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01 January 2013

Grammar: Since Three Years Ago

“I have studied English since three years ago.”
Is this correct or incorrect? 

The problem is that many electronic English dictionaries, may it be Korean-made, Chinese-made and Japanese-made, have entries that indicate that “since three years ago” is correct.
Some students have also informed me that they have heard native English speakers used expressions like “since three years ago.”

First, we have to consider that not everything that is published is correct and not all authoritative publications are correct.  They also make mistakes.

Secondly, native speakers also make grammar mistakes. That is the reason that they have formal education so that they can learn about standard grammar.  I am a Filipino and when I speak Filipino, it is not always the standard formal Filipino; I usually commit many grammar errors.  Since I use Filipino to speak to my friends and colleagues on a daily basis and in mostly informal setting, my Filipino is very informal and sometimes I use expressions that are non-standard. It is also the same with English.  Just listening to native speakers speak in English does not guarantee that you are learning formal English. You are still learning English but it is not necessarily the same English that Ernest Hemingway used in his novel or the same English that Kazuo Ishiguro have used in his novel.   

Bottom line, “since three years ago” and other similar expressions (since + X + ago) are grammatically incorrect in formal English. Perhaps in spoken English, "since + X + ago" is acceptable but it is non-standard. 

How is “Since” used?
Since /sɪns/ functions as a preposition, a conjunction and an adverb

A. As a preposition to indicate start of time (usually in the past up to the present period)


- She has been ill since this morning
- The woman has lived in this house since she was born.

B. As a conjunction similar to “because” but “since” is used when the reason is not the most important part of the sentence or the reason is already known.

- Since the meeting was cancelled; the employees have decided to discuss other important matters.

C. As an adverb of time
- I had a long meeting with him last January but I have not talked to him ever since.

Oxford Dictionary has an entry for “since” which is similar to “ago” but the form is “long since.”
“The settlement had vanished long since 1 which is similar to saying “The settlement vanished a long time ago.” 

Again, “since” and “ago” can never be together because they indicate two different time.

If you say “I have studied English since three years ago,” it is like saying “I have studied yesterday and now.”  You cannot mix time markers using one verb.

How do you fix the sentence below:
I have studied English since three years ago.

Correct: I have studied English for three years.
Correct: I have studied English since 2009
Correct: I first started studying English three years ago.

(1)  “Since," 2011, (accessed July 18, 2011).


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