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Tell me please, do I understand correctly that we use "since" with the past tense, but we must only use "that" with perfect sentences like this:

"It was several years since I traveled that road."

"It was several years that I had been travelling that road."

So the "It was several years since I had been travelling that road." is absolutely incorrect, right?

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  • It had been several years since I traveled that road. In principle, It had been several years since I had been traveling that road is also valid, but it's stylistically clumsy and therefore not very likely. Using that instead of since in such contexts is a feature of sloppy colloquial speech, probably best avoided. Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 11:54
  • Wrong, I'm afraid. It was several years since I had been travelling that road is the correct version (out of the three you suggest); the other two are unidiomatic. Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 12:47
  • Thank you. So, is this sentence correct too: "In May it will be two years since we've been living in Bulgaria."? I have been told earlier that it must be "that" insteard of "since" there.
    – Inversus
    Commented Apr 14, 2022 at 13:09

1 Answer 1

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Important: These usages talk about amounts of time that pass. But the second and third seem like they try to talk about the length of time that the speaker spent travelling, while a construction using "since" is probably trying to talk about the length of time elapsed after travelling happened.

Let's take a simpler example. Let's say I was stuck in an elevator for an hour. This event happened a year ago. If I want to talk about the duration of time that I was in the elevator, the most likely option is "I was stuck in an elevator for an hour." I might also say, though this is less common and a bit archaic, "It was an hour that I was stuck in an elevator."

If I want to talk about how much time has passed since the incident, the most likely is "It has been a year since I got stuck in an elevator."

Now, in that sentence, the overall tense is present. If I want to use the same sentence in an overall past-tense narrative—for example, I want to look back not only on the elevator incident, but on the time that I told a story about it a year later, I might say: "That day, I told them about how I had been stuck in an elevator for an hour. It had been a year since I had gotten stuck (though more years have passed now)."

So don't confuse the tenses and the "since"/"for"/"that" usages. The past perfect tense is useful when we're already using past tense, but also looking back at something even earlier than the main time point of the sentence, so "had been" is best in that scenario. Meanwhile, "since" conveys time elapsed between an event and the main time point of the sentence, while "for" (or perhaps "that") are used for durations of time with beginning and end points.

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  • Thank you very much, but I'am still a litle confused. I have been told before that this sentence must be used with "that": "In May it will be two years that we've been living in Bulgaria." So, if I want to describe the period between the end of a live in Bulgaria and a certain moment (May), can I say: "In May it will be two years since we've been living in Bulgaria." or "In May it was two years since we had been living in Bulgaria." or "In May it had been two years since we had been living in Bulgaria."?
    – Inversus
    Commented Apr 14, 2022 at 12:34
  • @Inversus Maybe you should open a new question in which you make it clear which meaning you want, since comments aren't meant for extended discussion. Whoever told you that the first sample sentence "must" use "that" was not giving the whole picture, and every sentence in your comment could benefit from some changes in verb tenses. Commented Apr 14, 2022 at 20:39

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