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Question:

In English, can you use a present tense since-clause to mark off a period that starts at some time in the past and continues to and includes the present?

Background:

Unfortunately, my paradigm of the clause in question is a German seit clause. Consider, for example, a widow speaking of her living arrangements since her husband's death.

(D) Seit er tot ist, lebe ich allein.
(E1) Since he died, I have lived alone.

It seems to me that D has two clauses which are in present tense and imperfective (present) aspect while E1 has a since-clause in past tense and perfective (aorist) aspect and a main clause in present perfect tense and resultative aspect. (If any of this is wrong, please feel free to point out.)

The kind of since-clause I have in mind would have the same meaning (i.e. a period of time, not e.g. a cause) as that in E1, but go as follows:

(E2) Since he is dead, I have lived alone.

The question is not confined to present day English. An example from any historical period of a since or other subordinate clause in which a verb in present tense and imperfect aspect marks off a time period that continues to the present will do.

I want to add the following as forming a (sort of) continuum from (E2).

(E3) Since he is gone, I have lived in the house.
(E4) Since he has gone, I have lived in the house.
(E5) Since he has lived in the house, I have kept out of it.

E4 and E5 seem to have the same tense and aspect in both clauses (be they present perfect and resultative, or otherwise) and sound acceptable to me.

The since-clause in E3, it seems, can be assimilated either to that in E2 or that in E4 and E5. E3 sounds strange to me or at any rate not as likely in today's speech as "since he's been gone" or "went away."

Anyway, any historical or literary precedent for the seit-like usage of since in English is what I am looking for.

  • I don't think there is an equivalent in English using "since". (E3) From [the time of] his death until now, I have lived alone. Is the closest I have come up with. – Jeff Y Dec 24 '15 at 11:47
  • E3 would have been grammatical 300 years ago, but only because to go took the verb to be as an auxiliary: I go; I went; I am gone. – Peter Shor Dec 24 '15 at 13:09
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    Are you trying to figure out when German and English started behaving differently in this respect? It must have been centuries ago, if not millennia. As a wild guess, I'd say Early Middle English (just because French uses a past tense after depuis, and English grammar became more French-like after 1066; I don't actually know how Old English treated since). – Peter Shor Dec 24 '15 at 13:16
  • @PeterShor Yes, that's a fair way to characterize the question. If English had any vestige, echo, aping etc. of the "Germanic" construction, I want to see it. – Catomic Dec 24 '15 at 13:21
  • From the OED, since comes from Middle English sithence, which comes from Old English siðða, which is much more clearly a cognate of seit. I don't know what the grammar was. Shakespeare seems to have used since with the modern grammar. – Peter Shor Dec 24 '15 at 13:41
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In English, can you use a present tense since-clause to mark off a period that starts at some time in the past and continues to and includes the present?

It is possible but with some modifications in your case.

You should replace the past participle "died" with the noun "death"

Since he is dead, I have lived alone.

is incorrect. The since in the above sentence is used as a conjunction with an implied meaning

because; inasmuch as

Dictionary.com

Your sentence means:

I have lived alone because he is dead

and not

I have lived alone since the time of his death.

Hence, a meaningful English translation would be:

(Ever) Since his death, I have lived alone.

The above sentence marks a past event (death) in the present tense. And "ever" is implied(since I have included it in brackets), you need not explicitly use it.

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The short answer is no.

But first, the word "since" is a preposition, so all your examples are actually preposition phrases, not clauses, though they do of course contain embedded subordinate clauses. But that doesn't have any real effect on your core question.

(E1) Since he died, I have lived alone. The since phrase (a time adjunct) contains a preterite clause, and the main clause is present perfect (a kind of past tense). The time adjunct since reinforces the continuative /imperfective aspectuality reading.

(E2) Since he is dead, I have lived alone. Though somewhat unnatural, the only possible reading for this in present-day English is as a reason adjunct, with "since" meaning "because". Note that "dead" is an adjective here, a predicative complement, not a verb. I'd say that the context here would give a continuative/imperfective aspectuality interpretation.

(E3) Since he is gone, I have lived in the house.

"Gone" (like "dead" in E2) is an adjective as predicative complement here. Again, it is a reason adjunct like E2.

(E4) Since he has gone, I have lived in the house.

(E5) Since he has lived in the house, I have kept out of it.

E4 and E5 are strictly ambiguous, though the salient interpretation is temporal (imperfective/ continuative). We understand that you have lived in /kept out of the house from the time he left or commenced living in it. In the much less plausible reason adjunct readings, they mean "because he has gone / lived ...", but they would still have continuative/imperfective interpretations.

  • The dictionary says that since can be a preposition, conjunction, or an adverb. It is a preposition if it has a noun phrase after it (since his death), and a subordinating conjunction if it has a subordinate clause after it (since he died). It's an adverb if it stands alone and modifies the verb. (After he died, I inherited the house and have lived here since.) – Peter Shor Dec 24 '15 at 20:19
  • @Peter Shor I follow Huddleston & Pullum (CGEL) in saying that subordinators function as markers of subordination, whereas preps function as heads of the constituents they introduce. And unlike conjunctions, preps have independent meaning - an evident semantic content ("since" has a temporal location meaning). There’s the further point that items like “since” uncontroversially occur as prepositions when they have an NP complement, and there’s no basis for assigning them to different categories according as they take an NP or a clause - or no complement at all. – BillJ Dec 24 '15 at 21:10
  • @ Peter Shor But that's all a bit academic anyway, as the subordinator vs preposition argument has no impact on any answer to the OP's question. In fact, come to think of it, I wish I hadn't mentioned it now in my answer! – BillJ Dec 24 '15 at 21:18

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