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The phrase "it was a long time turning" is found in the following sentence:

Owing to the roughness of the sea, the steamer arrived late, when the sun had already gone down, and it was a long time turning before it tied up.

  • Чехов, Антон Павлович. 2008. Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories, Second Edition (Norton Critical Edition). W. W. Norton & Company.

I would like to understand the grammar that enables its use. This sounds a bit strange to me. After all, we don't say such things as:

"I was hungry, and I was a long time eating before I got full."

Or do we?

We do have the common idiom "it was a long time coming." However, its idiomaticity is granted through wide usage. The topic sentence above is not so widely used. I therefore hesitate to consider it an idiom.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. May 28, 2020 at 20:00
  • After all, we don't say such things as: "I was hungry, and I was a long time eating before I was full." ... I do...
    – Greybeard
    May 30, 2020 at 8:04

2 Answers 2

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It was a long time comming is not an idiom and there are plenty of examples that have a long time as an adjunct that comes between a form of be and the gerund-participle (-ing form)

A sample from the Corpus of Historical American English

Pretty Betsy Canning was a long time finding out that Husband Alec was not the man she thought she married. (Time Magazine: 1937/04/05)

Preach was a long time recovering from this 1946 injury. (Saturday Evening Post: 2/3/1951, Vol. 223 Issue 32, p30-67, 5p)

She was a long time milking the cows; her hands were so tired she had often to stop and rest them, while the tears fell unheeded into the pail. (Other Main-Travelled Roads; Garland, Hamlin, 1860-1940)

Brin was a long time responding. (Wishsong of Shannara , Terry Brooks, 1985)

Ella was a long time coaxing Rancie to be friends, because the child was wild and shy. (Harpers Magazine (1935-04) pages: 525-532)

We understand most of these either as late or for a long time.

Similar constructions with noun phrases as adjuncts of duration exist as well:

They were five days finding parts to rebuild the engine. (The Hotel New Hampshire, John Irving, 1981)

An English family by the name of Bancroft, who had been seven weeks crossing the ocean in a sailing-vessel, had located and started a real greenhouse. (Song of Years , Bess Streeter Aldrich, 1939)

Do not let us assume that this is the bill for a long, active operation; we were two days fighting and previously we had been one week bombing (House of Commons, army_supplementary_estimate_1956)

Although it may not be common, this construction has been in use for some time.

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I feel the question was answered by way of comment. However, that comment has been moved to chat so I think it's best to just copy that comment here. Thanks to the user -DW256- for his illuminating examples showing the construction having a settled history of usage. More pertinent to my question however is the parsing of the sentence. The user -Tinfoil Hat- supplied that information:

The ship was a long time turning. --> The ship was turning a long time. Turn is the verb, in its past progressive form (was turning). A long time functions adverbially to modify that verb (and it's okay that it's a noun phrase doing that).

Compare adverbial nouns here

Unless anyone has any corrections to make, this seems to me the correct answer.

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