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According to a grammar book (Advanced English Grammar in Use, Cambridge) we should use "since" as follows:

"We use the present perfect in the time clause with since if the two situations described in the main clause and the time clause extend until the present." E.g. Since I´ve been able to drive, I've felt much more independent.

I wonder, is it correct to use simple present instead of present perfect in that sense? I.e, "Since I am able to drive."

  • No. The example in your book unambiguously uses since with the sense of a period of time extending up to the present, but your version is extremely likely to be misinterpreted as having the sense since = because (i.e. - you'd probably be accused of writing a "garden path" sentence where the reader is forced to "backtrack" and adopt a different interpretation). – FumbleFingers Aug 22 '16 at 18:11
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They are both grammatically correct, but they have different meanings. The relevant ones here are:

7. continuously from or counting from the time when:
He has been busy since he came.

8. because; inasmuch as:
Since you're already here, you might as well stay.

Your first example has meaning #7

Since I´ve been able to drive, I've felt much more independent.

From the time I started driving until now, I have felt more independent.

But changing the tense changes the meaning to #8

Since I am able to drive, I feel more independent.

Because I can now drive, I feel more independent than I did before.

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