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Does this sound natural to you:

Last night I watched that show for 30 minutes before going to bed.

Someone said "I watched that show for 30 minutes" doesn't sound right in English, but I don't know how to express it otherwise. To me it sounds fine, but someone said it is unnatural to say you did something for a certain amount of time, which I find strange.

  • Why do you think it doesn't sound natural? Also, could you restrict your source of concern to a few words and not the entire sentence (use bold)? As it stands, the question is closable as a proofreading request or as lacking detail. – userr2684291 Jul 12 '18 at 12:45
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    "I watched that show for 30 minutes" is fine in English. I don't know why someone would say it is unnatural to say you did something for a certain amount of time. – stangdon Jul 12 '18 at 14:54
  • @stangdon how about I read a book for an hour, or I ate lunch for an hour, is that possible? – anouk Jul 12 '18 at 15:43
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    @anouk - Yes, both of those are fine too. – stangdon Jul 12 '18 at 15:54
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This is a perfectly acceptable English expression, as are "I read a book for an hour", or "I ate lunch for an hour".

The word "for" can be used with a time expression to indicate how long a past activity lasted for. Simple past tense is correct and idiomatic.

It would also be possible to use past continuous, especially if you want to indicate that the activity wasn't finished

I was watching that show for thirty minutes, before I finally fell asleep in front of the telly! It was that boring.

  • by "the activity wasn't finished" do you mean an interrupted activity? (The watching was interrupted by falling asleep) " I had been watching the show for 30 minutes, before..." would also be possible, wouldn't it? – anouk Jul 15 '18 at 18:26
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"Last night I watched that show for 27 minutes and 16 seconds before going to bed."

This is an unusual sentence.

The great specificity of "27 minutes and 16 seconds" is surrounded by three low-specificity elements; "last night", "that show" and "before going to bed". This creates a stress around the "27 minutes and 16 seconds" time period.

"Last night I watched that show before going to bed."

This is congruent in it's level of specificity. And has as it's only stress the missing name of "that show". This would be a natural sentence if speaker/writer and listener/reader had common knowledge about "that show".

The more usual way of expressing a period of roughly 30 minutes in English is "half an hour". So, "Last night I watched that show for half an hour before going to bed."

If there was something significant about "27 minutes and 16 seconds" then the first sentence would feel natural.

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    They said 30 minutes, not 27 minutes and 16 seconds, though. So I don't know how this might be relevant, really. To me, 30 minutes sounds quite generic, just like 10 minutes or 20 minutes. – userr2684291 Jul 12 '18 at 14:09
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    I feel a tension in the sentence when I read it. You don't. I illustrate how that tension might be happening. You don't feel the tension and so doubt the relevance of my answer. This diversity of experience is normal when dealing with the milder connotative aspects of language. – Mike Smith Jul 12 '18 at 14:19
  • I don't know what kinda "tension" you're feeling, but I understand what you mean by jumping to more specific from less specific and vice versa. I agree there's a bit of an inconsistent transition there, but I think it's slight. In my first language I also feel a slight... transition there, but you know, sometimes the sentence need not necessarily be consistent in that manner throughout; sometimes you remember a specific detail and decide to include it. 30 minutes is hardly too specific, however. All in all, I think this is slightly misleading, but it's a good attempt. – userr2684291 Jul 12 '18 at 14:34
  • I agree that "for 30 minutes" creates much less tension, less of a "contrast in tone"/less of a bump than "27 minutes and 16 seconds". – Mike Smith Jul 12 '18 at 14:40

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