How long phrases and rules

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Many learners find it difficult to discuss the time, especially how long something has happened. We understand this challenge since there are several used for this purpose. Each of them is suitable for particular occasions, and the correct choice is the most common mistake in this case. In this article, you will learn how to speak about the duration of activities.

For and Since

For and since are mistakenly used interchangeably because some learners think that they serve the same purpose. However, there is a slight difference.

Speaking about how long something had happened, the word “for” is used to speak directly about the duration of an action or state. It doesn’t indicate a specific moment in time when something began. Here are some examples:

  • I have lived here for ten years.
  • She has been reading for two hours.

On the contrary, “since” points to a specific moment when the action began, but it doesn’t mention the duration. For instance:

  • I have lived here since 2010.
  • She has been reading since 8 p.m.

Learners often confuse duration and the starting point. It leads to mistakes in using “since” and “for.” To avoid this error, remember that “for” equals the length of time and “since” equals the starting point. Also, pay attention to contextual cues. Very often, they clearly indicate what you should emphasize.


From and To/Until

“From” and “to/until” are used when you need to specify the starting and the finishing point of an action or state. The structure itself looks simple, but there are some pitfalls, so every learner should understand the rules to avoid mistakes. 

  1. From in the sentences is used to indicate the beginning of any activity. 
  2. To is used mostly in formal contexts. It is highly focused on the ending point of a range.
  3. Until is used in both formal and informal contexts and emphasizes continuity up to the end.

Here are some examples:

  • The conference runs from Monday to Friday.
  • She studied from morning until night.

One of the most common mistakes is using “to” and “until” interchangeably to say how long something had happened. Although you will be understood in both cases, we recommend always paying attention to context and formality. When you want to focus on the ending point, use “to.” If you want to emphasize the duration of the activity, use “until.”

In some cases, “from” might be dropped off. Here are some examples:

  • I will be working until the evening.
  • The library is open until 5 p.m.

Such usage may be applied only with “until” and when the starting point is not an important fact for a conversation. Otherwise, your interlocutors may be confused.

Discovering 'How Long' Phrases and Rules

List of Phrases to Speak about Duration

“Since,” “for,” “from,” and “to/until” are basic words for speaking about activity duration. However, many additional words, noun phrases, and idioms are used in such sentences to provide a deeper context.

Noun PhraseSuitable PrepositionMeaningExample Sentence
The crack of dawnsinceFrom the very beginning of the day"He's been working since the crack of dawn."
The break of dayfrom...untilFrom sunrise to a specified time"She walks her dog from the break of day until breakfast."
The early hourssinceFrom the early part of the morning"I've been awake since the early hours."
Mid-morningfrom...toFrom the middle part of the morning"We were in a meeting from mid-morning to lunchtime."
NoonsinceFrom 12:00 PM"She's been out since noon."
AfternoonforDuring the period of the day after noon"He's been studying for the entire afternoon."
EveningsinceFrom the end of the afternoon to nighttime"They've been watching movies since the evening."
Nightfallfrom...untilFrom the time when it gets dark"The city lights up from nightfall until dawn."
MidnightsinceFrom 12:00 AM"We've been chatting since midnight."
The wee hourssinceFrom the very late night to early morning"She's been working on her project since the wee hours."
The stroke of midnightfrom...toFrom exactly 12:00 AM"The celebration runs from the stroke of midnight to dawn."
The end of the daybyBy the conclusion of the day"I need this done by the end of the day."
The turn of the weeksinceFrom the beginning of the week"He's been on vacation since the turn of the week."
The outset of the yearsinceFrom the start of the year"They've been implementing changes since the outset of the year."
The close of the monthbyBy the end of the month"We aim to finish the project by the close of the month."

This list is non-exhaustive. Remember at least some of these phrases to enrich your vocabulary and avoid repetitions in your speaking.


Now you understand the rules of speaking about how long something happened. Practice these structures and noun phrases to make them a natural part of your vocabulary. 

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