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So today I was chatting with an oversees friend of mine and I asked him:

How much more time are you going to stay online?

Just after asking, it seemed to me that it is not quite a natural structure. So I want to clear the doubt.

Is this construction correct? Is "much more" conveying the sense I want to? Or it sounds stilted?

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    It is grammatically not wrong, but you would rather use "How much longer are you going to stay online?" – skymningen Sep 25 '13 at 6:29
  • Where did you get this quote from? Can you cite it please? (see meta post here) – Matt Sep 25 '13 at 7:10
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    @Matt, It is from my personal usage. I was chatting with a friend in Facebook and that's where I asked it this way. I will rather add this part to my question. – Mistu4u Sep 25 '13 at 8:12
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    Or, "How much longer will you be online?" – J.R. Sep 25 '13 at 8:42
  • It is not grammatical because "more time" is not a comparative phrase. "Longer" is. – Roaring Fish Sep 25 '13 at 16:48
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This one gave me pause, but I don't think this question is grammatical.

Consider how this question would be answered:

— How much more time are you going to stay online?
— I am going to stay online for ten more minutes.

The time is not a direct complement of the verb stay, it requires a preposition.

For how much time are you going to stay online?

Contrast with a verb that doesn't take a preposition:

— How much more time are you going to spend online?
— I am going to spend ten more minutes online.

If you use “how much longer” instead of “how much more time”, then you don't need the preposition, because longer works on its own as an indication of time.

— How much longer are you going to stay online?
— I am going to stay online just a little longer.

“How much longer are you going to stay online?” is the idiomatic way of phrasing this question.

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  • Why does needing a preposition in the answer mean the question is wrong? That argument even kills your own suggested correction:- "How much longer are you going to stay online?" ~~ "For twenty more minutes" – Roaring Fish Sep 25 '13 at 16:52
  • Suppose, I want to know specifically how many more minutes, then? – Mistu4u Sep 25 '13 at 17:46
  • @RoaringFish The complement needs its preposition, whether the sentence is a question or not. Using longer or using a time amount is not the same thing: stay online for twenty minutes vs. stay online longer. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Sep 25 '13 at 19:33
  • @Mistu4u Same thing: “How many more minutes are you going to stay online for?” – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Sep 25 '13 at 19:34
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    @Gilles~ exactly. The use of a preposition in the answer is unconnected with the question, which is why i am questioning your "consider how this question would be answered" – Roaring Fish Sep 26 '13 at 2:01
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Just for a bit of variety, I'm going to suggest the sentence IS grammatical.

I'm not as expert in the exact parsing of sentences as other people here, however it appears to me that the sentence passes all the basic tests of grammar. The most important test is 'can it be easily and unambiguously comprehended by anybody'. I believe the answer is undoubtedly 'yes'.

As a native speaker, would I use those exact words? Perhaps not. My 'gut feeling', is that I would have said 'How much longer ...', but that seems very idiomatic to me, and less logical and clear when analysed than the sentence you actually used. The question refers to quantities of time, so why not actually say so?

That's an admittedly messy answer, but I think one has to accept that good written English is not always a matter black and white rules.

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  • It's true, it's not always black and white. Native speakers differ on which sentences they judge to be acceptable. I wonder, if we took a random sampling, what people would say about this one? – snailplane Oct 2 '13 at 19:21
  • Re: "[...] all the basic tests of grammar. The most important test is 'can it be easily and unambiguously comprehended by anybody'": If you're saying that this is the most important test of grammaticality, then -- I totally disagree. Something can be completely ungrammatical, yet easily understood (e.g. "You wants eat lunch now?"), and conversely, something can be perfectly grammatical, yet either confusing (e.g. "I haven't heard anyone disagree with none of the points") or ambiguous (e.g. "I like it better than you"). – ruakh Oct 2 '13 at 20:14
  • @ruakh I agree. I could have worded what I said better, and I pretty much thought I'd get a comment like yours when I posted it. "Can it be easily and unambiguously comprehended"' is not a test of grammar at all, but a test of communicability. A sentence's first objective is to be understood; it is far more likely to be understood if it is also grammatically correct. – fred2 Oct 2 '13 at 21:15
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    I think "Sentence X sounds wrong to me as a native speaker" is both relevant and helpful; I'm not sure why you say it's clearly not, and I don't really understand what you're proposing instead. – ruakh Oct 2 '13 at 21:30
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    Re: "As we have established, 'sounding right' doesn't tell us anything about grammaticality": Sure it does. I'm not sure who "we" is, but you can count me in the opposite camp. ;-) – ruakh Oct 3 '13 at 0:39

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