I am not clear how to use "How long" and "How far". Suppose I got in a taxi or cab to my hotel, how should I say to the driver if I want to know the distance to the hotel? Which of the following is correct?

How far is it to the hotel?

How long is it to the hotel?

Then,if I need to know the time it will take to the hotel, may I say:

How long is it to the hotel?

Or are there any other more appropriate expressions for the above two scenarios?

4 Answers 4


Asking How far? suggests that you are interested in the distance. How long? suggests you are interested in the time the journey will take. A native speaker concerned about the latter might combine the two and say something like Is it far to the hotel? Can you give me any idea of how long it will take?

(To which the less than helpful answer in London might well be ‘Cor blimey, guv, ’ow long’s a piece of string? The traffic up round Hyde Park Corner’s murder this morning.’)

  • That’s really very good, Barrie. Thanks for the laugh.
    – tchrist
    Dec 18, 2012 at 13:37
  • @Barrie England, when I ask "How long will it take to the hotel?" , I mean "How much time will it take to drive from here to the hotel?" Dec 18, 2012 at 14:28
  • I think both "How long is the distance between Paris and Bern by train?" and "How far is the distance between Paris and Bern by train?" are correctly phrased and well understood. So if I were asked "How long is the trip between Paris and Bern?", I don't know whether I should reply "600 kilometers" or "6 hours". @Barrie England, I am looking forward to your professional comments. Dec 18, 2012 at 15:07
  • 1
    How long will it take? is a question about time and not distance. How long is the distance? is a question about distance and not time. How long is the trip? is a question about the trip. Most travellers by train are interested in the time of the journey rather than the distance covered, so on pragmatic grounds alone the answer will almost certainly be Six hours. Dec 18, 2012 at 15:24

If somebody asks "How far...?" he wants to know the distance between two destinations. if somebody asks "How long....?" he wants to know time between two destinations.


How long connotes length or time. How far connotes distance. It all depends if you are interested in emphasising the distance or length.

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    But isn't distance a form of length? That's why I think to O.P. is confused. Why is it, "How long is the race?" but not, "How long is it to the hotel?"
    – J.R.
    Dec 18, 2012 at 11:21
  • wiki.answers.com/Q/… I'm looking for a better source. Dec 18, 2012 at 14:11
  • 1
    @J.R. Distance is not length. "How far is the Missisippi River" and "How long is the Missisippi River" are questions with totally different answers. The first means "How far do I have to walk to get to the Missisippi River?" The second means "How far will I have gone if I board a raft at Lake Itaska and ride it to the Gulf of Mexico?" Feb 6, 2016 at 16:14

I've been looking for further information related to this difference. Considering the definitions of length, after some research I finally thought about this logical idea (as English is not my mother tongue, please correct me if I'm mistaken at any point):

In a dictionary I got these 2 definitions about length:

a) Continuance in time; "the ceremony was of short duration"; "he complained about the length of time required".

b) Size of the gap between two places; "the distance from New York to Chicago"; "he determined the length of the shortest line segment joining the two points".

1a. is related to duration, 1b. is related to distance.

Considering that we use "how long" for length OR time and "how far" for distance, then, according to the definition of length, we can also use "how far" for length, am I correct?

It seems to me that when talking about length we can use both "How long" or "How far", it depends on what the context gives us (length related to duration or distance).

In addition, besides the explanation of 'duration' related to "how long", I found this definition about the word "long": "Extending or traveling a relatively great distance."

Finally, according to this example I found in a English textbook:

"How long is the Panama Canal? - About fifty miles from the Atlantic to the Pacific."

we can use "how long" for questioning distance also (when talking about lengths and measures).

how far - a) distance and b) length (miles, kilometre, feet, etc.).

how long - a) duration and b) length (measure and time).

  • your reasoning is a bit confused here. Long is used for measuring length and for measuring time. Far which is also the opposite of near, is used for measuring distance. We ask: "How far is the hotel from here?" the answer might be: "Not far, just a 10 minute walk." It is unusual to give metres or kilometres as an answer, but a few might reply: "It's about 400 metres from here."
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 11, 2013 at 18:54
  • We ask: "HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE to the hotel" for measuring "time". If someone asks you: "HOW LONG have you studied English?" You wouldn't reply 6 kilometres, but with months, and years. However, if someone asks you "How long is the Mississippi river? An answer might be: " I don't know but it's the longest river in the US!" How far = what's the distance. How long = how much time or what's the length.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 11, 2013 at 18:57
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    At the beginning of your answer you said "I finally thought about this logical idea" - the problem is that English is not logical: it has evolved over time; it differs from region to region; and is idiomatic. There are also subtle differences between distance and length: distance is usually used in the sense of between - how far between 2 towns; whereas length (in linear measurement, as distinct from time) is used in the sense of a thing - the length of a table, a road, or a journey.
    – TrevorD
    Jun 13, 2013 at 10:40

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