether I should say the sentence 1. or 2.

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  • 4
    In idiomatic spoken English, you would not repeat the question at all. The answer would simply be "Fifteen years".
    – alephzero
    Aug 12 at 12:57
  • 2
    From what I know, some places colloquially use the term "marriage" to refer to weddings, which might be adding to the confusion here. Aug 12 at 17:24
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    @alephzero That depends a lot on context. Responding just "Fifteen years" is pretty terse, and in many situations might imply you don't want to talk about it any more than that - maybe a casual business acquaintance asked but you don't want to get very personal. "Oh, we've been married for fifteen years!" relishes the answer more, and invites further discussion.
    – amalloy
    Aug 12 at 20:52
  • Note that a lot of this is flexible due to some ambiguity. "To be married" can refer both to the state of being in a marriage ("we were married" implies you've divorced since then), but it can also refer to the wedding itself ("we were married by an old priest" does not imply divorce since then).
    – Flater
    Aug 13 at 7:43
  • "We were married 15 years ago" is the correct version of your first option. "Got" might be preferred over "were" in order to disambiguate between still being married vs. possibly having ended a preexisting marriage back then. #2 is certainly best, and the answers have covered why and other options. Aug 13 at 15:48
52

You would use We were married for [X time] if the marriage has ended, for example you are now divorced, or your spouse has died. You are saying that the duration of the marriage is fixed, and will not change.

You would use We have been married for [X time] if the marriage is still in effect. The statement is accurate as of the current date, but there is an understanding that as time goes on the duration of the marriage will likewise increase.

However, if you are talking about the date when you got married then you use We were married on [X date]. This sounds overly formal, though, and I think most people would instead say We got married on [X date].

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    Worth mentioning that these are the normal differences between simple past and present perfect.
    – JavaLatte
    Aug 11 at 23:13
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    "We were married on 1 Aug 1990" is ambiguous; in context, it could mean that the marriage started earlier and/or finished later, but was active on that date. "We got married" is ugly but clearer. "We married" is more elegant, but feels a bit literary. Aug 12 at 10:42
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    Well, I guess someone could claim that “We were still married on that date,” is technically accurate if they remain married, but that would be considered extremely deceptive.
    – Davislor
    Aug 12 at 13:01
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    @MichaelKay technically correct (the best kind of correct!) but the kind of correct which does not make friends.
    – RonJohn
    Aug 13 at 2:57
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    It might be worth also noting, as an addendum, that the implications change if you leave out the "for fifteen years" part (as in the OP's question title). In that case, both "I was married" and "I have been married" imply that the marriage has ended, whereas the correct form for describing an ongoing marriage would be "I am married". But, just to keep things from being too simple and easy, *"I am married for fifteen years" would be ungrammatical in most dialects of English. Aug 13 at 7:05
3

A statement about an ongoing condition should definitely not use simple past tense. The most common is to use present perfect tense ("have" + past participle):

We have been married for 15 years.

You could refer to the marriage ceremony itself as a past event. This would not be typical for responding to the question, "How long have you been married?"

We married 15 years ago. or We got married in 2006.

0

'Fifteen years give or take!' Then laugh it off as you slowly move away with your spouse.

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    It's not an exact answer to the question as asked, but it's an example of idiomatic conversational English, so it's not entirely wrong.
    – barbecue
    Aug 13 at 18:00
  • @barbecue true. Still, this answer could be improved with references. You, TheFlash, can edit your answer to include one. See the Help Center article How to Answer. Welcome to English Language Learners by the way!
    – Glorfindel
    Aug 13 at 19:45

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