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What is the difference in meaning and / or use between:

I will have worked here for two years by this time next year.

and

I will have been working here for two years by this time next year.


This is often a point of confusion for students and even 'experts' alike. There could be a number of reasons why a speaker chooses to use either construction:

  1. The rest of the conversation was talking about the future using one form or the other, and to maintain consistency, or even because the speaker had been 'primed' by preceding language
  2. The attitude of the speaker reflects their attitude. The use of the progressive could indicate that the speaker feels it's more of a temporary solution.

So, is there a difference in meaning and use? Which one of the above (1 or 2) is more likely? Or is there a third I've not considered?

  • How about this as the third ? I would have worked here for two years by this time next year. – Darshan Chaudhary Nov 6 '15 at 9:25
  • There is no difference in meaning; if one is true the other is true, and if one is false so is the other. That's the definition of 'synonymous'. They both refer to the same period of time, distinguished by the same events. There is a difference in use because everyone will have different habits in using or not using progressive with will; but there is the same difference in use with every pair of related constructions. – John Lawler Nov 6 '15 at 16:10
  • @No, John, that is not my definition of synonymous, especially with questions of aspect (which is what we at least potentially have here). It is sometimes the case that two different aspectual descriptions can both apply to the same event, in which case their truth or falsity is equivalent, but they are still different descriptions. You seem to be positioning yourself in the "language is logic" camp. – Colin Fine Nov 6 '15 at 17:33
  • I'm afraid I don't understand your question. Example #1 is a completely understand and grammatically correct sentence, example #2 however, is not understandable. An English speaker would never use example #2, ever. Is this your question? – JCG Nov 6 '15 at 19:32
  • @JCG - I'm not sure how you can justify saying an English speaker would never ever use example #2. I'm a native English speaker and I'd have no problem deploying that sentence. At least explain what you're getting at beyond being a prescriptivist of unknown providence. – ortonomy Nov 7 '15 at 9:50
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The difference is in the frame of reference. They are synonymous from the perspective of the facts (when the start date was, when "two years from now" is, etc.). However, they are different with regard to the speaker's perspective on those time periods:

I will have worked here for two years by this time next year.

The speaker is looking at the completion of the two years as an aggregate period of time. The focus is on the end of the time period.

I will have been working here for two years by this time next year.

The speaker is looking at the duration of the two years, with a focus on the work that made up those two years.

Also, the second sentence is the only one of the two that (very subtly) implies that the speaker expects that work to continue beyond the two year mark. The first sentence makes no such presumption; it is just as likely that the speaker intends to quit after two years of employment there.

  • Yes, I agree about the subtle implication of impermanence in the second example. The choice of utterance would probably come down the speakers perspective. I'll accept this. – ortonomy Nov 8 '15 at 3:46

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