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I am Japanese and I would like to ask native English speakers about what you think about the grammar in the following sentences.

  1. It's been a while since I've sat at a dinner table together with a family.
  2. It's been a while since I sat at a dinner table together with a family.

To my knowledge, the 2nd one should be grammatically correct but often hear the 1st one "It's been a while since I've ~".  Which one do you think is grammatically correct? and if you think that both of them are correct, I believe that there is a subtle difference in the meaning. I would like to know your opinions on the differences.

Thank you very much.

  • they are both grammatically correct. the past tense of sit and the past participle of sit are both sat. stay tuned for nuances. – ebernard May 14 '15 at 18:18
  • @everyone_else : be aware that it can be difficult to google something like "sat version", "sat grammar", et al without only getting results related to the SAT. – ebernard May 14 '15 at 18:20
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    @Waterbagel Once upon a time we could've sitten, but now, alas, we can only have sat. – Anonym May 15 '15 at 0:09
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Grammatical Correctness

I believe both are grammatically correct. If you take out the apostrophes you can write:

It has been a while since I have sat at a dinner table together with a family.

and

It has been a while since I sat at a dinner table together with a family.

Both seem fine to me.

Which is More Commonly Used

The best I could come up with for which is more common turned up the following (from Google books searches):

I've * Variants

"been a while since I've" OR "been a while since I have"

About 158,000 results

search results

I'd * Variants

"been a while since I'd" OR "been a while since I had"

About 50,800 results

search results

I * Variants

"been awhile since I" -"I've" -"I had" -"I have" -"I'd"

About 11,600 results

search results

You can also see a similar story unfolding by looking at google Ngram viewer using "been a while since I *".

Subtle Meaning Differences

As for the subtle differences, I think it boils down to the tense of the verb to sit.

  1. I sat is the simple past and is used to

express the idea that an action started and finished at a specific time in the past. Sometimes, the speaker may not actually mention the specific time, but they do have one specific time in mind.

http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/simplepast.html

  1. I have sat is the present perfect and is used to

say that an action happened at an unspecified time before now. The exact time is not important.

http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/presentperfect.html

  • I don't think the perfect version is more common. Google Books estimates 22,400 hits for been a while since I had, but only 851 for been a while since I have had. – FumbleFingers May 14 '15 at 18:38
  • EL&U recommends source attributions be included, in plain text, somewhere in the body of posts, as a contingency for link-rot. – user98990 May 14 '15 at 19:14
  • @LittleEva: sorry about that! I am new to this :-) Is this new version better? – AGB May 14 '15 at 19:38
  • Most of us start there. Try, [link](URL) and list source in plain text. – user98990 May 14 '15 at 19:47
  • Yeah. That's it. +1 – user98990 May 15 '15 at 12:34
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There are many nuances in this sentence:

"It's been a while since I sat at a dinner table together with a family."

The first question is whether 'a while' or 'awhile' is correct. 'Awhile' is the adverb and should never follow a preposition. For these reasons, I prefer 'awhile.'

Second is the verb tense in the subordinate clause. To my ear, 'since I have sat' sounds odd. I prefer 'since I sat...' A further reason for choosing this option is that it is in keeping with the law of concision. If you can express what you mean in 5 words, why use 6? Hence, chop off the helping verb 'have.'

The third question is the adverb 'together.' Isn't the meaning of this word included in the preposition 'with'? If so, it is unnecessary. To test if I'm right, read the sentence without 'together.' I find no appreciable gain in meaning. Do you? I find redundancy instead.

  • According to Merriam-Webster, awhile means "for a while." If that brief definition is correct, it doesn't make sense to use awhile in situations where "for a while" wouldn't work well—and "It's been for a while since I sat..." does not work well, it seems to me. – Sven Yargs Dec 20 '15 at 17:22
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CORRECT: "It's been a while since I sat at a dinner table together with a family."

The use of 'Past Indefinite' tense in similar constructions is appropriate because, a question that would elicit the above statement as response would begin with:

"How long has it been since you sat... ? (since the moment you SAT at a dinner, the last time).

This explanation may not be satisfactory for some. But I invite experts to explain why 'Past Indefinite' is used in such constructions. Thanks.

protected by tchrist Aug 29 '16 at 13:31

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