I want to talk about an action that happened three years ago, and the action took 3 hours.

I cleaned the carpet for 3 hours.

Can I use "for" with simple past tense to talk about the duration of the action that happened in the past, or am I supposed to use present perfect tense if I use "for" to talk about duration?

  • 2
    The use of for has zero to do with PT versus PP.
    – Lambie
    Jan 26, 2018 at 20:23
  • 1
    Not at all. One can say "I lived in New York for twenty years". Provided you have ceased living in New York it is alright to continue using the simple past. However if you still live in New York then you must use the perfect tense. "I have lived in New York for....". In this context it is the choice of tense which indicates to the listener whether it is an activity which has ceased.
    – WS2
    Jan 26, 2018 at 20:49

1 Answer 1


Your sentence is correct as is.

You can use "for..." to talk about something in the simple past time. While "for..." is taught as an expression that goes with present perfect, it applies to every tense to describe the duration.

To use the present perfect would be a mistake because it only refers to things that started in the past and continue now, or past actions that have an effect on the present.

If you said, "I have cleaned the carpet for 3 hours", it means, "the carpet is clean", or "I'm tired of cleaning carpets" or something with a present effect. In the context where it's 3 years ago, there's no reasonable present effect meaning

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