English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top
  • How long has your sister played the harp?
  • For almost five years.

Can I leave off "for" here or it will sound strange then?

share|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Certainly you can leave off the "for" in that sentence.

Leaving out syntactic elements is called ellipsis and is well known and understood. You're already using ellipsis by constructing the answer as a sentence fragment anyway. "For almost five years" is understood to mean "My sister has played the harp for almost five years."

You could even just say "Five years" and your meaning would be clear.

share|improve this answer
I see, thank you. – brilliant Mar 20 '11 at 13:24
surely leaving out the “almost” changes the meaning in a way that leaving out “My sister has played the harp [for]” doesn’t? – PLL Mar 20 '11 at 14:24
@PLL Well a face of deep thought like that of leonardo de caprio + "five years" would suffice (humor) – basarat Mar 20 '11 at 18:47
@PLL: That depends. If "almost" means four years and eleven months, can't one round up that extra month? In any case, the question is not about meaning, it is about ellipsis. And if you want to leave words out, I would think "years and 11 months" are certainly not out of place on the chopping block. Just like "almost". It depends on how precise one needs to be. – Robusto Mar 20 '11 at 18:52

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.