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We have broken this rule for 2 years.

Can I use the verb to break in a Present Perfect with a time period adverbial, like I use to stand in the sentence "This tree has stood here for many years."

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This might be a bit nit-picky, but I don't think this means quite what you want it to.

This tree has stood here for many years.

The tree began standing there at one point, and continued to stand there, without interruption or change, for many years. That makes sense.

We have broken this rule for two years.

So similarly to the tree example, this would mean that you began breaking the rule two years ago, and have since (in some way) continued the same instance of breaking that rule for those two years. For example, if the rule is "Do not chew gum," you began chewing a piece of gum two years ago, and have been chewing that same piece of gum for the last two years. You have been continuously doing the same act of rule-breaking for two years. I don't think this is probably what you mean.

More common, and more likely to mean what you intend, is what Martha suggested in comments:

We have been breaking this rule for two years.

This means you could have broken the rule multiple times over the two-year period; you're not constrained to the odd semantic situation of the same instance of rule-breaking. You could have chewed gum once a week for the past two years and this statement would still be true; throughout the last two years you have been breaking this rule regularly.

  • Why the perfect aspect implies continuous action, and the perfect continuous implies repeated action? In this similar question the answer suggests that everything is vice versa. (ell.stackexchange.com/questions/7279/…) – Graduate Jul 13 '13 at 22:46
  • @Graduate I disagree with the suggestion in that answer that have been eating implies continuous action there; I think it implies habitual action. My distinction here might just be splitting hairs; in practice it might not be a big difference. But as Martha says it definitely does sound more natural, so I'd stick with the second version. – WendiKidd Jul 13 '13 at 22:50
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Yes, that is acceptable usage.

Because of the present perfect, it means that you started breaking the rule two years ago and are still breaking it today.

  • 2
    That said, it'd sound more natural as "We have been breaking this rule for the past 2 years." – Martha Jul 13 '13 at 20:07

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