Would it be grammatical to ask:

"Did it take you a long time to wait for us yesterday?"

Some Russian guy on another forum is insisting that he has researched this and that it's grammatical and idiomatic. To me it sounds downright ludicrous.

My version is "Did you have to wait long for us yesterday?" and he claims that's incorrect! (I'm American by the way)

  • 2
    I suggest he translate that into Russian. I am sure it would not work in Russian either. This is a logic issue, not a language issue. And, of course, your version is right.
    – Lambie
    Dec 30 '19 at 19:08
  • I've changed the explanation here, because of the content of that chat at a Russian blog. Nothing personal. The discussion is very famous in Russian universities. Sorry.
    – kngram
    Jan 28 '20 at 8:43
  • Please provide a link to this online discussion.
    – David42
    May 27 '20 at 21:19
  • 1

No, a few, more idiomatic, ways of saying it would be:

"Did you wait for us for a long time yesterday?"

"Did you wait long for us yesterday?"

"Were you waiting a long time for us yesterday?"

  • Russians argued over translation of a sentence in Russian with meaning, Did you need to wait for us long yesterday ? Where a Russian found this grammatically correct example of archaic usage of the informal British English (used since 00 to 50s last century) is not known. Though, this construction is used widely in some variants of English outside the modern UK and USA in an informal way. The modern UK and USA formal and informal usage tends to use the grammar construction of 'take time to wait.'
    – kngram
    May 17 '20 at 6:50

It is grammatical, but not idiomatic. The one case where it might get used is where a person has decided to "take the time", which is a different sense than asking how long someone might spend doing something - it means setting the time aside, or deliberately taking a long time to do something.

If the question is rather whether you spent a long time waiting for someone, you might say:

Did you wait long for us, yesterday?

Were you waiting a long time for us yesterday?

Did you spend long waiting for us yesterday?

There's a few more variants that you could use, but idiomatically we wouldn't generally talk about "taking a long time to wait for" anything.

  • 1
    That's funny because I can't think of ONE situation in which it would be anything less than nonsensical.
    – CocoPop
    Mar 6 '19 at 21:02
  • I can think of situations where it could be appropriate with some slight changes that don't affect the actual grammar, so I hesitate to say it's utterly wrong. If I can get close, I tend not to say it's absolutely wrong. "You have to take a long time to wait for X" would not be nonsensical, and would be natural in the right context.
    – SamBC
    Mar 6 '19 at 21:27
  • 1
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Why do you do that? Everyone knows in any language that one doesn't wait any length of time to wait. It is so misleading of you to post that as if it meant anything at all.
    – Lambie
    Dec 30 '19 at 19:11
  • 1
    @Lambie: Your comment makes no sense. I cited a perfectly credible usage showing that it is possible to link "taking a long time" and "waiting" in certain contexts. By way of supporting SamBC's "hesitate to say it's utterly wrong" comment. Obviously it's not particularly useful for learners to take this on board, but all that's properly dealt with by the answer here. But if you have some problem with the "idiomacy" of the example I cited, all I can say is "We disagree". Dec 30 '19 at 21:31

Did it take you a long time to wait for us yesterday?

It is grammatically correct, but it is not idiomatic. I would not expect a person to say this sentence, I would expect them to say

Did you wait for us a long time, yesterday?

It is far more natural to have a person be the subject instead of "it". This also makes the verb shift from "to take" to "to wait" which describes the action more accurately.

For those who are curious the grammatical parse tree is

(S Did it
   (VP take
       (NP you)
       a long time
       (S (VP to
              (VP wait
                  (PP for
                      (NP us))
                  (NP yesterday))))))

As you can see, the grammar for the idiomatic saying is also much simpler.

(S Did
   (NP you)
   (VP wait
       (PP for
           (NP us))
       a long time ,
       (PP yesterday)))
  • An example of parsing well done. But, for your reference. The pattern having been discussed on the page has been known for a period of about 1,500 years, since the period of Old English.
    – kngram
    May 13 at 18:11

This question arose on the ABBYY Lingvo Live forum when a user offered the following Russian sentence for translation practice:

Тебе долго пришлось ждать нас вчера?

User Uly offered the following correct translation:

Did you have to wait long for us yesterday?

User W. S. offered:

Did it take you long to wait for us yesterday?

This second translation is grammatical and "take [someone] a long time" is a popular idiom, but the sentence is semantically incorrect. It does not mean what W. S. is trying to say.

The idiom "takes X a long time to Y" means that X did not perform action Y as quickly as might be desired. By using this idiom W. S. is inadvertently suggesting that the person called "you" was responsible for the delay.

This idiom is sometimes used to indicate a delayed start:

It took the boy a long time to start doing his homework.

The boy presumably did not want to do his homework and so delayed the start of this unpleasant task.

The idiom may also indicate slow progress:

It took the boy a long time to do his homework.

The boy started doing his homework, but we worked very slowly.

Now let's return to the sentence from the question in order to determine its unintended meaning:

Did it take you a long time to wait for us yesterday?

A native speaker will understand the sentence as follows:

  1. Yesterday the person called "you" was expected to wait.

  2. That person drew out the processes either by failing to start immediately or by performing the 'task' slowly.

Neither possibility makes much sense. And neither is what W. S. is trying to say.

But why is W. S. so certain that "Did it take you long to wait for us yesterday?" is correct? Because it has the same grammatical structure as the original Russian sentence. Word-for-word the Russian sentence reads:

To thee long it came to await us yesterday?

In this Russian sentence the verb "to await" is the logical subject. The word "thee" (singular you) is in the dative case which indicates that it is the indirect object. The role of "thee" is entirely passive.

The English sentence W. S. proposes is grammatically almost identical. But it is not semantically equivalent. But as seen from the examples above the noun in the dative case is the logical subject. This means that "you" has an active role and is the party in control of how long the waiting takes. This was not what W. S. intended and results in a silly sentence.

  • I find it difficult to argue with you about your understanding of the English-Russian translation. So, I used Google translate. It returns a translation that does not match yours. Due to the small amount of translation, it seems to me that the Google's translation is more reliable.
    – kngram
    May 28 '20 at 18:37
  • Your explanation is for an English idiomatic sentence, Did it take your time to start waiting for us ? That is a nonsense really.
    – kngram
    May 28 '20 at 19:11
  • @kngram You are arguing that a machine understands an English sentence better than a native speaker. That is not reasonable. My translation is longer because the input sentence is nonsense. Translating nonsense takes more words because all the meaning of each word must be preserved. If I am wrong about "start to wait", then the sentence means "Вчера вы ждали нас медленно, не правда ли?" which is even sillier. What do you think the sentence means?
    – David42
    Jun 1 '20 at 14:03
  • What Farlex dictionary says about such syntax is the manner I think about it too.
    – kngram
    Jun 1 '20 at 14:06
  • @kngram. Ah, I see. If you want the sentence to work like in the example you cite from Farlex, you must delete the word "you". That one word shifts the blame onto the person who waited which makes no sense. In this respect the English phrase is different from its Russian equivalent.
    – David42
    Jun 1 '20 at 14:38

Several examples:

  1. Were you an admirer of Artemisia Gentileschi before you started the book and did it take a long time to do the research on the art world?
  2. I love my microwave and cook everything I can in it because I'm always in a hurry and don't want to take time to wait, if I don't have to.

There are some examples from literature with as if intransitive sense of the verb take and adverbial syntactic function of to wait for NP:

    1. The Marquis had made it clear that it would take too long to wait for them to return from Larissa to England

so they had next suggested that the Larissians might send a diplomat from Paris or Berlin.

    1. I did hope it might be possible for a message to reach her, but it would take too long to wait for a reply.
    1. A group of local men decided that it would take too long to wait for justice

from The Dalles and formed a group known as the Committee of Vigilance, or the vigilantes.

Frankly speaking, there is nothing complicated with the grammar constuction. The sentence Did it take you a long time to wait for us yesterday? is grammatically right. It consists of such principal syntactic elements as subject + VP + object+ object complement.

As some grammars state An object complement can be a noun or noun phrase; an adjective or adjective phrase; a relative clause (also known as an adjective clause); an infinitive or infinitive phrase; or a gerund or gerund phrase. It is an infinitive phrase to wait for us in the sentence. The phrase is nonfinite.

From the very beginning of this small discussion, I have doubted very much that such grammar construction can be considered as having a small percentage of frequency per million. The reason is very simple: the sentence It took a long time is incomplete semantically obviously. To give this sentence complete semantical meaning, an object complement, marking specific attributes, is required. The object complement to wait for us makes the meaning of the sentence complete, that is necessary.

Some grammars describe such an application of a VP as a verbal. Although derived from verbs, and often looking like verbs, verbals are never used as verbs in a sentence, but as nouns, adjectives or adverbs. VP to wait for us functions as an adjective in the sentence. Or, in other words, the VP describes the noun time. The situation type of the verb wait is a verb of state here.

Regarding the existing opinion of some commentators here that VP take time and V wait are supposedly synonyms. They are not in such a sentence because VP take time has got the sense of the verb require. And, it is the sense of V expect for V wait.

Adding an adjective long doesn't change anything to what really matters in grammar and semantics of the grammar construction.

There are numerous examples of the grammar construction in the Google books, for example:

  • 'And we all are for change in general, and then we're all against it in particular, as soon as it requires any rigor at all or when it takes time to wait for.' Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton,
  • 'Then, it takes time to wait for the elimination light bulb to go off in your puppy's head . Let all expectations go, because housetraining could take days, weeks, ...' Puppies For Dummies, Sarah Hodgson, 2011.

There are some in other sites on the Internet

  • '... These figures, Brad included, wanted to get on with their work, and it took time to wait for the laboratories... ' Atomic heritage foundation, Hugh Bradner page.
  • '... functioning of the lifts: it took long to wait for a lift to arrive, which was very irritating... The administration was faced with a problem, whether to install new lifts ...' Yuri Salamatov TRIZ: THE RIGHT SOLUTION AT THE RIGHT TIME: A Guide to Innovative Problem Solving. Published by Insytec B.V., 1999, Semanticscholar. org

The word long in the example bears the meaning of a comparatavely long time, noun, singular.

As an additional example, the clause it took some time to relax into his friendship in the following excerpt from modern fiction bears the same grammar as the sentence It took a long time to wait for us of the topic.

  • 'These were strange sensations: again, Roisin felt rusty in the face of them. It took some time to relax into his friendship, though she managed it – fitfully – in the end.' The Jewel, Neil Hegarty, 2019.

Here is an excerpt from the Farlex Free dictionary online, containing a useful example,again having almost the same grammar as the sentence, It took a long time to wait for us; in order that the respected author of the novel will not be the only one in the section of additional examples.

  • 'a...time' However, you can use a with an adjective and time when you are showing how long something takes or lasts. You can say, for example, that something takes a long time or takes a short time. (Ex.) The proposal would take quite a long time to discuss in detail.

I got acquainted with the original correspondence from the site where the question is originated from. Some interesting things: 1. some people there believe that take long is a synonym for the verb wait 2. In support of own arguments they checked them with the Ngram viewer online, where indeed a number of grammatically correct phrases of the type take time to wait are completely absent, but statistics with high numbers is shown for the conversational idiom why you took so long, which is entirely unacceptable grammatically. According to such comments, you can accurately say in which language environment they usually live. I omit the remaining possible comments, since they are not related to grammar.

For those who are interested with the grammar of the grammar constructions being discussed above, I should explain that paraphrasing take time to wait is use the time during which you would wait. This is not the grammar construction of the type take time to get sometning whose paraphrasing gives spend time to do something. The so called situation type of the second verb is essential for understanding in the right manner the meaning of the grammar constructions as a whole. It is somewhat very complicated thing for understanding not only for the people whose English is a second tongue, but for those whose English is a native one. The reason of this complex problem is changing standards of the everyday grammar being used on practice for the period of about half a century.

There is actually no cause for anxiety about the complement syntax which has been observed at this page for a long time. The discussion is full of exciting situations because we have been in heated talk about a special pattern of the verb take that is take+somebody+something+(to do something). This pattern is the substance of the case. The verb take participates in the pattern which uses it as neither monotransitive nor ditransitive, or complex transitive, how the state of affairs stands here really.

  • 1
    Judging from your English, I’m not surprised that you find this sentence grammatical and idiomatic. It is in fact grammatical, but not idiomatic. Nobody with a natural, logical command of the English language would say “it took us a long time to wait for xxx.” Sorry
    – CocoPop
    Dec 30 '19 at 13:45
  • Sorry. What a reason ? It is just a grammar. Nothing personal.
    – kngram
    Dec 30 '19 at 14:20
  • Sorry in this context is a way of saying “even though you’re still insisting, it’s still not correct.” We use it when we can’t give someone what they want: [son] Dad, can I borrow your car to go to a party this weekend? [dad] You’re still grounded for what you did LAST weekend. No car, no party. Sorry.
    – CocoPop
    Dec 30 '19 at 14:30
  • 3
    Stack Exchange is intended as a Q&A site, not a discussion forum. It's not really appropriate to try to continue a discussion by coming back and making post after post to address what was written in the comment section. Instead, please consider making one answer, and editing that answer when you have something new to say. Your answer should be complete on its own, and any supplementary information you'd like to include should go into that answer rather than a separate post.
    – user230
    Dec 30 '19 at 15:35
  • With these examples and arguments you have proved that the sentence is grammatically and syntactically correct. You have not proved that it is semantically correct. You seem to be ignoring the fact that "He took a long time to do X." and "It took him a long time to do X." both mean that he caused the delay.
    – David42
    Jun 1 '20 at 14:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.