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I was speaking with my friend (neither of us is English native speaker) and regarding his relationships, I used the following:

Some battles take long to win

I have never heard that or been able to google it so I doubt it is correct. What would be the correct sentence to express this meaning?

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closed as off topic by RegDwigнt Jul 9 '12 at 14:27

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

Grammatically there's nothing wrong with your sentence and you can safely claim it correct.

There might be a reason why you're in doubt: you may be inclined to expect a noun in the second part of the sentence, like this:

Some battles take a long sword to win.

I repeat, this may only be a novice's doubt. If you want to completely avoid this, add too, like this:

Some battles take too long to win.

This sounds more natural.

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If you were to suggest modification to the sentence, how about "Some battles take a long time to win." This would be identical to the original meaning. – Tolerance72 Jul 9 '12 at 12:37
@Tolerance72: it definitely would, I just suppose OP wanted to avoid using "time" completely for some reason. – RiMMER Jul 9 '12 at 12:39

The fixed phrases take long and last long (with long only, as opposed to quantified time expressions like so long, as long, that long, two hours, all day, etc.) are Negative Polarity Items.

This means take long is in fact not grammatical outside the scope of a semantic negative. The last example sentence in Tolerance72's answer is grammatical with take long because of the negative; all the other examples in answers (so far, anyway) don't use this fixed phrase.

So *Some battles take long to win is ungrammatical.

There are a lot of NPIs and they have different properties -- they're idiomatic as hell. In particular, last long requires a fairly strong negative field, especially when separated from the negative element.

For instance, only, would rather, and doubt are all negative triggers, but only doubt can trigger the NPI take long (the first three examples below are ungrammatical), and then only in the last sentence, where it's contained in a negatively-entailed clause (i.e, Bill doesn't believe it took long):

  • *Only Bill thinks it’ll take long.
  • *He would rather forget about it than take long.
  • *She doubts Bill's claim that it took long.
  • She doubts that Bill believes it took long.

More examples of this phenomenon are available in this puzzle, and this encyclopedia article covers the subject broadly but briefly.

Executive Summary: When a word or phrase sounds funny like this, check for NPIs.

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Your original sentence is grammatically perfect, and needs no modification. It is a little poetic, but well-suited to the topic.

Some battles take long to win.

The reason your phrasing is poetic, is because "to take long" is not usually used in isolation. For some reason, "to take long" usually has some sort of qualification..

to take so long : "Yesterday's battle took so long to win!"

to take as long : "Will this battle may take as long to win as yesterday's battle?"

not [to] take long : "No, this battle won't take long to win."

The use of "take long" has been covered on english.stackexchange before, in a different context. You will see that one respondent found "take long" without a qualifier to be "questionable," but another agrees with me that it is fine.

“Take long/longer/less long”

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