I was asked today whether we could use the phrase:

"The bus will be late for five minutes."

Or whether we should always use:

"The bus will be five minutes late."

The latter phrase is the one that I would always use, but I wasn't sure whether the top phrase was used in some regions.

I also wasn't sure how to explain why we use "five minutes late" in this way.

Many thanks in advance.

  • 3
    "Late for five minutes" would mean that after five minutes it is no longer late, which doesn't make sense
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 11:22
  • 5
    "The bus will be late by five minutes," works. So to address one of your questions, you don't always have to use "five minutes late." Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 11:31
  • @nnnnnn I wouldn't necessarily say it doesn't make sense. If the bus is running behind schedule, but after five minutes it catches up, then the bus has been late for five minutes. Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 15:20
  • @PeterShor I think you should put that as an answer
    – Smock
    Commented Dec 18, 2019 at 16:16
  • @TannerSwett - I had thought of that, but there isn't really any practical use for that concept, especially when the original sentence wasn't talking about the past, it said "will be late for five minutes". So to whom would it make sense to actually say that? For people waiting to get on the bus at any given stop it's either going to be late or it isn't. It would make more sense to say "will be late to the next 5 stops".
    – nnnnnn
    Commented Dec 19, 2019 at 0:51

2 Answers 2


To answer your questions.

  1. Can we use the phrase "late for five minutes"?
    That sounds very odd to me, but googling, I see that it is used occasionally. This isn't grammatical in standard English, but it could be in some regional dialect.
  2. Should we always use "five minutes late"?
    You don't have to. You could also say "late by five minutes."

A phrase of the form "for [amount] [time periods]" usually describes an ongoing process that lasts for that amount of continuous time. An example is

I will be on vacation for 5 days.

A single bus being late is not a continuous process, so we wouldn't normally use "late for 5 minutes" to describe it. It's more common to say "late by 5 minutes" or "5 minutes late".

We could use "for" to describe on ongoing situation that's causing busses to be late:

Busses along Route 20 will be late for an hour while crews are clearing up an accident.

You must log in to answer this question.