7

I struggle to understand how to use these two words correctly. I cannot grasp their difference. In these next two sentences I can't see any.

Ich habe vor einem Monat in Graz gewohnt

and

Ich habe seit einem Monat in Graz gewohnt

  • 4
    I honestly don't see how those could possibly be the same. What's your mother tongue? And what does the dictionary say? – Emanuel Jan 9 '15 at 16:34
  • Just saw that you're from Italy... "vor" - "anteriore a, fa"; "seit" - "da, a partire da" – Emanuel Jan 9 '15 at 16:42
  • The sentences I used as examples are wrong. At least the second one, as I understood, is not correct, because I cannot use Perfekt with "seit", it does not fit properly. The fact that I was trying to understand the difference between vor and seit having those "wrong" examples in mind confused me a lot. I think it is not so impossible to get it wrong then.. – E.V. Jan 11 '15 at 11:41
  • "Ich musste 30€ Strafe zahlen, weil ich mich nicht polizeilich gemeldet hatte. Ich habe seit einem Monat in Graz gewohnt." – user unknown Jun 29 '16 at 19:25
16

Vor is used when a spot in time is addressed, but described by an elapsed time span. Seit is used for unfinished time spans, meaning the action is still in progress. It's confusing because it looks similar to the construct "for/since" in English.

Ich habe vor einem Monat in Graz gewohnt.

translates to: I lived in Graz a month ago.

Ich habe seit einem Monat in Graz gewohnt.

sounds odd to me, because habe gewohnt indicates past tense, while seit indicates a present tense. Depending on the meaning I would either say:

Ich habe einen Monat in Graz gewohnt. (I lived for a month in Graz.)

or

Ich lebe seit einem Monat in Graz. (I have been living in Graz for a month.)

  • Could also be "hatte seit * in * gewohnt" and "wohnte seit * in"...(I tried to include the Google result but the link wouldn't work, just copy the phrases from this comment if you're interested). "Seit" does not automatically imply the present. The problem is that "habe" marks it as indeed the present but then it collides with the perfective idea of the past participle. – Emanuel Jan 9 '15 at 18:49
  • There's nothing odd with the past tense - It just means I had been living there for one month at some point in the past. – tofro Apr 7 '17 at 22:17
7

In addition to detailed answers here, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Vor

Ich bin vor 3 Jahren nach Zürich gezogen.

I moved to Zurich 3 years ago. –> This was a single event that happened at a specific point in the past. I’m just relating it to the present by saying “3 years ago” and not “in 2009”.

seit

Ich wohne seit 3 Jahren in Zürich.

I’ve lived in Zurich for 3 years. –> the action of living in Zurich started three years ago and has continued to the present. I still live in Zurich.

source

  • Wir haben 2016 - was hast Du seit 2012 gemacht, Wachkoma? – user unknown Jun 29 '16 at 19:22
  • 1
    :) Exakt. Direkt nach dem Koma bin ich hierher gerannt, um eine Frage zu beantworten. – Ad Infinitum Jun 29 '16 at 20:12
  • Please feel free to upload images you made yourself or that can be published under the creative commons license 3.0 by-sa. – Takkat Apr 7 '17 at 21:37
  • @Takkat Is there any difference between "uploading a picture" with "linking a picture" in terms of licence issues? – Ad Infinitum Apr 8 '17 at 10:23
  • That depends on the license a site has... it is rather complicated, and we all are no lawyers. It is very likely that uploading to Imgur and then linking was not allowed too. If in doubt it is better to not use other people's images. Also see this Meta post for finding images we can safely use. For now I did not remove the links to your images to give you a chance to replace them. Why not quickly draw them yourself? – Takkat Apr 8 '17 at 10:32
5
  1. Vor 20 Jahren stand hier ein Haus. Jetzt ist hier ein Spielplatz.

Hier geht man 20 Jahre zurück zu einem genauen Zeitpunkt in der Vergangenheit.

  1. Ich bin seit 20 Jahren verheiratet.

Hier wird kein Zeitpunkt angegeben, sondern ein Zeitraum/eine Zeitspanne, die angibt, wie lange nun schon.

Englischsprecher können leicht das Englische "for 20 years" (Zeitraum, wie lange nun schon) und das Deutsche "vor 20 Jahren" (zurück zu einem Zeitpunkt) verwechseln.

4

Tense does matter here.

When referring to a specific point in time in the past

  • vor: use it like you would use ago in English. (20 yrs ago … / Vor 20 Jahren …)

    if something began in the past and is still going on (specific point in time)

  • seit: use it like you would use since in English. (since 1958 … / seit 1958 …)

    if something began in the past and is still going on (timespan)

  • seit: use it like you would use for in English. (for 20 yrs now … / seit 20 Jahren …)

So vor is equivalent to ago and seit is equivalent to for/since.

0

"Vor" can be translated as "ago." And refers to a single "point in time."

"Seit" can be translated as "for." And refers to "since the time period, up to the present.

Ich habe vor einem Monat in Graz gewohnt. I lived in Graz one month ago.

Ich habe seit einem Monat in Graz gewohnt. I've lived in Graz for one month, that is, continuing to the present since a month ago.

  • The distinctions are more subtle than this. Germans often give themselves away with inappropriate use of "since". For example "I have lived in London since three years", which should be "for the last three years" or "since three years ago". – Michael Kay Jul 4 '16 at 23:21
  • @MichaelKay: "Seit" can be translated as "for." And refers to "since the time period, up to the present" (mine) corresponds to your construction: "should be "for the last three years" or "since three years ago". We're basically in agreement. – Tom Au Jul 10 '16 at 2:36
  • Your interpretation of the last sentence is wrong. The sentence does not say "continuing to the present since then" – tofro Apr 8 '17 at 17:39
  • @tofro: OK, changed it to "since a month ago" for clarity. – Tom Au Apr 8 '17 at 17:56

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