Recently a client of mine lost his job. Well, he didn’t really, but when he was talking about his work, he left out a word which made him unemployed.

He said this:

‘I love my company. I worked there for 3 years.’

If you say ‘I worked’, this means that you NO LONGER work there. You’ve lost your job, found another one, or retired (because you won the Nigerian lottery).

What he meant was:

‘I love my company. I’ve worked there for 3 years.’

We use ‘have worked’ when we are still working there. You could also say ‘have been working’ as an option here, although that does not work with all verbs. (You can’t say, for example, ‘I’ve been knowing him for several years’. I mean, you CAN say that, but people will look at you funny.)

The message of the day is this:
If you are talking about an action that is finished, over, history, you don’t use ‘have’ or ‘has’ before the form of the verb. (This is quite different to Dutch, which is why so many people make this mistake.)

Here are some examples, taken from my own life:
‘I lived in New York before I came to the Netherlands.’
‘I had a wonderful oat milk latte yesterday.’ (Actually, I had two.)
‘I worked at Regina Coeli, ‘de nonnetjes van Vught’, from 1991-2001.

These things are all done and dusted.
Here are some other examples, of things which are NOT finished. Either the action or the time period is still continuing:

‘I have lived in the Netherlands since 1991.’
‘I have worked for myself for 16 years.’
‘I have seen 4 clients so far this week.’

If you want to ask a question about something that is finished, use DID:

‘How long did you work for Philips before you started at Shell?’

If you want to ask about something that is NOT finished, use HAVE or HAS (plus the past form of the verb):

“How long have you worked for Shell?’

Once someone asked me ‘How long did you know your husband?’ which made me sad because they just killed him.

Don’t be a murderer.
Don’t make yourself unemployed.

GOOD GRAMMAR SAVES LIVES AND JOBS!

With love,
X buffi (who is still alive and would like to keep it that way for a very, very long time – so I can keep teaching you!)