I remember my high school teacher explicitly saying that

it took me a long time to do x

was the correct form and

I took a long time to do x

was not. In recent years, I seem to remember hearing the latter quite often in common language, though.

How applicable is the latter phrase compared to the former (a) in everyday speech and (b) in essay writing?

  • "I took" seems to be taking responsibly more strongly than "it took me": the latter suggests it was the task's fault. I've no idea why your teacher would want you to evade responsibility.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 18, 2023 at 16:23

1 Answer 1


Merriam-Webster arguably lists the sense of the highly polysemous verb 'take' used in the first example:

take [10]e(2): to use up (space, time, etc.) [require]

  • it takes a long time to dry

Collins Cobuild ALD also gives examples close to the first sentence, adding no usage caveats:

to take time [phrase]: If you say that something will take time, you mean that it will take a long time.

  • Change will come, but it will take time.
  • It takes [people] time to build up intimacy.

But the inclusion of what is arguably a direct object before the time phrase and to-infinitival is also common:

  • It took a long time to build these huge buildings.
  • It took Roman architects a long time to build these huge buildings.

Essentially, an optional by-phrase is involved; getting rid of the it-clefts:

  • A long time was taken to build these huge buildings.
  • A long time was taken by the Romans to build these huge buildings.

The specification of whose time was taken up is grammatically unnecessary. Though of course, this information could well be important.


'Someone took a long time [to do something]' means that an undertaking is completed by that person only after a (relatively) long time, whether that was necessary or by choice. Examples from the internet are:

  • We took a long time to recover from that. Ludwig Guru [necessary time]
  • They took a long time to read the story. [Spanish Dictionary.com] [unknown whether such a long time was needed]

And Macmillan includes the sentence highlighted below in a definition, adding endorsement to the usage:

To do something slowly: ... to delay ...

  • to deliberately take a long time to do something.

Similarly, Cambridge Dictionary is happy to include the usage:

linger: to take a long time to leave or disappear ...

  • The smell from the fire still lingered days later.

[≈ The smell from the fire took days / a long time to disappear.]

As is OLD:

time ... [6a1]

  • His injuries will take a long time to heal.

and Collins:

  • He took a long time to settle in to big-time football. [big-time attracts the 'informal' caveat]
  • Thanks, that makes sense. So they are both valid but, in fact, not equal
    – Post Self
    Jun 21, 2023 at 1:59
  • 1
    Both valid, but only one demands that a long time is/was necessary. Jun 21, 2023 at 10:28

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