How do ask the duration in days of person's coughing in English?

Let's say you have a friend who have been constantly coughing for several days until now. You asked:

Over how many days is/are your coughing problem now?

Is this the correct way of asking that?

  • Thx editing it, you should always correct my sentences hehe – John Arvin Jan 18 '19 at 23:08

“How Long”

“How long have you had that cough?” is something you might ask a friend in casual conversation when you notice him coughing. Doctors, on the other hand, often ask “When did that cough start?”

In either case, while “coughing” is the correct verb, many native speakers (American English) will refer to someone’s cough as something they have rather than something they’re doing, but there are plenty of exceptions.

“How long” and “how long ago” are very common phrases for asking about duration or onset of something. “Over what period of time” is not ungrammatical, but sounds stilted and odd in conversation.

“I have been coughing for over a week” or “I started coughing a few days ago” are typical replies, as this sort of question rarely calls for a precise answer unless asked by a healthcare provider.

Conversational Example

The following illustrates this usage in informal, conversational English.

Adam: Hi, Betty. Wow, that’s a nasty cough you have there. How long have you had it?

Betty: Just a few days. I’m feeling better already.

Formal writing or doctor/patient conversations may certainly require more precision and fewer sentence fragments, but “how long” is still likely to be the most common phrase you encounter.


The idiomatic expression for inquiring about a duration is "how long"; you might ask your friend, "How long have you had this cough?"

  • If I said "Over how many days have you been coughing now?" to a friend, he or she might say "Have you swallowed a dictionary?". – Michael Harvey Jan 17 '19 at 20:45
  • @MichaelHarvey, what? Is "over how many days have you been coughing now?" Wrong? – John Arvin Jan 17 '19 at 20:58
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    @JohnArvin It is comprehendable, but it is not at all normal, conversational English. – Hellion Jan 17 '19 at 21:01
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    How many days have you had that cough might be the best. I just incorporated the answer here into my newly constructed sentence. Thx – John Arvin Jan 17 '19 at 21:58
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    @MichaelHarvey "for how many days …" instead of "over how many days …" would be acceptable, if you wanted to be clear you were asking about the long term (days) and not the coughing that is happening right now (which might have started only minutes ago) – alephzero Jan 17 '19 at 23:27

The present perfect progressive construction would be perfect for this context. This construction is used for ongoing action in the past that continues right up to the present, has recently finished, or will continue beyond the present. It is particularly common when asking or stating the duration of an ongoing action. Here are some examples:

Q: Over how many days have you been coughing now?

A: I have been coughing for three days.


Q: Over how many days has your coughing problem been occurring?

A: It has been occurring over three days.

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    "Over" isn't the right word here. You could say (in a very formal style of English) "For how many days …" but the normal expression would be just "How many days ..." or "How long..." – alephzero Jan 17 '19 at 23:30
  • @alephzero My answer is focusing on the construction of the verb. While I agree that "over how many days" may not be the best idiomatic wording, I see no reason why it is wrong. "Over [some time period]" is quite common. – Tashus Jan 18 '19 at 0:26
  • My intuition is you don't use "over [time period]" unless you're talking about a time interval that was already completed in the past (which I agree is only a part of why this sentence is awkward) – jberryman Jan 18 '19 at 4:09
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    Sorry, but -1. I know of no native speaker who would ever use those forms, even in formal writing. They’re not breaking any rules of grammar, and they do capture the intended meaning precisely, but they are verging on the kind of errant and non-idiomatic nonsense up with which I will not put... 🙂 – tkp Jan 18 '19 at 6:10
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    @tkp, the way you speak is a bit too formal, is this how your country converse with other people, or maybe, it depends on your job? – John Arvin Jan 19 '19 at 0:48

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