A: "When's your holiday?"

B: "Oh, not for ages yet."

I've seen this example in the dictionary on my phone -- under the definition of the word 'yet'. But I don't quite understand the phrase "not for ages yet" in this context. What does it mean?

  • 2
    It means, “not (for ages) yet”, that is it will take ages before I can go on holidays. Not yet is used to describe that something is expected to happen but has not for the moment. – user070221 Nov 5 '18 at 14:05

Ages is used here as a colloquial term for "a long time". It's derived in this case from the meaning of "a distinct period in history", and it's used to indicate that there's no need to worry about the exact time. So, in your example:

When's your holiday?

Oh, not for ages yet

...means that while a holiday is planned, it's a considerable time off, probably several months - long enough that it does not need to factor into your current planning. Similarly...

When do you need to leave to catch the bus?

Oh, not for ages yet

...means that you have plenty of time to do whatever it is you're talking about. In this context, that could mean several hours or several minutes; it's entirely context-dependent.

  • 5
    @Tᴚoɯɐuo, the bus example sounds fine to me (New Zealand English). – Harry Johnston Nov 5 '18 at 18:36
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    @Tᴚoɯɐuo yeah. Native AmE speaker, and it sounds a little off to me as well. – Kevin Nov 5 '18 at 20:20
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    Also sounds fine to me (BrE) and is commonly heard in the context of minutes. Where's my cup of tea? You're taking ages! – Robin Elvin Nov 5 '18 at 21:39
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    Definitely OK in BrE. I've used it myself many times, and heard it many times. – John Nov 6 '18 at 5:49
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    @Dan The same answer - "The next one might not be for an unspecified relatively long time". It could mean something like "The next bus won't be here for two hours" or "the next solar eclipse won't happen for six years"...it's entirely context dependent. – Werrf Nov 19 '18 at 13:09

It is idiomatic, perhaps a combination of two expressions "not yet" and "not for ages".

"Ages" just means a long, unspecified length of time. Saying something is not happening "for ages" implies that it is a long way off in the future.

"Not yet" by itself means something is not happening now. Of course, if someone asks when you are going on holiday, it is quite obvious it is not happening now (you wouldn't be there to ask!)

I would say that the expression "Not for ages yet" combines elements of both of the above - that the holiday is so far off in the future that it isn't worth specifying the time at this time.

  • Yes, but for ages is also used a lot with the present: I haven't seen them for ages. i.e. for a long time. – Lambie Nov 5 '18 at 14:10
  • @Lambie In this context, it is the future. The tense is set by the verb "happening". In your example "seen" is the verb and is past tense. – Astralbee Nov 5 '18 at 14:12
  • Where did I say it was not the future? Hmm? – Lambie Nov 5 '18 at 14:17
  • I have another sentence: "The next one might not be for ages." What does it mean? Is it saying: the next one will be coming soon or what? – dan Nov 17 '18 at 11:45

To add to many of the comments and answers, 'not for ages yet' is relative to the amount of time you'd expect to wait:

  • Holidays happen once a year or less often, so 'not for ages yet' would be months away (@dan @Werrf)
  • Seeing friends happens on a scale of weeks or months -- for example you and your mates might go out to a movie once a month but it is still two weeks away (@Tᴚoɯɐuo)
  • Catching a bus is on a scale of days or hours, so ages might be half an hour (for example, the bus runs every hour) (@Tᴚoɯɐuo)
  • Waiting for a cup of tea would usually take five to ten minutes if you're right next to the kettle, so ages would be fifteen or twenty minutes or more (@Robin Elvin).

To me as an Australian English speaker, none of these are odd, but I would rarely use any of them - except, perhaps, the cup of tea example since we're such sarcastic sods

  • And, of course, 'not for ages yet' can apply to seconds in the scale of a new poster to Stack Exchange waiting to see if people respond... – C.Bru Nov 6 '18 at 0:27

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