A correspondent writes to ask why (2) is odd, for him, when (4) is OK:
(1) That's the worst book I've read in ages.
(2) ?That's the worst book I've read for ages.
(3) I haven't read a good book in ages.
(4) I haven't read a good book for ages.
'Is it something to do with the verb being negative?', he asks.
There are several factors here. First, intuitions may vary between British and American English, as the in construction is especially used in the latter. That aside, there is definitely an effect of negation, as these sentences show:
(5) I haven't read a book in ages.
(6) *I have read a book in ages.
There is also a difference in meaning:
(7) I've been reading that book for ages.
(8) I haven't been reading that book for ages.
In (7), the action is included in the time span - 'it has taken me a long time to read the book, and it's still going on'; in (8) it isn't. (8) is equivalent to 'It's been ages since I was last reading that book'.
So, to return to (2), here we have an action (the reading of the worst book) which is evidently over, so we need a sentence like (8): 'I haven't read such a bad book for ages'. However, the positive sentence suggests an inclusive meaning with ongoing duration (cf 7), which is anomalous - hence my correspondent's disquiet.
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I'm not an expert of course, but my intuition agrees. It seems to me that "for" implies that the event is ongoing, while "in" implies that it's over.
I can see that (2) can, just about, bear the meaning ‘Of all the books I have taken ages to read, that’s the worst’. However, the circumstances in which anyone might want to express such a meaning in such a way must be rare enough to allow (2) to be used as an alternative to (1) without ambiguity, as I suspect it frequently is.
You say the in construction is especially used in American English. I speak American English, but a student who is learning British English asked me a similar question. So is That's the worst book I've read for ages OK in British English or not? What to tell the student?
As Barrie says, it's unambiguous, and the point at issue is very subtle, so you will hear it. However, many people do find it odd, and wouldn't use it, for the reasons explained. In other words, it's an example of divided usage.
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