I came across these two examples, given to illustrate 'a case' where the inclusion of the preposition for is considered optional in the paper "Acquisition of Preposition Deletion by Non-native Speakers of English" by the authors Jae-Min Kim and Gil-Soon Ahn (in §2, on p.3):

a. We have lived here (for) 12 years.

b. I've studied English (for) ten years.

Though I have no problems with either version of the (a) sentence, omitting the preposition in (b) sounds unacceptable to me.

Is this regional?

Is acceptability influenced by

  1. the size of the DO (/locative / PP / ...) between the verb and the time phrase
  2. the actual verb used


Please note: The referenced paper is very useful, but contains a few expressions that need minor corrections – possibly translation errors.

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    I can't answer your more technical questions on the niceties of usage, but "I've studied English 10 years" sounds perfectly fine to my ear, and I've heard people say similar things (AmE).
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 26, 2014 at 10:46
  • You technowizzes amaze me. My attempts at hot-linking to a pdf article seem always to collapse. (You've prettified it too.) Though omitting the (1) from the quoted questions won't help people find them. Aug 26, 2014 at 11:04
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    Edwin, these days, people typically use their PDF reader software's built-in text search function (CTRL+F) to locate quoted passages or any known text. That said, if you prefer, I can go read the linked paper and edit a more direct reference (chapter/section/page) into your question.
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 26, 2014 at 11:44
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    I was just giving the reason why I included it. Do PDF reader software's built-in functions correct dodgy translations? Do you come in black? Aug 26, 2014 at 13:12
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    Wasn't it cunning of me to put 'pronoun' instead of 'preposition' so that this would be revisited! Though the philanthropy is purely FF's. "I'm having a toffee a minute" would surely normally be read as 60 toffees per hour. Jan 13, 2016 at 19:48

4 Answers 4


Some personal observations that won't fit in a comment box. Firstly, as a rule of thumb it seems better to use such noun phrase Adjuncts of duration (i.e. those which occur with numbers, e.g. five minutes, three days, a year) with stative verbs, verbs that describe situations and not real actions:

  • I've lived here three years.
  • I've been in the marines five months.
  • I've had this car seven days.
  • I've known Ben three months.
  • I've only owned this five minutes.

These usages are more common, I believe, in American English than in British English. However, in British English they seem massively improved if there is another preposition phrase after the duration phrase. One example is the word now:

  • I've lived here three years now.
  • I've been in the marines five months now.
  • I've had this car seven days now.
  • I've known Ben three months now.
  • I've owned this ring five minutes now.

Notice that we shouldn't confuse these duration Adjuncts NPs with temporal NPs functioning as the Complement of a verb. Several verbs take such NPs as a Complement:

  • I waited five minutes before leaving.
  • I stayed five months at that hotel.
  • The film lasted three hours.
  • Your first two sections are valuable. I'm still trying to differentiate structures in say 'I've lived forty years in this town' / 'I've been forty years in this town' / 'I've been here forty years' / 'I stayed at that hotel' / 'I stayed five months at that hotel' / 'I stayed for five months at that hotel'. Jan 18, 2016 at 15:08
  • @EdwinAshworth I don't have proper answers, I'm afraid. Just these feeble observations. I'm hoping someone will sneak an answer in before the two days is up ... Jan 18, 2016 at 15:21
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    I thought I'd managed to sort out the 'direct object, complement type A, complement type B, or something requiring a different classification?' problem after reading Aarts, De Mattia-Viviès and others, but I've met conflicting analyses since reading those works. 'He changed trains' and 'The piano had a stool' are classic DO-lookalike examples. Jan 18, 2016 at 15:36
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    @EdwinAshworth Here's a noteworthy answer to a somewhat similar question on ELL.
    – Færd
    Jan 19, 2016 at 18:15

I will give you some highly non-technical reason why it sounds correct in some sentences and not others. Mostly it just has to do with the way the brain processes information and not what is grammatically correct.

In very short sentences 'for' becomes a filler word. For most adults short sentences without detail where expected can seem incomplete. (Particularly in the case where a quantity could be reasonably expected.) When faced with what we perceive as an incomplete thought or concept we attempt to search for the missing information. This momentary search is what causes the dissonance when reading these sentences. The inclusion of the preposition 'for' is a momentary break from the flow of the sentence and it signals as hint to our brain that there is no missing information. (Our brain does not need to search for a specific detail on quantity, 'for' indicates there will not any.) To illustrate you can replace 'for' with any abstract concept of quantity that will server the same purpose such as 'many' or or 'most' or 'few' and hear how they still sound correct (although now conveying slightly different meanings).

I suffered years.
I suffered for years.
I suffered many years.
I suffered most years.

We tried years to get pregnant.
We tried for years to get pregnant.
We tried many years to get pregnant.
We tried most years to get pregnant.

The key reason for all of this is trickery going on in our brain is that 'for' acts as a substantive modifier. Without we are momentarily left questioning the concrete existence of the noun being modified, and our brain is left looking for more.

In the OP's original examples the inclusion of specific quantities is exactly the reason why the inclusion of "for" becomes unnecessary.

The reason 'for' works particularly well is that it is a very vague concept of quantity. It also happens to have a unique quality, in that it happens to sound (even when read) like a very specific quantity i.e. "four" the number. In fact in casual conversation you would be forgiven for interpreting it as such.

"I suffered for years."
"Well I hope your fifth year is better."

In longer sentences, "for" functions to bridge the phrase across the entire sentence. The further from the subject the harder the phrase will be to interpret the without some form of phrase modifier. In this case it is functioning to pull the phrase together.

I suffered years.
I suffered for years.

I suffered the slings and arrows of fortune, years.
I suffered the slings and arrows of fortune for years.

"Oh well, only 4 years, that's not too bad."

In fact you will note that on the longer example to get the first phrase to sound even remotely correct it becomes necessary to force the inclusion of a pause. (Try reading it it without the comma.)

  • 'I have lived here 4 years' and certainly 'I have been here 4 years' sound an awful lot better to my ears than 'I have studied here 4 years' and certainly 'I have shopped here 4 years'. I can't see how this answer addresses that. Jan 13, 2016 at 23:44
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    @Edwin: Dunno if it's because we're both BrE, but I tend to share your live/study distinction, which suggests the specific verb does affect acceptability. But I suspect Justin may well be on the track of something here. To me, I lived a year in Paris is "okay-ish" as a standalone utterance, whereas I studied a year in Paris is decidedly "iffy". Doubtless because I'm half expecting study to be a transitive usage, and I studied French in Paris is "unproblematic". As soon as you hear for after the verb you know it's an adverbial phrase, not an object. Jan 14, 2016 at 13:37
  • @FF I suspect that this needs a doctoral thesis. Perhaps I ought to close-vote as too broad. Jan 14, 2016 at 17:23

Omitting the preposition is acceptable and commonplace in the US:

I have worked here five years.

and without a direct object:

The tree has been growing five hundred years.


For very short sentences or durations without a specific value, it is more common to include the for

I suffered for years.

We tried for years to get pregnant.

rather than:

I suffered years.

We tried years to get pregnant.

  • Thanks, but can you give some further examples please, Gary's S? What about after less common verbs (She's been knitting three hours / he's been trekking two weeks / they've been investigating several weeks), weightier DOs (She studied the archaeological remains of the site El Cabo in the Dominican Republic seven years), and other weightier intervening strings (We have lived in this disease-ridden, snake-infested place that is not even on the USGS maps 12 years)? Aug 26, 2014 at 13:29
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    @EdwinAshworth It is actually very short sentences or sentences without specific duration that profit by including the for. See my EDIT Aug 26, 2014 at 13:34
  • Gary, I think you're on to something, but the question is about omitting "for" before a quantified timespan. Without the quantification, none of the examples seem particularly problematic. Can you include some quantified examples in your elaboration on "short sentences"?
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 26, 2014 at 14:06
  • @DanBron I'll have to do some research. Aug 26, 2014 at 15:51
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    There is the disambiguation effected by 'I worked days at the sewage plant' versus 'I worked for days at the sewage plant'. Jan 13, 2016 at 19:52

I don't think it's an omission. It's a different case, is all.


We have lived here for 12 years.


We have lived here 12 years.

Your second example group is less receptive of the Instrumental Case than the first one.

  • I think living here simply isn't "receptive" to the instrumental case because of the semantics, irrespective of the preposition. You don't "use" either the place to do the living, or the living to be at a place. Jan 20, 2016 at 2:53

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