a. I have learned English for 6 months.

b. I have learned English in 6 months.

Are the two sentences above grammatically correct?

Do they carry the same meaning?

2 Answers 2


Learn is what linguists call a 'telic' verb: one which in its basic use implies that its action moves toward and achieves a final goal, a 'change of state'. In the case of learn the 'change of state' is from ignorance to knowledge.

I have learned English for 6 months.

The construction for TIMESPAN is typically used with a 'non-telic' verb: one which in its basic use designates an activity which does not have a final 'goal' but continues indefinitely: I have lived here for six months. When a for TIMESPAN is used with a telic verb it usually signifies that the action was carried out repeatedly. For instance, She has written novels for ten years is taken to mean that she wrote a novel, and then wrote another novel, and then wrote . . . and so forth.

That is probably not what you mean. You may have learned a great deal of English, but you have not learned the entire language. (Neither has anyone else, including me!) I suspect what you want to say is that you have studied English for six months—study is a non-telic verb signifying the activity of attempting to acquire knowledge, not successfully completing the attempt.

I have learned English in 6 months.

In TIMESPAN is something quite different: it designates the time it took you to complete an action, and is used only with telic verbs. You might for instance say In six months I have learned enough English to ask intelligent questions. As before, however, I have learned English without any qualification implies that you have mastered the entire language; it would be quite extraordinary to achieve that in six months, or even six decades!

  • 1
    "I have been learning English for six months"
    – Terry Wendt
    Nov 12, 2016 at 16:20
  • @TerryWendt Yes: the progressive construction characterizes the action of even a telic verb as 'imperfect', unfinished, so it recategorizes learn as a non-telic activity. Nov 12, 2016 at 18:43
  • In your She has written novels for ten years, does the plural form of novel decide the verb write is being used with a telic sense? I think one could keep writing a novel on and on.
    – Kinzle B
    Nov 13, 2016 at 15:30
  • @KinzleB Yes, indeed; though if novel were singular it would have to be determinate, and write would have to be recast: we wouldn't say She has written that novel or She wrote that novel "for ten years", it would have to be She has been writing or She was writing (or She kept writing). Nov 13, 2016 at 15:42
  • Oh, this is absolutely new to me! I guess even my college professors wouldn't know about it. BTW, I borrowed McCawley from our national library. It's a really nice read. I'm gonna digitalize it and make a searchable version. I think the textile of my thinking has been changing a lot since I read Bas Aarts, H&P, etc. Thanks for your recommendation!
    – Kinzle B
    Nov 13, 2016 at 15:53

for indicates time up to now according to its usage. but we can't see it with in.we can tell I was a student in 1995. if it gives a same meaning we can use I was a student for 1995. I think every thing has a usage.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .