The Grammarphobia Blog

Confused, until now

Q: I’m an American who teaches at a university in Germany. Some of my students have asked me about the phrase “until now,” which is commonly used in German to signify what in English would be the present perfect progressive. They want to know if it’s acceptable in a sentence like this: “I have not been able to reach the client until now.” Adding “until now” seems terribly redundant to me, but I want to check with an expert before telling them it’s wrong.

A: “Until now” is quite common and perfectly acceptable in English. It’s not only acceptable in the sentence you mention, but deleting it could change the meaning.

The original sentence (“I have not been able to reach the client until now”) implies that the speaker has only now succeeded in reaching the client.

But the stripped-down version you prefer (“I have not been able to reach the client”) implies that the speaker has failed to reach the client.

The form used in the sentence you cited is the present perfect, not the present perfect progressive: “I have [not] been.” It implies action begun in the past and continuing into the present. (An example of the present perfect progressive, using the verb “forget,” would be “I have [not] been forgetting.”)

As for “until now,” yes it’s correct English. There are dozens of examples in the Oxford English Dictionary. The earliest one (using “til” instead of “until”) is from the Wycliffe Bible of 1382, the first English version of the Bible.

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