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Is the sentence "She's been shopping for how long?" grammatically correct? I'm concerned that it sounds too awkward.

In context, it is obvious that I am asking how long Thora went to the shop for (it's not just an exclamation):

  • Where's Thora and how long has she been away?
  • Thora went shopping ages ago.
  • She's been shopping for how long?
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  • i've lost track even of what i'm trying to ask now
    – user65113
    Apr 23, 2019 at 14:56
  • People use that form when speaking instead of saying: how long has she been etc. Yes, it's grammatical in spoken English.
    – Lambie
    Apr 23, 2019 at 15:34

2 Answers 2

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It may be grammatically correct, but it's not idiomatic.

"She's been shopping for how long?" would only be used to request a clarification of the length of the shopping trip when the asker either didn't hear, or can't believe what he or she heard.

Ex:

"My sister has been at the mall for sixteen hours."
"She's been shopping for how long!?"

"My sister has been shopping for mumble-mumble-mumble hours"
"Sorry, I didn't hear you. She's been shopping for how long?

Outside of these circumstances, the normal question would be phrased in the way questions are typically phrased, starting with a question word, and having an inverted verb and subject: "How long has she been shopping?"

3

It's fine, although I would move "how long" to the front of the sentence:

How long has she been shopping?

How long has he been away?

There's nothing wrong with putting it elsewhere, but because it delays the question it sometimes adds a nuance of drama or anticipation:

Police Officer: What is your occupation, Ms. Smythe?
Ms. Smythe: I'm a schoolteacher.
Police: And you've been a schoolteacher for how long?
Smythe: Fifteen years.
Police: And, as a schoolteacher, you teach what subject?
Smythe: English literature.

As Juhasz mentions, adding the question words at the end of the sentence is often (but not always) used to clarify some earlier question.

Police: How long were you watching television before you say you heard the shot?
Witness: About an hour.
Police: I'm sorry but how long? In an earlier statement you said you were watching television for fifteen minutes.

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