Now the cubs are growing, fed on mom's milk, but mom herself hasn't eaten in five months, and is getting thinner by the day.

What does in mean here, and how would the meaning of that piece change if for were used?

  • 1
    Interesting question! Judging by this, it could be an American English / British English thing. Other searchable combinations include "hasn't had * in" vs "hasn't had * for". Sep 18 '15 at 10:13
  • 2
    this better goes as an answer @CopperKettle
    – Maulik V
    Sep 18 '15 at 10:42
  • @MaulikV - no, I'm not sure; the author of the book is clearly not a native speaker Sep 18 '15 at 10:45
  • I think "...hasn't eaten for" is more common as compared to 'in'. I'd certainly prefer 'for'. @CopperKettle However, I find both 'for' and 'in' in BrE.
    – Maulik V
    Sep 18 '15 at 10:57

I found two similar questions in the English Language & Usage section: [1], [2].

It seems that in and for may be used interchangeably in negative sentences, although in positive sentences only for is correct. The use of in in such cases is more common in American English.

  • 4
    Right. And the reason is that in weeks is a Negative Polarity Item (NPI), while for weeks isn't. This means that using in weeks/months/years/ages is ungrammatical unless there's some negative around creating a negative context. But for weeks is fine anywhere. E.g, *He has been here in weeks is ungrammatical -- and unclear, both because the sentence contains no negative; but He has been here for weeks is grammatical and clear because it doesn't need a negative. Sep 18 '15 at 19:06

In is used in this context to describe the duration of what ever it is you are measuring. Using the word for in this context will not change it's meaning

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