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My student said:

"They watch cartoons for a lot of time"

but I corrected it to:

"They watch cartoons for a long time".

My student replied, but we can say:

"I spent a lot of time doing that".

Why is it wrong to say “They watch cartoons for a long of time”?

I'm not sure about the grammatical reason here. Or am I wrong?

Any advice would be helpful!

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a lot of time refers to an amount or quantity of time.

He spent a lot of time making dinner.

Notice that the verb is spend.

What is required in your student's sentence is a continuous length of time, as you rightly pointed out, since the reference is to an extent not to a quantity.

They watched cartoons for a long time.

We don't say:

That is a much ladder. ungrammatical

but

That is a long ladder.

And we don't say:

That is a long of money! ungrammatical

but

That is a lot of money!

Yet it is possible to speak of time as a quantity that can be divided:

When they were on vacation it rained all week, so they watched cartoons for much of the time.

Note the use of the article the, which refers to a specific chunk of time. much of the time refers to a portion of that specific amount of time.

So, your student needs to understand the semantic difference between extent and amount.

Have a long of fun explaining it!

  • Thank you so much! Now I can explain it to my student in a much more organized matter...it sure will be a long of fun explaining it, that's for sure. – Anna Feb 8 '18 at 13:53
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    It might be worth noting a difference between "for a long time" and "a lot of the time" - the former is a continuous period, whereas the latter can be made up of many smaller periods. – Toby Speight Feb 8 '18 at 17:22
  • Yes, Toby, good point. A lot of the time is understood to mean "often". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Feb 8 '18 at 18:32
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Well, actually, the best option would be to say,

They watch cartoons a lot.

"They watch cartoons for a long time" sounds a bit strange because "for a long time" implies some specific instance of something happening while Present Simple implies that something is happening regularly.

One could say,

They watch cartoons for long stretches of time.

"For a long time" would be correct in sentences like this,

— For a long time, this method was considered to be one of the best ones available.

— She has been ignoring me for a long time.

Note how in both cases we are speaking about a single instance of something—a single situation.

"A lot of time" would be correct in the following sentences,

— A lot of time has been wasted.

— I don't have a lot of time.

Note that "a lot of time" is not an adverbial with a temporal meaning in either of these cases. It is a subject or an object.

(And, "for a lot of time" is obviously wrong.)

  • 1
    They watch cartoons a lot of the time. – Lambie Feb 8 '18 at 13:12
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    @Lambie But again, I feel like when "a lot of the time" is used adverbially, it means "often" rather than "long stretches of time". And I'm not sure whether OP and her student wanted to say "often" or "they spend long evenings watching cartoons". – tenebris2020 Feb 8 '18 at 13:24
  • Hmm... this really got me thinking because although I'm a native English speaker I don't feel it would be all that strange to say "They watch cartoons for a long time" so this is probably a common mistake(?). I'll watch out for it. Thank you for your comment! (and there is some random Russian in it too..? I wonder why?) @Lambie I think my student meant that they (being children) watch TV for long stretches of time and don't go outside (we were talking about technology and children). A lot of THE time! That's what I was looking for. Thanks. – Anna Feb 8 '18 at 13:59
  • Of course, I watch cartoons for a long time [on Wednesdays]. For example. – Lambie Feb 8 '18 at 14:08
  • @Lambie Yeah! I was thinking of that kind of sentence. It just sounds natural to say it like that. But, after all, what sounds natural and what is grammatically correct don't always match up. – Anna Feb 9 '18 at 7:41
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  • To do something a lot of the time. [a lot of the time] means in terms of one's overall time.

a lot of the time means the time I have available to me.

It's idiomatic. It's the same as: A watch cartoons a lot, that is: often.

BUT: I watched cartoons for a long time [in my life], now I don't. [period of my life].

  • I spend a lot of time watching cartoons.

In that one (above), a lot of time is similar to much time, but idiomatically we say a lot of time and tend not to use much time. Much time is used in questions.

Do you spend much time watching cartoons? Yes, I do. I watch them a lot.

I have left out the grammar here.

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