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I have a question about the following problem.

Fill the gap with appropriate words from the following options.

It won’t take ( ) 15 minutes to walk there, so put your shoes on and let’s go.

(1) at least, (2) at most, (3) less than, (4) more than.

The answer is (4). What I can’t understand is why (1) is not another answer. ‘at least 15’ means ‘the minimum is 15’, which means ‘more than 15’. Yet, ‘more than’ is correct and ‘at least’ is not. Why?

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    See this Answer from John Lawler to a related question. Texts like He's not at least six foot tall, He has arrived yet, I like that at all, He bothered closing the door, She's all that smart, This will take long are all usually "invalid" in English because they combine a negative context (such as He's not) with a positive polarity construction (such as at least) OR vice-versa a positive context (such as I like that) with a negative polarity construction (such as at all). Apr 28 at 10:53
  • Here's another Answer from John dealing with much the same issue. Apr 28 at 10:58
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    I can't see much of a problem with answer (3) either, as an abbreviated form of 'It will take not less than 15 minutes to walk there, so put your shoes on and let’s go. [We need to get a move on.]' Others might find (3) less acceptable, I realise. Apr 28 at 11:10

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Perhaps this can make it clearer why they're not equivalent:

  • If I say "It will take more than 15 minutes", and someone says "No it won't", they're saying that it will not take more than 15 minutes - i.e. that it will take 15 minutes or less.

  • If I say "It will take at least 15 minutes", and someone says "No it won't", they're saying that it won't necessarily take more than 15 minutes - i.e. they're saying there is a possibility that it will take less, but it could still take more.

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  • Any explanation for downvote?
    – psmears
    Apr 29 at 9:58
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'Won't' is an abbreviation of 'will not'. The sentence 'It will not take at least 15 minutes to walk there, so put your shoes on and let’s go.' is not correct (just reading it aloud shows you that there is a problem with this sentence)
The words 'so put your shoes on and let’s go.' indicates that the speaker is persuading the reluctant listener to go with them.
Thus the usage of 'more than' is correct as the speaker is indirectly saying that 15 minutes is the longest amount of time it could take to reach their destination. That's just the way English is.Some things cannot be said directly.
Strictly speaking we could also use 'less than' which will imply that they will reach their destination in an amount of time that is shorter than and won't surpass 15 minutes. Both 'more than' and 'less than' have more or less the same meaning in this context.
I hope that helps!

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  • Thank you for your answer. Maybe a native English speaker find a problem in the sentence just reading it aloud, but I don’t. In fact, even I feel something is wrong if the gap is filled by ‘at least’, but I don’t know what it is. Both ‘more than 15’ and ‘at least 15’ defines the same range of numbers { x in R | x >15}. What is the difference between the two phrases which makes the sentence correct or not when they are put into the gap?
    – Aki
    Apr 28 at 9:40
  • Your answer basically says "the sentence is wrong because it doesn't sound right". This is not a helpful answer. Further, "more than" and "less than" only mean the same thing if you change the sentence to say "it will take less than" and not "it won't take less than". Apr 28 at 11:06
  • Oh I'm sorry, I just wrote that straight out of my head and didn't read it again properly. Like @Peter Shor said I seem to not have provided a definitive answer. I hope one of the answers here gave you what were looking for.
    – user451922
    Apr 28 at 14:29

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