Recently I had a haircut in one of the local barber shops, during which I asked the owner “How long has the shop been open?” However, I feel something wrong in that sentence, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. First of all, is it grammatically correct? Second, Is there some ambiguity in that sentence? And how will you change some of the wording of that question to make it sounds better?

Another thing I want to ask about is that how shall the owner answer this question if his shop will be 25 years old in Dec 15th. Is it correct for him to say that “It will be 25 years this December 15th” or “25 years come next December?” Is there a better way to put it?

  • "When did you open the business?" and "25 years ago", respectively. Be wary of overthinking and of reinventing wheels.
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 13 '18 at 20:29

The ambiguity lies in the two states of openness for the shop: one refers to when it was opened for the first time and the other to when it opened for business on that particular day. The responses for the former could be a month and year (e.g., "since March 1993"), while for the latter they would be an hour, (e.g., "since 8:00 this morning").

So if you want to prevent ambiguity you can include a reference to either.

For today, simply:

How long has the shop been open today?

For the entire lifespan:

How long has the shop been in business?

And yes, it's fine to say "It will be 25 years this December 15th," and so is "25 years come next December," although if you mean the December of the year you are currently in it's fine to shorten that to "25 years come December."

  • The question is ambiguous, but it would rarely be viewed as such. Information on how long a store has been open this business day seems generally not useful, and I highly doubt anyone would ever take the question as asked to mean that. I'd say you can reasonably count on primarily convention and secondarily context to eliminate that ambiguity.
    – R Mac
    Oct 14 '18 at 1:24
  • @RMac: Sure. But absent those conditions there are still ways to eliminate any ambiguity, which is why I gave the answer I did.
    – Robusto
    Oct 14 '18 at 3:00
  • The question still would not be taken as ambiguous if asked totally out of the blue. That's because knowing when a business first opened is in gneral more useful than knowing when it opened today. So if you were to ask this question totally without context, I expect almost everyone would think it a clear question and answer it directly. It therefore is only technically ambiguous. This is worth pointing out in an answer because the question deals with whether the sample sentence is correct and appropriate.
    – R Mac
    Oct 14 '18 at 12:49
  • @gardness: If this answer helped you, consider accepting it by clicking the checkmark to the left of it.
    – Robusto
    Oct 16 '18 at 14:04
  • @Robusto Sorry, it's my first post. I still don't know the routine well, please forgive me for being rude!
    – gardness
    Oct 17 '18 at 14:21

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