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A: (For) How long have you been painting (for)?

B: (For) A few years.

Would the most natural way to ask the question be without adding 'for' to it? And if I leave it out in the question would I then have to add it in B's answer?

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    The for is optional, at either end, both in question and answer. It is understood in both cases to refer to the period concerned. While A is a grammatical question, B is just a phrase, with or without for. Feb 8, 2022 at 23:59

2 Answers 2

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The "for" is optional.

When you include a duration, you need the word "for":

I've been painting for five years.

But in the question, the interrogative "How long" can stand for either the whole prepositional phrase or the duration. This means you can omit the word "for".

Similarly, the answer can be shortened either to "for five years" or, since "for" is implied by context, to "five years".

In either case there is an ambiguity, since with or without "for" the questioner could be asking "how many hours/minutes has this session of painting lasted?" or "how many years/months has your hobby of painting lasted?". Adding or omitting the word "for" does not change this ambiguity (if the person answering the question misunderstands it, you can always clarify, so there is no problem with this ambiguity.)

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You shouldn’t leave it out, as that would be grammatically ambiguous and therefore incorrect. I’m not quite sure why you’re attempting to take it out, as I don’t believe it interferes with sentence flow by leaving it in.

Either placement of “for” in A’s question would be appropriate, though the latter is more commonly used in casual conversation. In regards to B’s response, they may or may not add “for” before their answer. Oftentimes, people leave it out, i.e.

A: How long have you been painting for?

B: 8 years.

However, it would probably be grammatically preferable to repeat “for” in the response for clarity’s sake.

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    Why would omitting"for" make the question ambiguous?
    – cruthers
    Aug 26, 2022 at 13:03
  • @cruthers Because you might be asking how long they’ve been painting in this particular session, e.g. “one hour” or “the whole day.” Oct 20, 2022 at 18:27
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    Isn't the question ambiguous regardless of whether it's phrased with or without the "for"?
    – cruthers
    Oct 20, 2022 at 18:54
  • @cruthers Theoretically, yes, but in reality, one wording is used much more frequently to mean “right now” and the other for “long-term.” At least, that is my experience. Oct 21, 2022 at 22:13
  • Hmmm, I can't say I've had that same experience. Really not sure actually.
    – cruthers
    Oct 22, 2022 at 2:25

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