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I've been learning Indonesian with Indonesian pod 101 and I'm afraid in learning bad English meanwhile. Is this sentence correct?

"Lisa, so sorry. The traffic jam was awful, and all the traffic lights seemed to turn red for longer than usual."

Can you say traffic lights "turned red for ten minutes" or is it just literal Indonesian translation?

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  • Yes, this is an idiomatic way of saying it. Note however that "seemed to turn red" means they did this once. To say that it kept happening you would say "The traffic lights seemed to be turning red for ten minutes at a time."
    – David42
    Jun 30 '17 at 14:33
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    Strictly speaking it seems illogical, because the "turning" is in instantaneous event, but IMO it is perfectly acceptable in British English.
    – alephzero
    Jun 30 '17 at 18:00
  • You could say they turned red for ten minutes (which would imply that they were broken or that it seemed like ten minutes). However, the question implies that "ten minutes" follows from "longer than usual", like a literal translation. That is not a legitimate assumption or translation in English. There is no specific time period associated with "longer than usual". "Longer than usual" means only that the time exceeded the typical amount to a degree that was noticeable.
    – fixer1234
    Jun 30 '17 at 20:06
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"turned red for" is perfectly appropriate in the context of "became red and stayed that way for a time period"

Here are a few more example of "turned red for"

  • He furrowed his eyebrows and I thought his eyes turned red for a moment.
  • Three times between July and October 1933, six of the white beads turned red for a short time.
  • The Ice turned Red briefly for a few minutes. (Source)

There are other possible ways of saying it:

  • "...the traffic lights were red for 10 minutes"
  • "...the traffic lights stayed red for 10 minutes"
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  • 10
    "...the traffic lights were showing red light for 10 minutes" is clunky and unnatural. Jun 30 '17 at 15:11
  • @feelinferrety Nevertheless, it's a possible solution. Jun 30 '17 at 15:24
  • Possible, yes, but OP's sentence is more likely to be accepted without complaint than this particular phrase. Jun 30 '17 at 15:32
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    "I thought his eyes turned red for a moment" is ambiguous and could mean either "I thought, for a moment, that his eyes turned red" or "I thought that, for a moment, his eyes turned red." I'd interpret it as the former, in which case it isn't an example of what you were aiming to show, but perhaps you can support why it has to be the latter.
    – hvd
    Jun 30 '17 at 21:30
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Can you say traffic lights "turned red for ten minutes"

According to the dictionary:

turn (verb) to become changed, altered, or transformed, such as to change color : the weather turned
Source: "turn" definition 5a, intransitive verb. merriam-webster.com

So, yes, it is acceptable to say a light was red for 10 minutes this way.

As a verb, "turn" has a great many uses. In this case "turn" might be confusing, as a listener could honestly be thinking "turn" to mean "change" or "switch" (briefly) before realizing the meaning of "become".

One could just as easily say:

the lights stayed red for 10 minutes

and avoid any possible confusion.

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  • 11
    The phrase stayed red was the first thing that popped into my mind, too.
    – J.R.
    Jun 30 '17 at 10:45
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    I think 'turned' is okay though. "The LED lights red for 1 second, then turns green for 2s, then turns back to red for 5 seconds." If you were to mean the duration of the process of changing as opposed to momentary process followed by a constant state, you'd stay "the lights kept turning to red for 10 minutes" [whenever serviceman would try to switch them to green], alternatively "the lights faded to red over the course of 10 minutes".
    – SF.
    Jun 30 '17 at 11:05
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    You could simply say the traffic lights were red for ten minutes
    – Daniel
    Jul 1 '17 at 14:06
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In American English, the idiom we use is to "hit every red light" or "catch every red light" or even "every light was red."

"I would have been here 20 minutes ago, but I somehow caught every red light on the way here."

In terms of the actual length of time, you could say "The lights would not change" or "I waited at every light for ages."

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... all the traffic lights seemed to turn red for ten minutes

This one feels off.

"Turning", in this context means a change in state. The change is quick, especially when compared to the mentioned 10 minutes. The entire interval that is being addressed here consists of two separate/separable components: 1.) a light turns red, 2.) it stays like that for 10 minutes.

So I might say instead:

... all the traffic lights seemed to stay red for ten minutes

and would not pinpoint the detail that they first turned red. It's implied.

Also, the reason I was late is not the lights turning red. It's a common occurrence. I was late because they stayed that way for so long (uncommon, unexpected, can't be planned for).

However:

"turned red for ten minutes" could probably still be used in some contexts. E.g.:

Throughout the year, the apples developed on the tree branches, staying green for most of the time. Then they turned red for ten minutes, and subsequently fell to the ground.

This feels okay... The key seems to be keeping the state of change to be percieved short.

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