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Native speakers tend to use just the word 'long' on its own to express a large amount of time. However, when it comes to the comparative case, is the addition of the phrase 'period of time' necessary? And what's the difference in meaning/usage (however slight) between:

  • I studied abroad for a longer time than he did.

  • I studied abroad for a longer period of time than he did.

Both seem to be commonplace expressions, but I was told no two English phrases are exactly the same. My personal assumption is that, the first example is less wordy than the sentence, and therefore used more in casual conversations.

Similarly, I would also like your opinion on the difference between:

  • I have lived here for a much shorter time than my friend

  • I have lived here for a much shorter period of time than my friend.

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I'm both a native speaker and a published author, and if there's a difference here at all, I'm not convinced that I know what it is. It would be very subtle indeed, and they are basically synonymous.

All that said, you are correct that, in spoken English, for a longer time is more frequently used. I would typically avoid period of time altogether unless (1) the period is something that I wanted to emphasize and (2) the amount of time is not known. Even then, I would normally only use it in rather formal statements:

There was a period of time when Danish politicians would have jumped at the chance for this kind of press coverage.

We will not engage in bilateral relations for a period of time to allow everything to cool down.

Will my driving demerits expire after some period of time if I don't get any more tickets?"

However, in spite of my hesitation to use it normally, I want to emphasize that people do sometimes use it in informal speech, and that it is synonymous in every context you would expect it to be, so I wouldn't worry too much about this particular distinction.

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You can use a longer time, a longer period or a longer period of time in your sentence, without any difference in meaning.

As for the use of using longer on its own as follows, it's also grammatical and even more common or idiomatic:

I studied abroad longer than he did.

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