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We say: "the meeting will last two hours". But we say: "how long does the flight take?" Please let me know the difference between last and take and when we should use each.

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5 Answers 5

Both "take " and "last " are used to indicate the duration of an event. I think "take" is generally used to refer to a delay before you get the expected outcome, while "lasts" is used when the benefit (or pain) is ongoing.

Like, "It takes six months to get an application approved." As far as the applicant is concerned, nothing productive happens in that six months. He's just waiting for the end. But, "The flavor of the chewing gum lasted for an hour." You got the flavor all along. "From when we first saw the clouds, it took four hours for the rain to start. Once it started, it lasted two hours." It "took" time before it started; but once it started it "lasted".

Like I once heard a joke that went like this: The motor vehicle bureau has announced a 15% increase in the cost of all license renewals. But, they assure customers, they will get more for their money. In the future, all visits to the motor vehicle bureau will last 15% longer.

To ruin a joke by explaining it: The humor of this joke keys on the word "last". We don't think of a visit to a bureaucracy as an event to be desired for itself. So it "takes time" -- we have to sit and wait. By saying it will "last longer" it implies that the visit is something fun that you want to do, like going to an amusement park.

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Time is not something people can talk about without metaphors. The constructions

  1. <Event> take <Measure of Duration>

  2. <Event> last <Measure of Duration>

use different metaphors, with different affordances and assumptions.

(1) is the Subtraction metaphor that is prominent in the Time is Money theme,

  • A jawbreaker takes a dollar. ~ It takes a dollar for a jawbreaker.
  • A jawbreaker costs a dollar. ~ It costs a dollar for a jawbreaker.
  • He spent a dollar on a jawbreaker.

though this doesn't allow cost, because the TIM metaphor doesn't metaphorize cost, only spend. (the reason why is in the paper if anybody is interested.)

  • A haircut takes an hour. ~ It takes an hour for a haircut.
  • *A haircut costs an hour. ~ *It costs an hour for a haircut.
  • He spent an hour on a haircut.

Basically, this is useful when one wishes to refer to the extent that doing something detracts from the time at one's disposal, rather like subtracting cost from available cash.

(2), on the other hand, is part of the Time is a Journey metaphor theme, where last has its usual meaning of 'final, terminal, opposite of first'.

To last, as a verb with a quantified temporal adjunct (i.e, an hour) is not the direct object of last, because it can't Passivize:

  • The meeting lasted three hours. ~ *Three hours were lasted by the meeting ),

means to continue moving (metaphorically) for some distance (= time), until reaching the end of whatever event is the subject of last. It doesn't behave at all the same way as take:

  • A haircut lasts an hour. ~ *It lasts an hour for a haircut.

and there are several other motion predicates one can use instead of last:

  • The meeting ran (on) (for)/went (on) (for)/continued (for) three hours.

This construction with last seems to refer to a limit on one's duration during the event, whereas with take it seems to refer to a limit on one's available time for the event.

  • He lasted until the third lap, but then a tire blew.
  • He took way too long to get to the turn.
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You use take to state how long is needed to complete an activity. Your focus is on the end point or achieving a goal.

  • It took me 2 hours to get to the theater.

You use last when your focus is on the duration of an activity; the end of the activity is not the reason why the activity is undertaken.

  • The play lasted 3 hours.
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In this context, "take" and "last", both refer to a specific amount of time.

Take: require or use up (a specified amount of time)

  • The jury took an hour and a half to find McPherson guilty.

  • It takes me about a quarter of an hour to walk to work

Last: (of a process, activity, or state of things) continue for a specified period of time.

  • The guitar solo lasted for twenty minutes.

  • The play didn't last more than ten minutes.

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If you use "take," I believe you are implying that you are directly involved. The meeting can take two hours, and you'll probably be quite bored. If it lasts two hours, you're probably waiting for it to end so you can talk to someone else who happens to be in the meeting.

Events "last." People "take." Even if you say "It takes 3 hours to drive to Philly," you are referring to a person doing the driving. Or flying, in your example.

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4  
"It takes 3 million years for a supernova to end." (Probably not accurate.) I don't think the distinction you've made exists. –  Matthew Read Jun 27 '12 at 21:16

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