Podcast #135 Avoiding SOME in Time Expressions

Published in the category Grammar and Usage, Indefinite Words

Welcome to Podcast #135 of ESL Aloud. This lesson concerns the incorrect use of the word some in expressions of time. Many learners of English, even pretty advanced speakers, will say something like I stayed at the beach for some weeks when what they should have said is I stayed at the beach for a few weeks or I stayed at the beach for several weeks. The problem is that the sentence I stayed at the beach for some weeks is not incorrect English, but it does have a special meaning.

When some is used correctly to express duration in the sentence I stayed at the beach for some weeks, it carries the strong idea of more than just a few. If this is not what the speaker meant, then some is being used incorrectly.

Listen to this sentence: Elise remained in Rio for some days. The idea of this sentence is that Elise remained in Rio for more than just a few days. If I heard that sentence from a native speaker of English I would think that some days meant nearly a week or maybe even more. However, if I heard that sentence from a non-native speaker of English I would think that the speaker is using some incorrectly and should have said Elise remained in Rio for a few days.

You should never say for some days when you really mean for a few days. You should never say for some months when what you mean is for several months. In this lesson you will practice sentences with expressions of duration like for a few days and for several months.

But before we begin, I have to name one important exception to the rule. You should feel free to use the phrase for some time which always means “for quite a long time.”

Listen and repeat.

She hasn’t seen her brother for some time.

That’s the best meal I’ve had for some time.

He has struggled with drugs for some time.

In the following sentences you will be using five expressions of indefinite time that express duration. Before we do sentences, let’s take a moment to examine the meanings of these expressions.

  1. The easiest one to explain is phrases like for a day or two or for a week or two. They literally indicate a duration lasting one unit of time and possibly as many as two.
  2. The next longer duration appears in phrases like for a couple of days or for a couple of hours. For a couple of indicates two or possibly three units of time. However, for shorter units of time like seconds and minutes, a couple of really means “not too long.”
  3. The expression for a few days means “more than two days” but still not many days in the mind of the speaker. For many speakers, for a couple of and for a few are used interchangeably.
  4. The expression for several days carries the idea of “more than a few days.”
  5. The expression for a number of days has the same meaning as for several days.

Now let’s review, starting with the shortest duration and ending with the longest duration. Listen and repeat.

for a day or two

for a couple of days

for a few days

for several days or

for a number of days

Now listen and repeat.

We talked for a couple of minutes.

The factory shut down for a few months.

The winds blew for several hours.

He was in jail for a number of years.

For a couple of seconds I thought he was dead.

We’ll camp here for a day or two.

I didn’t hear from you for several months.

We may go to Europe for a couple of years.

He worked on his resume for a few hours.

For a second or two I thought you were kidding.

For a number of months we had no Internet service.

The phone went dead for a few seconds.

I’ll be out of town for a couple of days.

She lived in Singapore for a number of months.

I played with the baby for a few minutes.

He won’t be running a marathon for a year or two.

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