I recently got a message that says
Haven't heard anything from you in a while.
I always thought that the right way to say this would be to use for insdead of in. Are both versions correct? Would there be a difference in meaning?
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I'm trying to capture a vague idea floating in my head. Not sure I can explain adequately.
First off, both "in a while" and "for a while" are grammatical and idiomatic per se. However, to me, "for a while" would mean that their hearing from you is an ongoing process, which you interrupted for some time — or well, for a while —, but then resumed. Which is not what the sentence is supposed to express.
What you want instead is "in a while", which also means "for some period of time" but without implying that the contact has been re-established already, or indeed ever will be. Which is the whole point of that sentence, after all. It's just a reminder that it should be.
So I would most definitely say, "Haven't heard anything from you in a while".
This might be just my dialect/idiolect, though. I haven't checked any corpora.
The sentence you give should be:
"Haven't heard anything from you in a while."
"Haven't heard anything from you for a while."
No difference in meaning in this case, at least, not to my knowledge in American English, and not in my idiolect. But there would in these cases:
I'll give this to you in a while. [Not now, but maybe tonight or next week.]
I'll give this to you for a while. [You can have it for a week or maybe a month, but then I want it back.]
The distinction between for
Duration and in
Duration depends on where the Reference Time is. Reference time is an
Instant in time, not a
Duration is measured from it.
Durationrefers to a time period
Durationlong that ends at the Reference Time
Durationrefers to a time period
Durationlong that begins at the Reference Time.
These phrases have similar meanings. They are not usually interchangeable, but there's one exception.
This phrase indicates a limited, continuous time period. If you go on vacation for a week, you will be gone continuously until a week has passed and then return.
If you won't return from vacation for a week, you will be absent for a week and then return. This usage implies a definite end to the period, although the exact timing may be vague (a while).
If you haven't seen him for a week, then he was absent for that duration. Because for indicates a limited time, this often implies that the absence has ended (as RegDwighт suggests). However, when talking about a fixed time leading up to the present, it may simply note that the time period has ended, not the action.
This phrase indicates a time some distance away – usually, but not always, in the future. If you go on vacation in a week, you will not leave until a week from now.
If you won't return from vacation in a week, then you will still be gone a week from now, with no indication of when you will actually return. This usage typically indicates a deviation from plans or expectations: We can't get the job done in a month.
If you haven't seen him in a week, then he disappeared a week before now. This usage indicates a time some distance in the past. There is no implication that the period has ended.
For the example in the question, haven't for a while and haven't in a while are roughly interchangeable. For carries a weak implication that the absence has ended; in does not.
Correct Standard English dictates:
- We shall see each other for a long time/for seven days.
- We shall see each other in two days' time/in a short while.
If the action or non-action belongs in the past and continues in the present, then it is more fluent Standard English to use for:
I haven't seen you for a while/for a long time.
[= It has been a while/a long time since I saw you.]
If the action belongs in the future, then, and only then, is "in a while" correct.
I have not heard from you for a while.
I shall not hear from you in a while.