Tuesday, 11 February 2014

On not posting since/from last year

A correspondent writes for advice on the use of from and/or since in the sentence I have been here since/from the end of June. He says: 'Since screams out to me and from grates, but I find it difficult to explain why'.

The difference is essentially to do with a focus on the end-point of the period in question. The normal usage is since, as the 'have been' verb form focuses the attention on the beginning of the time period, and says that this time is currently relevant. From focuses the attention on the end-point of the time period (as in 'from X until Y'), and this clashes with current relevance, as that time period is over. We would normally see from used with other verb forms, therefore (I am/will be in London from Monday to Friday or I stayed there from January to March).

The operative word is 'normally', as sentences like the one used by my correspondent can certainly be heard by native speakers. What's happening is that they are blending two constructions - something that happens a lot in spontaneous speech. There's been a change in mental focus while the sentence is being said. A similar switch explains 'I've seen him a week ago'. I talk more about blending in the paper I gave to IATEFL last year - downloadable from my website (go to Books and Articles and type 'blends' into the search box).

[Footnote, for those who have noticed: this is a post after a relatively long period of bloglessness, due to various book projects coming to the boil at the same time. The first of these, Words in Time and Place, is an introduction to the historical thesaurus of the OED, and will be published by OUP in September. As with any lexicographical project, the grind of working through words, whether semantically or alphabetically, leaves little time for much else. Surfacing at the end of Z is a bit like coming out of social hibernation.]


David Crosbie said...

There are contexts where I personally prefer from over since.

Two of them are when there's not so much a string point as a starting period

1. Historical
It's stood there from Roman times. It's a survival from the days of steam

2. Biographical
I've been living here from childhood. It's been their habit from the early days of their marriage.

Then there's a point in time which is pure hyperbole, the unimaginable start of time:

We've known each other from the year dot

In general, from for me can suggest a vague but distant starting point and continuity most emphatically to the present and beyond.

I have been here from the end of June

.for me feels inappropriate on two counts:

・ The starting point feels too precise.

・ It doesn't seem to preclude abandoning my stay and leaving now.

I believe I'd be happier with

I've been a resident here from shortly before last July

Milos said...

One can hardly resist to leave comment on any of these topics. May I just say here that with academism, I am afraid of several problems. I will quote only one here: the problem of complication. Note, I consciously do not say "sophistication", but instead - complication, because that is what I mean, and these two are different.

For one small example, I would like to put that I cannot understand when someone says "I have seem him a week ago".

As for the "from" or "since", I basically agree with David, but I personally would put in the third sentence of his second paragraph the word "preceding", before the "period". This means that the sentence would read: "From focuses the attention on the end-point of the PRECEDING time period...". Also, I would add an "s" into the verb's present "focuses", to make it "focusses", as we want our writing to follow the good meaning and expression of speech; Why would we be "fǝucuzing" (in pronounciation), when we can better be: "fǝucusing"?

Milos said...

Correction / Appendix to my comment that I sent today. Not being very careful, I said that I agreed "with David". Coincidence made it so that the "commentator" was also David. I do not quite agree with him, but rather with the blog writer, Mr David Crystal, on the topic of "from" or "since". The rest of my comment was clear by itself.

DC said...

I doubt whether anyone truly 'cannot understand' the sentence as expressed. You may not like it, but of course you can understand it.

The two spellings of 'focus' are long-standing in English. The 'ss' spelling does indeed better reflect a voiceless pronunciation, but the alternative spelling is widely used - it is the norm in American English - and some publishing houses have it as part of their house style. It is the primary spelling recognised by the OED, which comments that the 'ss' spelling is 'commonly but irregularly' used in British English.