Some expressions in English can be hard to phrase, and you might be wondering how you’re supposed to use them. Should you use “in the past few years”? Or is “over the past few years” better? It can be hard to say, but this article will answer these questions.
Both “in the past few years” and “over the past few years” are grammatically correct and valid expressions. The differences lie in how you would use them. The former implies several individual incidents in the past few years, the latter implies a continuous process occurring during the last few years.
They are often used interchangeably, as these specific nuances will not apply to every use that they see. However, that is the main difference between how you can use either expression.
“In the past few years” is the perfect expression to talk about one or more incidents that have occurred to you or that you have been involved in, during recent times. You may use it freely in several contexts, and it’s a very useful expression.
Using “in the past few years”, you’re talking about individual events that don’t constitute part of a larger process. If they did, it’s a sentence where you can use “over the past few years” instead.
Here are some examples that will show you how to use “in the past few years” in a sentence:
- In the past few years I have driven to the post office two times only, because it’s far away.
- In the past few years I saw her three times, each time at John’s birthday party in December.
- He hasn’t seen her once in the past few years, so he’s wondering about how she is right now.
- I don’t think I have driven my car more than once in the past few years.
- They have come by two times in the past few years, each time they were uninvited.
“Over the past few years” is an expression that is used to talk about several incidents that have occurred in recent years. You use “over the past few years” specifically talking about events that continue from each other.
When you have an ongoing process of events, you can use “over the past few years” to reflect how that process has come along.
These examples are going to showcase how to use “over the past few years” in a sentence:
- Over the past few years I have been writing a novel, doing one chapter per month.
- I have tried to get my license renewed over the past few years, with no luck yet.
- Over the past few years I’ve bumped into them only twice at parties, and never again.
- Over the past few years I have slowly realized that I am not someone who is happy.
- He has written, directed and edited his own television show over the past few years.
According to data compiled by the Google Ngram Viewer, “over the past few years” holds a small but significant lead over “in the past few years”, as of information from the year 2019.
Analyzing the data is incredibly interesting, because it showcases that from the year 1900 to the year 1986, “in the past few years” was the more popular option.
However, in 1940 “over the past few years” started slowly growing in popularity, and by 1986 it had surpassed “in the past few years”.
Although both expressions have decreased in popularity since 1986, “over the past few years” maintains its small lead over “in the past few years”.
It’s hard to say exactly why “over the past few years” surpassed “in the past few years” in such a dramatic fashion, or why both expressions have been consistently more unpopular as the decades pass.
“In the past few years” and “over the past few years” are extremely similar expressions. While the former refers to individual incidents and the latter refers to a continuous process, they can very much be interchangeable with each other, depending on what the context is.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.