I've always thought I should use "for ages" when, for example, I meet a person who I haven't seen for a long time, but recently I came across another expression, "in ages," as in "I haven't seen you in ages."

Is it correct to say this?

  • 6
    both are correct to say and will convey the same meaning.
    – camelbrush
    Apr 15, 2013 at 19:36
  • 7
    They will convey the same meaning in a negative sentence; but in ages and other durational phrases with in (in weeks/months/years/a coon's age/donkey's years) are Negative Polarity Items and can't occur outside the scope of a negative trigger. E.g, I've known him for ages/years/a long time vs ungrammatical *I have seen him in ages/weeks/months/years/a coon's age/donkey's years. Apr 15, 2013 at 20:22

3 Answers 3


While both for and in could be used in the statement you have, in seems to be more prevalent in current usage. However, Google Ngrams indicates that this was not the case always. The use of for in this sentence has declined over time in favour of in.

PS: This is only with reference to negative sentences. Only for is suitable in positive sentences, as John Lawler's comment on polarity item states.


For and in have almost opposite meanings.

For indicates the duration that an activity occurs or a state exists:

  • "Thomas Jefferson has been dead for two centuries."
  • "He was in prison for two years."

In means the duration before some event occurs:

  • "I'll be there in a jiffy."
  • "He was out of prison in two years."

In the discontinuation of a past habitual action, those usages overlap somewhat: we are talking about the length of time that has passed since the event happened, which of course is also the length of time during which the event has not happened.

In does convey the sense of regularity, interrupted regularity in the negative case. For example, if someone belatedly wishes you a happy birthday, you might (sourly) say, "It hasn't been my birthday for two weeks."

In that context, "in" would suggest you are somehow surprised or disappointed that your birthday has not spontaneously reoccurred in that time -- a usage that might be deployed humorously to take the sting out of the remark.


"I haven't seen you for ages" "For ages" meaning a long period of time.

other way means "I haven't seen you for a very long time".

  • Can you please show some support for the difference claimed?
    – Drew
    Nov 27, 2016 at 3:03

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