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We often say "How long does it take you to travel from Melbourne to Sydney by train?", we know the beginning & the end.

But what if we say "How long does it take you to watch TV?". It doesn't have the beginning & the end.

Also, can we say:

How long does it take you to wash dishes?

How long does it take you to play chess?...

I knew 1 textbook say "How long does it take you to cook dinner?"

So, do you native often say "How long does it take you to watch TV?"

Note:

I have not problem with dummy "it". That was the typo error. My problem is that can we use that structure for phrases like "wash dishes", "play chess", "watch TV", etc which don't have a clear beginning & the end as "go from 1 place to another"

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    It is not clear what you want to know, Tom. Do you want to know how long someone watches TV? "How long does it take" refers to something with a finite duration. Watching TV is an activity of variable duration. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 15 '16 at 14:06
  • Does this sentence “How long does it take you to watch TV” make any sense? Or do native say it? This is what I want to know? – Tom Aug 15 '16 at 14:08
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    No, it makes no sense, for the reason I gave. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 15 '16 at 14:08
  • @TRomano, but in textboox, it says "How long does it you to cook dinner?" – Tom Aug 15 '16 at 14:10
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    It makes absolutely no sense. This would be semantically similar to asking someone "How long does it take you to breathe?", "How long does it take you to wear underwear?" – dockeryZ Aug 15 '16 at 14:12
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The structure "How long does it take [for you] to....?" implies a task with some start state and finished state. The question asks about the time required to move from the beginning state to the end state.

How long does it take [you] to...

  • wash the dishes?

    • Start: pile of dirty dishes
    • Finished: clean dishes
  • cook dinner?

    • Start: raw ingredients
    • Finished: a meal, ready to eat
  • play chess?

    • Start: chess pieces in initial start position
    • Finished: one player in checkmate (or stalemate)
  • travel from Melbourne to Sydney?

    • Start: you're in Melbourne
    • Finished: you're in Sydney

In these cases, we have different states, and it take some amount of time to move between them. For some people (or for some modes of transportation, or different cities), the task may take a short time, and for others it may take a long time.

In the case of watching TV, this question doesn't make sense because the "amount of time it takes to watch TV" is always the amount of time you choose to spend watching TV.

  • Start: you're not watching TV yet
  • Finished: you have watched TV for [X] hours -- obviously this "takes" as many hours as you just spent watching T.V.

It can't take someone more or less than an hour to watch an hour of television (versus cooking: it can take someone viable time to make a meal).

If you want to ask how long someone spends watching TV, ask one of these questions:

How long do you spend watching TV each day?

How much TV do you watch each day?

  • I find that playing chess (or in my case Go) is unlike the task-related activities. Any given game may be of unknown duration; even when playing with a clock the time schemes often allow for over-time. More likely, one just goes to a club (possibly online) and plays a few games, and maybe watches a few more. It's much closer to watching TV in terms of time used. – djna Aug 15 '16 at 16:30
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    @djna That's a fair point. While it fits the model of start-to-finish state, I agree that it's not feasible to answer "how long?" it takes to play a game, since (1) could vary hugely from game to game and (2) it's not really a "task" but a recreational activity done for as long as it's pleasant. – apsillers Aug 15 '16 at 16:36
  • @djna Maybe if you said "How long does it take you to a single complete game of chess?" it would fit a little better, but still awkward per my point #1. I'm working on an edit. – apsillers Aug 15 '16 at 16:39
  • @djna I believe this is a case where the question doesn't account for unusually complex circumstances. For instance, it might be difficult to answer "How long does it take to wash the dishes" if sometimes it's as simple as tossing out a pizza box and sometimes it's scouring a baked-on casserole from a pan. The point that apsillers made about the difference between a task with a set finish and a task that is open-ended is still a good one. – user11628 Aug 15 '16 at 16:42
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    The start to finish concept is good way of explaining what's wrong with the watching TV situation. The variability problem of the chess game and the washing up can be eliminated by adding the magic words "on average". How long does it take [on average] for you to play [a game of] chess? – JavaLatte Aug 15 '16 at 18:37
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"play chess" or "watch TV" are not fixed activities, so it doesn't make sense to ask "how long does it take you". I play chess as long as I like, which can be very short or very long". You could ask "how long does it take to play a chess party", and I could answer "if you play according to international tournament rules, it could take six hours", but "how long does it take to play chess" has no sensible answer.

On the other hand, "how long does it take to play chess well" asks how much time you need to change from an absolute beginner to someone who plays chess well, so you can give an answer there.

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