I saw a sentence in an email and thought it was a bit awkward. Please see below

"I have served in the army for over 20 years until I retired."

The person is no longer in the army but wrote me such a sentence. If the person is no longer in the army, can the person use "have served"? Shouldn't it be "I served in the army for over 20 years until I retired"? Or is this person simply stating that he has the experience of serving in the army some time in the past?

2 Answers 2


This should be, as you say,:

"I served in the army for over 20 years until I retired."

Most native speakers don't know how to use the present perfect, and most non-native Anglophones make many errors in tense and aspect in English. Tense in English is sometimes quite difficult.

  • 1
    +1. You can say "I have served in the army for 20 years. I joined in 1983 and I'm still there now!", but "I have served until I retired" isn't quite right.
    – Matt
    May 13, 2013 at 13:12

That sentence seems similar to "I have walked downtown every day for a year." In both the sentences, the present perfect tense doesn't imply I am still doing the action I described.

  • However, "... have <action> ..." implies discrete action or activity. May 13, 2013 at 15:08
  • It does not imply that you are currently in the act of walking downtown, but it says that walking downtown is a habit that you currently have (and that it is a habit you started a year ago). I would expect you to walk downtown every day for the next year as well. Therefore, the interpretation cannot apply to the OP's construct.
    – Hellion
    May 13, 2013 at 16:39
  • No, they're not similar. Actually, I think your sentence does imply that the walking is still going on; at least, it reads that way to me. Moreover, even if your sentence didn't imply you're still waking downtown - it doesn't imply you're not still taking daily walks, either. In the O.P.'s sentence, there is no question that the army service is in the past, and is no longer ongoing.
    – J.R.
    May 14, 2013 at 2:52
  • @J.R. Do you mean that the next sentence could not be "I am not taking walks anymore because my work leaves me less time for such activities."?
    – apaderno
    May 14, 2013 at 11:24
  • @k: By itself, I wouldn't think so; that verb tense seems to imply the activity will continue for the foreseeable future. Moreover, if I were to string those two thoughts together, I'd use the conjunction but: "I have walked downtown every day for a year, but now I won't be able to, because of my new job."
    – J.R.
    May 14, 2013 at 13:01

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