3

So as I understand it, and please correct me if I'm wrong, using seit with the present tense expresses an action that started in the past and is still continuing in the present (and in English it is the equivalent of using the present perfect tense).

Here's my question. I've come across the following sentence:

Sie haben seit zehn Jahren in Australien gewohnt.

From the way the sentence is used, it is clear they still live in Australia. So why use present perfect here? Wouldn't

Sie wohnen seit zehn Jahren in Australien.

also be correct, if not more so? Does the meaning change and, if so, how?

  • That first sentence is indeed a bit awkward. Present tense is better. But note that an owner of a shop would say "Wir haben seit zehn Jahren geöffnet." but not "Wir öffnen seit zehn Jahren.". – Em1 Jun 29 '17 at 14:50
  • 1
    Note that there is no "present perfect" in the German, it's Perfekt in your first example. I changed the title to that. – Eller Jun 29 '17 at 17:04
  • @Em1 The difference is that "öffnen" is an action of a few seconds or minutes and "geöffnet" in this case describes the result of that action. – Martin Rosenau Jun 29 '17 at 20:10
6

In Germany we are not that picky about tenses. Both sentences mean nearly the same although the first one would somehow be connected to a specific point in time. For example a police officer questioning about an incident 2 weeks ago would ask:

Sie haben [zu dem Zeitpunkt] seit zehn Jahren in Australien gewohnt

This does not say anything about still living in Australia, but the meaning "and still live there" can nevertheless be given in the context of the question and it would still be a valid question.

You are totally correct that the second sentence clearly states that they still live there and would be the more common way to express this question without special connotation.

5

According to my sense of language (as a linguistically and style-wise well-eductated German native speaker):

Sie wohnen seit zehn Jahren in Australien

is a very well-formed sentence, whereas

Sie haben seit zehn Jahren in Australien gewohnt

would most probably be just an ill-formed sentence (probably following the English model), especially if the idea is to express what is better expressed by Sie wohnen seit zehn Jahren in Australien.

Or it is a sentence used in a very unusual and specific context. I tried to find a situation where you would say something like this, but the only thing I could make up so far was a sentence from a novel unwritten:

Sie wohnten bereits seit zehn Jahren in Australien, als sie peu à peu erkannten, dass Känguruhs und Koalabären ihrem Leben auch nicht mehr Sinn einhauchen konnten als Kühe und Eichhörnchen.

But even in this (doubtlessly not very common) example you would rather use seit + Präteritum (wohnten) than seit + Perfekt (gewohnt haben).

(Later note: In Thorsten's answer on this page is an example where seit + Perfekt would indeed work: a formal interrogation by police who try to establish the succession of events. - But I would count this as a "specific and unusal situation" anyway.)

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