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Is there a difference in meaning between the following two sentences? I'm curious about the grammatical point(s) illustrated below.

After having been married for ten years, last year they separated.

After being married for ten years, last year they separated.

A similar example:

Although smoking is a key risk factor for lung cancer, there are people who develop the disease without having ever smoked.

Although smoking is a key risk factor for lung cancer, there are people who develop the disease without ever smoking.

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    If they just 'separated', without getting divorced, they were still married, so the first would not make sense. Sep 17, 2022 at 18:25
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    "Tense clumsiness" could be avoided with "After ten years of marriage, they separated last year." Sep 17, 2022 at 18:27
  • "after having been married" suggests something in the past, while "after being married" suggests something coming to an end at that time. "After having been married and divorced twice, he married a third time" but "After being married, they separated".
    – Stuart F
    Sep 17, 2022 at 18:38
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    @MichaelHarvey makes a valid and perfectly correct point. However I find this all rather pedantic. Essentially they mean exactly the same thing - and it is unlikely anyone away from a site such as this is going to pick up on the distinction between separation and divorce in a remark of this kind.
    – WS2
    Sep 17, 2022 at 18:57
  • @WS2 - I blame it on my background drafting legal documents. Sep 17, 2022 at 19:06

2 Answers 2

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  • (1A) After having been married for ten years, last year they separated.
  • (1B) After being married for ten years, last year they separated.

Both 1A and 1B are grammatically valid. Both are natural. A fluent speaker would understand and might say either. 1A emphasizes the duration of the marriage. 1B emphasizes the separation. It is a matter of style, context, and intended emphasis which a given speaker or author would use in a givcen case.

  • (2A) Although smoking is a key risk factor for lung cancer, there are people who develop the disease without having ever smoked.
  • (2B) Although smoking is a key risk factor for lung cancer, there are people who develop the disease without ever smoking.

Both 2A and 2B are grammatically valid. Both are natural. A fluent speaker would understand and might say either. The difference is a matter of style, the sentences are intnerchangable as far as meaning goes.

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Both versions would sound more natural if the "last year" were moved to the beginning:

  • Last year, after having been married for ten years, they separated.
  • Last year, after being married for ten years, they separated.
  • Establish when, add relevant parenthetical background detail, say what happened.

The first version is more appropriate. It describes their state in a completed past tense, and then says how that state changed.

The second version would be more appropriate where there is no implication of change, where what happens is in the present relative to the established time, as in "After being married for ten years they went on their honeymoon" or "… had their first child".


In the second example, "without having ever smoked" would sound more natural as "without ever having smoked".

Again, the first version is more appropriate. "having smoked" indicates what they did in the past, before getting cancer.

But "without smoking" is a present tense, and sounds more like a result than a cause, as in "he carried the packages to the car without ever dropping any".
(Compare with "he made it to the car without having dropped any packages".)


But in all these cases there is no actual ambiguity and people would understand the intended meaning regardless of the wording.

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