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I had a disagreement with my Professor regarding the use of the word "since" in a few of our exam questions. The sentence was "dividends have not been paid since 2021". In accounting, dividends for cumulative preference shares "accumulate" when they are not paid on a certain year and will carry over to the next dividend payment in the succeeding years. Within the context of the exam problems, it is already the year 2023.

The disagreement stems from whether or not this implies that dividends were paid on the year 2021. Our way of interpreting the use of "since" differ in that I believed that, in this situation, it meant "after 2021" and not "starting 2021." Given this, I was under the impression that dividends were paid on 2021, and that the company stopped paying on 2022.

I actually had this dilemma during the exam itself so I tried using the "have not+since" combo on different sentences.

  • "I have not seen my therapist since my last appointment." This shows that this person did see their therapist during the specified time (last appointment), but has not seen them after the fact.

  • "She hasn't seen her father's face since the funeral." To me this sentence implies that she did see her father's face in the funeral but have not after that event.

  • "That species has not been spotted since April 5, 1956." I interpret this as the last known sighting of that species being on the day April 5, 1965 and not the day before. This means that the date in which sightings stop occurring is April 6, 1965.

  • "I haven't seen him since yesterday" "I haven't seen him since Monday morning" This one was a bit contentious because when I asked a bunch of people, I got very mixed responses about what they thought this meant. The way I understand it, this means that the person did see them yesterday/Monday. Someone mentioned how they believed that grammatically, this COULD mean that they were NOT seen on the specified dates but that it was simply culturally accepted as meaning that they were.

  • "He hasn't eaten since breakfast" Same implications as the last one.

  • "I have not had cramps since that time I went hiking in Mt. Everest" The person last had cramps during his hike in Mt. Everest.

  • "I haven't received cash since my last payday." The person received cash on payday, but is yet to receive any after.

However, "since" does change use (at least in the way I interpret it) either when I don't use "not", or when I put it in a sentence with a continuous verb.

  • "He has been like this since 2016." I interpret this as him having been "like this" since the start of (or at least from a point in time within) the year 2016.

  • "She hasn't been paying her rent since August." This seems to imply that she hasn't paid the rent for August and all succeeding months.

  • "The company hasn't been paying dividends since 2021" When worded this way, I would interpret it as there being no dividend payment during 2021.

I tried talking to my professor about this but as I am not very familiar with the specifics of grammar rules, I found it difficult to justify my stance beyond saying "the sentence seems ambiguous and I interpreted it this way." I will say that I do understand where he's coming from but I'm simply trying to argue that given how the sentence was constructed, interpreting it in a way he did not intend is justified. I am open to being wrong though as I'm really not an expert in grammar which is why I decided to consult here.

So TLDR: does the sentence "dividends have not been paid since 2021" imply that dividends were or were not paid on the year 2021? and what "grammar rules" justify the answer?

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    Since can have multiple meanings, being inclusive or exclusive: see this question on English Language and Usage. There's another question about "since" here on ELL but the answers aren't great. I think this instance is ambiguous and would depend on wider context.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 8 at 15:41
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    It's ambiguous. It could mean the last year dividends were paid was 2021, or it could mean that in 2021 and subsequent years dividends have not been paid. The ambiguity is in how the negative is understood in tandem with since. "We have not gone back there since the storm" could mean that it stormed when we were there last and we haven't gone back since, or it could mean that it stormed and we haven't been there yet to see the effects of the storm.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 8 at 17:08
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    This isn't just about the word "since," it's a problem when talking about "ranges," something that goes from one point to another point, and we could have the same problem even if we use other words. It's easy when you use a small point, but when you use things that are very broad, like a year or a block of a street, you risk confusion over whether the range includes the marker, or includes all of it. Clarifying language like "read pages 20-22 inclusive" is often added to help. Commented Mar 8 at 18:21
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    Also, my short answer is that I think you're right, but the whole topic of ranges is so tricky that no one should insist or rely on their "right-ness." There are several ways of talking about ranges that do have a set meaning (e.g. "pages 20 through 22" includes p 22), and "since" usually means "from that point until now, it's been like this." And when the "point" is a broad span, like "since 2021," it usually means "since some time during 2021." But it's usually best to add more specificity or explanation. Commented Mar 8 at 18:59

1 Answer 1

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  1. It could include all or part of that year.

For example, if someone said "the world has been different since 2020" they could mean that some event that occurred at any point in that year, such as the pandemic, changed things.

  1. It could mean from a specific point in that year, indicated by context.

For example, if you said "my wages will increase from 2025“ it may be there is a specific point that year such as the anniversary of your enjoyment or the beginning of the financial year (which is April 1st in the UK).

There are so many different contexts and ways of qualifying the statement that there really is no rule that determines how much of the year is included. Context is king.

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