[Grammar] "How long have you..."

beachboy

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What should I consider when choosing which question to ask?

- 1) Rick, how long have you lived in this house?
- 2) Rick, how long have you been living in this house?

- 3) How long have you and Jane gone out together?
- 4) How long have you and Jane been going out together?
 

GoesStation

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There's no significant difference in meaning between 1 and 2. Number 3 is less likely than number 4.

[EDIT] The continuous tense is more natural for the situation in 3 and 4 because "going out" is a repeated, habitual activity. "Living" is a continuous process which (even though you'd think a "continuous" tense would be perfect) can be described equally well with the simple past or present perfect continuous tense.
 

bhaisahab

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What should I consider when choosing which question to ask?

- 1) Rick, how long have you lived in this house?
- 2) Rick, how long have you been living in this house?

- 3) How long have you and Jane gone out together?
- 4) How long have you and Jane been going out together?
1, 2, and 4 are all OK. 3 doesn't work for me.
 

beachboy

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There's no significant difference in meaning between 1 and 2. Number 3 is less likely than number 4.

Why, GoesStation? What would the problem with number 3 be?
 

beachboy

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GoesStation

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beachboy

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What if sentences 3 and 4 were:

3) How long haven't you and Jane gone out together?
4) How long haven't you and Jane been going out together?


Would sentence 3 have the same problem if it were in the negative?
 

GoesStation

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That's a tough one. Neither is particularly natural. You might hear "How long has it been since you and Jane went out?" or "...since you were going out with Jane?" The first is asking specifically how much time has elapsed since your last date with Jane. The second, which will have the same answer, asks how much time has elapsed since the end of the period during which you and Jane were dating.
 

beachboy

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That's a tough one. Neither is particularly natural. You might hear "How long has it been since you and Jane went out?" or "...since you were going out with Jane?" The first is asking specifically how much time has elapsed since your last date with Jane. The second, which will have the same answer, asks how much time has elapsed since the end of the period during which you and Jane were dating.

Is the question "how long haven't you......." usually unnatural? Or just in sentences like those above? If so, could you show me some natural exemples of questions with the expression, and what makes them natural?
 
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GoesStation

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Is the question "how long haven't you......." usually unnatural?

Yes. The listener has to perform some mental gymnastics to parse it. People usually use more words when forming negative questions.
 

TheParser

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What should I consider when choosing which question to ask?

NOT A TEACHER


1. "I've been living in Sue's flat for the last month."

a. "We often prefer the present perfect progressive to talk about more temporary actions and situations."

2. "My parents have lived in Bristol all their lives."

a "[W]hen we talk about longer lasting or permanent situations we often prefer the simple present perfect."


Michael Swan, Practical English Usage (1995), entry 420.6 on page 426.
 
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