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What is the difference between...

  1. We are married for 5 years.
  2. We have been married for 5 years.

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  • Only one of them makes sense. – Anonym May 20 '15 at 20:55
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    Variant (1) would rarely be used (in a terse, informal narrative: So, we get hitched. We are married for five years. Then this other guy shows up....) – Edwin Ashworth May 20 '15 at 21:10
  • Why only one of them makes sense? Not both? 1. is obvious statement that they are already married for last 5 years, and If they are getting divorce, or are already divorced, 2. seems correct for me (Past Prefect, right? : Action taking place before a certain time in the past). – Kusavil May 20 '15 at 21:18
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    @Kusavil 1) is understandable, but it looks like "English as a second language" - someone carrying speech patterns from another language into English. It's not normal usage, except in the particular casual kind of use that Edwin Ashworth describes, I think that's why Anonym says it "doesn't make sense". – TessellatingHeckler May 20 '15 at 21:53
  • Thank you @TessellatingHeckler , now I understand the misunderstanding I committed here, but I still think 1. is possible in some special cases. Well, I'm not native speaker, thus things that from technical side looks 'ok' for me, can be used rarely, if not close to never :-) – Kusavil May 20 '15 at 21:59
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#1 doesn't make sense because the present tense has no duration.

We are married.

This means we are married right now. It has no duration. It's now.

We have been married.

In the past we existed in the state of marriage. This state occurred for some amount of time, starting in the past, and continuing until a later point in time, which may be the present. It has a duration, but we don't know how long.

We have been married for five years.

In the past we were married. This lasted for five years. It's implied that the end of the five years is now, meaning we're still married. If it lasted for five years, but started more than five years ago, then I would expect "we were married for five years", as the state of marriage is now wholly in the past.

We are married for five years.

This is nonsense. We are married now. How can now last for five years?

That being said, this could possibly be used in an informal, nonstandard register. In comments, Edwin Ashworth gave a good example of someone telling a story:

So, we get hitched. We are married for five years. This other guy shows up....

  • Sometimes people get married for "Green card" or some other purposes. Is this sentence really nonsense: "We are married for five years, then we split up." ? Or, let's say it's a shorter period, like 1 month, then a spouse is probably going to die from being very sick, or getting executed, etc. Why "We are married for a month" doesn't make sense? With what should I replace this phase in this kind of situation? I could use "We are going to be married for a month", but the previous form emphasizes the fact that WE ARE married, especially if we (ppl in example) love each other. Is it really wrong? – Kusavil May 20 '15 at 21:53
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    @Kusavil Yes, it is. You would say "we were married for five years, then we split up". You want "we will be married for a month" or "we are going to be married for a month". If you want to emphasize that you're married now, you could say that in a separate sentence or clause: "We are married, and will be for the next month", or make a reference to which month you're talking about: "we will be married this month" or "we are going to be married for the next 30 days". – DCShannon May 20 '15 at 22:04
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    It's really not usual. You might say "we _were_ married for five years, then we split up" The marriage happened in the past, the five years happened in the past, and the split up happened in the past. It's all past, you can't reasonably use the present tense "we are" to describe any of it. To describe the present situation with "we are" you could only say something like "we are divorced". If your spouse is going to die, that death is in the future, so use something with "will be", e.g. "We are married. We will be married for a month". – TessellatingHeckler May 20 '15 at 22:05
  • @TessellatingHeckler I think that comment was aimed at Kusavil? – DCShannon May 20 '15 at 22:09
  • @DCShannon, @ TessellatingHeckler thank you for Your help and explanation, I think I get it better now =) – Kusavil May 20 '15 at 22:14
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Number 1 is a typical mistake for English learners (depending on your nationality). Number 2 is correct because the present perfect is used here to describe an action, or rather a state, which began in the past (5 years ago) and continued uninterrupted up to the present. That's exactly what this special tense is meant for, that is give you a "double perspective" on a certain situation by giving you simultaneously 2 pieces of information, one regarding the beginning of the action in the past and one concerning its persistence in the present.

The present simple alone, instead, merely states whether a certain action, state or condition exists at the moment of speaking. "We are married" is as much as you can say in this context, since the present simple cannot provide any information which goes back in time in any way.

  • Many thanks to all for the full treatment of the subject. – gerol2000 May 20 '15 at 21:52
  • I've just come across the1st in 'When Harry Met Sally' used, as it seems to me, in nonstandard register.) – gerol2000 May 20 '15 at 21:56
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    @PeterWone It's not actually true that the present simple necessarily describes an instantaneous situation or that it speaks only of right now. "I walk to work every day." "The Lakers play the Spurs tomorrow." "I laugh whenever she makes a joke." "The earth revolves around the sun." – snailcar May 21 '15 at 5:18
  • The key insight here is that present simple is usually used in a sense that could be characterised as instantaneous; it speaks only of right now. Curiously, present perfect does not necessarily describe the present. Saying "I have been happy." implies that I have ceased to be happy because I have avoided using the shorter present simple "I am happy". As a general rule-of-thumb people use the shortest form that fits. On the other hand, snailboat's examples are also valid idiom and equally common in use. – Peter Wone May 21 '15 at 6:37
  • @snailboat - "I walk to work every day" isn't anchored in time. I think you'll find it does refer to an hypothetical instantaneous present, the time of walking, whenever it happens to be. In your other example, "The Lakers [will] play the Spurs tomorrow" you have omitted the auxiliary verb in an idiomatic form that is American, not English. I'm not convinced that this is really present simple. – Peter Wone May 21 '15 at 7:03
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When you talk about an action or a status that began or took effect in the past and is still going on (or valid), then any of the following tenses should be used:

Present Perfect or Present Perfect Continuous.

Thus, "We have been married for five years." is correct.

(have been is the verb to be, in present perfect tense - We got married five years ago and still remain married)

Here's another example: "We've been living in Japan for five years."

(have been living is the verb to live, in present perfect continuous tense)

On the contrary, if you say, "We are married.", it only means you're not single. You cannot use simple present tense to refer to an action or status that began in the past.

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