Confusion with “for” and “since” is a very common problem for English learners. Often, even when people understand how to use each word correctly, there are slip-ups. The difference in the use of these two words is one of those things that is specific to the English language and therefore difficult to remember. Thankfully songwriters throughout the ages are experts in the subject, and there’s nothing more memorable than a good tune.
First, here’s a song sung by BB King and Katie Webster. Just listen to the chorus at 1.43 if you don’t have time for the whole song:
Let’s look at the lyrics of the chorus sung by BB King (If you’re not too chilled out after listening to that):
- Since I met you baby my whole life has changed
- Since I met you baby you’ve made a new man out of me
- Since I met you baby I’m as happy as a man can be.
Here’s another beautiful song. This time from Chris Delmhorst. If you don’t have time for the whole song listen to 0:13 to 0:40:
OK, stop weeping! Let’s look at some of the lyrics of this song:
- Seems like to me the stars don’t shine so bright
- Seems like to me the sun has lost its light
- Seems like to me there’s nothing going right … since you went away
Next please! Here are the champions of the English language, The Beatles. Non Beatles fans can skip straight to 02.25
This time in the chorus at the end: I’ll never dance with another, since I saw her standing there
The word “since” is used before a word or phrase expressing a point in time in the past. For example, in the sentence “I have lived in Zurich since 2007.” 2007 is the point in time in the past. Since is another way of saying “from … until now”
Back in BB Kings song, meeting his lover for the first time is the point in time in the past. He then lists the things that are true in his life from then until now.
I met you = at a point in time in the past
My life has changed, I’m a new man, I’m really happy = have been true from that time and is still true now
In Chris Delmhorst’s song:
You went away = at a point of time in the past
The sun has lost its light, the bird has forgotten his song, the stars don’t shine so bright = These things have happened from then until now.
In The Beatles song:
I saw her standing there = at a point of time in the past
I’ll never dance with another = has been true from that time until now and will be true for ever and ever (gotta love The Beatles)
So, you use “since” before a point of time in the past. But what about “for”?
Let’s ask Sam Smith. Skip to 1:29 if you wish to avoid the dramatics at the beginning.
Apart from accusing us of calling him crazy and calling him baby, he sings:
For months on end I’ve had my doubts I have loved you for many years
The last word is going to go to Phil Collins. Don’t tell me you don’t know this one! Skip to 0.36 if you don’t have time for the whole song.
Phil sings: I’ve been waiting for this moment for all of my life
As these songs show, the word “for” is used before a length of time.
“Months on end”, “many years” and “all of my life”
“I have lived in Zurich since 2007″ and “I have lived in Zurich for 13 years” mean the same (In 2020), but “since” is used before a point in time and “for” before a length of time.
And finally ….there are also songs that show you how not to do it. For example this one, that has been covered many many times.
If you weren’t too busy worrying about their hair catching fire to listen to the song, you might have noticed the hook: “Since you’ve been gone”.
Can anyone spot a problem here? The word “since” is before “you’ve been gone”. While our other examples always used the past simple, to express a point of time in the past, “I met her”, “You went away” “I saw you”, this song uses present perfect “You’ve been gone“. The present perfect, “have/has been” plus the past participle (gone), is not used to describe a point in the past that is finished. It’s used to describe something that started in the past and is still true now, so you shouldn’t use it after “since”. It should really be “since you went away” like in Kris Delmhorst’s song or “since you left“
But I suppose that’s rock-and-roll for ya!
Please leave any comments are suggestions below. Have a good week!