I wonder what the word decades (plural) mean. For example:

The friendship has lasted for decades.

In this sentence, does it have any chance that decades mean just 10 years? Or should it always be a multiple of 10 years, and thus 20 years, 30 years, etc...?

Also, can decades mean one of the followings?

  • 19 years (i.e. more than 10 years but not reaching 20)
  • 23 years (i.e. more than 20 years but not necessarily a multiple of 10)

1 Answer 1


It is being used as a purposefully imprecise language. It doesn't mean an exact multiply of 10 years; it means "a very long time" and "much more than 10 years".

But it is not intended to be in any way precise. So 19 years or 23 years are possible. Only 10 years would be a bit too short, but given the general imprecision of the sentence, even that might be possible. It is probably more likely for longer periods of time.

Compare with people saying "Just a minute!", where they mean "it will take a short amount of time (perhaps more or less than 60 seconds)

  • I agree that the usage of 'decade' does not have to be mathematically precise, but I would not say 'decades' (plural) about one period of ten years, whether it is exactly 10 years, or 9, or 11. Jan 27, 2019 at 19:08
  • "It is probably more likely for longer periods of time" and "Only ten years would be too short" So I agree with this comment. It might occur as hyperbole.
    – James K
    Jan 27, 2019 at 20:36

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .