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The following sentence is from a mathematical lecture note here:

It takes a little bit of getting used to the idea of a function that cannot actually be evaluated at any specific point, but with some practice you will find that it will not cause any significant conceptual difficulty.

Is there anything wrong with this sentence? I guess it is supposed to be "It takes a little bit of time for getting used to the idea...". Any idea for understanding the sentence?

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It could be that it takes a little bit of time, or a little bit of effort or practice...which isn't determined by the phrase. – Oldcat Sep 10 '14 at 17:34
up vote 6 down vote accepted

To get used to something is the act of becoming accustomed or habituated to something. The last entry in an englishgrammarsecrets page about used to says: "We use 'to get used to doing' to talk about the process of something becoming normal for us."

The sentence you ask about says one must get used to some idea about a function, and quantifies how much of the "getting used to" activity is needed, as "a little bit". The grammar is ok, if slightly colloquial.

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It takes a little bit of time for getting used to the idea

It's fine, except you want a purpose infinitive (to get used to ...) instead of a gerund complement. Take can take a gerund, but not in this particular configuration.

  • Skiing takes some getting used to.
  • Skiing takes some time to get used to.
  • *Skiing takes some time for getting used to.

This is, by the way, an extremely complex sentence. The part you're asking about mashes three different idioms together (take = require; a little bit of; get used to) in a very complex pattern with a very specific sense.

The diminutive quantifier in the middle (a little bit of) is just a matter of the speaker turning the volume down, in saying that the amount of accustomization (= getting used to) that something requires (= takes) is small. I.e, it's not that difficult.

That's just the first part of the sentence, note. What it takes some time to understand turns out to be the idea of a function that cannot actually be evaluated at any specific point. Which is enough to give anyone pause, given the usual definitions of function.

This Noun Phrase has

  • an abstract noun describing
  • a function with a special property
  • which is described in a passive clause
  • with an indefinite subject,
  • containing a modal auxiliary (can) and
  • containing a negative (not)
  • which are conjoined and have overlapping scopes.

That's quite a lot of complexity for such a small sentence.

Though that's the way mathematicians talk, all right.

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I'm not a native speaker but I think the idiom isn't about the real time it takes to understand but more about how much you have to bend your mind to accept that such functions exist. – AndreKR Dec 4 '11 at 4:49
Yes, but it uses the idiom "take [time unit]" to express it metaphorically. This then gets shortened to a gerund or noun representing the effort that filled the time. This always indicates that the effect will not happen immediately and that the addressee has to do something. – John Lawler Dec 4 '11 at 16:09

The sentence isn't really wrong, it's just unnecessarily long and reads a bit strange, but it's grammatical.

Were the author to write:

It takes getting used to the idea ...

It would seem like a process where you just snap from not understanding the idea to just understanding it completely. To avoid this and express that it takes time and possibly even after a longer period of time you still don't understand the reason completely, but are gradually getting to the point instead, they wrote what they wrote.

Basically, it says that it takes a little bit of getting used to it, which can be replaced by a little bit of understanding. Similar to:

To understand what Einstein claims in his theory, you don't necessarily need to be the greatest physicist alive. It takes just a little bit of understanding the physics and having a physicist to explain the problem.

Again, it's a bit clumsy, but definitely is not incorrect.

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